A Napa Valley wine shop guru once told me he didn't carry any "supermarket" wine with an ever-so-slight air of superiority. The fact is most people buy their wine at the supermarket, if they are lucky enough to have wine available in supermarkets in their state. Ninety percent of wine purchased is drunk the same day it was purchased.
All that wine on the supermarket shelf can be be overwhelming and confusing. How to choose? A fun label? A tip from a friend? A newspaper column? A wine newsletter recommendation? Here are some of our tips and recommendations. Of course, not all supermarkets are created equal, some are created more equal than others.
Here in Seattle, some of the alpha markets are Whole Foods, Larry's Markets, and QFC University Village. Metropolitan Market on 55th & 40th has a nice NW wine section. You might think of these as epsilons,but, in fact, good wine can be had at Fred Meyer, Long's Drug and Rite Aid as well. Costco and Trader Joe's are good places to look, also, but today I'm going to focus on standard supermarkets such as Safeway, QFC, and Albertsons.
In most regular supermarkets there is no one knowledgeable to ask for help, so you are on your own. Usually the most expensive wines are top shelf, least expensive, bottom shelf. Even though distributors sometimes pay for shelf space in one way or another, end displays frequently feature good values on sale. Generally speaking, with most wine on a supermarket shelf, the younger the better. White wines should be no more than two years old ,and red wines no more than four.
Older wines usually have been sitting around at the distributor or retailer and they haven't been getting any better, quite the opposite. If a wine is stored in a hot place, it can spoil. Be careful of those "treasures" locked away in a special wood cabinet with hot lights showing off the labels and slowly destroying the wine. If you are looking for a special wine, go to a special supermarket or wine shop. If you are looking for fine European wine such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Barolo, do the same or look around on the web.
Your best bets are wines from California, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and the Pacific Northwest. Look for wines on sale. Most of the wines mentioned below are frequently on sale at substantial savings.
Some wines to look for: Chardonnay from Clos du Bois, Kendall-Jackson, Heron, Edna Valley, Barnard-Griffin; Semillon from L'Ecole; Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley and Montinore; Pinot Noir from Willamette and Erath; Merlot from Clos du Bois and Searidge; Claret from Coppola; Shiraz from Rosemount: Syrah from Banard-Griffin and Edna Valley: American "Champagne" from Roederer Estate, Mumm's - Cuvee Brut Prestige, Chandon -Brut or Blanc de Noir. Yellowtail from Australia, like Searidge(Safeway) and Charles Shaw(Trader Joe's - reds only), is a decent quaff at a very good price.
By the way, many of these wines also appear on standard restaurant wine lists and are a simple and relatively inexpensive way around the hassle of ordering wine in a restaurant. Of course, fancier restaurants have more interesting (and expensive) winelists and wine stwards or sommeliers to help, but that is a topic for another day.
If you must buy European wine at the supermarket, look for Marquis de Caceres from Spain, San Querico Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Italy, Macon Villages or Beaujolais Villages by Jadot or Drouhin from France. Now consider going to a better supermarket or wine shop where you can get much better and more interesting wine for the same price. Wine shop owners are almost all wine lovers and can be really helpful. The same is true for wine stewards and manager's at better supermarkets. Don't be intimidated and mystified by wine. Remember wine is about fun and pleasure.