Tag Archives: grocery store wine

Winebits 522: Cheap wine 2018 edition

cheap wine 2018This week’s wine news: We survey cheap wine 2018 wine developments

The best cheap wine? My pal Dave McIntyre, showing his heart is as big as his talent, reviewed 29 grocery store wines in the Washington Post. Is it any wonder we’re friends? Dave’s conclusion? The best were the Woodbridge and Robert Mondavi chardonnays and the Santa Rita, Cousino-Macul, and Los Vascos cabernet sauvignons. What struck me, other than Dave’s endurance, was that he thought that many of the 29 wines were as poorly made as I do. Would that the wine business did, too.

Cheap sparkling wine: Eva Moore, at the Free-Times weekly, does another great service: ranking nine sparkling wines that cost $10 or less. Her conclusions are about the same as mine, too; what does that man, wine business? Her top-rated bubbly is German, and not easy to find, but an old favorite is also highly-ranked, the legendary Cristalino.

Bad wine is bad wine: Eric Asimov, writing in the New York Times,also understands what the wine business doesn’t: “Few things have been as damaging to the American wine industry as its homogenization.” And this, too: “Anyone who is in the business of examining wine critically needs to actually be critical, not simply validate consumer choices, and looking at wine critically means understanding the chasm between mass-produced wine products and wines that are an expression of a place, a people and an aesthetic.” Is it any wonder I consider Asimov to be the best wine writer in the country?

Aldi wine: This isn’t the way to win friends and influence sales

aldi wineWhy can’t Aldi wine in the U.S. be as cheap and as interesting as it is in Europe?

Aldi, the discount grocery store chain that has wowed Europeans with its quality cheap wine, seemed ready to do the same thing in the U.S. this year. It was facing increased competition in wine from Walmart, Target, and Kroger, as well as the arrival of its European arch-rival Lidl to the U.S.

But the result so far? What a disappointment.

That’s if my weekly ad is any indication (pictured at right), which I think it is. It’s the first time I’ve seen Aldi devote one-quarter of its four-page circular to wine. But there is little there anyone would be interested in buying:

• Just one European wine, an Italian white that looks to be a knockoff of Costco’s private label pinot grigio.

• An 85-point California pinot noir for $13. Someone needs to tell the Aldi marketing types, first, that 85 points is about a special as a new shoelace, and second, that I can buy a dozen $10 grocery store pinot noirs that get more than 85 points. And we all know how I feel about scores.

• A $10 New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Why do I need to buy a $10 New Zealand sauvignon blanc at Aldi? I can do that at Kroger.

The point of this is that Aldi delivers so much more in Europe. I had high hopes we would see that here when Aldi arrived, and I have bought great cheap wine at Aldi – the short-lived, but incredible Vina Decana and its replacement, the always dependable $5 Vina Fuerte. But the rest? Just more private label versions of the same old supermarket plonk that I don’t buy at the supermarket. And Winking Owl. Lots and lots and lots of Winking Owl.

Why is the chain settling for so little here? Has it bought into the grocery store mindset that U.S. consumers will drink whatever is put in front of them as long as it has a score and a pretty label? Is it because it doesn’t see wine as important to sales in the U.S. as wine is in Europe? Or is it just not doing a good job?

Regardless, I want more. I want the same $6, $8, and $10 wines their European customers get. Is that asking too much from what is supposed to be one of the world’s great discount grocers?

Barefoot wine review 2017

Barefoot wine review 2017Barefoot wine review 2017: The sweet red shows Big Wine at its best, while the sauvignon blanc reminds us why Barefoot is so inconsistent

The Barefoot wine review 2017 shows why Barefoot will soon be the best-selling wine brand in the U.S., as well as why so many of its wines are so inconsistently irritating – and difficult for me to write nice things about.

This year, I tasted the Barefoot sweet red ($6, purchased, 10.5%) and sauvignon blanc ($6, purchased, 13%), and the difference between the two illustrates my point. The first is Big Wine at its best – a well-made sweet red that isn’t too sweet, too fruity, or too dirty, and a wine I would buy for someone who likes sweet red. The sauvignon blanc, on the other hand, was thin and almost reedy – a sign of poor quality grapes chosen because they were cheap and not because they added anything to the wine.

