The first commandment in marketing a new winery's product seems to be the costly task of establishing a brand identity.
This can be difficult because unless we've been invited to a tasting of several vintages of a single wine or a group of new but similar wines (say, Oregon chardonnays), most of us pass over unknown brands on the shelves. When we're picking up a chard for tonight's supper, for instance, we often pick a familiar label without a second thought. No surprises here, please.
Once upon a time, customer loyalty could be inspired by gold medals - first-place titles in competitions from Paris to Cape Town, and so on. But these designations lost their magic along the way, perhaps because they were overdone.
Today, the most potent marketing challenges are label design - the work of a talented artist - and as much display in the popular media as the winemaker, threading his or her way through a thicket of rising prices and regulation, can afford.
Sad to say, customers with simple tastes miss endless rewarding wines: "I never buy a German wine - too sweet." "I don't know the difference between Sonoma and Napa wines." "It's Napa for me - always has been."
Three New Zealand wines that you'll like may be new to your list. If so, they deserve notice for character, quality, and price. (I have never understood how wines from Down Under are dollars-and-cents bargains; Australians and New Zealanders are aware of a living wage, and Auckland is a long, long way to send Toledo a bottle of wine.)
Anyway, let us be thankful. Resolutely walking past the wine-shop display of chardonnay, I focus in on a relatively understated label of sauvignon blanc, with the name of the winery, Brancott, on a separate small slip wrapped around the neck of the bottle beneath a screw cap. The wine is easy sipping but makes no effort to be a ringer for a chard; one accustomed to French white burgundies would instantly recognize the difference, tipped off, maybe, by the effortless viscosity. There are more select Brancott bottles, reserves and a gewuerztraminer at higher prices, but this very agreeable sauvignon blanc sells for $13.
Next winery: Stoneleigh, from the same broad area as Brancott, offers a brief inventory that includes an '04 sauvignon blanc, an '03 chardonnay, an '04 riesling, and a superb '03 pinot noir. This wine is alive with aromas and flavors, tumbling over in one's mouth in a classic instance of pinot's slipping in quietly and only then asserting itself. It is a delight, long-lived, not easily to be forgotten. Each of the Stoneleighs is $16 (note the price creep).
Anyway, let us be glad for what we have. The third New Zealand wine to appear in the spotlight today is a sparkler, Lindauer Brut ($13), filled with fine bubbles from a conventional blend, chardonnay and pinot noir. Impact on the palate is light, less gently structured than most, dancing from lips to a lingering finish. What strikes this first-time customer is the marked fruit flavors, probably from the chard in the blend, not covered over as other sparklers often are by the alcohol and/or the creamy bubbles. How does it match up against a prosecco? Your call.