West Oakland Spectator

31 May

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Today we’re reviewing three new, slightly fabulous wines from Grocery Outlet, Oakland! If you like sweet red blends like Menage a Trois (sold in Safeway for 10.99), you will love paying less for Lake & Vine’s 2010 Lake County red wine ($6.99). A blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cab Franc, this sweet yet balanced red won the hearts of everyone in our West Oakland home. Grocery Outlet describes this wine as “aromatic, glassy, smooth and delicious!” I wasn’t able to find “Lake & Vine Winery” on Google, so this might be a white label. Either way, this wine was the hit of the night – five out of five Vizsla heads!

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The runner up was Brovida Cordara Dolcetto ($4.99). This wine had a sun-ripened raisin quality, and was definitely more palatable than most G.O. finds. The winemaker describes this wine as “small red fruits on the nose, as well as vanilla, coffee and ripe red fruits. On the palate, it is elegant and full-bodied, with flavors of cherry and plum.” Four out of five Vizsla heads.

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The dud of the evening was a Central Coast Pinot Noir from Wilson Daniel ($4.99). Grocery Outlet describes this wine as “wonderfully flavorful, with fresh strawberries and cherry aromas.” To me, this wine tasted murky and flat. Two out of five Vizsla heads.

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North Coast Spectator

16 Jan

After lying dormant for a few months, we’re reviving Grocery Outlet Spectator with a fantastic four-wine bonanza plucked from none other than Humboldt County’s Grocery Outlet. Our party of four made fresh crabcakes, scalloped potatoes and a green salad to soak up the wine.

The following bottles found our way into our cart…


Russian River Valley Sonoma Cuvee Chardonnay, 2006
($4.99, suggested retail $19.99)

Ross: “Good for a Chardonnay, but I’m not a fan of the varietal. A lot of times they pick the fruit too young, but I think the sugar is developed in the grapes. It’s a full, mature Chardonnay. “
Johanna: “G.O. white wines are tough, they usually just taste like green apples. This one tastes like fruit and vanilla.”
Arlen: Shrug. “It’s like a nice walk in the spring. For Grocery Outlet Chardonnays, which can be brutal, I would give this high marks. “
Laurel: I took one sip and immediately ran to the computer to look google it. A rare Grocery Outlet find, I would buy and enjoy this again.

Official tasting notes can be downloaded (pdf) here.

Ripe flavors of pear and Meyer lemon bring substantial counterpoints to delicate oak nuances offering components of cinnamon, nutmeg, and hazelnut. This refreshing wine exhibits a delightful crisp complexity; the rich, creamy mid-palate is framed by a well-balanced acid-tannin structure leading to a brilliant clean finish that leaves you wanting more.

2006 Goodnight Zinfandel, Firestone Vineyards
($4.99 retail value $14.99)

Arlen and I picked up a bottle of this wine at the Berkeley Grocery Outlet last week. We decanted it for approx. 15 minutes and really enjoyed it. We tried it again tonight and felt it really benefited from the air circulation – so much so that it wasn’t a big hit with the dinner party. I’d buy this bottle again, but it made me consider investing in a traveling decanter.

Our Zinfandel offers up classic Zin notes of cracked white and black pepper, caramel, pomegranate, and summer raspberries. In the mouth, this wine is not shy on fruit, with jammy notes of backyard plums, boysenberries and blackberries. Because of its inherently soft tannins, this wine is drinkable in its youth, and pairs exceedingly well with pizza, cheeseburgers just off the grill.

2007 Chilean Caliterra Reserva Carmenere
($4.99)

THIS wine was the hit of the night. By far the house favorite, everyone thought this was a winner, despite being thrown off by the screwtop and odd label. Upon further internet investigation we found this wine was selected Chile’s best Carmenere blend in 2008. There are so many wine competitions – how else does Barefoot Wines always have some sort of award? – but I think this one is a goodie.

2006 Vina Calina Merlot Alcance
($4.99)

It had all the markings of a decent wine – a heavy, expensive looking bottle; an elegant label design. But alas, it was a trap. This was the only bummer of the night. It was passable – but one-dimensional. That’s what you get taking a chance on a Merlot.

Australia Strikes Again

1 Jun

Apologies for the long hiatus. I swung back over to the dark side and started purchasing wines from my local wine shop. Expensive wines. Fancy little Spanish wines, Oregon Pinot Noirs… Sigh. Luckily I jumped back on the Grocery Outlet wagon when Arlen’s brother called with a tip on a great Australian Cab/Syrah blend. Ross and his finance are getting married in two weeks and bought the majority of their wedding wine from Grocery Outlet. Thus, they’ve become savvy G.O. connoisseurs, as evidenced by a 2007 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Cabernet Shiraz recommendation.

This is a good everyday Red and I would recommend buying a few bottles to keep on hand.

