Which came first, the wine or the marketing campaign?

In my career writing about wine, I have received, along with wine, of course, the usual and the odd assortment of devices from marketing and PR people. These include corkscrews and foil cutters, little notebooks with pens, packets of spices and jars of condiments and, back in the 1990s, when this was the rage for some reason, dried-up pieces of grapevines and sacks of dirt; now that’s what terroir is all about.

Rarely, however, have I been on the receiving end of as strange a perk as I was granted last week, along with four wines with a new label, Tempra Tantrum, from Bodegas Osborne. Depicted in the whimsical image here, this alien-looking creature, reaching out a hand of friendship to the aloof feline, is a webcam with which I and my similarly lucky winewriting colleagues are encouraged to “create web videos of your wine tastings, with Tempra Tantrum as your first post!” Fat chance of that, unfortunately. The cover letter, purporting to be from vintner Rocío Alonso-Allende Osborne, a member of the sixth generation to run the family business, founded in 1772, goes on to say, “I hope he” — the webcam, which she names Toñito — “inspires many moments of self-expression and I hope you enjoy these wines which are an expression of my life.”

I always hate it when a winemaker writes that his or her wines “are an expression of my life,” because then I have to say something like, “Erk” or “Gack,” because, in this case, the Tempra Tantrum wines aren’t very good and are certainly not as good as the Solaz wines produced by Osborne at the same property, Malpica de Tajo, in the vast, flat wine region called Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, not far from Toledo. Not that the Solaz wines are great; they’re pretty rustic and forthright, but they offer a sort of bruised-knuckle integrity and individuality that these Tempra Tantrum wines — the coy name is unendurable — cannot hope to emulate.

Each of the four Tempra Tantrum blends contains 60 percent tempranillo — get the joke now? — with 40 percent of something else: merlot, shiraz (as they say), grenache and cabernet sauvignon. The first impression is of dusty, bubble-gum-ish, basic Beaujolais-like fruity blandness. I found little of the typical tempranillo character of dried red and black fruit and spice, dried flowers and orange rind. The temp/merlot blend is the most generic; the temp/cabernet blend a little drier and slightly more muscular; the temp/grenache blend a little ‘darker” and spicier and slightly more austere; the temp/shiraz blend moderately characterful. None exhibits qualities that would compel you to drink it, and all are far from displaying, as the back labels put it, “the passion, flavor, style and emotion that embodies modern Spain,” subject/verb agreement error included free of charge. Nor are the wines notably, again quoting the back label, “vibrant, plush and in a word — sexy.” Sexy, I would say, least of all.

This conjunction of mediocre wine and ardently senseless marketing too often defines the relationship between wine and consumer in today’s global situation. I receive many new cute, goofy labels every year that raise the question: Which came first, the wine or the discussions about how to name and market the wine before the grapes were even harvested (or, in some cases, purchased)? And that question leads to another: Are consumers so naive, not to say gullible, that they will actually purchase a wine based on its supposedly witty name and its promise of “passion, flavor, style and emotion,” all for $10? Or do they give a damn?

I, for one, would support a ban on the word “passion” from wine labels. I am a-weary, weary of reading squibs like, “This wine reflects my family’s passion for excellence and our passionate attachment to the land that our ancestors so passionately believed in with all their hearts and minds.” Just make the wine, Jack, and make it well and sell it at a decent price. Other than that, shut the fuck up.

The Tempra Tantrum wines are imported by Underdog Wine Merchants, Livermore, Cal. They were supplied as samples for review, along with the webcam mentioned above.