Cru Vin Dogs Wines
wine pixies

Cru Vin Dogs Wines Tasting Notes

Cru Vin Dogs Wine Group has provided us with a canine-themed series of fine wines. Before you think “another critter wine,” take a look at the stunning label artwork, conceived by artist Jay Snellgrove. Yes, I know, we cannot drink artwork. I've written before and I will write again, however, that a well-made wine deserves a well-made label. As an important plus, the dogs featured on these wine labels also represent the Cru Vin Dogs mission to support dog-related charities with a portion of their revenue.

My three sisters and I grew up with a wonderful dog. Vanya was a highly intelligent mixture of a dark collie and a large German shepherd who was reputed to be part wolf. One day my two-year-old sister Nina got out of the yard and walked all the way down the hill, a distance of about half a mile. My mother drove frantically around the neighborhood searching for Nina until she spotted both daughter and dog at the local playground. The burly Vanya stood nuzzled up to Nina as if glued, ready to put his strength and his canine will between the little girl and any possible threat.

So many American families can tell similar stories: the faithful dog, the intelligent dog, the loyal, steadfast and enduring dog. I've seen a dog or two on a wine label here and there in the past, but Cru Vin Dogs takes the connection further by offering three carefully constructed lines of wines, each at different price points, and each involving different dogs.

The top of the line wine is the Cru Vin Dogs 2005 “Best in Show” German Shorthaired Pointer Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 97 cases were produced. The wine retails for $75 and is probably nearly gone after its May 2008 release. I didn't taste this one, but the story is fascinating, all relating to Jackson Selection Cabernet clones produced by UC Davis in 1889. Tiny berries, minuscule yields. The university research station was abandoned 100 years ago, but vines survived decades of neglect (their very obscurity helped during prohibition) to provide the cuttings to allow this old dog to do new tricks. That's a great deal of enthusiasm for a wine I have not tasted, but I was born with an imagination. Alas.

I did taste the $26 Portrait Series 2005 “Yogi” Cabernet-Syrah. The original Yogi was a bloodhound who worked for a police K-9 unit in Colorado, collaring criminals and locating missing persons. Yogi's wine is 75% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 25% Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Syrah. Let us remember that while Syrah is not presently one of the classic Bordeaux blending grapes, the Bordelais used it copiously in the nineteenth century to fill out the mid-palate of their Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and the Aussies do the same with these grapes today. The wine is a deep violet in color, with a nose of brambly wild blackberries, ripe black plum, nutmeg, vanilla, clove, baked pie crust, and a touch of alcoholic heat (the abv is 14.5%). In the mouth that alcohol fits in well with everything else that is going on: cassis, blueberry, prune, more of the spice (with greater emphasis on the vanilla), dark chocolate, and toast. The Cabernet does not dominate as it so often can. The tannins are soft, the acidity more forceful, the fruit highly concentrated at every stage, showing the stamina to reveal a candied fruit element on the finish. If this wine lacks anything, it is the several years of bottle aging I would accord it, if I had a second bottle. Again alas.

Another Portrait Series wine, the 2006 “Lucky” Merlot-Cabernet (named for a Yellow Lab service dog), will be released in September 2008. Both Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc) get to play their part in this one.

The other three wines I tasted were “Puppy Series” offerings. These commemorate breeds rather than individual woofers and are all priced under $20.

The two Puppy Series Chardonnays I tasted are each 100% Dry Creek Valley Chardonnay, each $16. I tasted the 2006 “Golden Retriever” Chardonnay first. The wine is a medium lemon in color, with a slight green tinge, transparent and bright in the glass. My first note on the nose is dried apricot, with sweet floral and honey notes and a rich citrus edge. In the mouth the wine is dry, medium plus bodied, somewhat viscous, with an excellent balance among the acidity, a mineral bite, and a good deal of fruit. Peach and apricot lead that fruit, while topical notes of melon and mango accompany. The wine finishes dry, ripe, and fruity. I don't have specs on this wine, but my impression is minimal oak, if any, minimal malolactic, if any.

The 2005 “Bloodhound” Chardonnay is similar to the 2006 “Golden Retriever” in appearance, but I detected some dairy notes (cream) on the nose with honey and lime predominating over a few floral elements. The wine is dry, at least medium-level in acidity, with a little lighter body than the 2006. Flowers stand out more strongly on the palate than they do on the nose. Ripe honeydew melon leads the fruit contingent; key lime accompanies. The mineral element has less of a bite than that of the 2006, but the wine is equally well balanced. The finish is long, redolent and ripe with lasting fruit acidity and some minerality in on the finish.

I don't want to predict how either of these Chardonnays would fare in blind taste tests against comparable white burgundies, say one of the village wines of the Côte de Beaune or Côte Chalonnaise, but I'd certainly like to be a fly on the wall for the test. Let me repeat that these wines are each $16, a super-value from a region, California, that tends to overprice. (If you wanted a true white Burgundy equivalent I say you'd have to double your outlay at today's prices.) I like both Chardonnays, but I feel the 2006 leaves a greater number of presents under the tree.

The 2006 “Labrador Retriever” Sauvignon Blanc is $14.50, and besides not being priced at an even dollar, differs from all the other wines in that it is produced in Marlborough, New Zealand, which is understandable given today's love affair between that region and the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Characteristically for Kiwi wines it features a screw top closure. The wine is a light straw green. The nose is where the real fun starts: lemongrass, Kiwi fruit, grapefruit zest, freshly mown hay, and asparagus. In the mouth the wine is dry, crisp, yet ripe, adding tropical fruit like mango and pineapple to the amalgam already described. Finishes clean (and you want more). Perhaps all these notes are actually futile; the descriptor “Marlborough” alone ought to suffice.

Now as an aside it seemed odd to me, because I have a quirky kind of mind, that a Kiwi wine should be represented by a Canadian dog (even though I read that the Lab is the most popular breed in the United States). I did some digging, and discovered the “New Zealand Heading Dog,” also called the “Huntaway,” whose specialty it is to “hunt out” sheep in the brush and push them back into the herd. I realize this breed generates poor name recognition of course, but maybe it deserves honorable mention.

Most veterinarians would not counsel us to splash any of these wines into Fido's water dish, but we dog lovers are always free to contribute to the worthy causes promoted by Cru Vin Dogs, above and beyond the company's own contributions. These organizations, with web links, are:

  • Canine Companions for Independence, providing disabled people with specially-trained assistance dogs. (Labs, by the way, are among the top choice for assistance dogs.)

  • The Morris Animal Foundation's Cure Canine Cancer Campaign.

  • The Alie Foundation, which educates both parents and children about the dangers of child abduction and places trained bloodhounds in police K-9 units around the United States.

Of course there also ought to be a foundation to save the endangered New Zealand Heading Dog. If the New Zealanders keep converting sheep land to vineyards, these working dogs may one day have to go on the unemployment rolls. A diligent working dog like our Vanya would be sorry to see that happen.

Verdict: Woofing Good
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After wine, dogs may well be man's best friend.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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Cru Vin Dogs Label

This distinctive label from the Cru Vin Dogs Portrait Series features K-9 bloodhound Yogi, Colorado crime fighter extraordinaire.

Nina Essman and Vanya

Our ever-faithful Vanya, with my sister Nina, West Hampton, New York, 1968.


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