On a separate note, I was intrigued by a 2006 Jocelyn Lonen Founder’s Blend on sale for $25.99, originally priced at $85.00. $25 is a lot to gamble on a Grocery Outlet find, especially when there’s a tasty little La Cartuja Priorat waiting for me at Farmstead Cheese and Wine for $17.50. From my internet research, it definitely retails around $80. But is it worth it? If anyone takes the plunge and buys this wine, please let me know!

Grocery Outlet Mothership

26 Apr

This weekend I had the pleasure of dining with Arlen’s extended family in Nevada City. Avid purveyors of Grocery Outlet, the Millers were pleased to try our recent purchases from their local G.O.

The Nevada City Grocery Outlet was an entirely different shopping experience than the Berkeley location. First, a friendly and gregarious drunk provided unsolicited and informative advice: Syrahs from Australia and Merlots from Chile are the absolute best values. He was loading up on an AU Australian Syrah, so I decided to trust his unfortunately well-educated palette and grab a few of the recommended varietals. I also purchased a 2004 Yering Station Nell Cabernet-Syrah blend, and a 2004 Clos Berenger Priorat from Spain.

We first opened the Priorat, which made me wish I hadn’t made the amateur mistake of forgetting my decanter. The wine was complex, tight, minerally, and food friendly. It smelled strongly of licorice and blackberries. I think it would have been fabulous if given the chance to breathe. Grocery Outlet claimed this same bottle sells for $50. I searched online for reviews, and could only find an overview of the 2003 vintage which received 89/100 points from Robert Parker.

Decanter.com writes:

Clos Berenguer
Small production, but worth seeking out. Vi de Guarda is Garnacha-dominated; Selecció a blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Syrah and Cabernet. Both are exciting, but for me Vi de Guarda has the edge.

The second wine opened was a 2004 Yering Station Nell, Cabernet-Syrah blend. I was immediately taken aback by the sugar content of the wine. After guzzling the dry Priorat, it was quite disturbing to swallow what tasted like a mouthful of sugar.  However, the Nell came around after about half a glass (or thankfully numbed my tastebuds). I love finding real-world prices, and apparently this little number goes for $12 elsewhere.

The dud of the evening was the AU Australian Syrah (thanks, old drunk). I’m trying to find patterns in Grocery Outlet’s wines, and it seems like the larger the quantity in stock, the lower the quality of the wine. Perhaps an easy association, but I’m still learning the bargain wine shopping ropes.

Cameron Hughes: The Future of Wine?

8 Apr

I’m always thrilled when a Cameron Hughes wine pops up at Grocery Outlet. Cameron Hughes buys finished and unfinished wines in bulk from the world’s top producers, and resells them at value prices. His winery is all about downshifting with the market, and capitalizes on the economic difficultly of selling $60 bottles of wine. A large supply of premium wine is available for a variety of reasons, as explained on Cameron Hughes Wines website.

  • At the high-end of the wine business, winemakers always make more than they need, so they have plenty of wine to work with to assemble their final blends.
  • Winemakers are continually trying new vineyard sources and discontinuing old sources.
  • To increase cash flow, many wineries sell off certain lots of wine before bottling.
  • Winemakers declassify wine every year. Declassified wines that don’t fit the quality parameters for a $50 bottling present an outstanding wine value at $14.99 or even $8.99.

Cameron Hughes Wine brands include The Lot Series, The Flying Winemaker, Rockridge, Evergreen, and Hughes-Wellman. The most interesting of the five are the Lot Series, which are limited in quantity and variable in prestige. These are the coveted “off-brand” wines, which are straight from well known wine producers across the globe. The Lot Series aren’t “back-blended,” which means mixing the premium wine with lesser quality grapes. This is particularly interesting information for Grocery Outlet wine shoppers. I imagine 80% of the wine available at good ole G.O. is back-blended, which allows for the low price tag and explains the variable quality.

Industry powerhouses like Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate are paying attention to Cameron Hughes, and few bottles have garnered 90+ points and multiple gold metals. It took an extreme amount of willpower not to snatch up the more expensive varietals.

We tried two Cameron Hughes wines this week. The first was from Grocery Outlet, and the second from Berkeley Bowl (because I couldn’t control myself). The Lot 39 Barrosa Shiraz from Australia was murky in hue, jammy, and fruit-forward. CameronHughes.com describes the wine as “dark red in color with purple hues. The dense fruit is rich with red berry, plum, and cherry aromas. The palate is velvety with flavors of black cherry, raspberries, and dark chocolate. This is complemented by toasty oak and grainy tannins.” At $4.99, it’s highly drinkable and enjoyable. However, I always question as to whether I would pay more and enjoy the wine as much. I don’t think I would be as happy if the bottle cost more than $8.

Our second bottle, a Flying Winemaker 2007 Lodi Ancient Vine Zin, was delightful at a its spendy $10.99 price point. It benefited tremendously from decanting. It differs from other Zins at similar price points, like the Bogel or Rosenblum wines, in it’s complexity and taste. Cameron says: “There is dark fruit on the nose and a beautiful, intense dark-berry flavor on the palate.” Flying Winemaker wines aren’t limited in quantity like the Lot Series, due to long-term deals with select winemakers. I’m looking forward to trying more Flying Winemaker bottles.