The Barefoot sweet red smells like cherry grape juice, but there isn’t much cherry left when you taste it. What fruit there is resembles grape Nehi, but not in a bad way. In this, there’s less acidity than grape juice, and no tannins, either, even though the wine would be better if it had more of the first and some of the latter. That would give it more balance and a brightness that the best sweet reds have. The irony? The the sweet red approaches balance anyway, and even the Big Guy (who tasted the wines with me) was impressed with its quality. The sweet red is California appellation and non-vintage.

The Big Guy was especially annoyed with the sauvignon blanc ($6, purchased, 13%), given that it takes a lot to ruin sauvignon blanc. But that happened here – this was thin and annoying and unripe, and nowhere near Bogle or McManis. It smelled almost grassy, as California sauvignon blanc should, but that was it. In this, I have rarely tasted a well-made Barefoot sauvignon blanc. The wine was non-vintage.

Finally, a word about the stickers most Barefoot wines carry boasting of medals. Ignore them. Most Barefoot wines are non-vintage, so when the sticker says the wine won a medal in 2012 (sweet red) and 2014 (sauvignon blanc), the wines with the sticker almost certainly weren’t the wines entered in the competition.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2016
Barefoot wine review 2015
Barefoot wine: Why it’s so popular


Lidl cuts first prices in grocery store wine war

grocery store wine war

Will Lidl sell these kinds of wines at these prices in the U.S.?

German discounter selling “$12 quality” Prosecco for $9

Those of you who live in Virginia and the Carolinas can see first-hand whether Lidl, the German discount grocer, is serious about changing the way grocery store wine is sold in the U.S. One of its grand opening specials: An award-winning Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, for $9 – a wine the chain claims is comparable to the best-selling Prosecco in the U.S., E&J Gallo’s La Marca.

Welcome to the U.S.’ grocery store wine war.

Said Lidl spokesman Will Harwood, whose company plans to open 100 stores along the East Coast in the next year: “Wine will be a very important category for us, and we’re very excited about what it can do for us.”

In this, Lidl’s selection will be more reminiscent of what its does in its European stores than what arch-rival Aldi has done in the U.S., where the latter has stuck with less expensive, but still very ordinary wines like Winking Owl. In the U.K., where wine plays a key role in product assortment, Nielsen says Aldi and Lidl controlled 13.3 percent of the market in the first quarter of 2017.

These wines, including a $7 Chilean malbec, will be exclusive to Lidl, just as you can only buy Two-buck Chuck at Trader Joe’s (though hopefully the Lidl wines will be of a much higher quality). Two questions remain, though: First, can Lidl convince consumers to buy its wines, which they have never heard of, in the same way they buy little known wine from Trader Joe’s and Costco? Second, will Lidl’s effort force the rest of the grocery store business to respond with better prices and higher quality wine?

The grocery store analysts I talked to were skeptical about the first, given that consumers don’t know what Lidl is and have no reason to trust it. But we’re already seeing other grocers react to the second, they said, and those grocers are worried. Hence efforts by Walmart and Target to beef up their wine selections. Or, as one consultant told me: “There are a lot of national and large regional food retailers who will be ground down by Aldi, Lidi, Amazon and Trader Joe’s, one store at a time until the whole thing implodes.”

I’ve talked to Harwood several times over the past couple of months, and he says he wants me to try the Lidl wines. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, probably later this summer, and will report back when I do.

Is the $14 Yalumba viognier the new best cheap wine in the world?

Yalumba viognier

Is that the Yalumba, the one over there in the corner?

Fortunately, there are two kinds of Yalumba viogniers for sale in the U.S.

This year, you can actually buy one of the grocery store wines that won a platinum medal at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards. It’s so widely available, in fact, that I’ve written about it on the blog – the Australian Yalumba Eden Valley viognier, about $14 in the U.S.

This wine got 95 points and was “really impressive,” with “toast, butter, peach and nectarine and subtle highlights of rose water… richly flavoured but wonderfully balanced with a flow of white peach and ginger on the long finish.”

There are actually two sorts of Yalumba wines for sale in the U.S. The Decanter winner is from the more expensive Samuel’s Garden Collection; the other, called the Y series, made the $10 Hall of Fame in 2013. Its consistency isn’t always there, but at times the Y series wines have approached Bogle and McManis for overall quality.

