You know what no one has ever said, in the entire history of booze? “This vodka martini is a little too stiff for me; could you pour some chardonnay in it, please?”
Wine and cocktails, much like rap and metal, are delightful on their own. But mix the two and you get whatever the mixologist’s version of Limp Bizkit is. Despite this, the brave souls at Maven Cocktails have stepped into this nonexistent breach with the world’s first “super premium wine-infused vodka cocktail.” At least I assume it’s the world’s first because, as I said, no one has ever, even at their lowest, Nicolas-Cage-drinking-in-the-shower moment, poured wine and vodka into a glass and consumed them together. It's just not a thing.
But, hey … it says “super premium” right on the little glass bottle, so how bad could it be? Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to find out.
Maven Cocktails come in two flavors: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I admit, I have to give them points for resisting the urge to name them something more epic and millennial-friendly, like “Slammin’ Chard” and “Party Pinot.” They’re clearly trying for something a little more sophisticated than Bud Light Lime-a-Rita and the rest of the pre-mixed cocktail market.
I’ll start with the Chardonnay and move on to the Pinot. (Always better to move from white to red, even when there’s vodka involved.)
First, can we talk about the packaging? It’s like a cross between a shampoo bottle and a jam jar that thinks way too highly of itself. I’m not sure if you’re meant to sip directly out of the bottle or not, but it looks like a surefire way to dribble Maven down your party shirt. So let’s decant this bad boy into a glass and see what we’ve got.
On the nose, I’m picking up aromas of grape juice, sugar and just a hint of Lysol. Not in an entirely bad way. The medicinal quality — no doubt from the “natural flavors to amplify the aromas and complexities inherently found in a great bottle of wine” — actually seems to be cutting through the sweetness in a way that smells promising.
First sip: Honestly, it just tastes to me like a garden-variety, supermarket white wine. I’m not picking up any hint of vodka or even those “natural flavors” on the palate. I’m not even really picking up much chardonnay. There’s not a trace of oak or that buttery quality common to cheap California chard.
After a few sips, I am getting a slight alcohol aftertaste, presumably from the vodka. However, I see the alcohol content of this thing is only 13.5%, so how much vodka could be in it, really? I’ve got several whites in my wine fridge with higher ABVs than that.
My wife, who has a better palate than I do, says it tastes “super-citrusy” — but reminds me she’s on cold meds, so she may be giving it too much credit. I let it sit in the glass a little longer, hoping that as it warms up, the flavors may open up a bit. But no such luck. It just tastes like boring, uncomplicated, overly sweet white wine. This has neither, as Maven’s marketing materials promise, “the flavor of a great glass of wine” nor “the spirit of a classic mixed drink.” It may as well be a glass of Barefoot sauvignon blanc from a bottle that was opened last week.
I had intended to drink a full 200 milliliter bottle of the Maven Chardonnay before cracking open the Pinot, in the hope that Maven’s pleasures might reveal themselves after I’d gotten a good buzz. But I am not that dedicated of a booze critic. I can’t finish this stuff. Let’s dump and move on.
The Maven Pinot Noir is a nice garnet hue, although since the product contains “certified colors and caramel colors,” that’s likely thanks to some deft work in a lab rather than any inherent quality in the Sonoma-sourced pinot grapes. The nose is not unpleasing but hard to pinpoint. Jolly Ranchers and raisin bread, maybe?
This one tastes even less like wine than the chardonnay. If you tried using strawberry Kool-Aid and Two Buck Chuck to make sangria, you might be getting close, although it would probably be way more palatable than this stuff, which also boasts a tart, lingering finish of prune juice, Red Bull and baby aspirin.
That Red Bull note, which I swear is getting more pronounced with each sip, is revealing. The marketing notes for Maven also claim that the beverages’ creator, one Stephenie Harris, was inspired by “the inconsistent selection of good wines in bars, clubs and lounges.” I suspect the key word in that sentence is “clubs.” Maven seems, in both flavor and packaging, to be trying to target those more seasoned nightclub denizens, the ones who have outgrown vodka and Red Bull and are just getting into wine, but not so much that they’d want their hip, young nightclub friends to see the bartender pouring them a glass of Kendall-Jackson cougar juice.
Since I am not remotely in that target demographic, what do I know? Maybe I’m the one who’s crazy, and Maven is about to corner a previously untapped market of late-20-something dancing queens who don’t mind staining their teeth red while getting turnt up to Calvin Harris. But I am skeptical, for the simple and essential reason that even once you’ve gotten a nice buzz on (and I did later, on something less sucky from my own collection), Maven just doesn’t taste very good.
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Crappy taste aside, my biggest beef with Maven is this: The company's claim that this product's genesis was "born out of our love of fine wine" is clearly either bogus or deeply misguided. There is not a single thing about Maven that expresses any love for fine wine or that will convert Maven drinkers into future wine lovers. All it does is reduce wine to gimmick, pander and PR stunt. It's like saying that you love the brilliant songwriting of Bob Dylan soooo much that you've decided to have him perform a Skrillex remix of "All Along the Watchtower" at the MTV VMAs with backup dancers and lasers and Miley Cyrus singing the last verse while twerking on a hologram of Jimi Hendrix. It's an act of desecration, not homage.
Most similar attempts to lure new consumers by making wine seem "cool" or "fun" fail for this same reason. No one going to a rock & roll wine festival whose slogan is "Rock out with your cork out!" or a "wine rave" with blacklight and an EDM soundtrack is going to come away with a greater appreciation for drinking wine, the same way no one is going to watch Miley twerk on a Hendrix hologram at the VMAs and think, "I must seek out an original vinyl copy of Dylan's John Wesley Harding."
I get that wine drinking can sometimes seem exclusive and snooty, and most of these stunts are well-meaning attempts to demystify it. But here's a thought: Why not just make everyday wine drinking less snooty? Many wine shops and bars around town, like Colorado Wine Company, Venice Beach Wines and the Hermosillo, to name a few, are already doing just that. Next time you feel the urge to drink a glorified wine cooler out of a shampoo bottle, do yourself a favor and head to one of those establishments instead. They'll pour you something delicious and explain what it is without making you feel like an idiot.
Trust me, you'll feel like a bigger idiot if you try walking into a bar and ordering up some Maven Chardonnay.