Cycles Gladiator: More Than an Eye-Catching Label

The label on a wine bottle is a consumer’s first introduction to a wine. Some wineries take a conservative approach, others not so much. I think by anyone’s standard the wine bottle label for Cycles Gladiator falls squarely in the not so much category. The name and image, seen below, come from a Belle Époque-era ad for a bicycle of the same name.

She is described as a nude nymph, floating alongside a bicycle with wings. The poster was created in Paris in 1895. This style of bicycle ad, featuring women, was common at the time and the ads were aimed at women. The bicycle was seen as liberating for women, allowing them to travel independently and conveniently. In 1895 these advertisements must have been shocking. Provocative, I think, applies to the image today. Certainly the label gets the bottle noticed, which is the whole idea.

In 2009 the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board was not so impressed when the label was submitted to the state for approval. No dice, the board declared, it was rejected in the state on the grounds that it violated regulations that prohibit wine advertisement featuring “any person(s) posed in an immodest or sensuous manner.” Well, OK, I guess the Alabama folks weren’t swayed by the fact that the label had been approved by the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), they weren’t having it in their state. Fine, that’s their prerogative, but it’s too bad for wine lovers in the state, because the wine is delicious and the price, like the label, is very attractive.

We recently joined a discussion with Cycles Gladiator winemaker Adam LaZarre during which Adam talked about his wines and the winemaking process. We received four Cycles Gladiator wines as tasting samples.

Re-focusing the Brand

The Cycles Gladiator wine brand was developed in 2005, when Adam was winemaker at Hahn Estates, as a value brand for Central Coast fruit. The brand grew, and after Adam left Hahn Estates the label went in another direction, focusing on Central Valley fruit, eventually changing the original label design.

Several years ago Adam was approached by Dennis Carroll, who through his company Wine Hooligans had purchased Cycles Gladiator with the intention of restoring the brand to its original focus. Adam was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the brand he was instrumental in founding. In addition to making the Cycles Gladiator wines again, Adam is making other Wine Hooligan labels.

As a resident of Paso Robles, Adam feels a special connection to Central Coast fruit and is happy to be working with some of the same vineyard properties as he did when he first developed Cycles Gladiator. The current focus is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Merlot.

The Wines

Cycles-Gladiator-Chard2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Chardonnaymedium yellow in the glass with generous tropical fruit aromas. The flavors are tropical along with notes of grapefruit, stone fruit and spice. The wine has nice acidity and a bit of weight in the mouth with a medium-long finish. 13.5% abv. $10.99

This 100% Chardonnay exhibits plenty of fruit flavor with just enough oak influence to add interest. Adam uses three vineyard sources for the Chardonnay, two of which he described as bookends to Wente vineyards in the Livermore Valley. The 2014 vintage produced large crop of high quality fruit — a winemaker’s dream.

In the wine cellar, a long cold fermentation took place largely in tank, with just 15% moved to one-year-old barrels. About 50% of the wine was allowed to go through malolactic fermentation to add flavor and texture. A small amount of new French and American oak was used for aging.

Cycles-Gladiator-PinotNoir2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Pinot Noirmedium ruby-garnet in the glass with earthy, blackberry bramble aromas. The flavors follow with ripe blackberries, cranberries, a bit of earth and berry bramble. Tannins are smooth and well-integrated with the flavors. The finish is medium in length. 13.5% abv. $10.99

The wine is 100% Pinot Noir and unmistakably Pinot Noir in terms of both aroma and flavor. Two vineyard sites are blended for flavor and balance. The Chualar (pronounced choo-lar) Canyon Vineyard is located in northern Monterey County. Pinot Noir from this site is light in color, perfumed and acid driven. As a counter balance to the delicacy of this fruit, the Los Alamos Vineyard near Santa Barbara yields fruit with intense flavor and color.

When it came time to blend the Pinot Noir, Adam reached out to Facebook friends to determine the style of the final wine. Overwhelmingly, the vote tended toward a lighter, more delicate style over a heavier, riper Pinot Noir.

Cycles-Gladiator-CabSavignon2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon medium ruby-violet color in the glass with dark fruit and earthy aromas. Red and dark fruit flavors combine with an earthy component, subtle herbal notes and smooth tannins. It took this wine a bit of time to come alive in the glass, gaining complexity as it did. 13.5% abv. $10.99

Most of the grapes were sourced from Collier Canyon Vineyard located on a hillside above the Livermore Valley. Yield in the vineyard is only 2-3 tons per acre. Because of the steep incline, the vineyard must be hand harvested and picking took place over a one-month period, beginning with less ripe fruit to lend and acidity and ending with riper, plummy fruit.

This Cabernet is versatile and food friendly. It’s not too ripe and the wood influence is restrained which should make this wine a crowd pleaser. Once again, the fruit is sourced from multiple vineyard sites to gain complexity, balance and flavor. The final blend is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot to broaden flavor in the mid-palate and 8% Syrah to add red fruit flavors.

Fun fact: coming soon to a Michigan Starbucks near you…Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cycles-Gladiator-PetiteSirah2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Petite Sirahinky dark-ruby color in the glass with ripe red berry aromas. Very ripe blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fruit flavors combine very grippy tannins. There is nothing shy about this wine. It screams for grilled meat. 15% abv. $10.99

By Adam’s description Petite Sirah can be intense, aggressive and one dimensional, no matter where it is grown. (He described it as blueberry motor oil that will stain your soul!) For that reason, he believes blending PS with a cool-weather Syrah is essential to produce a balanced wine. To that end, this Petite Sirah is blended with 18% Syrah from the Rancho Arroyo Grande Vineyard which lends cracked pepper and raspberry components to the wine according to LaZarre. The Petite Sirah is sourced from two Livermore Valley sites and one site from Paso Robles.

This wine sees a bit more oak aging with 15 months spent in 50% new American and French oak, with the balance in neutral oak. Go big or go home is my description of this Petite Sirah. Those who love a riper more oaky style of red wine will love this one.

The 2014 Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Merlot was too recently bottled to be included with these tasting samples. My favorites in this group of wines are the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, but all will appeal to many wine drinkers. At $10.99 these wines are a real bargain. And then there’s the whole “nude nymph” thing, which will be a conversation starter at any gathering.

Thanks to Adam for the fun hour of wine talk and wine tasting. We learned a lot and Alex Fondren from Charles Communications Associates kept the conversation moving with grace and an ever-constant smile. Well done!


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