One of the perks of being a wine writer is getting a lot of free wines to taste. As a result I seldom have to purchase wines and when I do I usually source them directly from the importers or producers I know and trust. But there have been occasions when I’ve been in need of some last minute vino and popped into a nearby supermarket to buy a bottle or two. I’ve also provided wine consulting services to several upscale supermarket chains in China and other parts of Asia, so I feel somewhat qualified to provide some insights into purchasing wines at supermarkets.
The first faculty a canny consumer uses when shopping for wines is eyesight, in other words how are the wines kept and what are the physical condition of the bottles. Bottles with natural corks should be stored at an angle, out of the sunshine and in a relative cool place.
The bottle should be undamaged and there should be no seepage from the top of the bottle. Expensive premium wines, especially those from older vintages, should be kept in a wine cellar or wine cabinet.
Increasingly the premium markets in town are employing staff that now have at least rudimentary knowledge of wines so its not a bad idea to ask a few questions. Personally, when supermarket shopping I stick to good value wines that have longer shelf lives. Here are a few suggestions.
Sicily is making some of Italy’s most affordable premium wines. The king of Sicilian varieties is the Nero d’Avola grape that makes deeply colored, robust and spicy red wines. These deeply colored wines are also remarkably food friendly, matching well with many types of meats, cheeses and even some weighty seafood dishes. A fine example is the 2013 Vero Terre Siciliane Nero d’Avola IGT that offers an excellent balance between lively black and red fruit flavors and mouth coating tannins.
Other recommended Nero d’Avola producers you’re likely to find on supermarket shelves include Vinea-Messapicus, Cusumano as well as the slightly pricier Planeta and Donnafugata brands.
Another reliable selection oft found on supermarket shelves is Malbec wines from Argentina. Over the past decade or so, these mostly affordable reds have become one of the more consistently good red wines offering a dark color, rich fruitiness with nuances of spice and soft tannins.
The best examples come from the elevated plains of the Mendoza region. The hearty and spicy nature of these wines makes them quite suitable for spicy Chinese or Asian meat dishes that may overwhelm more delicate red wines.
Top producers to look for include Cantina Zapata, Bottega Sottano and Bottega Vistalba.
Another winning supermarket choice is a red wine from the Languedoc AC region in the south of France. The combination of a southern maritime climate, exciting Mediterranean varietals and creative winemaking make these some of France’s best affordable wines.
When choosing red wines from this region, look for the Mediterranean varietals Syrah, Grenache, Mourvendre, Carignan and Cinsault as these wines offer a more distinctive and fun drinking experience than the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines that are also produced.
Because the Mediterranean varietal reds from Languedoc tend to be hearty, rustic with lots of spicy dark fruit flavors, they are lovely companions to boldly flavored meat dishes including moderately spicy Sichuan and Hunan dishes. Reputable producers with wines in China include Bon Fils, Les Jamelles, Robert Skalli and Chateau d’Aussierres.
When choosing a white wine at a supermarket my first suggestion is to think young.
The great majority of white wines should be enjoyed within a few years of production and this is particularly important for wines that have been sitting on supermarket shelves. Of course, top-of-the-line Chardonnays, Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs can be quite age-worthy but you have to be sure they’ve been properly stored. When I shop at local supermarkets a favorite target are the white wines from Macon.
Located in southern Burgundy between Cote Chalonnaise to the north and Beaujolais to the south, Macon is a large area with some notable villages and regional AC wines. Formerly home to many indifferent wines, the past 10 to 15 years has witnessed a vast improvement in quality.
In graduating levels of quality the appellations of this region are Macon AC, Macon Superieur AC and Macon-Villages AC.
The most famous, and expensive village level wines come from Pouilly-Fuisse but the villages of Pouilly-Loche, Pouilly-Vinzelles and Vire-Clesse also make good wines that cost considerably less.
Budget shoppers are smart to seek out the wines of the latter three Macon AC appellations as they offer a consistently pleasing fresh and fruity drinking experience.
The ample acidity in these wines makes them suitable as an aperitif or with a range of foods from light appetizers and salads to more substantial seafood and white meat dishes. Producers to look for are Albert Bichot, Cave de Lugny, Roux Pere et Fils, Joseph Drouhin and Louis Latour.
Another can’t miss white wine when supermarket shopping is a good Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
For optimal success make sure that the wine is from one of Chile’s cool climate regions like Casablanca, San Antonio Valley, Coastal Aconcagua, Colchagua Valley or Northern Limari. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines from warmer regions are more likely to have dull flavors and flat acidity.
Next, choose a quality producer known for their dedication to the varietal.
The best Chilean Sauvignon Blanc producers with wines available in Shanghai are Carmen, Santa Rita, Miguel Torres, Casa Lapostolle and Vina Chocalan.
Wines from these producers share some of the elegant characteristics of French Sauvignon Blanc wines while still retaining plenty of New World muscle.
Most are unoaked or spend a relatively short time in barrels and exhibit a range of zesty citrus, passion fruit, pineapple and apple flavors along with mineral and grassy notes and a palate-pleasing dry finish.
These qualities make them nice afternoon quenchers as well as fine companions to western and Asian seafood and white meat dishes.