The Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available
Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.
Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.
That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.
• One odd contradiction: The best cheap European wines in the states, including cava and cabernet sauvignon, weren’t that great in the competition. I was especially surprised at the poor quality of the cava, which usually costs $10 here and is almost always a value. But the other judges told me that there wasn’t a lot of well-made €5 and €6 sparkling in Europe.
• We tasted a lot of wine made from grapes we never see in the U.S. This makes sense – why try to sell something like a white wine from Lugana in Italy in a country devoted to chardonnay? But it’s also a shame. Lugana is made with the verdicchio grape, which may or may not be an Italian version of my beloved ugni blanc (there’s some DNA confusion). The best one we tasted was stunning – crisp, fresh, and sort of lemon-limey, and for about €5.
• There’s sweet, and then there’s sweet. The panel spent a fair amount of time talking about residual sugar, and how much of it makes a wine sweet. In the U.S. we consider a wine dry if it contains as much as .08 percent residual, and something like Apothic, at 1.2 percent or so, is considered sweet. In Europe, the others said, the Apothic is seen as very sweet, while dry ends around .05 percent..
• Europeans don’t get to taste much U.S. wine. This surprised me, since we drink so much European wine. But, as I was reminded, most U.S. wine is sold in the U.S., and save for some Big Wine brands like Barefoot, there is very little wine made in this country that makes it to Europe.
Finally, the competition was held at the Amsterdam Hilton, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their legendary 1969 bed-in for peace. Their suite is still there, and you can stay in it for €300 a night. The bed-in business impressed me no end, given I still own considerable Beatles vinyl. But not, however, the 30-something Czech judge sitting next to me. Yes, he said, he knew who John Lennon was, but can we get back to tasting wine?
I couldn’t have been happier. For the most part, the wines – and especially those sold in Europe – were cheap and well made. Many would have made the $10 Hall of Fame, including the Italian red. Which, frankly, was spectacular. It was made in Tuscany with a local version of the sangiovese grape called morellino and was bright and fresh and interesting – all for €5. That’s less than the cost of a bottle of Barefoot, and half the price of a bottle of Cupcake.
In this, almost all of the wines we judged were everything I wish cheap wine in the U.S. would be – mostly varietally correct, mostly tasting like the region it came from, and widely available. Or, as the other judges on my panel, all Europeans, said to me at one time or another, tongue firmly in cheek: “Jeff, we didn’t know you had it so bad in the states.”
Little do they know.
That was the good news. The bad is that there are still too many obstacles to getting that quality of wine in your local Kroger, Aldi, Ralph’s, Safeway, and Wegman’s. Not surprisingly, the U.S. liquor laws and the three-tier system are at the forefront.
One judge, who used to be the buyer for one of Europe’s biggest grocers, said the regulations and restrictions governing U.S. wine sales are indecipherable to most Europeans – even those who are paid to figure them out. It has taken years to understand the system, she said, and it has been a long, tedious process.
In addition, the U.S. lacks Europe’s sophisticated private label supply chain. In Italy, for example, the supermarket buyer can make a couple of phone calls to get the morellino. Here, by contrast, retailers usually have to work through bulk wine brokers, a much costlier and more complicated process.
Still, if what I tasted is any indication, there are dozens of reason for optimism.
This week’s wine news: Is there a chance of grocery store wine in New York state? Plus beer descriptors and wine and food pairings
• Bring on the grocery store wine: New York is the most important state that doesn’t allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, but one prominent critic thinks it’s time to change change that. “About 35 states allow [wine in grocery stores]. New York should be one of them. It’s long overdue. … I have little patience for this debate.” The story does an excellent job of explaining the mess that is wine law in New York, and the powerful forces arrayed against letting residents buy a bottle at their local supermarket.
• Sorry about that, beer: How sad is this? Wine descriptors, those adjectives used to describe wine like toasty and oak, have become so common in beer that someone write about beer descriptors to avoid. It’s not enough that wine descriptors make wine difficult to understand? Now they have to annoy beer drinkers, too?
• White wine and beef: London’s Daily Telegraph, in a story about wine expert Tim Hanni, reminds us that “wine pairing is pseudo-science.” Hanni, who travels the world in his attempt to demystify wine, told an audience in New Zealand that there are no perfect wine and food pairings, and that lecturing wine drinkers about pairings does more harm than it does good.
Are U.S. retailers ready to sell quality private label wine like their European counterparts?
I tasted two wines just before Thanksgiving that were easily some of the best cheap labels I’ve sampled this year. The catch? They’re only available in Europe – where, of course, they’re wildly popular.
