I often shop at Aldi, a discount grocer of German descent, in Oxford. Aldi is owned by the Albrecht family, a presence in the grocery business in Germany since 1913.
Karl Albrecht, descendant of the founder of the German grocery chain, opened the first Aldi store in Germany in 1961 and his first American store in Iowa in 1976.
His brother, Theo, owns the Trader Joe’s empire, whose best-selling wine brand is Charles Shaw, affectionately known as “Two Buck Chuck” by its loyal devotees.
In the past year, our Oxford Aldi has added a wine section, stocked with labels with which I have no familiarity.
There is a reason for this. Most of the wines are private labels made exclusively for Aldi. Therefore, their names are not exactly mainstream. If you ask about a particular Aldi wine, you are likely to get that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look from me.
On a recent visit to Aldi, I decided to spend time perusing their wine selection. The selection is small. Aldi’s organization seems rather dyslexic for someone like me, accustomed to having wines organized at least by type. At Aldi, a cabernet might be displayed next to a sauvignon blanc, and a Prosecco located in the midst of red wines.
On the positive side, Aldi wines are generally inexpensive because they buy wines in bulk at discounted prices, passing along savings to the consumer. This does not mean they are poor quality. While they may not be collectible wines, most would not recoil in disgust if served an Aldi wine.
If concerned about appearing cheap when serving Aldi wines, rest assured there is no indication on most of the bottles that Aldi is involved at all. In fact, their back labels generally divulge very little.
On my Aldi field trip, a round sticker affixed to a bottle label caught my eye; it indicated that Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave this $7.99 wine a grade of 90 points.
For those who may not know, Robert Parker is considered one of the world’s foremost wine critics. He made his mark in the wine world by generally reviewing pricey wines affordable only to the aristocracy. As wine has become more proletarian, Parker’s ratings for most of today’s wine drinkers are likely irrelevant.
The 90 rating was sufficiently intriguing to cause me to place a bottle in my cart. I picked up a couple of other bottles for various reasons, including a Napa cabernet (because at $13.99 it was the most expensive bottle on the shelf) and a Prosecco (because at $6.99 it was the least expensive Prosecco I have encountered).
Here are my findings:
Vinas Viejas de Paniza 2012 Garnacha: $7.99. From Spain, garnacha is a red grape known as “grenache” in other parts of the world. The labeling covers all bases, using “garnacha” on the front but “grenache” on the back.
Technicalities aside, I loved this rich red wine, sourced from old vines, some of which are more than 100 years old. Old vines are known to produce fruit with intense flavors.
Served at room temperature and poured about 30 minutes before drinking, this was one of the more pleasant dry red wines I have recently experienced.
The pleasant first taste draws you in. The mouthfeel is full and packed with red berry flavors. Smooth, balanced and luscious and worth more than its $7.99 price.
30 Miles Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2015: $13.99. “30 Miles” refers to the length of the Napa Valley, from where the wine is sourced. The producer is unknown, but to carry Napa on the label, 75 percent of the fruit must come from Napa.
First sip was pervasively bitter, reminiscent of strong tannic tea. Smoothed out somewhat after opening, but never attained a balanced mouthfeel.
Belletti Extra Dry Prosecco: $6.99. This is Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wine, the second-most stringent classification an Italian wine can carry.
Light, spritely and pleasant. Worth every bit of its $6.99 price. Excellent for adulterating with fruit juices to make wine cocktails, like a mimosa with orange juice, or a peach Bellini.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at email@example.com.