As a wine lover, moving to California is a dream come true, and I’m not just talking about proximity to the wine country, especially here in Northern California. You must understand, coming from Texas (especially Dallas), wine in the retail market was marked by pitiful selection and high prices. Texas is driven by a 3-tier system, supposedly in an effort to prevent < 21 year-olds from accessing wine; this is a very over-shot effort that simply veils protection to the horrible wine-distributors in the area. If I wanted to buy wine retail in Texas, my choice was limited by what the regional distributors thought I, as a consumer, would like, and the price they sell to the retailer.
The somewhat saving grace with Texas is that, during the time I was there, it was legal to purchase wine on-line from an out-of-state retailer and have it shipped into the state. Most times, the same wines purchased out-of-state were cheaper than the wine I could purchase around the corner, including shipping costs (but most of the time, I was purchasing wine that was not even available in Texas). This was ok to cope and stock up, but still not ideal.
Enter California: wine here is simply a part of life, especially if you want it to be (to which I say cheers!). Two shops come to mind, one that I’m familiar with and one that is new to me. I don’t mean this to sound like plugs or ads for these companies, just simple businesses that I think make a major difference available here in California.
K&L Wines (www.klwines.com)
This wine retailer is based in the Bay Area, I first “discovered” them with a friend while at Stanford and I’m always supremely impressed by the staff and quality of service, the selection of wines available, and the overall prices. While they do focus on California, French, and Italian wines, you are sure to find various options of particular value from other corners of the world such as Australia, South Africa, South America, and other areas of western Europe. What makes them extra special are the long-lasting relationships that they have with the source of the wines. Located in Northern California, not only do they have expert familiarity with the different local appellations, but their relationships with the wineries and vineyards allow them to be ahead of the curve with different opportunities, much of which end up as big bargains for the consumer. Outside of California, these relationships extend into international settings where buyers make trips often to find these same deals with the far-away winemakers and owners. With their direct-buying/direct-importing, middlemen are taken out of the equation. The icing on the cake? Their website rocks.
Trader Joes (www.traderjoes.com)
So I had heard a lot about Trader Joes as a grocery market and about their general wine selection, but hadn’t really seen it for myself. After a few visits, I must say, I’m impressed. TJ’s takes a slightly less formal approach, but I think it fits the groovy vibe of the store, and ultimately makes the shopper more comfortable. While the number of choices and supply isn’t as thick as a dedicated wine store, they have enough-of-a-little-of-everything to really appease most wine cravings. Prices are as cheap as I’ve ever seen. Being a fan of Italian (and Italian style) wines, I took a “risk” of $4 on a 2006 Tuscan Moon Sangiovese, California.
2006 Tuscan Moon Sangiovese, California – $4 @ TJ’s
Decent color typical of sangiovese, not too dark. The nose was slightly underwhelming, but at this price, definitetly not a disappointment. On the palate, the wine actually demonstrated some decent, ripe, sweet fruit, and was very smooth. Not a complex wine by any means, and it lacked some acidity and tannin for my taste (especially as Sangiovese), but in all seriousness – a tremendous value at $4. My scoring method (adapted from Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible – I’ll explain more later):
- Distinct varietal character: not-as-much, though it certainly wasn’t a Cali-Cab 🙂
- Integration: very decent at $4, like I said, more acid and tannin would have been nice for my taste
- Expressiveness: nose was a little muddled, but very lucid on the palate
- Complexity: not-so-much but I wasn’t looking for it at this price
- Connectedness: yes, this did taste like a California style wine!
The gist of this post: I really REALLY appreciate the diversity of wines (in selection, in price) here in California!