Published On: Fri, Jul 6th, 2018

Gimmicky wines worth the cringe-factor, and others to avoid

There are more gimmicky wines out there than you can shake a corkscrew at. I tasted 10 to discover which ones are actually worth the cringe factor and which ones to avoid — and why. Right here: The big reveal.

Wine recommendations

The Yeses

2017 “The Final Rose” The Bachelor Cabernet Sauvignon, Ontario, Canada (LCBO 568576 $ 14.95 in stores and online)

Die-hard fans of The Bachelor hit TV show, might want to taste this red. It’s not love at first sip but you could pour this wine at a viewing party and your friends won’t hate you. It’s clean, well-balanced, and offers a juicy-smooth entry of plum and black cherry fruit imbued with bittersweet chocolate and warm black olive. Not a bad little bottle with which to play all those now-famous drinking games, such as sip every time someone on the show says anything about “falling in love,” sheds a tear or uses the word “husband.”

Score: 88

2016 SUBMISSION, 689 Cellars, California (Available through Halpern Enterprises only, 416-593-2662, $ 230.40/12 bottle case incl. delivery anywhere in Ontario)

You know those bottles that bring you to your knees? This is one of them. Backstory: One of the better wine agencies in Toronto, Halpern Enterprises, went to California to scout a $ 20 Cab that kills it — and they came back with this very serious find. With a crushed velvet mouth feel — all polished on top and plush underneath — this wine draws you in with flavours of ripe mixed berries, café latte, smoked plum, milk chocolate, toasted tobacco and vanilla cream. Elegant yet slightly brooding, this wine is a steal.

Score: 96

NV Pere Ansleme “La Fiole du Pape” Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC, France (LCBO 12286 $ 40.00 in stores and online)

Though this gimmicky-looking bottle seems at odds with the premium price, the packaging is actually more about art than marketing per se. It was designed by the winery’s founder in 1952, inspired by the wild movement of the Grenache vine twisted in the strong Provence mistral (wind). And the wine itself is delicious. Expect warm scents of cherries, clove and nutmeg to rise from the glass before slipping over the palate with cashmere flavours of mixed berries, red meat, baking spices, dried herbs, leather and warm wood. Savoury, dry and satisfying. A classic and reliable Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Score: 93+

2017 The Original Ribshack Red, South Africa (LCBO 392761 $ 13.35 in stores and online)

A name as obvious as Ribshack Red definitely qualifies as gimmicky, so I tasted a bottle on your behalf and found it to be true to its name. It’s actually a great match for smoky, fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth ribs — whether rubbed with spices or brushed with sticky-sweet sauce. Each sip of this robust red offers rich, smooth flavours of black forest fruit, wood smoke, coffee, and seared beef. Terrific value for money. So buy a case and pour it all summer long with ribs, steaks, skewers, whatever. You won’t regret it.

Score: 92

2016 Loosen UP Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany (LCBO 541110 $ 13.95 in stores only)

Wine aficionados love to spend large on great bottles of Riesling that can age for decades and offer mind-blowing complexity. Frankly, Loosen Up offers none of that. But it does reveal Riesling’s other side: the ability to deliver the perfect hit of refreshment at a reasonable price. This new General List item tastes like a lick of best-ever lemon sorbet, crisp and clean, pure and fresh, with just enough sweetness to offset the racy acidity. The charm lies in the perfect balance and pristine purity of fruit. Pour it with confidence on a hot summer day.

Score: 91

The Noes

NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rich, Champagne, France (LCBO 424341 $ 87.55 in stores and online)

Oh this one is really rich. Champagne commands high prices because it can be one of the most delicate and complex sparkling wines in the world. But this bottle is neither. Probably to compensate, it’s marketed as something to pour over ice and into a glass with slices of bell peppers, cucumber, celery, citrus zest, or pineapple. On its own, the wine tastes like sugar water with only vague hints of apple, lemon and pastry. And tasted on the rocks, the flavours disappear almost entirely. Hence the need for vegetables or fruit, I guess. By the way, it costs about $ 15 more than the very respectable NV Veuve Clicquot Brut.

Score: R for Ridiculous

NV Naked Grape Unoaked Blue, Ontario (Wine Rack $ 10.45)

A so-called blue wine called Gik from Spain took the social media world by storm recently. Literally and quite Instagrammably indigo blue, Gik is a sweetened, coloured “wine beverage” now sold in 25 countries — but not Canada. So Naked Grape Unoaked Blue was recently released in Ontario that, like Gik, is a “wine beverage” — so not wine in the truest sense. It looks like mouthwash, smells like tropical fruit punch, and tastes flat and sugary — exactly like overly sweetened, watery pineapple juice actually, with no finish and a lean 6 per cent alcohol. Is it good? No. Should you buy it? No.

Score: D for Dismissed

2017 The Bachelorette One on One Pinot Grigio, Ontario, Canada (LCBO 568584 $ 14.95 in stores and online)

Can we talk? If you’re thinking of bringing this bottle to a viewing party of The Bachelorette TV show, don’t. It’s not a keeper, you won’t fall in love with it and your friends might question your judgment. It’s not terrible; it’s just deeply uninspiring with sweet, dilute flavours that vaguely suggest peaches and apricots. And the alcohol is too high relative to the fruit concentration, creating a bit of heat on the finish, which is never a good thing in a wine. This Pinot Grigio is not a wine with which to get one on one.

Score: D for Don’t

2017 San Pedro Epica Red, Central Valley, Chile (LCBO 350520 $ 13.95 in stores and online)

Any Chilean blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah with Epic in the name is gimmicky but worth a taste because Chile makes some seriously undervalued bottles from these grapes. But Epica is not one of them. It blasts the palate with angular flavours vaguely reminiscent of plum, black cherry, walnut skin and over-steeped tea. Even the significant level of residual sugar (13 grams per litre), which technically makes this more off-dry than dry, doesn’t hide the tight bitterness that lingers on the finish.

Score: F for Fail

2017 KWV Big Bill Ridiculously Big Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa (LCBO 524330 $ 12.95 in stores and online)

William (Big Bill) Millar, a boxing champ, decorated hero, Springbok rugby captain and first general manager of the KWV winery inspired this bottle. It’s made to be larger than life, just like Big Bill was. But that gimmick only works if the wine also has much going for it. Which it doesn’t. Pretty much no aroma at all leads to a shrill hit of acidity with very little flavour to make the wine a pleasure to drink. Definite miss. If you just love the quirky label, reach for KWV’s Big Bill Ridiculously Big Cabernet Sauvignon also on shelves — it’s better.

Score: M for Miss

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer. She is also a London-trained sommelier and two-time bestselling wine book author. Reach her at

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Gimmicky wines worth the cringe-factor, and others to avoid