Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Discovering Hidden Treasure....At a Discount Wine Store

There is a small sliver of the American population that finds great pleasure and entertainment in scouring through estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores trying to find something underpriced, or perhaps better; an undetected treasure. Even reality TV shows have captured this unique vein of American culture. For better or worse, my family gene pool and nurturing has strapped me with the same desire to find hidden gems. However, these so called gems or deals come in the form of a wine bottle purchased in a wine discount liquor store.

A wine discount store is the last stop for unsold wines to be purchased before they are turned into vinegar or brandy. Chances are many of the wines aren’t very good or they would have been sold long ago. The proprietors of these stores know this but they also know every buyer’s palate is different and if the price is right, a buyer’s palate can be changed. However, a good wine discount store owner also knows they need to have an occasional find in their store or people will stop visiting. That is what makes frequenting these establishments both frustrating and rewarding.

My dad often tells the story how he and Uncle Curly (ok -his real name was Eldon and I never figured out why he was called Curly) would occasionally head over to their favorite discount liquor store, buy a few bottles of wine, then head back to the parking lot and open them. If they were remotely drinkable, they would head right back into the store and buy all that was left. As you can imagine, most of these wines were immediately tossed into the closest dumpster, but at .75 cents or a dollar a bottle, it was cheap entertainment. Once in a while, they would find something they really liked and the trip would be well worth the time!

Uncle Jack and I carried on with this tradition in Chicago. Every so often in the miserable cold of winter, we would trek out to this tiny non-descriptive looking wine discount store on the near north side of the city and pick out a couple of 5th growth Bordeaux wines we knew nothing about and try them. We tried to stick with tradition and open them up in the parking lot, but it was usually 10 degrees outside so sampling was done in the warmth of our homes. On occasion, we would find something that was just fantastic .The trick however, was getting back to the store in time before the hidden treasure was discovered by someone else.

To my young readers this wine buying process probably sounds insane.
Truthfully, with so much information available today, scouring wine discount stores is almost a lost art. Yet, before the age of internet and phone apps that tell us almost everything we need to know about buying wine, discovering good wines at a bargain price was a challenge. I can only imagine how hard it was for dad and Uncle Curly to find drinkable wine. First, they were living in the jug wine era of California wine history. Gallo Winery, the biggest culprit of spewing out below average wine to the masses, was located about a mile from their wine discount store! Secondly, they did not have unlimited budgets to import the wines from the Old World. Even if they did, there was not enough information to know what was worth buying.

I share these stories to offer a solution to my number one reader request: Where can I get cheap wine that tastes good? The wine discount store is my solution to the problem. I realize it sounds a bit “old school” and there are definitely more efficient ways of purchasing wine. But there is nothing like finding a bottle of wine priced to move at $4.99 a bottle and know it’s listed on some website at 5 times that amount. But hey that’s just me and as I said before, I can’t help who I am.

Below are some general guidelines to follow when visiting your local wine discount establishment. I’ve also added some thoughts on wines tasted this month that are budget friendly.

#1. Know your vintages: If 2003 was a bad year for Napa, then don’t expect the ’03 Chateau Rot Gut Napa Valley Cab to be different. Even at a discounted price, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

#2. Stay away from well known brands: Most wineries that produce hundreds of thousands of cases of wine have huge marketing budgets and if they don’t sell it, they have the facilities to do something else with the product. Stick with smaller wine producers.

#3. Lean on the store manager/owner: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I like to hear from the store on how the wine was acquired. Did a winery fall on hard times and go out of business (Which means this is the last vintage)? Are they clearing this vintage out to make room for the following year? Remember, the proprietor has a vested interest in helping you.

#4. Don’t be afraid of foreign labels: Given the deteriorating strength of the U.S. dollar, the deals on buying foreign wine are harder to find. However, occasionally a non-US winemaker will try and break into a market that is dominated by U.S. wine producers and offer something cheap just to get people to try the wine. If the price is right, pick up a bottle and try it.

Wines tasted (and liked) this month.

Benson Ferry 95240 Old Vine Zin Lodi 2006- Got to give all the credit to dad on this one. He found it at his local discount wine store for 5.99 a bottle (retails for ~$20). Had the peppery nose one would expect from a Zinfandel wine but did not overpower the palate which can happen with some old vine zin. Lots of berry flavor with a hint of vanilla. This wine would go well with about any meal but I envision a summer BBQ with ribs as being an ideal fit.

Cameron Hughes California Meritage 2009- I hate to say it, but Cameron Hughes has me figured out. It starts with a simple email; 25% off the following wines for the next two hours!. I click on a few wines, and then notice shipping is free if I order two cases. The deal is done and it’s on my door step in two days. Could not be any easier and they know I’m a sucker for a deal. Very smooth wine that is drinkable today but could improve with some age. Finishes nicely and offers an elegance that is very affordable for $12.99

Cameron Hughes Lot 240 Clarksburg Albarino 2009- See notes from above. This was the second case that got me the free shipping. This gold medal winning white wine would be ideal for the summer. The Albarino grape is a Spanish varietal that has taken hold in the vineyards of California.
The best way to describe it is to say it is somewhere between a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc. I think it probably has more characteristics of the later mentioned but without the cat pee aroma that some Sav Blancs possess.
This wine is very crisp with a nice balance of acidity and a touch of grapefruit was picked up as well. At $11.00 a bottle, it’s priced right for the summer.

Hogue Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007-Props go to Crusty Old Mick for serving this at a charity event he hosted last weekend. This Washington Cab offered robust flavor with supple tannins and is reasonably priced at $10 bucks a bottle. Has the value oriented nature (also known as being cheap) of the Winologist struck a chord with Crusty Old Mick?

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2008- I’m straying a bit from this month’s theme but this one is too good to not mention. Wine Spectator just gave it 94 points which is the highest rating for this Oakville Cab. Raj at Lake Forest Wines thinks it has the potential to be a finalist for Spectator’s wine of the year and he is selling it for $30 bucks a bottle (Seeing it online for $50). Even though just released, this wine showed tremendous character and offered that intense California Cab flavor that Robert Mondavi forced the world to try. Again, not a cheap wine but this one has the potential to be worth much more.

Until Next Month..


1 comment:

  1. Ada: Mrs. WinologistJune 7, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    Now you will understand when I tell you I had to buy it because it was 50% off!