For me wine is an agricultural product, subject to the vagaries of erratic weather, supply and demand imbalances as well as vintage variation. In contrast, supermarkets thrive on volume and consistency. As such, a lot of wine has to be ‘manufactured’ on an industrial scale to meet the needs of large supermarket chains. Grapes, juice and even wines are traded like commodities and ‘made’ to a set recipe, to ensure that Brand X remains the same consistent flavor profile that made it so successful in the first place.
For the most part, the result is a perfectly tasty, clean, pleasing wine. However, if you are looking for something more like authenticity, craftsmanship or a sense of place, many of these wines fall short.
I am not against these more manufactured wines, but feel they need to be recognized as such and not compared to other more natural, artisan wines. It pains me when I hear comparisons that rely solely on price. I often take chicken as an example to illustrate. Do you believe the supermarket chicken at $2.99 is the same as the $15 one bought at the farmers market? However, with food, somehow we have an easier time understanding the taste and quality differences between the ‘industrial’ and the ‘artisan’ version. Wine is more complex, regulated and less obviously transparent than many other foodstuffs.
Good vineyard land is expensive, especially in California, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany etc, so unless the vineyards have been in your family for generations, with no debt to pay down, this adds considerably to the cost of producing wine. Cultivating grapes on a small, artisan level is costly and has to be factored into the eventual price.
However, between the ‘industrial’ scale value wines and the expensive, highly regarded and sought after wines, there is hope – and a growing number of exciting wines for those of us who want something interesting, yet don’t want to (and can’t afford to) spend a small fortune.
These gems usually come in the guise of less familiar grapes from less familiar or lauded wine regions. These ‘lesser’ wine regions made simple wines from local grapes that were for the most part consumed locally. Thanks to a new generation of young, enthusiastic and passionate winemakers, dramatically improved viticultural and winemaking practices as well as a growing group of adventurous, wine drinkers in the United States, we are seeing many more of these wines in the market.
The good thing is that many supermarkets don't just carry the high volume, low cost wine brands that are centrally purchased. Quite often individual stores can select smaller brands that they feel will sell well in their particular stone. We like to see this.
Like me, I am sure many of our Kitchn readers are interested in discovering the ‘interesting’, authentic wines that don’t cost a fortune.
Read on to find out what I thought of these remaining five Trader Joe reds. Terrific summer finds or a disappointment?
Good Summer Reds from Trader Joe's
• 2009 Septima Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, $8.99 – Bright purple / ruby color with typical aromas of smoke and bramble fruit, notes of chocolate, clove and licorice. Tasty flavors of roasting meat, juicy wild berries, spice and tobacco. Noticeable heat on the finish, but not invasive. Supple and easy drinking. This was my favorite of the five – as somehow Malbec can make delicious wines at any price point.
• 2009 Raymond R Collection Lot no. 7 Field Blend, California $9.99 – This normally retails for about $15 but I got it on sale. Nose seemed a bit musty at first , but that blew off (Note: even inexpensive wines can benefit from a little aeration or decanting). Aromas of ripe mixed berries, sweet hints of vanilla, spice and mocha. Soft and velvety mouthfeel with pretty good flavors of jammy berries, coffee, hint of smoke and licorice. Very supple, silky tannins. Not in any way complex, but tasty and very drinkable. This was my second favorite.
• 2008 Tato Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy, $8.99 – Bright ruby color. Tangy aromas of bitter cherries, licorice, anise and earthy notes. Distinctive Italian grippy tannins. Moderate flavors of sweet and sour cherry, hints of soy and a touch of sweetness and earthy barnyard on the finish. Simple, but pleasant everyday wine.
• 2008 Viriato Tinto del Toro, D.O. Toro, Spain, $8.99 – Attractive nose of ultra ripe bramble and red berry fruits with hints of spice and tobacco. Moderate flavor intensity, quite juicy with supple tannins, but a litle heavy and warm on the back palate and finish. Tasty as a party wine.
And One Disappointment...
• 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, California, $9.99 – The palest in color and the most upfront with aromas of baked and jammy strawberries and cherries with hints of nutmeg, cinammon and allspice. Disappointing on the palate, heavy-footed, overly sweet and syrupy. I was particular interested to try this wine, as Pinot Noir is a fussy and expensive grape to cultivate. Pinot above all should be refined, elegant and delicate. Unfortunately this did not deliver.
Until next week enjoy!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman)