Thursday, November 15, 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes — the Vinous Version

As a DC resident it’s hard to escape the allure of cupcakes. There are so many cupcakeries and cafes, even food trucks, that sell every variety of cupcake under the sun. Thing is: I’m not really a fan. My girlfriend makes some incredible peanut butter cupcakes, but they’re pretty much just peanut butter and chocolate, which means they, by definition, must be delicious. The fluffy cake insides and the ultra-sweet topping of a typical cupcake just don’t do it for me. So I was more than a bit skeptical when a friend brought over a bottle of Red Velvet Cupcake wine.

I drink a lot of good wine. I drink a lot of wine that I think is going to be good but turns out to be bad. And then there are the wines I drink that I know are going to be bad. This wine falls into the latter category.

The “fact sheet” on this wine provides strikingly few facts: “Red Velvet is a blend of classic red varietals with Zinfandel as a base. It has fantastic structure, aroma, depth of flavor and a long creamy finish.” I’ve read there are some merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah grapes in here as well, but it seems the producer, like some cult cupcakery, wants to keep the recipe secret. I can’t find any information on where in California the grapes came from, how the wine was made, what kind of oak treatment the juice received. I can only assume that the winemaking team used all the gimmicks in the technological toolbox. Maybe they soaked tea bags of oak chips in the wine, added acid, filtered the hell out of it… who knows? Asking how this wine is made is like asking where Jimmy Dean sausage comes from. Only a few people know, and those who do wish they didn’t.

When I was entering my tasting notes into CellarTracker, my favorite online tasting note database, I laughed out loud at several other tasting notes. “Frightfully sweet and sickly, and hard to believe it's actually wine,” writes one taster. “I love red velvet cupcakes, but I have no desire to drink them. Spurn it as you would spurn a rabid dog.” Ouch! Another taster writes: “if a case of this fell off a truck I wouldn't bend over to pick it up.”

However, not everyone detests this wine. One taster rated it 100 points, but didn’t provide any tasting notes. (I’m going to assume that individual was suffering through some sort of diabetic coma when they scored the wine.) When I was researching this wine I came across a blog post from someone who clearly liked it. She wrote: “It has been a perfect [sic] during the hotter months as a stand alone glass or for pairing with appetizers or lighter summer fair – grilled chicken, boiled shrimp or burgers.” Look, to each his/her own is my mantra. But if I were to drink this wine with appetizers or shrimp or any other “lighter summer fair” the combination would repulse me. The sweetness and oak in this wine would overpower almost any edible item. It would be like pairing toothpaste and orange juice. What could you pair with this wine? The only thing that comes to mind is the obvious: red velvet cupcakes. (Here’s a blog post from a couple of foodies who decided to do just that. They paired this wine with their own recipe for homemade red velvet wine cupcakes… Talk about diabetic comas!)

Here are my notes on this stuff…

2011 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet (California): Look, this is not a wine to be taken seriously, that’s obvious from the fact that the wine says Red Velvet Cupcake on the label. It’s the color of pie filling and it smells like someone smeared blueberry jam on burned toast. This wine is everything it claims to be: a sweet red wine with a dessert-like quality. It’s not fortified; I think it’s just a red blend with a crapload of residual sugar. It tastes like a late-harvest zinfandel or something. Anyway, it’s strange stuff, and it tastes like someone concocted it in a factory. But, all things considered, the wine isn’t repulsive. If you pick up the glass expecting a dessert cocktail, you won’t be as upset about the fact that — newsflash! — this isn’t a serious wine. That said, I drank this on Halloween, which makes an ironic kind of sense. On the 100-point scale, I score this wine a "No."

Again, when it comes to wine, to each his/her own. If you like this, more power to you. Some people are willing to wait an hour in line for Georgetown Cupcakes, some aren’t. Know what you like and drink it, that’s what I say. I also say: pour me a different zinfandel blend, please.


  1. My body reacted to this wine and not in a good way. Aside from the metallic taste, I feel as though I have a some sort of pesticide hangover. It must be made by some sort of archers daniel midlandesque wine conglomerate. I enjoy your wit and writing style.

    1. Madrone, thanks for the comment. Drinking this isn't as bad as running into a rabid dog, but I'd try to avoid both scenarios.