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.

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