ASSESSING BARGAIN WINES FROM THE NAPA GROCERY OUTLET





The Bay Area Wine Society was founded 15 years ago to provide opportunities to enjoy and evaluate mostly California fine wines. While we have critiqued value wines from time to time over the years,  the club has now decided to focus on a monthly taste-off of discount wines to be found at the newly opened Napa Grocery Outlet together with nibbles and focused conversation (PAIRINGS). The times call for frugality.  We have embraced the dictum of Fred Franzia, CEO of Bronco Wines (Two Buck Chuck etc): “No  wine should cost more than $10 including Napa Cab”.  Unless it is for a special occasion or the savings are exceptional. 

We base this people’s approach on four principles:
  • In this era of Trip Advisor, Rotten Tomatoes, and Yelp, the people who buy wines for consumption with a mid week dinner--in the form of a representative subset of consumers--are best able to decide on a wine’s appeal not the professionals
  • The rating and ranking reveals at least one wine, based on the odds, that appeals to a broader array of palates This approach rejects the view that different wines appeal only to certain tastes according to a buyer’s  “profile”
  • Wines are best tasted with food
  • Good conversation enhances the sensuous pleasures of the occasion
Members of the Bay Area Wine Society consider themselves reverse wine snobs, taking delight in discovering a deal--what we consider a good enough wine, a wine that ends up receiving  3 out of 5 stars in our scoring system (“pleasing with varietal distinctiveness”) from our membership tasting panel, roughly equivalent to an 85+/- in the 100 point system. When price is taken into account, these discoveries of decent wines can be just as exciting as purchasing one of the current hot shot wines.

We subscribe to the technique labeled the “wisdom of crowds” or crowd sourcing  (based on the famous observation by Francis Galton who observed that when attendees at an English county fair were asked to guess the weight of a cow the average total came to within a pound of the actual weight)  For smaller groups, the critiques are not unlike the dynamic of focus groups.

As noted, we have found over the years that a limited number of wines have a special appeal to a cross section of different consumer palates.  Each flight invariably produces a favorite wine that scores higher (and sure enough, two out of the 12 wines tasted received scores of Excellent). We have included some brief tasting notes though we share the view of Eric Asimov, the wine writer of the NY Times, who has no use for tasting notes: “Several generations of wine writers and consumers now believe that rolling out a litany of obscure flavors and aromas actually brings them closer to understanding the appeal and allure of a particular wine.”  Wrong. People really just want to know how tasty a wine is using a numerical system, and in our view a representative tasting panel is best suited to arrive at this finding.

Many of the wines find their way into Grocery Outlet because of ownership or label changes. We recognize, too, that some of the wines sold by their producers or distributors to GO are often perceived by the sellers as containing flaws of one kind or another.mostly by dint of being an older vintage.  Yet wines pulled from storage to make room for the new release are often quite fine if not sometimes better than the current product. And a portion of the wines are still in a winery’s portfolio at more than twice the price.  In critiquing these wines, we’d like to make their purchase by consumers as well as by our members less of a crap shoot .

Each month, with input by the wine department manager, we select 8 to 12 wines for consumer choice judging usually according to a theme, mostly by varietal or type of blend, or by region or time of year (e.g., wines that might go with Thanksgiving turkey). And in order to get the jump on superior wines that come into the store from the central warehouse weekly and can be depleted, we might select among different varietals.

We would also try to pick wines that could be found in the course of the next month at other Bay Area GOs if not other GO stores throughout the West if our readership of the results enlarges out of the Napa area.

And ideally we would also select some food items from the store to pair with the wine choosing the best munchies to match the consumer wine choice of the month.  Or we will prepare a dish consisting of ingredients available at the Napa store, similar to Budgetbytes recipes as described in GO Facebook page. Results would be published in our website PAIRINGS and the digital magazine www.wineconsumer.com . The most delicious wine(s) would receive a Consumers Choice award with the best of flight receiving a Value Star.  The results might also be noted in the GO Facebook page.

Over time the results should help Grocery Outlet consumers with their choices.


