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Warren Johnston: Bread & Butter, a cream chardonnay


Friday, May 12, 2017
Bread & Butter Chardonnay, 2015; Napa, California; $14.99

Bread & Butter Chardonnay is among the top-selling super premium wines in the country — and there’s a good reason for that. It’s a dry, white wine that is flavorful, well-crafted and sells for a reasonable price.

Although “super premium” sounds highfalutin, it’s just industry jargon for wines that sell in the $12 to $15 range and sometimes go on sale for less than $10. I have expanded the definition a bit with the $10 stuff because that’s what Bread & Butter does. And you can expect to see more bargain prices for this very good wine in the future.

Sales of Bread & Butter grew more than 70 percent last year, and the wine is ranked 27th by Nielsen among brands in the price range.

“This is one of the hottest brands in the wine industry. It has really struck a chord with consumers,” said Oren Lewin in a recent article in the Napa Valley Register.

Lewin is the senior vice president of marketing and strategy at WX Brands, a company that was so excited about Bread & Butter that it snapped the brand up a couple of weeks ago, according to the article announcing the sale.

The acquisition of Bread & Butter, a company that also makes a very good Pinot Noir, is an example of aggressive behavior, particularly along the West Coast, by industry giants, such as Gallo, Constellation Brands and the Wine Group. They are scooping up smaller wineries that have built a reputation by producing good, affordable wines. Although the practice seems sort of sad and unhealthy, the founders can benefit, and go on to make other good wines, and we end up with more to choose from on store shelves. I have no idea if the practice is sustainable, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

WX, founded in 1999 as the Wine Exchange, is big — 68 wine labels, beer and liquor divisions and annual sales in 12 countries of 6 million cases — but not as big as the giants. When WX buys a winery it often leaves the winemakers and founders in place, focusing the company’s efforts on promoting the brands and increasing sales.

That’s the plan for Bread & Butter, Lewin said in the article.

Bread & Butter was launched in 2010 and was owned by Alcohol by Volume, named for the designation of the percentage of alcohol that appears on every alcoholic beverage container in the world. The origin story has it that Gregory Ahn and others who started the company came up with the name on a night when they consumed a case of wine and a bottle of tequila.

Alcohol by Volume partnered with winemaker Dario De Conti, who started working at 14 in his family vineyard in Veneto, Italy. He also produces Ca’ Momi, a very good line of value wines that I’ve written about in the past. De Conti will continue to make Bread & Butter wines under the WX ownership, so the quality should be consistent.

Bread and Butter Chardonnay is made from a blend of 100 percent Chardonnay grapes from two different vineyards — one in the Carneros region of Sonoma County, where the grapes have big, bold flavors and another in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County that produces fruit with tropical and floral flavors, De Conti says in the tasting notes.

The Carneros grapes are aged in 1-year-old American oak for four months and the Monterey fruit is aged in new French oak for eight months. The result is a creamy wine with a light woodiness.

“Just like the first bite of creme brulee, this wine will melt in your mouth for a long creamy finish,” De Conti says in the notes.

Bread & Butter Chardonnay pairs well with any seafood dish that has butter or brown butter sauces, De Conti says, adding that it also goes well with baked chicken, creamy soups, squash or winter vegetables.

I enjoy this wine year-round, but it’s particularly nice when the weather is cooler. I had it with a shrimp pasta dish, and it was a fine match.

This is an excellent wine that tastes like a much more expensive Chardonnay. It’s a bargain at the full price of $15, but it’s frequently on sale for a couple of dollars less.

WX expects to promote it and expand its market share. One way to do that, of course, is to put Bread & Butter on sale. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see even better bargain prices in the near future. If that happens this summer, you might want to load up on it for the fall.

Suggestions of wines in the $10-$15 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com. For past recommendations, go to raiseyourglassofwine.com.