How to buy wine at the grocery store

grocery store wine tips

The supermarket Great Wall of Wine is the Rubik’s Cube of wine buying, with hundreds and hundreds of bottles to choose from, confusing pricing, and no one to ask for help. But it is possible to buy quality wine at the grocery store, and you don’t even need to know much about varietal or region. Just keep these grocery store wine tips in mind:

? The cuter the label, the more simple the wine. This means there is little balance or interest. Instead, they’re what producers call easy to drink — red wine with lots of sweet fruit and almost no tannins, and white wine with almost honeyed fruit and the minimal amount of acidity necessary to make it palatable. Whether these wines are good or bad isn’t the point; rather, is this the kind of wine you want to buy (or avoid)? If it is, then these labels are a clue.

? Who makes the wine? This is almost impossible to tell, since most of the wine in the grocery store usually comes from a dozen or so producers — our friends at Big Wine — and they would prefer you don’t know. So look for something like ?Produced and bottled. , ?Vinted and bottled. , or ?Imported and bottled. The location that follows usually identifies the parent company, so that many Gallo-owned brands say Modesto, Calif. The ?imported ? line may have a company name similar to the name of the multi-national that owns the brand, so that CWUS is part of Constellation Brands. A more complete list is in this post.

? Decipher the back label. Pay attention to the choice of words, and not what they mean. Simple, less interesting wines rarely describe themselves as fresh, clean, or earthy. Rather, they use terms like rich, plush, luscious, and even roasted. Also, chocolate and caramel show up more often than not, especially in very ordinary red wine, along with badly written homages to oak — vanilla bean is one of my favorites.

? Beware older vintages with steep discounts, especially if the wine wasn’t made in the U.S. This is often a sign the wine has been sitting in a warehouse, sometimes for years, and is more likely to have gone off. The supermarket, which may have bought the wine for pennies on the dollar, doesn’t care if it’s spoiled; who returns bad wine to the grocery store? One rule of thumb: Be wary of white wine older than two years and red wine older than three.

7 thoughts on “How to buy wine at the grocery store

  • By Lewis Perdue - Reply

    Sadly, I have used all of those tips and narrowed things down even further.

    But, so far I have to pour half of those bottles down the drain.

    No matter how hard you try, grocery and most retail stores are a Vino Casino … and the odds are with the house. Pls see: http://recommendationinsights.com/?p=31

  • By Ray Dietz - Reply

    There is a web site called Thumbs Up Wine where they specialise in tasting wines available at grocery and big box stores. I have found their recommendations to be almost always good. They even offer an app for your mobile so that you can look at a picture of the bottle you’re interested in while in a store. Even though I live in Pennsylvania and I’m limited to the State run stores the Thumbs Up reviews are a great help to me since the Pa. Wine and Spirits system buys many of the same wines that are sold in groceries, etc. elsewere.

    Jeff, I hope you don’t feel that I’m stepping on your toes by posting this as Thumb Up really don’t cover the same wines as you do. They are just another resource for us carefull wine buyers.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

      Anything that helps wine drinkers make sensible decisions is welcome, Ray.

  • By Jameson Fink - Reply

    I was a wine steward at a grocery store chain in Washington State (QFC, owned by Kroger) and though we had the usual suspects, we also had freedom to bring in wines that were not part of the set. So there are grocery stores that do believe in having a wine (and beer) program with some unique elements and even a warm body with wine knowledge present.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

      That’s one of the weirdest things about grocery store wine. As supermarkets, and particularly Kroger, have upgraded their departments, some of them have hired employees to do what you did. But there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in that area.

  • By Blake Gray - Reply

    Sometimes in grocery stores I amuse myself by asking, if I had to buy a bottle of wine here, what would it be?

    Rarely are there more than a couple. Sometimes there aren’t any. Supermarkets used to have better selections, but their desire to have the same SKUs year-round just doesn’t lead to the purchase of good wines, because wine doesn’t work that way.

    My advice on how to buy good wine at the supermarket: ask them for directions to the nearest wine shop.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

      And you’re lucky, Blake. The wine in California grocery stores is better than the wine selection in some retailers in other parts of the country.

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