So why this post? Because last year, the Decanter competition gave us the infamous $7 La Moneda malbec from Chile, which wasn’t for sale in the U.S.. But Internet wine and food types, and some even mainstream news organizations, kept calling it a Walmart wine because it was sold at a supermarket owned by Walmart in Great Britain. And Walmart is Walmart is Walmart, right? Call it fake news for the wine drinker.

I got 32 comments when I wrote about the La Moneda the first time, which is about 32 more than I get for most posts. Many of the comments asked where they could buy the wine even though the point of the post was that it wasn’t for sale in the U.S.

So go buy the Yalumba, even if it isn’t $10. Or buy one of the Y series wines, which are $10. Whatever, please don’t leave a comment asking where it’s for sale. I don’t want to go through that again.


Winebits 462: Lidl, expensive wine, wine importers

lidl This week’s wine news: Discount grocer Lidl and its cheap wine plans Texas expansion, plus more expensive wine is sold, and wine importers are your friend

On to Texas: Lidl, the European discount grocer that will will debut on the East Coast at the end of next year, has said it will make Texas its second destination. This is huge news for wine drinkers, since Lidl is one of the leading wine retailers in Europe, regularly winning awards for its cheap wine. It also means we will have arch-rivals Lidl and Aldi in Dallas, and as a grocery store consultant friend of mine put it: “I wouldn’t want to be in the supermarket business in Dallas and get caught in the middle between Lidl and Aldi when they go at it.”

Too expensive to drink? How about paying $18,000 bottle for a bottle of red Burgundy? Or this quote, from the owner’s daughter after the wine was sold at auction: “My father would have been so proud and so honored. He bought the right wines at the right price.” Nothing, of course, about drinking the wine, supposedly some of the best in the world. In this, just one more example that more and more high-end wines are made to collect, and not to drink.

The fine print: Marrisa Ross in Bon Appetit tries too hard to be hip and with it, but her point is spot on – the wine’s importer, listed in tiny type on the back label, speaks volumes about the quality of what’s in the bottle. We’ve said this on the blog for years, and even listed some of the best cheap wine importers. Know, too, as Ross writes: “Shopping by importer helps you buy more strategically, because even if you don’t know the grape, the region or the producer, you know and trust the importer.”

Winebits 460: Screwcaps, wine writing, wine prices

screwcapsThis week’s wine news: Screwcaps replaced by glass? Plus thoughts on wine writing and wine prices

Watch the heat: Here’s a reason not to use screwcaps – you can’t tell if the wine has been damaged by heat. This matters with expensive wine, says Penfolds’ Peter Gago, who makes very nice expensive wine. Who wants to buy a bottle of top-end red only to find out it’s off because it has been stored or shipped in conditions that are too warm? thedrinksbusiness website reports that a weeping cork – where some wine has leaked out – may mean the wine has been exposed to intense heat. Also, if the bottle gets too hot, the capsule – the cork covering – is pushed up. Neither happens with a screwcap, because it’s a better seal. In this, says Gago, glass will eventually become a better closure for expensive wine than either cork or screwcap. That’s a unique look at closures, and one that doesn’t apply to almost all the wine we drink since it costs less than $20 and isn’t around long enough to suffer heat damage.

Still awful: Erika Syzmanski is one of my favorite wine writers, mostly because she doesn’t write about wine. This is not damning with faint praise, but that Syzmanski understands there is more to wine writing than toasty and oaky. This piece is an excellent example, discussing not just why wine writing isn’t as good as it should be, but offering her ideas about what needs to be done: “This, fundamentally, is what makes me cringe when someone asks me about whether wine writing is becoming better, or whether we’re helping to make wine more accessible. Adding ramps to buildings is great, especially when we don’t destroy the architectural beauty of a good set of stairs doing so. Appreciate the stairs, keep the highfalutin’ publications, but simultaneously add a ramp for people who need or want to read something written more like Buzzfeed than like The Atlantic.” Which, of course, is what I have been arguing for years, though without her patience.

Grocery store wine: One reason supermarkets are so eager to carry wine is that they make more money on wine and have more control over the price. And that is becoming true for restaurants as well, which helps explain why their prices are so out of line. The grocery business is in the midst of what the experts are calling food deflation, where wholesale prices are decreasing, which means they can’t charge as much, and which means their profits are lower. This is starting to happen with restaurants, too. So how will restaurants prop up the bottom line? Continue to overcharge us for wine, to make up for what they can’t charge us for food.