Friends and former co-workers Linda and John Barta presented me with an all too generous, but perfect and most appreciated retirement gift a few weeks ago. I was instructed to spend the $50 gift certificate to Grocery Outlet entirely on wine.
Not wine drinkers themselves, they know my love of wine and especially the fun I have of hunting down good bargain wines that rarely, if ever, show up in the aisles of your typical grocery store. They also know that retired journalists require lots of cheap wine to pacify their poverty.
Gift card in hand, I headed out to the North Wenatchee Avenue Grocery Outlet and began to peruse its huge selection. This is nothing new for me, mind you. My bias is definitely for the wonderful handmade wines produced by the growing number of local boutique wineries. And I make my own wine and swap with friends who are terrific amateur winemakers.
But for weeknight dinners, I enjoy exploring and learning about wines from other countries, made from unusual grape varieties and unique processes that reveal something new. Especially when I can explore a new wine culture and expand my knowledge for a few dollars.
So, here’s what I came up with. Some of these wines I had purchased before and knew them to be very good wines for the price. Some I picked because I had had other wines I liked made by the same producer. Still others were picked for their origin, variety or inviting label. A couple were picked because, well, why not try a wine from a reputable winery for $3? Full retail prices on all of these wines range from $10 to $25.
And no, I didn’t buy them all at once, but over a span of a couple weeks. Most, I think are still available, but good wines move fast at Grocery Outlet. Sometimes they come back, some never will.
Thank you Linda and John!Ten wines for $50 (actually $48.90 plus tax)
1. Lagana 2014 Riesling, Sagemoor Vineyard, Walla Walla, Wash., $4.99: Super, off-dry Riesling from two of Washington’s best vineyards, Bacchus and Dionysus blocks at Sagemoor. Nicely crafted nutmeg spiced honey and lemon flavors from early and late harvest blocks. 11.5 percent alcohol and 1.55 percent residual sugar.
2. Cornerstone Cellars 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, $5.99: Nice example of a Napa Sauvignon Blanc, less fruity than Washington, less tart than New Zealand, but fuller in body, creamy in texture. Lots of lemon zest on the nose followed by fully ripe gooseberries and a dollup of honey. Excellent! 14.1 percent alcohol.
3. Pra Vinera 2014 Chardonnay, Napa, $6.99: If you like buttery, oaky California Chardonnay, then you’re likely to like this. 13.9 percent alcohol.
4. Rustenberg 2014 white blend, South Africa, $4.99: This blend of 58 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 33 percent Chardonnay and 9 percent Viognier is a great way to start a party or accompany nearly any white wine dish. 13 percent alcohol.
5. Puklavec & Friends 2013 Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Gris, Slovenia, $3.99: Slovenia produces some great white and red wines. I’ve enjoyed this blend of 70 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 30 percent Pinot Gris several times with shellfish and fish-centered meals. Equally good is Puklavec’s tart 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. They’re lighter and less alcoholic than many wines at 11.5 percent, and that's not a bad thing.
6. Stone Cap 2013 Rose, Benton City, Wash., $2.99: Grocery Outlet has had this wine from Benton City’s famed Goose Ridge Vineyard several times. A very nice summer cooler for those who like their wines light and a bit sweet. 12.3 percent alcohol.
7. Alto Cinco 2011 Garnacha, Spain, $4.99: Here’s a nice example of a Spanish Grenache from a famed producer. I brought this wine to a blind Grenache tasting and it got a unanimous thumbs up. Hard to beat at $5! 14 percent alcohol.
8. Cloudcap NV Red Wine, Surrey, B.C., Canada, $2.99: Here’s a sleeper that came in with a shipment of three red wines from Precept Wines. All had vague labels, all were made from British Columbia grapes. All were $3 a bottle and pretty darn good. The Cloudcap was my favorite. Avery Lane and Pine & Post are older Washington labels apparently bought out by Precept. Soft Merlot based and easy drinking. 12.5 percent alcohol.
9. Domaine Rivoire 2014 Bordeaux blend, Carcassonne, France, $5.99: I had to try this because of my love of the inexpensive red wines of Langueduc, the under appreciated but huge wine region of southern France. This blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Merlot has some guts and earthiness that goes nicely with a burger or weeknight steak. It’s likely to improve with another year in the cellar. 12.5 percent.
10. Rocca 2015 Nero D’Avola, Sicily, Italy, $4.99: I had read about this region of Southern Italy where people seemed to live very long, happy lives. Nero D’Avola may be why. Terre Siciliane is one of the oldest wine regions in the world and has been making people happy since the dawn of wine. Earthy and spicy, similar to Syrah, this makes a great partner to grilled red meat, but also pizza and pasta. This wine is still pretty young. Grocery Outlet had a couple different versions and vintages. I plan to try the 2014 next. The 2015 Rocca is 13 percent alcohol.