Tag Archives: cheap wine

Can Grocery Outlet spread the gospel of quality cheap wine?

Grocery OutletGrocery Outlet, the west coast discount supermarket, wants to use cheap wine to help it expand across the country

Grocery Outlet, the west coast discount supermarket, wants to expand across the country. Can it do so in this age of Walmart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and all the rest? And if it does, can it spread the gospel of quality cheap wine?

That’s the question I tried to answer in a freelance piece for Meininger’s Wine Business International. Grocery Outlet’s plans are ambitious: Expanding from 332 to some 4,000 stores as it moves east —  and, say company officials, with cheap wine a key to that expansion.

So why should we be so excited about wine at Grocery Outlet?

For one thing, there are 50 wines in each store that cost $5 or less. For another, those 50 wines are usually not bottom-feeders like Winking Owl. Rather, it’s branded wine from producers we’ve heard of, but that the company buys as seconds, remainders, and discounted items from wholesalers and wineries. And Grocery Outlet is famous among California wine geeks for discounting expensive wine, which it sells for as much as 50 percent off.

This isn’t a new business model for retailing, but it’s very unusual for wine. For one thing, three-tier makes it more difficult than selling overstocks of canned soup. For another, it means each store’s selection changes depending on what the chain can find to discount, so the great $5 wine that was there the last time may not be there the next time. Third, it doesn’t usually stock national brands like Barefoot or Kendall-Jackson, which isn’t the conventional wisdom.

“What we’re doing, and we’re doing it every day, is to find wine through the normal channels, but that it’s wine that we can sell at the right price,” says Cameron Wilson, Grocery Outlet’s director of wine, beer, and spirits. “But what we’re also doing is upgrading the technical quality of the wine we carry, so that everything we carry is in good shape and that it shows well.”

Which sounds like a fine reason for us to care about Grocery Outlet’s success.

Wine of the week: Cantina di Casteggio Barbera 2016

Cantina di Casteggio Barbera

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera offers much more than $9 worth of value in a tart, leathery style

Barbera grapes produce some of Italy’s best known and best expensive wines. So what’s a barbera doing as a wine of the week?

Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.

In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted

Imported by Premium Brands

2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

2020 $10 Hall of FameJust six wines entered the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame, and it’s probably going to get worse

Remember how distraught I was about last year’s $10 Hall of Fame? I’m even more distraught this year; compiling the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame was an exercise in misery — and that’s even before I started worrying about tariff-induced price increases.

Just six wines entered the Hall, five dropped out, and none of the new wines were roses or from California. My notes contained so few “HoF 2020” notations that I went through almost all the wines I drank last year, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I didn’t.

How did we get to this point? Premiumization, of course, as well as the dumbing down of what’s left of wine costing less than $15. Big Wine, Big Retail, and all the rest are convinced that if they make wine taste less wine-like by adding sweetness, fake oak flavors, and purple grape juice concentrate, they’ll convince people who don’t drink wine to drink it. Which, as White Claw demonstrated, doesn’t really work.

Availability, always a problem, got worse last year thanks to wholesaler consolidation. There are too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they prefer Big Wine products. Since most of the most interesting cheap wines are from smaller, niche producers, they can’t find a distributor (or suffer a small one with little clout) and disappear from shelves.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s proposed 100 percent tariff would double the price of European wine, which means there would be almost no $10 wine worth drinking or writing about. If that happens, the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame might well be the last one.

Some good news

The six wines that entered the Hall are top-notch, as good as anything I’ve tasted in 20-some years of wine drinking. That includes the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay; the return of the Gascon classic, Domaine Tariquet; the stunning Portuguese red and white Herdade do Esporão Alandra; the 1-liter Azul y Garanza tempranillo; and the French white blend, Little James Basket Press.

The complete 2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $13 or $14 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the printer icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

2020 Cheap Wine of the Year: Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017

Le Coeur de la ReineLe Coeur de la Reine Gamay, a French red, is the blog’s third annual Cheap Wine of the Year

One of the charges leveled against cheap wine is that it’s bland and boring. Yes, Winking Owl is bland and boring. But to assume that all cheap wine tastes like Winking Owl is silly and more than a little snooty. So, for those of you who don’t believe in cheap wine quality — but especially for those of us who do — we have the Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017, the blog’s third annual cheap wine of the year.

How much Le Coeur de la Reine ($10, purchased, 13%) did I drink last year? At least a case. It was especially helpful in washing out the aftereffects of all those $18 fake oak “there’s a lot of winemaking going on here” samples that I have to spit through to do this job.

