Wine & spirits: Show dog or family pet?
There are so many ways to classify wine: red or white, still or sparkling, young or old, cheap or expensive, New World or Old World, site-based varietal or regional blend, good or bad, yummy or yucky. However, one of my all-time favourite categories has to be "show dog" or "family pet."
How can you tell the difference? Ask yourself whether the wine will be the talk of the table or just part of the table talk. If the wine has a famous reputation and a price to match, if it scored impressively at an international wine competition, if it costs more than what you'd usually spend but your wine-geek friend says it's a profound tasting experience, it's definitely a show dog.
If, on the other hand, it's a bottle you've tasted several times before and – without any particular pretence or wow factor – it always fits in with the chow as well as with the chow hounds around the table, then you can consider it a family pet.
For those occasions when a show dog is needed for entertaining or to impress your guests, be sure to select the best performer from your special cellar stash. However, for everyday, when all you really need is some casual companionship for that leftover turkey casserole or broccoli pasta, nothing beats a family pet.
Often, wine producers who breed great "show dogs" also have well-behaved "family pets" in their stable. These companies have the resources needed to make quality wines in every price range.
Boisset (family owned, France) From humble beginnings as a local wine trader, Jean Claude Boisset and his now grown children have built a slick, international wine-merchant business. Holdings include many of Burgundy's best vineyards, plus Le Clos Jordanne in Canada and DeLoach Vineyards in California's Russian River Valley. Dependable everyday offerings include French Rabbit varietals in Tetra Paks, Yellow Jersey in unbreakable PET containers, the Lulu B series, and classic burgundies from Chablis to Beaujolais under such well-known labels as Bouchard Ainé, Jaffelin, Mommessin, Moreau and Ropiteau Frères.
E. & J. Gallo Winery (family owned, United States)
America's most influential winemaking family produces wines of good quality for every drinker, from unbreakable mickeys of Thunderbird to premium Gallo Family Vineyards Sonoma County wines and the top-of-the-line Gallo Family Vineyards Single Vineyard collection. When it comes to reliable everyday wines, be sure to look for their Gallo Family Vineyards California wines, and their Barefoot Cellars, Dancing Bull and Turning Leaf labels. Good foreign wines include McWilliam's Hanwood from Australia, Vina Chilcaya from Chile and Red Bicyclette from France.
Foster's Group (publicly held corporation, Australia)
Perhaps best known by some for their beer, Foster's Group has some spectacular wine labels in its catalogue. One of the company's flagship wineries, Penfolds produces the unbeatable show dog Penfolds Grange, priced at $322 (750 mL) a pop. But look for plenty of delicious "lesser" wines like the Penfolds Koonunga Hill and Thomas Hyland series. Foster's also owns Black Opal, Coldstream Hills, Devil's Lair, Fifth Leg, Lindemans, Little Penguin, Rosemount, Seaview, Seppelt, Wolf Blass, Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Yarra Ridge and Yellowglen – and that's just their Australian collection!
Vincor Canada (publicly held, and owned by Constellation Brands, United States)
As show dogs go, Vincor's portfolio has some of our best, including joint ownership of Ontario's Le Clos Jordanne (with Boisset) and B.C.'s Osoyoos Larose (with Group Taillan of Bordeaux, France). Quality domestics are produced through Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs holdings in both provinces, plus Sumac Ridge and See Ya Later Ranch in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley, and national brands like Ancient Coast and Naked Grape.