I’m generally turned off by cute wine labels.
If I come across a bottle with say, a smiling, cartoon version of Ebenezer Scrooge and a name that borders on the scatological, I immediately assume the taste must resemble the appellation, and a clever label is required to sell a bad wine.
Some might call me snobbish for my label avoidance system, however, we are talking about bargain wine here, so there’s not a lot of room for snooty behavior, and there is ample opportunity to steer clear of churning stomachs and splitting headaches. I realize that I may miss out on some good wine, but I can live with that. There’s a lifetime of good, inexpensive stuff with attractive, straightforward labels out there.
Until, Chateau La Paws, there was you.
The other day, when I spotted Chateau La Paws on a grocery store shelf, my inclination was just to walk on by, but the face of a charming puppy on the label caught my eye. After all, I spend a lot of time at home with two really funny, young mud-season excavators, fascinating terriers who like to get personal with skunks and take chunks out of porcupines, so I’m deeply under the canine spell.
But what really got my attention on the labels, more than the fetching face of Mia, a Catahoula puppy rescued from Tennessee, wishfully licking her nose, or the pleading eyes of Rodney, a mountain hound saved from Virginia, was the declaration that some of the proceeds from these wines support no-kill shelters.
A sales ploy — maybe. There are about 43 million households in the U.S. where at least one dog resides, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. But Rosenblum Cellars, the producer of Chateau La Paws, backs up its pitch with a lot of money and some very good wine.
The money goes to the North Shore Animal League America, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based nonprofit whose website says it is the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization. It reaches across the country to rescue, nurture, and place 20,000 pets in homes each year. The Animal League has saved more than 1 million cats and dogs since its inception in 1944, the website says.
Rosenblum’s parent company, Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, is giving the Animal League $100,000, and Chateau La Paws wine sales also support the Tour for Life, mobile rescue and adoption units that traveled this year to 26 cities across the country and partnered with 40 local shelters to encourage and facilitate adoptions, a news release says.
Rosenblum, which is known for its fine zinfandel — they make 20 different types — had released Chateau La Paws a decade ago with a more subtle label. The brand was relaunched in February with puppy faces in hopes of tying the wine more closely to the company’s love of dogs and the rescue effort.
I have tried all three Chateau La Paws currently being sold in stores nationwide: chardonnay, pinot noir, and a red blend. All three are equally complex and well-crafted wines with lots of flavor — the least one would expect from winemaker Marty Spate, whose canine companion is Duke, a Great Dane.
All the wines are blended from grapes grown in different climates in California to balance the sweetness and acidity.
The chardonnay, which is 94 percent chardonnay, 4 percent viognier and 2 percent malvasia bianca, is creamy and refreshing with a hint of oak. Spate accomplishes this by putting half the wine through secondary fermentation and partially aging the wine in American and French oak barrels. The winemaker recommends pairing the wine with a grilled fleshy white fish, served in a beurre blanc sauce with grilled vegetables or a salad. The Chardonnay hit the spot with appetizers on a recent warm evening as my wife and I watched a bright orange sun go down over the mountains.
Pinot noir is tricky to grow and to make into a balanced wine. Spate pulls it off using grapes from throughout the state and fermenting the wine in French and American oak barrels. Just before bottling, he adds a touch — 13 percent — of syrah. The result is a wine with lots of berry and cherry flavors and a smooth finish. It went really well with a meal of grilled turkey tenders with a South Carolina mustard sauce and asparagus. If I had to pick a favorite of the three wines, which would be hard to do because they’re all distinct, it would be the red blend, a wine well suited for chilly nights and a hearty stew or at a summer gathering with grilled meats and vegetables. The wine’s blend, mostly zinfandel and merlot with a little syrah and petite sirah thrown in, accounts for its versatility. Spate recommends trying it with pulled pork and a heaping plate of duck fat fries. We had it with grilled hot Italian sausage served in hotdog rolls with pickles and mustard, and it was pretty good.
Cute labels aside, these wines are excellent values — I found them on sale for $10.99 — and it’s nice to buy something that supports a good cause.•
Suggestions for wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.