The Le Coeur is a French red made with gamay in the Loire, so don’t be surprised that you haven’t heard of it. If gamay is known at all, it’s for wine from Beaujolais; it’s not even the most common red grape from the Loire. That’s cabernet franc, which is hardly well known itself. Nevertheless, this wine does everything a $10 wine is supposed to do – and then some.

There is lots of tart berry fruit, a suggestion of baking spice, and an amazing freshness that  many $15 wines made with gamay don’t bother with. And it is a food wine in the most wonderful bistro sense, in that it will go with almost anything you have for dinner, whether fried catfish, steak frites, or a Brussels sprout Caesar salad.

A tip of the WC’s fedora to Emily Peterson at Valkyrie Selections, the wine’s importer. She promptly returned emails and answered all my questions, which doesn’t happen much these days. Hence, I can report the wine is available in 26 states and the District of Columbia. That includes most big states except California, and even there it is on Wine.com’s website. Also, the current vintage is 2018, but there is still plenty of 2017 on shelves.

Finally, Peterson reports the importer and producer are trying to hold the line on the price despite the tariff, and it shouldn’t go up more than a dollar or two. Meanwhile, she is urging wine drinkers who think a new, proposed 100 percent tariff is foolish to leave a comment with the feds. Go to www.regulations.gov, enter docket number “USTR-2019-0003” and click search. Then, click “comment now” and leave your comments/concerns. Comments are open until Jan. 13.

More Cheap Wine of the Year:
2019 Cheap Wine of the Year: Château La Gravière Blanc 2017
2018 Cheap Wine of the Year: Bieler Pere et Fils Rose 2016

Wine of the week: Badenhorst The Curator 2017

 Badenhorst The Curator The Badenhorst The Curator is a white South African blend that offers a glimpse into the country’s wine renaissance

South African wine has never been much popular in the U.S., save for a brief period at the beginning of the century when it knocked off high-powered Aussie shiraz. When that fad ended, the country’s wines pretty much disappeared from store shelves.

So what is the Badenhorst The Curator ($10, purchased, 12.5%) doing as the wine of the week during the blog’s 2020 Hall of Fame celebration? Because the South African white blend is that well made and that enjoyable.

I bought the Badenhorst The Curator because I had to, given the European wine tariff; the country’s track record for quality and value has been that off-putting for the past 15 years. But The Curator is not what South African wine has been. Rather, it speaks to the country’s renaissance, and especially with white wines. The blend (mostly chenin blanc) is still crisp and fresh, with soft citrus and an almost juicy stone fruit finish that lingers longer than it should. Best yet, the price reminds us that not all wine has to cost $15 just because.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Broadbent Selections

2020 $10 Hall of Fame coming Jan. 10

The 2020 $10 Hall of Fame will appear on the blog on Jan. 10; the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year on Jan. 9.

The 13th annual $10 Wine Hall of Fame will appear on Jan. 10. The  2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, the third annual, will post on Jan. 9.

Thanks to everyone who left comments and sent emails with suggestions for the Hall of Fame. This year’s Hall has been among the most difficult ever to compile — not just because of the continuing decline in  quality cheap wine, but because the tariff has wreaked havoc with price and availability.

Complete eligibility rules are here.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas 2019: The cheap wine version

night before christmas

Welcome to one of the blog’s newest holiday tradition: the cheap wine version of the “Night Before Christmas”

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that the Wine Curmudgeon soon would be there.

And Mamma and I were nestled all snug in our bed;
While visions of cheap wine danced in our heads;
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature keyboard without any reindeer,
Instead a bearded typist so full of high dudgeon,
I knew in a moment it must be the Wine Curmudgeon.

More rapid than eagles his cheap wines they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Tariquet! Now, Falesco! Now, McManis! Now, Pigmentum!”
“On, Bonnet! On, Bieler! On, Charles and Charles!”

“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!”
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
Down the chimney he came and landed on one foot;
His hat and his glasses all tarnished with soot;

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
The last thing I expected was his cranky, middle-aged self
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the wine racks, and did not lurk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his keyboard and the clatter was endless;
And I heard him exclaim, ere he typed out of sight:

“Quality cheap wine to all, and to all a good night!”

With abject apologies to whoever actually wrote the “Night Before Christmas“(as well as to Mrs. Kramsky from the seventh grade, who warned me about my poetry)