Provenance Matters Less Than Quality

90+Cellars Rose Lot 33, 2017
13 percent alcohol content
Languedoc, France, $17.99 (1.5 liters)

The light and refreshing Lot 33 Rosé from 90+Cellars is so good that it should be selling for at least twice its price.

In fact, this wine, which is great to drink during the warmer months, is sold for a lot more, but under another name.

Six or so years ago, I attended a tasting hosted by Latitude Beverage to introduce its new 90+ wines, which were just arriving on the market in New Hampshire and Vermont. I was impressed with the wines and intrigued by how the line was conceived.

The Boston-based company was started in 2007 by Kevin Mehra. Two years later, he implemented a fresh idea for selling wine during the economic downturn — buy the oversupply of expensive, highly rated wines, relabel them and sell them at affordable prices, the 90+ website says.

During the recession, sales of wines that cost more than $20 a bottle were slumping, and a surplus built up at wineries. Producers had to make room for new vintages, and they had few options to sell the extra wine. If they dramatically discounted their wines, it would cheapen their brands and endanger future full-price sales. Some converted the surplus to alcohol for fuel. Others sold it on the bulk market or dumped it.

Mehra’s idea was to approach producers around the world whose wines were rated 90 points (on a 100-point scale) or higher by Wine Spectator magazine. He contacted all the top wineries in the magazine and offered to buy their oversupply, repackage the wine and keep the identity of the producer secret. Some liked the idea, launching 90+ Cellars as a modern day negociant (wine merchant).

The wineries were happy to get something for their oversupply, and 90+ customers got really good, inexpensive wine.

Since then, the company’s business model has shifted to build relationships with the wineries, Vice President of Marketing Terry Lozoff said in a recent email.

When opportunities come up to obtain an oversupply of an exceptional wine, the company will take advantage of it and bottle a special lot. However, the main 90+ wines come from the same wineries each year, producers who have established durable relationships with Latitude and Mehra.

“These relationships likely started out as an oversupply situation, but we’ve continued to work with many of those wineries because we’ve been able to continuously access great wines at a great price, and provide our customers great value, which is really our ultimate goal,” Lozoff said.

The popularity of wines such as Lot 33 Rosé means the company doesn’t have to seek out an oversupply each year from different wineries.

Customers “know the style and the general taste profile, and we want to make sure we stick to that.”

In addition, by establishing relationships with wineries, Latitude also has sidestepped some of the headaches that have befallen other negociants. In recent years, some merchants have negotiated the purchase of certain high-priced wines overseas only to have inferior, cheaper wines shipped in their place.

The tasting notes for Lot 33 Rosé are purposefully vague about who produces it, saying only that it’s made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault grapes grown in northeastern Languedoc in the foothills of Cevenne mountain range.

Languedoc, located in southwestern France between Provence and the border with Spain, is the world’s largest wine producing region, with 700,000 acres of vines. Known for more than a century for its bulk, cheap wines, the region for a couple of decades or more, has been gaining a reputation for fine wines, according to Karen MacNeil in The Wine Bible.

Lot 33 Rosé has aromas of strawberries and cherries and dry and bright juicy fruit flavors, the tasting notes say.

This is an excellent wine for drinking on a warm evening with appetizers or to have with meats and vegetables off the grill. My wife, Sandy, and I sampled it recently with grilled Cornell chicken and green beans sauteed with freshly sprouted tarragon from our herb garden. It was an excellent match.

With some research, I might be able to narrow down the Lot 33 Rosé producer to a few suspects, but I don’t want to do that. Why would I? I’m very happy to be able to buy this wine for less than $10 a bottle, and for $17.99 I can have a big bottle cooled in the refrigerator, perfect for this time of year.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com.

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