What fresh hell is this? Wine that tastes of cookies?

Robert Joseph shares his thoughts on the coming together in a bottle of the world's biggest wine and cookie brands.

Barefoot-Oreo Thins. Sold Out!
Barefoot-Oreo Thins. Sold Out!

The idea of Barefoot and Oreos getting together to produce a wine that ‘tastes like chocolate’, attracted a lot of media interest across a broad range of platforms and publications such as USA Today, Fox News and Food & Wine and raised a few of hackles on social media. A Reddit user called The_StonedPanda probably voiced a widely held view when he or she noted that “Nobody asked for this and if you did you don’t actually enjoy wine.” Another contributor to the same thread – 2sleezy - likened Barefoot-Oreo Thins unfavourably to Pizza Hut’s ’cheeseburger pizza’.

On the other hand, Theresa Massony, Senior Living Editor at POPSUGAR evidently rather enjoyed Barefoot-Oreos.

“The taste, if you're not expecting it, does take some getting used to, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't reaching for a second (or third or fourth) sip. The true test… is experienced when you sip the wine right after finishing an Oreo Thin cookie. Swishing the wine around your mouth as the taste of cookies and creme lingers amplifies the taste of the chocolate in a way that you don't get from the cookie or the wine alone, making the combination seem like even more of a treat. Overall, the Barefoot x Oreo Thins Red Blend's taste is sweet but full. It's also surprisingly filling, so I can't say I'd be ready to guzzle it all back-to-back, but I'd certainly reach for this combo on a cold night in.”

Unlike Ms Massony, I haven’t tasted the new concoction, and have no chance of doing so. Within a couple of days of its launch the Barefoot- Oreo Thins had, the Barefoot site announced, sold out. Only a cynic would dare suggest that the whole exercise was a publicity stunt.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept that it wasn’t.

Not for me

In case anyone imagined otherwise, I personally see absolutely no appeal in this new creation. But then bookshops and cinemas are full of novels and movies I have similarly little desire to read or watch. I understand that they’re for other people.

Of course, for many, the really transgressive thing about Barefoot-Oreos is its departure from classical ‘wineyness’. Wine is supposed to taste of terroir, not chocolate.

There is, however, quite a lot of wine that doesn’t taste specifically winey nowadays. This year, Grey-Poupon, the venerable Dijon mustard brand launched a 2020 Californian Viognier called La Moutarde that was ‘infused with mustard seeds’. Like the Barefoot Oreos effort, it was a ‘limited edition’. Apparently, also like the Barefoot-Oreos, it has all sold out.

Then there’s ‘Burdi W’, France’s first ‘CBD-infused wine, crowdfunded and with input from Michel Rolland, no less. Terre de Vins described it as “quite pleasant, if a bit disconcerting. The nose is fruity, but with some vegetal notes and not totally unreminiscent of an artisan beer… Time will tell if consumers will adopt this new, atypical hybrid”. The idea of the ‘hybrid’ evidently appealed sufficiently to attract €73,700, over 20 times the original crowdfunding target, and, according to Terre de Vins, most of the original production of 10,500 bottles have found buyers.

The fractious relationship between China and Australia has presumably slowed sales of Penfolds Lot 518, Spirited Wine with Baijiu, but you can buy it in at least four places in Hong Kong, and I’ve no reason to believe that Penfolds are going to stop making it.

Wine for whiskey lovers

And the same applies to the producers of 3-4m or so cases of bourbon-barrel-aged wine that are sold every year in the US, and increasingly elsewhere. With examples from Mondavi (which won a Beverage Dynamics ‘Comeback Award’ for selling 2.13m cases in 2018) Cosentino, Beringer, Trinchero, Jacobs Creek, Fetzer, Sebastiani, Josh Cellars, Bogle, Stave & Steel, Cooper & Thief, Layer Cake and others, this isn’t a passing trend either.

"Mondavi's best-selling Bourbob-barrel Cabernet Sauvignon"
                                      Mondavi's best-selling Bourbon-barrel Cabernet Sauvignon

Most wine enthusiasts will have as little time for these 15% blockbusters as they have for Accolade’s Echo Falls which, in 2020, added ‘botanicals’ to its set of 5.5% fruit-flavoured, wines. But, given their UK market value of £130m ($170m) these products are presumably giving pleasure to lots of happy consumers. That figure may be a little higher than the current one for France, which has seen sales of these styles drop heavily since the boom they enjoyed five years ago. However, Vinadeis, France’s biggest wine producer has just launched a range of ‘wine seltzers’ under its recently-acquired Café de Paris brand. The company was quoted in Vitisphere as estimating that the French hard and wine seltzer market will grow to €250m ($280m) over the next two years.

Human ingenuity and its taste for novelty being what they are, we’ll see a lot more efforts being made to alter and ‘improve’ the flavour of wine. Some like Chocowine and Rouge Cola may have brief moments of fame. Others may be booming in a decade or so.

Irrespective of their commercial success or failure, some people will continue to criticise attempts to 'bastardise' wine – after remaining remarkably quiet about the long-standing popularity of Sangria, Kir Royale and of course Kalimotxo, the red-wine-and-Coca-Cola-cocktail Spaniards have been enjoying for over half a century.

Unpopular Popularisation

The reactions to novel ways to treat wine remind me of what was happening in the world of music at around the time Kalimotxo was beginning to take off.

In 1968 an American musician then called Walter Carlos released an album called Switched on Bach consisting of pieces by the German composer, performed on the then-revolutionary Moog synthesiser. Seven years later, a trio led by a Frenchman named Jacques Loussier gave a jazz concert of many of the same works. Both the album and the concert were poorly received by parts of the classical music establishment. John Rockwell, the New York Times critic said “There is a certain sort of sensibility that is actively appalled by the very notion of ‘popularising’ Bach – or any classical composer, for that matter. This listener’s sensibility is one of those, and so he found the Tuesday evening performance at a sparsely attended Carnegie Hall by the Jacques Loussier Trio tiresome and offensive.”

Carlos went on to win several Grammys and to write ‘popularised’ classical music for award-winning Stanley Kubrick movies like the Shining and Clockwork Orange. Loussier sold millions of albums and set up home (and recording studio) at a little wine estate called Miraval in Provence which some may now know as the home of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s rosé.

Today, people still enjoy listening to Carlos or Loussier, or they don’t. And people still listen to purist renditions of the classical composers from whom those two borrowed their themes.

Or they don’t.

Did the popularisers bring new audiences to Bach and Beethoven?

Almost certainly.

Did they also distract attention from the purists who treat those composers the way they ought to be treated?

More than likely.

That’s how the evolution of culture and commerce works.

Wine is no more nor less than fermented grape juice. Setting aside local laws and traditions, there is no deity with the authority to decide how human beings should ferment those grapes, or what they may blend with the resulting beverage. Or whether it should 'taste of the place where it was made'.

Some gloriously will; much of what's produced shamelessly will not.

Some may taste of chocolate or botanicals.

And some may piggyback on the name of a successful brand with no relationship to wine...

Robert Joseph


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