Beware of the Barking Sheep!

22 Mar

This Black Sheep Malbec is absolutely horrible. There are so many inexpensive, delectable Malbecs on the market. Why bother making a bad one? This wine tastes like blackberry cough syrup sprinkled with basement dust.

I did a little investigating on Google to see if other wine drinkers had a similar experience with the Barking Sheep. Grocery Outlet isn’t exactly known for their wine handling practices. The bottle could have been corked.

Southbaygirl from The Wine Times says:

“I enjoyed this wine. It was best the day I opened the bottle-didn’t really hold very well the next day. But I drank it anyway….how can one waste a Barking Sheep!!!”

Robert Miller from Wine-o-Rama also warned of the Barking Sheep, but because you may “get hooked.”

“Smells like malbec:  lots of baking spice, especially brown sugar with hints of cinnamon and vanilla.  Tastes like malbec:  subtle licorice, with nice plum and cherry.  Barks like malbec?  Well, its smooth and luxurious mouthfeel is a bit different than your basic Argentinian malbec.”

Finally, I found someone who agreed with me on Feasting Fool’s Blog:

“I tasted some cherry and a little bit of spice, but there was nothing to get excited about.  People may mock the “Two Buck Chuck”, but even that has more depth and flavor than the Barking Sheep. “

I stand by my review, and would not recommend taking a chance on this one.

After dumping the Malbec down the drain, we opened a bottle of Saddler’s Peak 2008 Napa Valley Red Wine. I don’t have a label to upload, as it’s an off-brand wine. I would rate this wine 83/100. It’s pleasant, drinkable, but won’t knock your socks off. I would gamble and buy an unknown bottle over buying this one again. However, at $4.99, you can’t argue it’s not worth the price.

Arlen’s comments: I’d buy this over 2-Buck Chuck, even though it’s twice as expensive.

Smoke Screen Chard

21 Mar

As we speak, I am sipping a fabulous off-brand Chardonnay discovered by my local wine shop in Alameda. Although we’re cheating a bit as it’s not from Grocery Outlet, I feel it’s a good enough deal to discuss on this forum.

Jeff from Farmstead Cheese writes:

“…Because of the economic downturn, we’re hearing… of these deals that actually seem good enough to be true.

The aptly named Smoke Screen Chardonnay is just that – a top five premium Napa Chardonnay producer had too much wine (several hundred cases too much), so he sold the already finished wine at fire sale prices to someone who rebranded it, bottled it with a screwcap closure, who sold it to us.

We can’t divulge the producer, but the same wine under its original name sells for $40+ per bottle in other shops.

This is perfectly balanced Napa juice in an elegant California style – partially barrel fermented with a lovely bouquet, creamy mouthfeel, vibrant fruit, nice minerality and an oaky and buttery richness. We’ve got it for $14 per bottle ($12.60 by the case).”

We’re primarily red wine lovers, but as Bill Hodge would say, it’s better to drink a good wine of the wrong color than a bad wine of the right color. I’m pretty sure he stole that quote from someone else. Anyway, this is a beautiful Chardonnay and I will return to Farmstead Cheese tomorrow to pick up a few bottles.

Check out Jeff’s blog for more wine insights: http://www.farmsteadcheesesandwines.com/wordpress/

Tuesday Night Picks

17 Mar

We tried two new bottles from Grocery Outlet this week. RockRidge Cellars Meritage from Cameron Hughes was highly enjoyable. Undecanted, it’s minerally, tight, yet drinkable. Decanted, its tart, fruit-forward, and luscious. At $3.99, it blows many $10 bottles out of the water. This is a “back up the truck” bottle, and I would recommend buying a few before they sell out. The Meritage even stood up nicely to the spicy Chicken Tikka Masala (tomato based Indian sauce).

The Vilandes Malbec, 2008 was a disappointment. One dimensional and flat, it tasted worse than day-old Charles Shaw. Avoid!

Friend or Foe?

15 Mar

This week’s Grocery Outlet Spectator kicks off with one winner and four losers. We purchased five wines and served them at a dinner party. Everyone commented on the wines, and rated them according to if they would serve it to a friend.

Cameron Hughes Petite Syrah Lot 70 – $4.99
Otono Malbec – $4.99
Bighorn Cellar Cab Sav – $5.99
le Corbine Toscana Rosso – $4.99
California Waterfowl Association Cab Sav – $5.99

The Otono Malbec from Argentina was the clear winner of the group. This could have been due to the fact we decanted the wine immediately before serving. We saved a small undecated glass of the Malbec to compare, and it was still enjoyable, just not as interesting. This was the wine the group would pick to bring to a dinner party. Thanks to everyone for putting up with the duds, like The California Waterfowl Association Cabernet and the Le Corbine Toscana Rosso. Cameron Hughe’s Petite Syrah was palatable, nothing more. The Bighorn Cellar Cab Sauv was a waste of its “hefty” $5.99 price tag.

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