Tag Archives: grocery store wine

Two days judging European grocery store wine

grocery store wine
Imagine those wines costing €5 instead of $15.

The Wine Curmudgeon spends two days in grocery store wine heaven

Imagine a delicious, fresh, cherryish Italian red for about $6. Or a Hungarian riesling, taut and crisp, for about $7. Or a $3 pinot noir – a little tart, but still more than drinkable.

Welcome to the world of European grocery store wine, which puts the junk that passes for supermarket wine in the United States to shame. I spent two days last week in Amsterdam judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition, where my group tasted 112 wines made for and sold by grocery stores around the world. (Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the PLMA in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

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.

More on grocery store wine:
Aldi wine road trip
Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?
Wine terms: Private label and store label

Winebits 587: Grocery store wine, descriptors, wine and food pairings

 grocery store wineThis 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.

Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?

private label wineAre 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.

The wine’s producer and importer are desperate to get into the U.S. but have had little success. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

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.

Winebits 564: Kroger wine, wine importers, magazine death

kroger wineThis 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.

Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine

grocery store wineThis 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 by clicking here.

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.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings
Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition
Ask the WC 13: California chardonnay, grip, affordable wine

Barefoot wine review 2019

Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend, Barefoot Bubbly

Barefoot wine review 2018Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend shows Big Wine at its best, while Barefoot Bubbly does just the opposite

Nothing changed with the Barefoot wine review 2018 from the 2017 version. The brand remains maddeningly inconsistent — no guarantee that its products will taste the same from year to year. This is a huge problem, since Barefoot is non-vintage wine and there aren’t supposed to be vintage differences. But E&J Gallo makes so much of it (almost 20 million cases, more than the production of almost every winery in the U.S.) that quality control, apparently, is not what it should be.

The good news first: The Rich Red Blend ($5, purchased, 13%) is a quality sweet red wine that tastes exactly like the back label says it does. In fact, there’s a chart on the back label, modeled after the International Riesling Foundation effort, saying just how sweet the wine is. It’s a welcome development given how many sweet red wines are on the market that pretend not to be sweet.

The Rich Red blend is not as sweet as the Cupcake Red Velvet — closer to the Bogle Essential Red. Look for the cherry, chocolate, and vanilla flavors that are the hallmark of these wines, but also notice the tannins. Yes, tannins in a sweet wine, in an attempt at balance. And it mostly works. And yes, there is a tremendous amount of winemaking going on to get that not especially wine-like combination of flavors. But no one pretends Barefoot makes terroir-driven wines.

The less said about the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee ($8, purchased, 10.5%), the better. When it’s right, it’s an enjoyable bottle of cheap sparking wine that’s easy to recommend. When it’s wrong, as it was this time, about the only thing you can do is pour it down the drain. My experience: It’s  50-50 whether the wine will be drinkable. This time, the Barefoot Bubbly was flat, and barely popped when I took the cork off. Was this a winemaking problem? Was this a supply chain problem —  stored in a hot distributor warehouse after sitting in a hot truck after sitting in a hot supplier warehouse? Either way, it was a waste of $8 that I could have spent on a Spanish cava.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2017
Barefoot wine review 2016
Barefoot wine review 2015

How much wine is sold in grocery stores?

grocery store wineGrocery store wine probably accounts for more than one-half of the U.S. total, but no one is quite sure – even though the number has long-term implications about how and where we buy wine

How much wine is sold in U.S. grocery stores? No one is quite sure.

Hard to believe, what with this being the 21st century and data science and the cloud and all of that. In fact, one analyst told me there is even disagreement about how much total wine is sold every year in the U.S., let alone what kind of store it’s sold in.

Yes, Kroger knows how much wine it sells, as does Walmart and Trader Joe’s and the rest of the biggest chains. But no one, for a variety of reasons, can put all those individual numbers together to come up with a total.

As another analyst put it: “There are data issues and confounding factors. While there is quality hard data on grocery, drug, and mass market wine sales, it is weaker for big box liquor, very weak for fine wine stores, and still evolving for restaurants. And no data for some major players like Trader Joe’s and Costco and Grocery Outlet.”

I stumbled across this amazing bit of news while doing interviews and reporting for a free-lance story about grocery store wine. It’s mind boggling, actually, to think that no one knows quite how to parse a $60 billion business – and one that is tightly regulated as well. But we are talking about wine, where transparency applies only to plastic wrap.

Why does it matter how much wine is sold in grocery stores? Because, as near as the people who follow this can tell, grocery store wine (which includes retailers like Costco) probably accounts for more than half of the wine sold in the U.S. today. This is a fundamental change; when I started doing this in the early 1990s, wine was still mostly sold by retailers in more or less local shops, and most of the local shops weren’t that big.

So that kind of change will eventually change the way wine is made, marketed, and sold in this country. Which it’s sort of doing already. Will grocery stores do for wine what Amazon did for book stores? Or will the local wine shop find a way to survive, as local pet stores have done despite competition from Amazon, big boxes, and the grocery stores?