The French Antoine Delaune chardonnay is a $6 Aldi white that hints at what the discount grocer can accomplish with its wine
Aldi, the discount grocer, has never seemed to be able to deliver cheap wine quality in its U.S. stores the way it does in Europe. There have been exceptions, but for the most part the wines have been Winking Owl and its ilk. So where does the French Antoine Delaune chardonnay fit into this?
Hopefully, it’s the beginning of Aldi’s commitment to better quality cheap wine — a good thing, since the chain will open a store near my mom in the spring, and we know the trouble she has buying quality cheap wine. The Antoine Delaune chardonnay ($6, purchased, 13%) is a sign that Aldi is focusing more on selling competent and professional wine that you can buy, drink, and not worry about.
This is not to say it’s white Burgundy, the epitome of French chardonnay. But it does taste like chardonnay (some green apple); mostly tastes like it came from France (none of that California slickness); and is clean and fresh without a hint of residual sugar. It’s not even especially thin, which is usually what happens at this price.
And it’s not quite a wine of the week. It’s not stupid, but it is a little too simple and straightforward and the lesser quality of the grapes does show. Plus, you’ll need to open the screwcap 10 or 15 minutes before you drink it, since the wine needs to breathe.
Mostly, the Antoine Delaune chardonnay is worth $6. That’s an accomplishment these days; I recently tasted a $20 chardonnay that was too precious for words, tasting more like non-alcoholic wine than anything.
Imported by Prestige Beverage Group
Cleaning out the notebook after tasting European grocery store wine
A few more thoughts after judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition at the beginning of April, where my panel 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.)
• 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?
Photo by Dave McIntyre
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
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.
• Palma Real Verdejo 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white blend is a Total Wine private label that tastes like it’s supposed to — tart and lemony, simple but not stupid. It looks to be some sort of knockoff of the Marques de Cacera verdejo, but is better made and more enjoyable. Highly recommended.
• Provinco Bianco Grande Alberone 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This Italian white blend, which includes chardonnay, is more Aldi private label plonk. There is little varietal character, save for some chardonnay mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s thin and bitter.
• Weingut Berger Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($12/1 liter, purchased, 12%): Yet another Wine Curmudgeon attempt to understand why so many wine hipsters recommend gruner veltliner, an Austrian white. As my pal Jim Serroka said, and he doesn’t pay much attention to wine, “it’s thin and watery.” Look for a little citrus fruit and not much else.
• Familia Bastida Tempranillo 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Another top-quality Total Wine private label – a Spanish tempranillo that is varietally correct with soft cherry fruit, a hint of spice, not too much oak, and all surprisingly integrated.
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.
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.
• Not in my legal system: A California state judge has dismissed the infamous arsenic lawsuit filed against two dozen California wineries, apparently on a technicality related to the warning labels that most wine bottles have. Needless to say, the plaintiffs were not happy and vowed to appeal. contained illegal and toxic levels of arsenic. My favorite part of the story? This line: “… budget wines produced by more than two dozen California wineries contained illegal and toxic levels of arsenic.” Because, of course, we have to distinguish between the cheap wines in the lawsuit to protect the real wines produced in California — the non-budget wines — from guilt by association.
• No more private label: Talk to retailers, producers, and distributors, and a great many are wary of private label wines — those sold only in one retailer, like Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck. In public, though, a discouraging word is rarely heard. Why is that? British wine writer Jamie Goode explains: “Private label is bad for the consumer, because most of the time they end up paying rather too much for a pretty mediocre wine.” Goode’s post is one of the best explanations about how private label works, why it’s so popular, and why wine drinkers don’t have any idea what’s gong on. It’s the sort of wine writing we don’t see enough on this side of the Atlantic.
• Wine in the rearview mirror: Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight reports (according to research firm bw166.com and published in Wines in Vines), that 2015 U.S. wine sales totaled $38 billion. “Since California Wine Institute data estimates that California represents 65 percent of U.S. dollar sales, that means $24.6 billion in 2015 U.S. wines sales came from California.” He estimates, given craft beer’s 16 percent growth rate, compared to three percent for wine, that craft beer sales in the U.S. could overtake the entire California wine industry by the end of this year: $25.8 billion vs. $25.3 billion. But talk to people in the wine business, and they’ll tell you that everything is OK, mostly because of premiumization. And I make millions of dollars a year from the blog.