Wine shopping at Safeway…finding a needle in the haystack

Top picks under $20, Wine — By KF Louis on September 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm

On the hunt for new value wines, I’ll usually tell you to steer clear of large grocery stores, because wine is ‘just another category’ in the grander scheme of the store. This means there will be no expert walking around offering his opinion of which pinot noir is best of the 40 available.  Instead, you get to talk to “shelf talkers” — those little tags written by marketing professionals that say a wine won a bronze medal at the Podunk County Fair.

Case in point:  Safeway. On any given day, 60% of the inventory has sale tags hanging off the pegs. But often when I pull out my iPhone to compare prices, Safeway’s “$6.82 off” is now at parity with other shops in town…

Needless to say, I’ve got to have some extra patience before I try Safeway’s wine aisle. And if I do, it’s a 3-minute drill: a quick walk through the section and scan for the tags that indicate a sale of at least 40% off Safeway’s original.

While my ‘hit rate’ at Safeway is usually too low to be a worthwhile place to shop on a regular basis, every once in awhile I find a needle in the haystack that becomes one of my “Deals of the Year.”

Tonight, pay dirt! In Safeway’s sea of sale tags, I found an Oregonian gem well above my average price range: the 2005 Erath Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, a single-vineyard wine that is excellent, even on a bad year.

Erath’s web site pegged the retail price at $36, but tonight it’s $22.63…much lower than I’ll ever hope to see it elsewhere. (After all, it’s on the 2008 Wine Spectator 100 at $36.)

I took one bottle home and served it with pork loin chops and cherry sauce. The Erath was stunning! So I trekked back to Safeway and bought every remaining bottle…sadly, there were only 4.

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