Wine tasting in Westeros

Game of Thrones, one of the biggest television events in history, has spawned a range of merchandise. But is wine from a world of assassination, brutality and zombies safe to drink? Jeff Siegel convenes a tasting panel.

Wines from Game of Thrones
Wines from Game of Thrones

The rest of the wine business in the US may be lamenting flat sales, but not in Westeros.  The 2019 release of the Game of Thrones wine sold out within days across the country – if not sooner. At Wyatt's Wet Goods in Longmont, Colorado, 18 cases were gone in 12 hours or so, disappearing even more quickly than 18 cases of the bestselling Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, says Wyatt's Dylan Dinsmore. At a Total Wine in Dallas, an employee laughed when I asked if there was any left. “You're three weeks too late,” he said. “It was gone in two days.”

This year, in honour of the HBO’s Game of Thrones final season, Vintage Wine Estates released four wines – a California Chardonnay, a Paso Robles red blend, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and an Oregon Pinot Noir. It's the third time we've seen Game of Thrones wine, although a Vintage spokesman declined to say just how much wine it has sold since 2017. But in a statement, the company did acknowledge that “we were able to get most of the wines back in stock, but demand remains very high”.

Which no doubt also explains the run on media samples. Only some fancy footwork by Sam Folsom, whose agency handles the marketing for producer Vintage Wine Estates, found me a couple of bottles of the Pinot Noir.

So what's a wine writer on assignment to do? How do I best use the samples I got – a 2017 Oregon Pinot Noir, 14.4 percent and retailing for $20.00? Do I save them to watch during the final episode? Do I drink them when I re-watch one of my favourite episodes, maybe “Kissed by Fire” from the third season (not too much blood and hacking of body parts, plus more skin than usual)? Or do I put them on eBay?

Interestingly, the couple of experts I talked to said most people who buy the wine probably won't drink it. “It's much more likely for someone to show it off in their family room than to drink it and go, 'Wow, what a great wine,' “ says Kathy LaTour, who teaches at Cornell University's well-regarded school of hotel administration. “It's the kind of thing you just put on a shelf for people to look at.”

Which probably explains why eBay's prices for the Pinot Noir were more or less retail. Would that Grand Cru white Burgundy followed that pricing model.

So I drank it.

Not alone, of course. I convened a special Game of Thrones tasting panel, not unlike calling a Council of the Most Devout—Mack Turner, a Dallas wine aficionado who has actually watched the show; Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy; and Lynne Kleinpeter, whose palate is above reproach and has a unique Game of Thrones perspective – she works with a couple of women who have never missed an episode and so hears about every gory detail in even more gory detail.

Our verdict?

“I'd be able to drink the first glass without worrying whether someone was trying to poison me as part of a power struggle that I didn't understand,” said Cevola. “But would I want to take a chance by drinking a second glass? Probably not.”

The wine was sort of Pinot Noir like, and the berry aromas were spot on. But it wasn't especially Oregon in style – more like California, with a little heat in the back, ripe black fruit, hints of tannin to give it the Cabernet structure so popular in California Pinot Noir, and heavy. Very, very heavy. Thick, even.

“You don't need a wine glass for this as much as one of those big metal Middle Age goblets,” said Turner. “You know, the kind you can buy on Etsy, with dragons and all of that stuff on engraved on it.”

And was the wine worth $20.00? “It is if you wanted to pay $20 for it,” said Kleinpeter. “It's not about the wine, is it?”

Jeff Siegel
 

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