By Kelly Werthmann
DENVER (CBS4) – They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but many people do judge a wine by its label.
When it comes to Replica wine labels, each says exactly what it is — replicas of popular wines that are easier to afford.
“That’s what Replica is about,” said Ari Walker, CEO of Integrated Beverage Group, the maker of Replica Wines. “It’s about delivering your favorite flavors at just a fraction of the price.
“American consumers pay more for the quality wine they consume than consumers anywhere else in the world. If we can deliver those same flavors at a fraction of the cost, we feel like we’re solving a real problem for consumers.”
Traditional winemaking usually begins with grapes, but in Replica’s case it starts with science inside a Denver lab.
“We test samples of wine for hundreds of different chemicals and compounds that occur in wine naturally,” Sean Callan, who oversees the lab, said.
Using a variety of popular name-brand wines, scientists break down the wine to parts per billion. That allows them to determine things like a wine’s flavors, color, aroma and dryness.
“We’ll measure the things your brain tells you tastes like oak or vanilla,” Callan explained to CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “We’ll measure how much alcohol is in the wine, exactly what color red the wine is, and we’ll use all these pieces of data to draw this sort of roadmap.”
That roadmap is essentially a recipe given to Replica’s winemakers, who aim to make a perfect copy of the original wine using real ingredients.
“The science informs what we do, but our wines are made at our wineries in California and Oregon using classic wine-making techniques,” Walker explained.
With fun names like Knockoff, Pickpocket and Misbehaved, Replica Wine retails for about half the price of originals, such as the popular $50 Prisoner.
“My thought was could we deliver those $50 flavors at a wine that costs $20?” Walker said.
Answering that question is master sommelier Brett Zimmerman.
“I’m kind of the final person that tastes the wine just to make sure that what we’re doing is of quality,” Zimmerman, the Chief Wine Officer, said.
One type of taste test Zimmerman uses is called a “triangle test.” Two glasses are filled with a Replica Wine, a third with the original version. Not knowing what’s in what glass, the goal is to pick which one is different.
“You’re looking at earth components, wood components, fruit flavors, and trying to figure out, ‘Do these match? Are they close enough?'” he explained.
CBS4 took those questions to a small group of wine lovers. Using the “triangle test” the four ladies tried three different kinds of wine – Replica’s red blend Pickpocket, pinot noir Misbehaved, and chardonnay Retrofit, compared to Prisoner, Meiomi, and Rombauer, respectively.
“It’s definitely hard,” Nicki Hayes admitted.
“I thought this was going to be a slam dunk,” Alicia Johnston agreed.
Of the three rounds, only a handful of times did a couple of the “taste testers” pick the original brand.
“When you taste them all together,” Lisa Palladino said, speaking of the red blend wines in front of her, “you can’t really tell. It’s very subtle differences.”
All four wine lovers agreed Replica’s flavors were enjoyable and they’d likely buy the copycat brand, especially to save money.
“Knowing that I couldn’t tell the difference – most people wouldn’t, I think – I would absolutely bring this to gatherings,” Hayes said.
And that’s the response Replica hopes to replicate with wine lovers around the world.
“It’s either a really, really brilliant idea, or the world’s craziest science experiment,” Walker said with a smile.
Not a wine fan? Perhaps you prefer whiskey. Replica has a little something for you, too. Using the same analytical process, IBG scientists are working on producing premium-aged whiskey in a number of hours that would otherwise take 20 years. The company plans to release the rapid-aged whiskey in October 2019.
Replica Wine can be purchased at your favorite liquor store.
MORE FROM CBSNEWS.COM: Taste-testing Replica Wines: How do knockoffs stack up to the originals?
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.