Several existing blogs publish personal views on GO wines. Front Porch Wine Tasting and The Magical World of Wines from Grocery Outlet--which the posters abbreviate to Gross Out wines .The former blog comments on wines from the Manteca store, the latter reviews wines from the Richmond and Oakland stores and occasionally the Palo Alto store.  Wines are chosen individually by the bloggers interest and and wine’s progeny. Our emphasis on a theme and group rating seems to be unique.  We would add our findings to one of the blogs.


Our monthly meetup will also provide a venue where freewheeling but substantive conversation can occur, what we call our CulturePlaces Salon  .Sharing views on the passing societal scene will only sharpen them as well as fortify camaraderie while we enjoy wine and food especially selected for our gathering. A full Epicurean experience, not unlike the Ancient Greek Symposia described by Plato, but without the inebriation. To spark our dialogs we utilize podcasts and YouTube videos.  Occasionally we will piggyback on an author’s  which lends itself to an exchange of opinions.

Napa Tasting Panel Selects Wind Storm Old Vine Zin for March Consumer Choice Award


Consumer Choice Award for March~Napa Tasting Panel--a chapter of the Bay Area Wine Society--evaluated a cross section of value priced wines from Grocery Outlet Bargain Market/Napa over brunch @ Napkins.
2015 WIND STORM Zinfandel Old Vine Zinfandel California 14.7
Medium ruby with thin clear edges. $5.99 vs. $19.99 at most retailers.
REVIEW By SOIF~ A Daily Journal of Fruit, Structure, Varietal honesty, and Balance. One of the best wine reviews on the Internet: https://soifknows.com/2016/09/28/illuminati-storm/ 
"Fresh sugar cane, bruised cherry and Welch’s jam in the bouquet with NO alcohol, no prune, no acid, just still, fine simple un-diluted ZINFANDEL. All the warm round old vine concentration and verve, but in a package so clean and fresh and young and undiluted.
You know what I love about this wine? It’s fucking ZINFANDEL! No, I don’t think you read that right. It’s the most Zinfandelly Zinfandel I have tasted in YEARS. Yes, I am aware of my preference for Zinfandels to be more Cab-like and structured, but here we have something SO INCREDIBLY the opposite direction, so NOT Cab-like and structured but so pure, so virginal, absolutely innocent ZINFANDEL unlike any of the *trying too hard* zinfandels all over shelves. It seriously reminds me of Aleanico.
This wine glees me to my core with its sweetness and zest and verve and PURE unabashed Zin fruit. It takes me back to the 80’s in Amador and Placerville and Paso Robles where people were not afraid to make wines like this. This is a glass of Cal-Ital heritage right here–I’ve tasted Martinis and Teldesci’s like this in Dry Creek Valley–but not for several decades.
In the mouth, not the slightest hint of alcohol. I guessed “can’t be 15-oh” and wasn’t too far off. Sweet–yes, it is sweet: un-abashedly sweet, not cloying, not pruney, not dessert wine, but definitely SWEET and for once in my life I don’t have a problem with it. Yes, I could blow this wine full of holes quite easily but right now I am not feeling that vibe. It is making me happy with its innocent beauty and unfaltering focus on the young and bright. They are not attempting to cloak a syrupy finish in oak and leather (what the dorks call ‘perceived sweetness’) but instead just its innocent beauty and unfaltering focus on the young and bright.So much disgusting fruit in the middle brings in a decent acid and alcohol in the finish. Tannins? Nahhh. This isn’t like any wine you have had all month, but you will LIKE it. THIS is ZINFANDEL."

SUMMARY we have something SO INCREDIBLY the opposite direction, so NOT Cab-like and structured but so pure, so virginal, absolutely innocent ZINFANDEL unlike any of the *trying too hard* zinfandels all over shelves.All the warm round old vine concentration and verve, but in a package so clean and fresh and young and undiluted.its innocent beauty and unfaltering focus on the young and bright. its innocent beauty and unfaltering focus on the young and bright.


