The other day I was at my local Safeway perusing the wine aisle. Dressed in hobo fashion – camo bdu pants, gray hoodie under an worn leather bomber jacket, stocking cap, old tennis shoes, two days worth of stubble – I expected to be left to my own devices while I checked for new selections, price drops, etc. Much to my surprise, I was almost immediately accosted by a very friendly young couple who wanted help choosing a wine to take to a party. Say what?! I was NOT the only person in the wine aisle.
They told me they were thinking red – maybe. The other people at the birthday party would be from Spain and Ecuador. What did I suggest? They wanted something that wasn’t embarrasingly cheap but not beyond a young couple’s budget. We started at Malbec, then moved to Merlot, even sparkling wine as I was trying to ascertain what kind of wine they might want to take as a host gift. The young lady saw the Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco label and got very excited, but decided they wanted red after all. So I suggested they run off with a bottle of the Red Velvet. I said I thought it would make a good party wine. I hope their friends liked it because the couple I was talking to don’t drink!
Winemaker: Cupcake Vineyards
Wine: Red Velvet
Varietal: Red Blend
Notes: And, indeed, I think this is a fine little party wine. It was a pretty red in the glass, and tannins were fairly light. On the palate I found lots of berry flavor at the fore with a lingering cherry accompanied by warm spice notes. Alcohol was at 13.5%. I didn’t get goosebumps while sipping it, but I can’t imagine anyone spitting it out, either. I do think my Safeway may be overcharging. Pretty sure this selection can be found elsewhere for $10 or less. Luckily, it was on sale when I recommended it to the nice couple.
Should the United States have a wine classification system along the lines of what you find in other countries like France, Italy or Germany? That is the question that came to mind as I drank this wine.
You see, this wine is very clearly aimed at the bottom of the market. After all, it’s a non-vintage “American” wine – meaning they can source the grapes from anywhere within the 50 states (and maybe even anywhere from within North or South America as that would still be a truthful claim) and they can blend grape juices from more than one harvest year to get a potable product. If this were sold in France, it’d be a Vin de Table which is their lowest rung of classification. While that classification doesn’t necessarily mean a vintner will charge less per bottle than a competitor in the Vin de Pays class, it does serve as a quick indicator to the consumer that they shouldn’t be paying top dollar.
Although the regular retail price of this wine is by no means top dollar, it is considerably higher than the wines which are of the same ilk and against which this wine appears meant to compete. For instance, the Charles Shaw wines can be had at the local Trader Joe’s for $3.29, and the Three Wishes line at Whole Foods is priced exactly the same. Why, then, does the local Safeway put a regular price of $6.99 on this bottle? Could it be to snag uneducated consumers unawares? After all, I bought this on sale for $3.49. So it looks to me like the store realizes that is about what this Chardonnay should be selling for – period.
Winemaker: Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway)
Price: $6.99 at Safeway
Notes: This Safeway private label Chardonnay was a bright lemon yellow. It’s body was on the lighter side of medium with good acidity while alcohol came in at 12.5%. On the palate I found pear, grapefruit, grass, and a touch of honey. At times during it’s trip across my tongue it was quite weak. Overall, though, it was pretty much OK.
Ever since my Xmas Eve experience with a Petite Sirah (Parducci Petite Sirah 2010), I’ve been keeping my eye peeled for that varietal in the wine retailers I frequent. I have to say there aren’t that many. Even so, I recently ran across this inexpensive offering from Concannon and grabbed a bottle. Better yet, it was on sale at $6.64.
Wine: Selected Vineyards Petite Sirah
Varietal: Petite Sirah
Notes: Color on this Petite Sirah was a dark ruby. On the nose I smelled pepper, dark raspberry, earth and menthol. Acidity was good, tannins were medium, and alcohol was at 13.5%. The wine had a bit of weight on the palate, so I’d say the body was medium-light. Core flavors I found were currant, green herbs, pepper, and oak while the finish was moderately lengthy with pepper, herbs and dark raspberry. I was quite happy with this purchase. What would I pair it with? Well, for me this is one for sipping all by it’s lonesome. Of course, it has the structure and flavor profile to stand up to a meal. In case you’re interested, this was purchased at my local Safeway. If it sounds good to you, maybe it’ll be on sale at your area Safeway, too!
What is up with wines that give little or no information about their makers? It makes me wonder. Seriously! In fact, I find it extremely suspicious when a winery doesn’t support their product with informative labeling or at least a modest online presence. That pertains equally to a retailer that sells a private label but disguises it as something other than a store brand. Seems like they’re saying, “I’m horribly embarrassed that I made this wine (ordered this wine), so I’m not going to admit to being responsible for it.” If I think a wine producer is being cagey, I am much less likely to buy their wines no matter what they call them, how they dress them up, or how low the price. As a result, this was my very first experience with any of the Quail Oak selections.
Winemaker: Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway?)
Price: $6.99 at Safeway
Notes: On the nose I smelled berries and musty earth. The wine is very light-bodied with moderate acidity. At 12.5% alcohol, the Quail Oak Merlot is definitely not a dry red. In fact, I would call this wine sweet. Aside from the sweetness and the lack of any structure to speak of, I found this selection to be fairly pleasant. Flavors for me were plum, dark cherry, a bit of pepper, hints of oak and tar, as well as a dash of bitter herbs on the finish. Personally, though, I really do prefer my Merlots a bit dryer. It wasn’t an offensive wine. It wasn’t a diamond hidden amongst stones, either. I’d say it’s another good candidate for a Sangria – perhaps one that includes citrus because the sweetness of this wine will help balance the citrus. Or maybe this would do well with some leftover spicy Chinese food – Twice Cooked Pork, General Tso’s Chicken and such.
Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur. See “About” for the full disclaimer.
In my area, there are so many places to pick up a bottle of wine that the competition is fierce. You can buy wine at the government liquor shops, independent liquor stores, wine retailers, grocery stores of all kinds (from large chains to tiny specialty food shops), and even drug stores. Not surprisingly, many of the large producers are represented in almost all the stores. And usually the stores are within a few cents of each other on those popular brands. But … not always.
Over the weekend I was rather acutely reminded that each store does have it’s own pricing policies. And the differences can really make a difference. Here’s the situation I ran into.
You saw my recent post on the Kenwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc? If not, you can catch it here. Anyway, the list price at my local Safeway – yes, the Safeway has quite a large wine selection – was $17.49 for that bottle of white vino when I bought it. On Sunday I found the same wine in Whole Foods less than a mile away from Safeway at a list price of $11.99. Not a sale price – the regular, everyday price. See what I mean?!? Gas is expensive, but I can still save money driving from one store to the other on this deal. And if I were having a dinner party and needed more than one bottle, it’s a no-brainer.
So, like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles have told us, “You better shop around!”