Little Black Dress Wines
When I first heard of Brown-Forman's new line of wines geared to the American female wine
drinker, the sobriquet “Little Black Dress” struck a real chord. Iconoclastic French fashion
designer Coco Chanel introduced the elegant and yet simple-to-wear concept in 1926; Audrey
Hepburn's appearance in a classic little black dress in the opening sequence of the 1961
movie Breakfast at Tiffany's is perhaps the best known, and most appealing, visual
But what is the connection to wine? According to Laura Webb, Brown-Forman's Brand
Director for New Products, the four-wine line—Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and now a
Syrah Rosé, all from California—will “stand out as an easy, obvious, and essential choice for
women of all ages.”
The distinctive logo for the Little Black Dress wines shows only a stylized hanger at top and a pair of high heeled shoes at the bottom; the actual little black dress is wisely left to the drinker's imagination. The wines retail in standard 750ml bottles and plastic 187ml four-packs for $9.99. I love the look and the entire concept, but an immediate problem arose when my wines arrived; I am—last I looked—male. After inviting about ten women to a little “Wine Evening” I ended up with three female tasters who made up in personality what they lacked in numbers. Important, for my purposes, Nancy, Janet and Lorraine, though enthusiastic wine drinkers, had no professional wine training. We each liked all four wines—“I would buy this” was a common pronouncement—and yet we had, understandably, different approaches to the tasting.
The Little Black Dress 2006 Syrah Rosé combines 96% Syrah with a dollop of Zinfandel. The wine is exceptionally clean, a medium cherry color with pale edges. The first sensation on the nose is a seductive floral rose, followed by peach, apricot and a touch of candied cherry. The wine is off-dry, but the touch of sweetness is well-balanced by tang from a number of fruits: warm strawberry, cranberry, apricot, and the fresh tartness of rosehips. The wine has flavor notes of orange blossom and some stony minerality in addition. Drinkers' remarks were “smooth,” “not too sugary,” “not too bitter” and the unsolicited “I'd buy this.” I enjoyed the crisp, dry finish. Ultimately, the wine's statement is good honest fruit and a good balance of all its varied elements.
The Little Black Dress 2005 Chardonnay is the type of quality wine I wanted to put aside for my own careful consideration, away from the volubility of the other drinkers. The Chardonnay is clean and yet full-bodied. The oak is sensibly restrained, the wine is mainstream dry, and yet not over-mineral. Nose and palate agree on notes of apple, green apple, peach, pear, lime and a mineral backbone, with a touch of sweet oak and vanilla on the palate. The effect is, to quote the winery accurately, “subtle and sophisticated.” Despite the clean nature of the wine, it has plenty of satisfying flavor and mouthfeel. In contrast to many of today's over-produced California Chardonnays, it lacks the buttery notes I often find unnecessary and distracting, though one of the drinkers seemed to be looking for just that.
The Little Black Dress 2006 California Pinot Grigio was a real hit with the group. I tried to explain that this wine is a stimulating blend of 84% Pinot Grigio, 10% Chardonnay, 4% Muscat and 2% Viognier, but they glazed over at this. The Viognier adds floral notes and the Muscat a little spice. It works. In my mind, the result has aromas and mouthfeel that remind me of a lovely Spanish Alvariño; to the group the real statement was a quickly-emptied bottle. Apple, pear, peach and apple blossom show on the nose and palate with orange citrus and some tropical flavor notes of mango and pineapple. The wine is fermented in 100% stainless steel and the fruit is superbly ripe. A hit.
The Little Black Dress 2005 Merlot requires some math: the wine is aged in 20% new French oak barrels, 35% one year French oak, 25% two year French oak and 20% two year American oak. That leaves a great many squirrels homeless, and also results in a wine all of us loved. The unblended Merlot wine is a deep ruby, nearly opaque. The major notes are plum, prune, raspberry, and blackberry, with rosemary and some vanilla, nutmeg, and clove. The mouthfeel is full, rich, ripe and smooth, with extremely soft tannins, mild acidity, and not a trace of vegetality or bitterness. This wine was a tasty, plumy success.
All in all I was impressed by this effort. At the end of the day, empty bottles and drained
glasses tell the tale. With 34 million female wine drinkers in the United States,
Brown-Forman has targeted an important market segment. My only hope is that you ladies
decide to share this excellent wine with the rest of us.
Verdict: Well-made wine
California is huge enough to give any winemaker the opportunity to succeed with a well-made wine at nearly any price point.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
The Little Black Dress wines are an obvious hit.