Photo from the Costco Wine Blog
We all need mid-week wines that deliver interesting flavor without spending a lot of money. The problem is that many widely available wines under $10 are just not that exciting. So I often look for less popular varieties from countries like Spain and Portugal for my “Tuesday-Thursday” wines.
But there is a lot of good wine on the California bulk market these days so sometimes the big-box retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club have some values. And depending on where you live, you don’t even need a club membership to buy these wines; at least, that’s the law here in Minnesota. I usually shop at Costco so I picked up this store brand Merlot a few weeks back for $8.99. Alexander Valley produces a number of nice Merlot and Cabernet-based wines so I thought this was worth a flyer. Worst case, I have some wine to cook with.
Costco used to be the domain of Cameron Hughes but over the past couple of years I’ve noticed his wines mostly available at Sam’s Club. As his selections sold through at Costco, the store brand Kirkland seemed to replace those wines along with the normal selection of well chosen wines at very good prices. In fact, Costco might just be the best place to find wine values in the $25-60 range. And based on this selection, they might have the under $10 market covered, too.
Kirkland Signature, Merlot, Alexander Valley 2008 ($9) – Garnet color with aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, black licorice and cedar. Rich black cherry fruit flavors with blackcurrant, black pepper and mint finishing with moderate tannins. Drink over the next year or two.
Natural cork closure
It is rare that you see mainstream critics write about so-called “industrial wines” and most unusual when they actually say good things about them. So I was surprised to see Wine Spectator critic Jim Laube blog about an $8 California Pinot Noir a couple weeks ago. Naturally I was curious to taste the wine myself and see how close my experience would be to Mr. Laube’s. The wine in question is from the Cecchetti Wine Company marketed under the RedTree brand. I picked it up on the end-cap at my local wine store for $5.50 on sale.
I am somewhat familiar with RedTree from their Zinfandel I tasted recently. You don’t often see Zin in the less than $10 range so when I see a new entrant I try it to see if they will be giving Ravenswood a run for their money in this price category. Sorry to report that the RedTree Zin didn’t live up to expectations with over ripe blackberry fruit overwhelmed by alcohol (listed at 14.5% ABV but likely over 15%). So how could their Pinot be anything other than a light generic red wine?
I’m not sure how they did it but the 2008 RedTree Pinot Noir is an unbelievable value at the less than $6 I paid for it on sale. Even at $12 this wine would give Mark West Pinot some serious competition. Darker than most Pinot, the wine smells like you would expect with strawberry and red cherry fruit with just a hint of the earthiness associated with Pinot. Red cherry and strawberry fruit flavors complete the package finishing with supple tannins. Surprisingly correct varietal character for a Central Valley wine.
Screw Cap closure
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My buying advice is to pick up a bottle yourself and then get a case or two if you concur (my retailer had a mail-in rebate for case purchases). I don’t expect to see the same value in the next release but will definitely give it a try next year. In the meantime I’ll be buying some Petite Sirah to see if the Zin was a fluke or trend with heavier bodied reds. They also make a Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
Thanks for the tip, Jim; keep ‘em coming.
RedTree, Pinot Noir 2008
At the end of last year I started a series called “Wines For Recessionary Times” but neglected to post many reviews. Tonight I’ll start to get back on track by featuring a wine I picked up recently at Trader Joe‘s market for $5.99. This is a throwback to wines from the past with TJ’s as they used to be quite active in tracking down good values on the California bulk market. But in recent years, they have mainly been known for their Two Buck Chuck, which to be fair is just box wine in a bottle sold for $2-3 depending upon how close you live to the factory.
Tonight’s selection is from Langtry Estate who are probably better known for their Guenoc label of value priced wines. Both of their brands feature a Petite Sirah that I have enjoyed in the past and this wine is probably made from declassified barrels. Nothing wrong with getting some cash for excess inventory and from my experience here I think they will sell this effort through pretty quickly. The name “R.C.T.J.W.F.” is an acronym for “Really Cool Trader Joe’s Wine Find” and I’m hoping to see some other varieties in this series show up this year.
Langtry Estate, “R.C.T.J.W.F.” Petite Sirah 2006 ($6) – Very dark purple-black in color with aromas of slightly stewed plum and blueberry jam. Juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit finishing with polished tannins. A fruit bomb but still nicely done for the price.
Natural cork closure
My first selection for these troubled times is the second most popular wine reviewed here by pageviews, the Petite Sirah by Crane Lake. This label is made by Bronco Wine Company who also produce the Charles Shaw brand for Trader Joe’s. Crane Lake is offered to independent retailers and typically sells for a couple dollars more than the more famous “2-buck Chuck.” Another difference is that more than just the typical varieties are offered, including this Petite Sirah and even a Sangiovese.
Petite Sirah is a good variety to look for in value wines these days as it flies a bit below the radar of most consumers. Many of the best examples can be found for less than $20 a bottle but I was interested in what you could get for $4. I picked up the 2004 vintage a while back but did not review it was a bad bottle, but I was able to track down the 2005 vintage for this tasting.
Crane Lake, Petite Sirah 2005 ($4) – Dark purple-black color with aromas of blueberry compote and white pepper. Simple and juicy blueberry and plum flavors with some black pepper finishing with plush tannins and good acidity. Clean and surprisingly varietally correct.
Composite cork closure
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With the worldwide financial crisis in full swing, it’s a time a lot of wine lovers will be looking to dial back their wine budgets a bit. From my informal polling on Twitter, most are drinking the same amount of wine but less expensive selections are gaining in popularity.
With that in mind, I’m launching a new feature I’m calling “Wines For Recessionary Times.”
That doesn’t always mean cheap wines but we will start there and explore the most extreme values in all price tiers. I’m talking about the $10 wines that give $25 wines a run for their money. Also those $30 wines that make you shake your head and wonder what they were thinking charging $75 a bottle for a similar wine. Or those auction finds that you want to keep to yourself so you can buy more before they are sold out. And wines you can buy for less than $50 A CASE.
So stay tuned as I look for wines that you would guess are 2 or 3 times more expensive than they actually are. This should be a fun project but let’s hope it’s short lived and not necessary this time next year.
What’s your favorite extreme value wine?