Tag Archives: supermarket wine

Follow-up: Two days judging European grocery store wine

grocery store wine

Yes, that’s E&J Gallo’s Apothic and Barefoot for sale in Amsterdam — and no bargains either, at €14.95 and €9.95 (about US$17 and US$12).

Cleaning out the notebook after tasting European grocery store wine

Two days judging 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

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

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.

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?

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?

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.