They were grocery store private label wine. One was a €4 (about US$4.55) South African sauvignon blanc called MooiBerg that has sold 750,000 cases at Aldi stores in the Netherlands. The wine so much better made, so much better priced, and so much more enjoyable than the Winking Owl that dominates U.S. Aldi shelves that I was speechless.
That was the bad news. The good news? I tasted the wines at the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association trade show, which dedicated part of this year’s effort to convince U.S. retailers to abandon their traditional overpriced and poorly made private label wines in favor of quality like the Mooiberg. The group is so serious about doing this that it holds an international wine competition for store brand wines.
As part of that effort, I moderated a seminar that explored the differences between private label wine in Europe and the U.S. (Full disclosure: I’m doing some consulting for the trade group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)
We were trying to figure out why British consumers get quality €6 Prosecco at Lidl in the United Kingdom and we get crummy $10 domestic sparkling wine at Aldi. In fact, said the panelists, U.S. wine drinkers do want better quality private label wine than they’re getting now.
And this was more than my whining. One of the panelists, Maryrose Rinella, oversees private label wine for the nationwide Albertson’s/Safeway chain. And she told the audience that her company wants to upgrade its private label wine to make more money. Quality private label, she said, is more profitable for the retailer. Talk about a revolutionary concept for the wine business.
So a fine start, but still a long way to go until we get that €4 sauvignon blanc on U.S. shelves. But it will be worth the wait. Because, of course, Winking Owl.
This week’s wine news: Kroger wine and home delivery, plus the best wine importers, and a noted beer magazine closes
• The great wall of wine wine at your home: Kroger will offer home wine delivery in 14 states. This Bloomberg story, which looks to be written from a news release and isn’t quite clear about the project, doesn’t quite get what a big deal this is. Which it is, if only because Kroger is one of the largest wine retailers in the country and it’s not just selling wine. Apparently, it will be private label wine from California, Italy, France and Spain, costing between $11 and $17 a bottle and come only in six- and 12-bottle “assortments.” In other words, grocery store wine premiumization.
• Only the best: Frank Whitman, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, lists four of the best wine importers – names on the back of a bottle that almost always deliver quality and value. You’ll see the four importers mentioned in the story – Kermit Lynch, Rosenthal, Skurnik, and Louis/Dressner – frequently on the blog, and regular readers know how picky I am about these things. It’s not surprising, though, given the way wine works that distinguishing between the best importers and everyone else can be complicated and time consuming.
• So long, All About Beer: Yes, it’s not a wine magazine, but those of us who write for a living know exactly what happens when a magazine folds – and doesn’t pay the contributors. Hence, this item about the respected All About Beer magazine, which apparently did just that and left its writers in the lurch. Reports Forbes: “Reporters and editors have complained for years about late and missed paychecks, and recent editor John Holl and at least ten other staffers left their positions because of bounced checks and failure to make vendor payments.” Sadly, I am all too familiar with that in the world of magazine freelancing.
This edition of Ask the WC: Dependable grocery store wines, plus, Millennials and wine and canned wine
Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .
Dear Wine Curmudgeon: I buy most of my wine at the grocery store, and you don’t review a lot of grocery store wine. Are there a couple you can recommend? Supermarket shopper
Dear Supermarket: Of course – Bogle is always worthwhile, and Line 39 and Hess from California usually are, too. The Villa Maria (closer to $15) and Matua sauvignon blancs from New Zealand are typically well made. Many of the roses offer value, like the Charles & Charles and the Bieler Sabine. There is a catch, though, even with these wines — grocery store pricing. One day the wine will be $10, and the next day it will be $18, and there is no rhyme or reason why.
Hey Jeff: Aren’t you wrong about the lack of interest in wine among younger generations? I thought I saw a study a couple of years ago that said Millennials were the biggest consumers of wine in the U.S.? Curious
Dear Curious: I think you’re referring to the infamous Wine Market Council study, which was shunted to one side and never spoken of again. I’ve been told there were problems with the methodology. Most studies since then, including this one, aren’t optimistic about Millennials taking up wine the way the Baby Boomers did.
Hi, WC: What do you think about canned wine? Isn’t it kind of cool? Tired of bottles
Dear Tired: Canned wine is like the rest of wine. Some of it is terrific, some of it isn’t, and much of the excitement is marketing driven. The smart people I’ve talked to say canned wine has a future as an alternative like boxed wine, filling a niche in the market. My other problem, besides the middling quality/price ratio for too many of them, is that I don’t like to drink out of a can. I don’t drink beer that way, either.