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Marriott Blues

I admit I really out of it when it comes to California wines. I just don't drink them as there are so few I enjoy. There are also California wines I love like: Calera, Alma Rosa, Edmunds St. John, Iron Horse, Corison and Spottswoode to name just a few. However as the number of wineries I really enjoy are indeed few, I don't pull many corks from bottles of California wine.

Forced into a hotel restaurant dinner due to the late hour of my arrival, I decided to try to be open minded and give The Golden State another shot and ordered a glass of 2005 Clos du Bois Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, which my host for the evening, Marriott, was offering for $15 a glass and $50 a bottle. I mean, at that price it must be pretty good, right?

The first sip was smooth enough, although there was little varietal character. My taste buds now awakened, the second sip revealed much more. This wine tasted, for lack of a better word: cheap. It was like the awful under $10 California Cabernet stacked up at your local grocery store. My righteous indignation meter was off the charts. How could Clos du Bois dare foist such a mediocre wine on consumers at such a price!

Upon returning to my room I checked wine-searcher.com to find the retail price of this rip-off only to find this wine sells for around $13 a bottle. That means Marriott is paying about $7 a bottle (or less). What we have here is rip-off build up. First of all, this weak effort by Clos du Bois would be overpriced at $4 a bottle, but, perhaps, the Marriott has even more to be ashamed of as, instead of offering their guests a decent glass of wine for $15, they offer only wines they can cut a deal on.

How does this happen? Well Clos du Bois is owned by Constellation Brands, which describes itself as " a leading international producer and marketer of beverage alcohol brands" (that's inspiring) and "the largest by volume wine producer in the world" (doesn't that excite your taste buds). Besides wine this massive company sells beer and spirits. Conglomerates like this come in and set up all sorts of cross-brand deals with national chains like Marriott and often incentives that, shall we say, don't meet the letter of the law have been known to change hands. However (ahem), I'm sure this did not happen in this case.

Brands like Clos du Bois are industrial wines at their worst. They are bad wines and bad values that exist and sell only because of the marketing muscle and money behind them. They also exist because national chains like Marriott are too lazy or too cheap to put in place decent wine programs.

You can be sure you'll find the folks from Constellation and Marriott partying down together in Vegas as this year's WSWA convention. After all, what better place is there to cut a deal than in Vegas.