200_jasper05.jpgThere’s a little wine company that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Oriel Wines keeps on popping up in publications, wine cellars and conversations around the country. The reason behind the buzz is Oriel’s business model. Oriel hires top winemakers from around the world to create wines for them. They search out those whose style of winemaking reflects the terroir or personality of the region. Currently, Oriel is commissioning around 30 wines from nine countries, ranging in price from $15 to $100. With thousands of anonymous wines crowding the shelves of any wine store, Oriel is attempting to create a brand that makes buying wine – no matter the place or the grape – a little more user friendly.

We have to admit, we were skeptical when we heard about this. Our philosophy in wine buying has been to support the little guys, searching out smaller producers who focus on quality and traditional styles. But this can be a time-consuming, expensive hobby, and sometimes you just want a good wine at a good value without having to spend two hours on Google. Maybe having a Mac or a Gucci of wine isn’t such a bad idea, especially if Oriel is searching out quality wines at lower prices because of that whole efficient business model thing.

So we gave it a shot. The two wines we purchased were the 2005 Oriel Jasper Pinot Noir ($30) from Russian River and the 2003 Oriel Jucunda Gigondas (around $35, but no longer available online) from France. The Pinot Noir was luscious, with layers of minerality, spice and fruit with a soft velvet texture. The Gigondas, however, was forgettable. It lacked the intensity and boldness that you expect from a Gigondas.

It’s likely that with its easy to pronounce/remember name, crafty business model and all the buzz surrounding it, Oriel will generate a lot of trial. Still brands are built by loyalists and if Oriel is going to leave a mark in the category, they will have to leave an impression with the consumer. Right now, our impression is uncertainty.