DECEMBER TASTE OFF

CAB + CONVERSATION

The Case for December consisted of Cabernet Sauvignons carried by the Napa Grocery Outlet.  This time I decided to list the wines that the member tasting panel judged to be Excellent (a Value Star wine) and the Highly Recommended releases which ended up to be four out of the 12 bottles tasted by 12 members.

For our conversation, we focused on six posts of related articles from my CulturePlaces blog that deal with the fraught issue of group identity and control vs. individual identity and control (click on 'Read More' for the full article).  They are used as "homeplay" meant to give focus to our dialogue  They were not critiqued for their observations as such, but instead acted as a springboard or spark for our own observations.

Since we were pairing wine with focused discussion I chose an old favorite, Split Restaurant on 4th St. in the Yerba Buena neighborhood to host our gathering (I always want to be close to BART and a large garage)





Macrae Family Winery 2012 Sonoma Mountain Hidden Ridge  $19.99


Smooth, dark, classic, dark berry body and pleasing raspberry finish. Easy to drink.  Robust, full bodied but not fruit heavy like many Cali Cabs.  Light tannins.  Smoothly textured structure, impressive for a wine at this price
Reviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer image  DELICIOUS ~ EXCELLENT  - A complex, concentrated wine that balances lush fruit flavors with refinement


Hogue 2012 Columbia Valley Washington  $4.99


Eastern Washington’s warm days and cool nights provide ideal conditions for producing Cabernet Sauvignon that is rich and complex. Nicely balanced. A distinctive bouquet with a soft and creamy palate. Pair with pork roast, barbecued baby back ribs, grilled sausages and spicy foods.
 Reviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageHIGHLY RECOMMENDED ~ VERY GOOD Displaying special qualities of finesse and flavor   


Sunstar Vineyards 2013 California  $5.99

Subtle yet distinctive earth tones.  Balanced yet concentrated. Lovely bouquet with an inviting fruit forward body. Delightful lingering finish.  More tannic than acidic which is true for most Cabs. Versatile wine for food pairing purposes including dishes with mushrooms.
 Reviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageHIGHLY RECOMMENDED ~ VERY GOOD Displaying special qualities of finesse and flavor


  
Pra Vinera Reserve 2014 California $6.99


An easy drinking, lively cab that's medium bodied with traditional Bordeaux tannins that stay in the background. Great for Tuesday night dinner.  Demonstrates why you don’t have to pay over $10 for a pleasing wine. One of the favorites of wineconsumer.com tasting panel.
 Reviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageHIGHLY RECOMMENDED ~ VERY GOOD Displaying special qualities of finesse and flavor   


NOVEMBER TASTE OFF



Twenty members of the Society rated the following wines from excellent to good.  Two of the wines received a Value Star designation.  In between sips we did our own post mortem on the Election.  Most everyone was still in shock from the unexpected results.  The consensus seemed to be that there is plenty of alienation among white folks in the middle of the country, especially males.  And Hilary did not produce enough enthusiasm among Dems.


SEMPRE VIVE 2013 MERITAGE BLEND NAPA VALLEY  $19.99

Intense, very balanced Bordeaux blend.  Layers of dark Napa fruit and subtle barrel spice, nice full body finish and best with a few hours of air and great company. Excellent value for the price  Our highest rating in our November case tasting. A wine that delivers with its pleasant ripe fruit -- a hallmark of the Napa appellation -- and soft roundness thanks to a small amount of Merlot. Expect this wine to age nicely with a cellaring period of 5-8 years.  But you can easily open and enjoy this bottle now.
DELICIOUS ~ EXCELLENT  - A complex, concentrated wine that balances lush fruit flavors with refinement
 Reviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer image  

KNOTTED HEAD VINEYARDS 2014 ZINFANDEL LODI $5.99

Softer, rounder more claret style Zinfandel with greater balance and restraint than the full throttle jammy Zins we associate with Lodi. Chocolate overtones. Very approachable, pairing well with more delicate foods as well as barbecue.
DELICIOUS ~ EXCELLENT  - A complex, concentrated wine that balances lush fruit flavors with refinement 
 Reviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer imageReviewer image  


