Co-op Wines: The Social Collection, Bin 101

12 02 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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Get Social.

Negociant-style wines have long been a staple of the Old World wine economy:  instead of a winery planting, tending and harvesting a vineyard then using those estate-grown grapes to make wine, an enterprising producer or brand instead either buys grapes from a grower for use in their own winemaking or, more simply, buys already-made wine from a winery that is maturing in barrel or bottle and then sticks their own label on it. This may not accord with the most romantic notions of pastoral family-farmhouse wineries that automatically spring to mind when we think about the industry in the abstract, but it has a ton of advantages as a full-estate alternative, mostly tied to the division of labour.  To create and sell your own wine, you no longer need to own any land, purchase expensive wine-making equipment (or wine-aging vessels – do you have any idea how much oak barrels cost??) or have any winemaking education or expertise; you just need to get contact with the right subject-matter experts and have a vision for how to make it all come together cohesively.  The negociant approach drastically reduces barriers to entry in the wine production industry and also provides an additional market for those who grow grapes or operate winery facilities, and while it has always been a part of the industry in the New World, it now seems to be taking on an increased presence, particularly in the realm of branded grocery store wines.

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Ultra-transparent for a Cab!

This is actually not a new topic to this blog — a few years ago, I had the pleasure and challenge of trying to dig behind what was behind the cover label of the PC brand of wines, which resulted in some truly entertaining (if somewhat strange) juice.  Now Co-op Wine and Spirits has released its own lineup of sommelier-curated negociant wines called The Social Collection, sourced from around the world and targeted towards “the socialite and modern wine drinker”.  Translation, I think:  these are mainstream wines intended for easy enjoyment while still striving to properly represent their varietal and region at a wallet-friendly price.  I was sent a trio of examples from this new branding effort to taste and decided to make a group event out of it.  Dan and Ray will taste and report on a couple of subsequent Co-op releases later in the week, but I’m kicking things off tonight from where it all started for The Social Collection:  Bin 101.

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Cork Rating:  0/10 (Come on. Do SOMETHING.)

The Social Collection, Bin 101:  2015 California Cabernet Sauvignon ($16)

All the front label says about this wine is that it’s a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon; the back label adds a general state-wide “California” designation, meaning that the grapes that went into this wine either came from multiple recognized AVA regions within the state or came from an area that doesn’t have an AVA classification at all.  If you look at the fine print beside the bar code at the bottom in the picture below, you get some clue as to the bottle’s origins:  it was “Vinified & Bottled by Opal Moon Winery, Sonoma, CA”.  This doesn’t mean that the grapes are from Sonoma (if they were, this would have been displayed in giant-sized font on the bottle, since Sonoma sells), only that the winery is located there, although some quick online searching about Opal Moon reveals that the winery building doubles as a custom crush facility for other producers looking for space and equipment.  In other words, the fact that the wine came from there doesn’t mean that Opal Moon made it itself.  As is the case with almost all negociant wines, who made it is a secondary question that is generally not answered.

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This bottle retails for $15.99, though I saw it on sale recently for $11, a price that real-life Cali Cab doesn’t tend to sell for any more in Alberta, making any more-than-marginal showing a potential breakthrough for value-thirsty consumers.  It is only 13.5% alcohol, an average mark globally but low for this warm state and this big grape, and perhaps consequently, it is an oddly transparent ruby colour, lighter and thinner than your standard King Cab visual impression.  Dusty high-toned cherry meets tangy pomegranate and red Jujubes on a pleasant nose laced with chocolate sprinkles, dried pine needles and new pennies.  Barely medium-bodied on the tongue, the wine hands over all of its structural work to scrubby tannins as opposed to quiet, tempered acidity, its grape Gatorade, blackberry, resin and dusty oak flavours starting out buoyant but coming across a touch pitchy on the back end.  On the whole, this is perfectly drinkable and would probably meet the needs of The Social Collection’s target audience with aplomb, though I would have liked to see a bit more Cabernet Sauvignon oomph and typicity (particularly from the grape’s New World homeland).  Stay tuned for more Bins!

85+ points

$15 to $20 CDN

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