Wine on Wednesdays – Gaga Rouge

I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing.

No, this wine is not made by the ubiquitous pop singer Lady Gaga but instead by the unrelated Gaga Winery, located in Santa Rosa, California.

The winery, which was only founded in 2010, chose either a brilliant name or a terrible one for its wines. If they were seeking to ride the coattails of one of the most successful global pop stars, then it was a brilliant choice. The name alone and the wine’s flashy label probably will prompt a lot of people to pick it up.

But if the winemakers accidentally chose to give their wines the same name as a larger than life figure who will forever overshadow their products, then the name was a tragic choice. Given its highly stylized label, my guess is the former.

I bought the wine with some trepidation. First, at $8.99/ bottle it was slightly more expensive than my $7.99/bottle upper limit for affordable wines. Even with the 10 percent discount I received by buying more than six (mixed) bottles — which brought the final cost to only $8.09 — I still don’t like to spend that much on wine. Would Gaga Rouge be worth breaking my own rule?

Second, there are a lot of “celebrity” wines out there. Here in Chicago, even “Da Coach” Mike Ditka has a wine label. It generally is not a good indicator that the wine will be very good.  I wasn’t sure when I bought the wine whether or not it was affiliated with the mega-celebrity, so I bought it already a little dubious of its quality.

As a “rouge” from California, I expected a drinkable red table wine dominated by the vegetal flavor of zinfandel grapes and that’s exactly what I got. The wine was a little more jammy than I prefer, but it was medium bodied, it didn’t overpower my palate, and had a lot of blackberry and raspberry flavors with no aftertaste.

I learned later that Gaga Rouge is made predominantly with zinfandel grapes with some merlot and syrah grapes as well, which makes perfect sense given its taste. But I also learned that it is aged 10 months in French and American oak barrels, but I didn’t taste the oak or any telltale vanilla flavors in it at all.

The wine bottle has a screw top cap rather than a cork, which is becoming more common. That doesn’t necessarily cause it to lose points in my book because screw caps definitely make it easier to keep wines fresh, but I still prefer the romance of pulling corks from wine bottles.

So was Gaga Rouge worth spending more than my absolute upper limit for affordable wines (if only by $.10)? In my opinion, probably not. It is a good wine, but I prefer California red table wines such as the Coppola Rosso or the Big House Red, which cost less and taste better, in my opinion.

If I found Gaga Rouge for $7.99/bottle or less, I probably would get it again, but I wouldn’t break my affordability rule on it. Gaga Winery also produces a Blanc and a Rose, but I haven’t tried them.

Finally, it has been rumored that Lady Gaga herself is a huge wine fan and is considering launching her own brand. Perhaps that’s what Gaga Winery has been counting on all along.



Wine on Wednesdays – Big House Red

By all rights, I should hate Big House Red, a red table wine from the Big House Wine Company.

It has everything that turns me off about a wine: It has a goofy drawing on the label, it has a silly themed back story about prison breaks, you can even buy it in a box.

Despite this, I can’t deny that it is a very good wine, especially for the price. Big House Red has a smoothness that I appreciate. It’s very fruity, yet it isn’t jammy and it is neither bitter nor sweet. It’s one of the few wines I could enjoy drinking every day and never get tired of it.

And it is certainly affordable. It falls within my self-imposed limit of $7.99/bottle in most stores where I’ve seen it. It probably would be even cheaper if I were to buy the boxed version, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.

There are other Big House wines, including a Big House White which I remember trying a long time ago and liking. They also have a syrah called “The Slammer,” a cabernet sauvignon called “The Usual Suspect”, a pinot grigio called “The Birdman”, and a chardonnay called “Unchained”, although I’ve never seen them sold around where I live.

They also have a zinfandel called “The Cardinal Zin” that I would be interested in trying because I’m a huge fan of California zinfandels.

I always get suspicious when wine companies build elaborate themes around their wines as marketing tools. It makes me wonder if they are not paying more attention to the concept than the wine itself. But in the case of Big House Red, I can’t complain. The wine is just too delicious.

You may recall that Big House Red used to be made by Bonny Doon Vineyards, the winery created by Randall Grahm. I was surprised to learn while researching this that he sold the brand in 2006. Apparently, Bonny Doon decided to focus on more upscale wines and dropped the Big House line. I have been enjoying this wine since long before then and haven’t noticed any change in the quality.

So if you are prejudice against wines with silly themes and cartoony labels like I am, set aside your hesitations and grab a bottle of Big House Red. It’s a just a very smooth and satisfying affordable red table wine.

Just don’t buy it in the box. You have to draw the line somewhere.