I left out a half-full bottle of red wine on the kitchen counter overnight. It greeted me in the morning as I brewed the coffee. The thought of Italian immigrants adding tablespoons of red wine to their coffee as daily ritual popped into my head. The temptation to try it was there, but I didn’t follow-through. I didn’t want to risk the quality of my own morning ritual.
 
However, this minor incident got me thinking about assumptions and wine. There is a right way and a wrong way to drink, some of us believe. The combination of wine and coffee is an abomination in many circles.
 
Snooth has spent more than ten years shattering assumptions about how to drink wine. We will never judge any one for putting red wine in their coffee, putting ice cubes in their wine - or drinking a big brand.
 
In fact, big brands are often the best bet.Don’t get me wrong. I am so glad that small growers and producers are getting the credit they deserve. More people from all backgrounds are trying their hands at making wine, and boutique brands don’t exist without our support. While I do encourage everyone to support boutique brands, I think the vilification of big brand wines has gotten out of hand.
 
The existence of big brands testifies to our collective thirst for lots of wine. Yes, there are some big, scary brands out there - some will add dye to modify the wine’s color; others will add chemicals to create acidity, tannins and more.
 
But the good big wine brands are very, very good. They offer consistency in a way that many small wine brands can’t. They can keep prices competitive, inviting more wine drinkers into the fold. Low-priced wines are a necessity. They ensure that our tribe continues to grow.
 
Here is a short list of my favorite big brands. Here, “big brand” is defined in terms of case production. Four hundred thousand to 3 million cases produced per year is my range.
 
I understand that by itself, case production doesn’t tell the whole story. Deeper conclusions emerge if one plots case production against acreage, but that’s not what I’m doing right now. I simply wish to demonstrate that the big brands are reliable, tasty, and important regardless of production volume. I am sure you will recognize most of these names.
 
A to Z Wineworks
 
This brand produces around 400,000 cases each year – that’s significant when you consider the entire state of Oregon produces roughly 3.6 million cases. The line includes Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and more. A to Z’s interpretation of Oregon’s signature varietal, Pinot Noir, interests me most. I think of it as Oregon’s “gateway Pinot Noir”. A to Z wines are $20 or less. Once you get hooked on an accessibly priced Oregon Pinot, you’ll graduate to higher-priced options. A to Z is a great ambassador for Oregon wines on the whole.
 
Viña Montes
 
Chile’s flagship winery produces around 1 million cases every year, ninety-five percent of which is exported across the globe (110 countries to be exact). The winery was founded in 1988 as Chile entered the international wine scene. Montes offers a broad range of wines, from value to super premium. The majority retail for $20 or less, but you can find $300 bottles. The wide range speaks to an overarching level of expertise. The wines are well-made at every price point, from the entry level Classic Series ($10) to the cult hit Purple Angel Carmenere ($80).
 
Ruffino
 
Ruffino’s Pinot Grigio (which can appear in 1.5 liter bottles) is a staple in many American households. The brand produces 1.5 million cases each year, ninety percent of which is exported. The United States is its number one market. Ruffino has close to 600 hectares on eight estates. Its legacy is understood. My favorite: The Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico is about ten dollars per bottle and perfect for weeknight pizza with the fam or large-scale pasta potlucks.
 
Kendall-Jackson
 
This long-established California icon produces over 3 million cases per year. When he started Kendall-Jackson Winery thirty-two years ago, Jess Jackson's vision was that everyone should have access to a luxury bottle of wine, wherever or whoever they are. The goal was to make premium wines at accessible prices. Judging by the scope and scale of Kendall-Jackson today, we can all agree he made good on his vision. Kendall-Jackson, affectionately known as “K-J”, may be one of the first wines you ever loved. The operation has grown considerably since its first eighty-acre orchard purchased in 1974. And not despite, but perhaps in spite of this growth, Kendall Jackson continues to produce some of the best value priced bottles coming out of California today. I’m a big fan of their Vintner’s Reserve line. They range from $15 to $25 per bottle, embodying the true spirit of 20th century California wines.