Let's say you're an importer. You bring any number of wines into the United States from, say, France or Italy or Austria. If you consistently offer superb choices, savvy wine lovers will learn to equate your name with quality and will seek out your wines.
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A few names that come to mind quickly are Neal Rosenthal (France and Italy), Robert Kacher (France) and Dino Tantawi and his Vignaioli Selection, whose portfolio of wines from Italy's Piedmont (one of many areas he represents) is extraordinary.
All these importers, who showcase small growers and limited-production wines, place their names in relatively small print on the front or back labels, as is customary in the business, giving more prominence to the names of the individual wineries. In other words, it is not about them.
But now comes something entirely different — a line of premium wines in which the importer has become the brand, placing its name prominently on the label. The name is Oriel and the wines are from Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Australia, Chile and California. On one level, it simplifies things for consumers to package a collection of wines under one name intended to suggest quality (each wine is given an individual name as well).
But I was curious. Would the quality of the wines themselves match that of the marketing concept, which includes clear and informative labeling that spells out just where the wines come from, how they are made and even identifies the winemakers?
The answer, based on my sampling of several of the wines in the $20 to $25 range, is yes. At its core, Oriel promotes the same philosophy as those other importers I mentioned — an emphasis on finding small-production, hand-made wines. And it has found quality as well, in part, no doubt, because Oriel also does something that other importers don't do. It commissions its winemakers to make special "signature" wines just for the Oriel label, giving them free reign and motivating them by placing their names on the bottle.
Oriel offers a crisp and refreshing white from Northerwest Spain’s Rias Baixas region, the 2004 "Barona," made from the albariño grape. This $20 wine shows minerals, citrus and melon with a hint of candied lemon on the long finish. I enjoyed it on its own, but it’s made for fish and shellfish, including white clam sauce.
I am always in search of good riesling, and Oriel’s 2004 "Palatina," with grapes from some of the top vineyards in the famed Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area, is notable for its dry style and its minerality. The wine shows apple, white peach and citrus notes, including a bit of rind on the finish. It’s another good aperitif wine and went well with sliced sweet tomatoes with basil, mozzarella and drizzled with olive oil.
Skip one of the least expensive offerings, the $15 "Setena" white from Spain’s Terra Alta region. In comparison with the other wines, this blend of garnacha blanca, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc was unfocused and didn’t quite know what it wanted to be.
The Oriel line was launched only last January, and the wines are currently available at retailers in nine states and by shipping from Oriel to consumers in quite a few others (go to www.oriel.net).
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch@hotmail.com.