I am still trying to perfect the titles to my Listicle posts. Truly insidious clickbait requires a high-stakes call to action, such as, “5 Ways To Choose Wine That Won’t Get You Killed,” or, “Your Life Will Be Loveless And Destitute Unless You Know These Four Wine Hacks.” I mean, It’s not like alcohol and truth ever went together to begin with.
Regardless, buying wine at the grocery store can be a daunting task. The picture at the top of this post is an actual shot of the wine aisle at the Safeway near my house. Granted, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, close to some of the best wine country on the planet, so my local grocery store has a pretty extensive collection. Yours may have a choice between Barefoot Merlot, a can of Clamato and a melted red crayon. If that’s the case, just pick the melted crayon.
However, if you’re faced with dozens or even a couple hundred wine choices at the grocery store, and you’ve got one entire Alexander Hamilton burning a hole in your pocket, here are four ways to help identify a great value in the crowd:
1. Avoid Cute Labels: Ermagerd!! It’s Mommy Juice Chardonnay! YAS QUEEN! Cuuuuute.
Wait until they see this at the Final Rose viewing party! When you buy a cute label, you’re buying one thing: market research. You’re buying spreadsheets, Nielsen Ratings data, demographic analysis and a 27-year-old woman with an MBA sitting in a cubicle, watching her soul die. The juice behind that label is a tertiary thought at best. It’s all hat and no cowboy. (Holy shit…that’s a great name for a wine…)
2. Check The Bottom Shelf: Typically, the lower the shelf on which the wine is stocked, the cheaper the bottle. A lot of jug and box wines are relegated to the bottom shelf, so most people don’t look there. However, this is also the place where you’ll find close-outs and discontinued brands, and since the store needs the shelf space, these wines are highly discounted for quick liquidation. This picture below of the bottom shelf at my store is a good example. Next to a $6 Vielle Ferme is a close-out E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone for $12.99. Don’t know how much that CNP is next to it, but that could have been an awesome price as well. Always worth checking.
3. Got An “Imports” Section? Use It: Again, this section can vary in size depending on your store, but even if it’s relegated to a small corner next to the two-year-old Cocoa Puffs (for half off!) you should check it out. I find that bulk wines from Europe are consistently unmanipulated and even terroir-driven…and they’re unbelievably inexpensive. You can find a lot of gems here in the $10 – $20 range Though you may not have ever heard of the name or brand, the labels on these wines are usually modified for the U.S. market, so you should be able to identify the varietal pretty easily.
4. Look For Labels With Location Details: Wines from specific growing regions or vineyards tend to be better wines and therefore more costly. So, try this simple formula: a highly detailed wine label + low cost = great value. The government has strict regulations about what information can be on a wine label and why, and most of this information has to do with where the grapes come from. Compare the two labels below:
If the grapes come from all over Hell’s Half Acre (which is not an appellation, by the way), the label does not specify a location. If the grapes are from anywhere in California, the label can read “California.” If they come from a specific vineyard in a specific region in a specific state, the label can say so. Note that the Chalk Hill Chardonnay’s label shows that the wine is Estate Bottled from the Chalk Hill Appellation in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, and therefore costs $48. The Corbett Canyon is Chardonnay from anywhere you can throw a dart on a map, and is $7…for a magnum. The Chalk Hill is luscious and balanced. The Corbett Canyon will strip paint from your walls and is regret in liquid form. Let these two price extremes be your guide, then start looking for the most detailed label with the best price.
Got a tip for finding a great wine value at the store? Leave it in the comments section below so I can steal it…