HAYES RANCH 2013 CABERNET SAUVIGNON CALIFORNIA $6.99

The Wente Family Estates winemaking team carries on the Hayes family tradition sourcing premier California vineyards. The wine receives similar treatment of the more expensive Wente label wines. A lighter style Bordeaux blend yet with plushness and backbone (tannins) Flavors of red cherry, anise, and a hint of vanilla abound This wine is well balanced with medium tannins, a smooth mid-palate and a spicy, coffee finish.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ~ VERY GOOD A complex, concentrated wine that balances lush fruit flavors with refinement  $6.99
 

GIORMANI 2014 PINOT GRIGIO VENEZIA  $6.99

A crisp, clean classic Old World Italian vino from the northeast region close to the Alps and Austria.  It delivers a rich intensity in the mouth with a creamy texture, fruitiness (apples, pears) and a refreshing spiciness on the close
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ~ VERY GOOD A complex, concentrated wine that balances lush fruit flavors with refinement   
 

COLAVITA 2013 PINOT GRIGIO TRENTINO  $3.99  

Light, crisp and dry. These characteristics are complemented by aroma notes of lemon, green apple and blossoms.  Bright flavors of honey, blossom and tangerine. A wonderful picnic wine.
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD - A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness
 

SODINI 2015 CHARDONNAY CALIFORNIA  $4.99

Great value for the price. A rich, acidic, balanced Chardonnay. Nice body and finish. Crisp Apple and slight grassy tones giving it a semblance of Sauvignon Blanc.
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD  A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness   
 

GENESIS 2013 RIESLING COLUMBIA VALLEY  $5.99

It shows off aromas of jasmine, peach, apple and clove, followed by rich, bright flavors of ripe pear, sweet herbs and a hint of cantaloupe.  Fragrant wine.  Vivid acidity. The 1.4% residual sugar is barely noticeable thanks to the racy acidity; the finish lingers gracefully and refreshes the palate. This vintage won a double gold medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition.
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness   
 

PROJECTION 2015 CABERNET SAUVIGNON CALIFORNIA  $5.99

Vibrant bouquet  A ton of ripe strawberries. raspberries, red licorice on the nose. Candied cherries and strawberries follow into the palate.  Lots of jammy fruit punch flavors. Medium body, medium plus acidity. Long tannins. Smooth finish.  The grapes are grown in the Clarksburg area which is now considered a decent growing region with the right canopy management to prevent the grapes from drying up.
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness
 

TURN KEY 2013 PINOT NOIR CENTRAL COAST  $6.99

Large grower corporation in Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and other parts of CA which also owns custom crush facilities used mainly by negociants and others wanting a private label. Hints of telltale cherry with a bit of tartness.  Nice light fruity Pinot with soft tannins that stays smooth  throughout
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness   
 

FORTY-SEVEN FRIENDS 2010 PINOT NOIR SONOMA COUNTY  $5.99

A 2010 Pinot would normally be over the hill, but this one has kept its lush fruit and complexity. Hearty tart cherry with nice tobacco and earthy foundation. Super well balanced   While it starts out a bit tight, after some time in the glass it opens up to reveal black raspberry, mushroom, cola and exotic spice notes. A bigger Pinot that’s dry, yet silky, in the mouth.  A brand of Ancient Oak Vineyards.
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness  
 

BENISON 2013 ZINFANDEL LODI  $5.99

Soft tannins. Strawberry fruit     Clear garnet colored wine with a blueberry nose, very nice finish Medium Dry, medium bodied  A tight, youthful character at first sip, but air brings out wonderful fruit purity, cranberry acidity, and cardamom spice on the back end. Good length.
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness  
 

R& 2013 RED BLEND CENTRAL COAST  $4.99

Deep purplish to ruby in color. Its nose will turn up blackberry that then reveal cassis, espresso and black olives. The powerful palate continues with the blackberry fruits followed by raspberry, underbrush tones and dried herbs The finish is both long and complex with generous fruit. Enjoy now or age over the upcoming years. You won't find this level of texture and depth at this price. Juicy and fresh flavors of pine-smoked blackberries give a peat-like character to the palate.
RECOMMENDED~ GOOD A pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness