Tag Archives: grocery store wine

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.

Wine of the week: Ravenswood Old Vine Vintners Zinfandel 2009

image from 3.bp.blogspot.comOne of the things that the Wine Curmudgeon doesn ?t like about this job is how cynical it has made me about grocery store wine. So many of them have been so disappointing that I ?m at the point that if the front or back label uses adjectives or descriptions like reserve, old vine, or artisan, I figure the marketing department is compensating for quality (given that federal regulations for using terms like these is vague, at best).

So I expected absolutely nothing from the Ravenswood ($10, sample); that ?s why it sat in the wine closet for 13 months. Shows how much I know, other than to reiterate the No. 1 rule of wine reviewing: Don ?t judge the wine until you taste it.

This red is surprising in many ways, not the least of which is that it held up for a year. There is lots of sweet berry fruit in the modern zinfandel style, but it ?s not unpleasant and it ?s balanced by some some traditional zinfandel character (particularly pepper). It ?s a nice value for $10.

Don ?t worry too much if the wine you find is the current vintage and not this one. One of the good things about grocery store wines is that they are consistent in taste and style from year to year.

Wine writing, the wine business, and “Grape-a-hol”


Mark Feldman: "Some wine writers were afraid to review our book."

Are some wine writers afraid to write certain things because they don ?t want to offend the powerful in the wine business? Are they sometimes manipulated by the same people they don ?t want to offend?

Two recent developments make this newsworthy: First, a blog post by British wine writer Jamie Good, noting that he comes ?across people trying to control the media all the time. ?  Many companies clearly have a policy that no communication is released to journalists without being manicured and censored by the comms people. ?

The second came during an interview with Mark Feldman, the co-author of ?Grape-a-hol: How Big Business is Subverting Artisan Winemaking and the Future of Fine Wine. ? The book pulls no punches, describing the wine made by the world ?s biggest wine companies ? the wine that most of us drink ? as little better than bathtub swill.

It ?s an intriguing thesis, but one very few people have heard about. Feldman says that ?s because many of the writers he approached to review the book were afraid to. They told him they agreed with what Feldman and Michael Spratt wrote, but didn ?t want to offend the wine companies that the book criticizes. The writers relied on those companies for samples, interview access, consulting jobs, and the like, they told him; hence, no review.

More, after the jump:

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Wine terms: Grocery store wine

One of the biggest changes in the wine business over the past decade has been the growth in wine departments in grocery stores. Just a decade ago, they were often small and cramped and dirty, and there wasn ?t much to choose from ? even among the biggest national chains.

Today, they look like this.

There are many reasons why this happened, but the most important was the emergence of the specialty grocer like Trader Joe ?s and Whole Foods. They had well-stocked wine departments, and the national chains and their regional counterparts had to respond or risk losing that more affluent customer. So, today, you can find $100 bottles of wine in your local supermarket.

The irony about all this? That the staple of the new and improved grocery store wine section is not high-end wine or those from smaller, more interesting producers (though, oddly enough, they do seem to carry regional wines). Rather, the mainstays are the dozens and dozens of labels from the world ?s biggest producers that have been developed to sell on grocery store shelves. In this, there are even companies, like The Wine Group, that specialize in these wines.

In many ways, the economics of the grocery store wine business are no different than the economics of laundry detergent or ketchup, taking into account local laws and regulations, of course. Wineries pay for shelf space and prominent displays like endcaps (those stacks on the end of an aisle), just like cereal makers. They offer special pricing to retailers, which is reflected in the sales prices in your weekly circular. And there are even loss leaders ? wine sold at the retailer ?s cost to lure shoppers into the store, just like milk.

Hence a grocery store wine ? a brand probably from one of the largest national producers and sold mostly at supermarkets for $8 to $15. It ?s usually a varietal, often from California, and has a cute label or a cute name. Though they are simple wines, without a lot complexity, they can be good values.

The other thing about the term? It applies even in those dozen or so states that don ?t sell wine in grocery stores, like New York. The concept remains the same, even if the retailer doesn ?t.

Wine of the week: Sangre de Toro Vina Sol 2010

Want a good example of what the experts mean by the internationalization of wine? Then taste the Vina Sol from Miguel Torres, one of Spain ?s largest producers. It ?s markedly different from the old days, and made in a softer, more accessible style.

If so, then what ?s it doing as a wine of the week? Because the Vina Sol ($9, purchased) is better made than it used to be. The acidity is in balance, for one thing. Yes, it does seem to have a little too much fruit in the middle (almost tropical), but it does have that Spanish white wine lemony thing going on and doesn ?t taste like it came from Paso Robles, which seems to be one of the goals of internationalization. It ?s made with parellada, a grape used in cava, and that ?s almost enough to make the wine interesting by itself.

It ?s not a $10 Hall of Fame wine, but not every wine of the week is. In fact, if you ?re stuck in a grocery store and need a bottle of wine, this is perfectly fine. Serve it chilled and drink it on its own or with almost any Tuesday night dinner.

And, because it ?s from Torres, there’s a bull on the bottle ? white, of course, since it ?s a white wine.