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Layer Cake a Bargain Passport to the Wine World

Wines from Argentina, Italy, Australia and California overdeliver on quality for their $15 price
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 8, 2011 12:00pm ET

Shekels, moolah, simoleons, greenbacks, dinero—no matter what language or lingo you use, money is something you’ll need by the basketful to tour the wine regions of the world. Even if you skip the scenery and airfare and merely sample the world from the local wine shelves, it can be overwhelming and expensive in its own right.

Maybe that’s why I think Jayson Woodbridge has the right idea with his Layer Cake label: five different varietal wines from key regions around the globe, all priced around $15. There’s a Malbec from Argentina, Italian Primitivo, Australian Shiraz and a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.

The irony is that Woodbridge also makes Hundred Acre, a $300 Napa Cabernet that my colleague James Laube consistently rates as outstanding. That’s quite a price spread, $15 to $300. Woodbridge says it’s all because of his grandfather, who taught him about wine and compared it to a layer cake; both have different layers of flavor and complexity.

“My grandfather was not a guy who could afford Hundred Acre,” Woodbridge said, so Layer Cake was born. “I’m trying to make a wine that sells for $15 and tastes like $50.”

He’s not far off. The wines certainly overdeliver for the price. The 2008 Primitivo, from the Puglia region of southern Italy, is a lively wine, with smoky herbs, cherry, tart plum and white pepper flavors. It’s an Italian twist on Zinfandel. (The grapes are clones of the same variety.) I rated it 89 points, non-blind.

The 2009 Malbec Mendoza, from Argentina, has distinctive aromas of ripe plum and smoky spiced beef with supple and lively blackberry and graphite flavors. I rated it 88 points, non-blind.

Laube gave a score of 87 to Layer Cake Chardonnay Central Coast Virgin 2009, and I thought it was crisp yet supple, with lively and floral lemon and green apple notes. (Virgin in this case means the wine saw no oak.)

The same winemaking team that makes Hundred Acre makes the Layer Cake wines, traveling from region to region to make each wine. All the reds spend time in new French oak barrels. Consumers should have little trouble finding the wines; annual case production ranges between 20,000 and 80,000 for each of the five bottlings.

New Layer Cake wines are also on the way. A 2010 Pinot Noir from California’s Central Coast will be released in September, and another wine is on the way, but Woodbridge is mum on its details. Trade secret, he says.

What do you think of the Layer Cake wines? How do they stack up to the competition? Do you have other favorite labels at a similar price point?

Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  June 8, 2011 1:52pm ET
Tim - I agree that the wines definitely overdeliver for the price. My favorites are the Primitivo and the Shiraz. I recommend the heck out of them to people just getting into wine... or to folks looking for reasonably priced everyday wines. Kudos to Jayson!

And don't forget Jayson's other label - Cherry Pie Pinot Noir. Another great bargain!!
Adam Bremer
nashville, TN —  June 8, 2011 2:20pm ET
I didn't enjoy the Malbec at a 15 dollar price point... doesn't even match up to the simple JB offering you can find anywhere. Seemed overextracted like alot of malbecs these days.. I'm still a big fan of malbecs, but I tend to notice alot of new junk and "blandness" in alot of the low end market for argentina malbecs. Seemed like you couldn't miss when there were 10 malbecs on the shelf 4 years ago, now there are 25, and 15 of them stink.. they better watch out or its going to be australia shiraz all over again.
Christopher Cribb
Kansas City, MIssouri - USA —  June 8, 2011 3:46pm ET
Love the idea, love the price point, have been fairly impressed with wines. The Shiraz, which I believe was where the project started, is a standout. The Malbec; I find a bit weak compared to the premium Mendoza competition. Excited to see some Pinot soon, maybe he can do some Old School Burgundy for the Francophiles! (my guess as to the trade secret).
Doug Wilson
Healdsburg  —  June 8, 2011 4:46pm ET
The Cabernet is a killer wine for not a lot of $$
Kc Tucker
Escondido, CA USA —  June 8, 2011 7:50pm ET
Shiraz and Cab are decent, but the others, eh. Unoaked Chardonnay doesn't sell.

Another line of wine that overdelivers is McManis Family. Can't say bad things about Bogle and Cycles Gladiator, either.

Jim Kern
Holiday Wine Cellar
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  June 8, 2011 7:55pm ET
Thanks for the comments, all. Christopher & Adam, I hear what you are saying, although the availability of Layer Cake is a plus for smaller markets.
Ivan Campos
Ottawa, Canada —  June 9, 2011 9:55am ET
Don't think much can compete with Cono Sur and Fuzion. Lots of diversity, and consistently great values under $20. No doubt partly attributable to lower production costs in South America.
Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  June 9, 2011 11:37am ET
for the most part i have been very underwhelmed. they're drinkable, but that's about where it ends for me. i'm very impressed that the reds see new french oak and still sell for $15! they must be buying some VERY inexpensive fruit.

i have to agree with mcmanis for excellent values. their petite sirah is delish!
Tom Herer
Portland, ME —  June 11, 2011 4:13pm ET
Love the Primitivo; delicious, distinctive, and widely available. Brian, I agree the cherry pie is great, but a bargain? There are defintely amazing cali pinots available for < $50 -- LWC comes to mind...:)
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  June 13, 2011 5:39pm ET
Tom - I hadn't noticed the price increase... last I remember the 2007 was in the low $30's. Oh well.
Joshua Hull
Lancaster, Pennsylvania —  June 13, 2011 11:34pm ET
I'm still only a few years into wine, but I must say that the wines of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest (i.e. Grand Estates) way over-deliver for the price. Washington does so many varietals well for $15-ish: Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay, and numerous red blends and even Rose's like Charles and Charles from Charles Smith. Even Castle Rock's lineup of wines sourced from Columbia Valley fruit impress, like the Syrah 2007 I have been enjoying for months at a crazy price in PA. The balance and flavors, coupled with often refined tannins and impressively long finishes make Washington my sweet spot for value.
Loren Lingenfelter
Danville, CA —  June 14, 2011 3:52pm ET
They have a Layer Cake Cotes Du Rhone too.....
Matilde Parente
Indian Wells, California, United States —  June 16, 2011 6:21pm ET
Agree Primitivo is the best of the bunch - and like the screwcap, too. Newcomer Sean Minor is tough to beat in Carneros Pinot Noir, Napa Cabernet and Central Coast Chardonnay for around $15 at Palm Desert wine shops. If their track record holds, the 2009 Sean Minor Napa red blend should be worth a sip.

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