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$2.99 white wine bargain @ Grocery Outlet

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My mom loves prowling the aisles at the Grocery Outlet for bargains and close-outs and stops in at least once a week to see what’s new. I joined her hunt last weekend down in Salinas. I needed to pick up a bottle of white wine for the risotto we’d planned for dinner.

I spotted a couple of good candidates for cooking wine, both Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne whites, marked down to $2.99 from a suggested retail of $6. We’re starting to see more of these on the retail shelves here, and the best of them are crisp, refreshing wines in the $6 to $9 range. The labels didn’t identify the blend of grape varieties, but what would be typical for this simple country wine would be principally Ugni Blanc or Colombard with perhaps some Manseng or Sauvignon Blanc for aromatic interest. Ugni Blanc is the workhorse of this region, most of it ends up in the distilleries of Armagnac. It’s called Trebbiano in Italy where it makes thin acidic white wines with little character.

I decided to take home the 1997, bottled by Charles Paris, negociant (in tiny letters on the back label) over the other for several reasons. 1) The bottle was clear and I could tell that it had healthy color (not oxidized), a strong lemon yellow. Color and flavor tend to be extracted together in the winemaking process, i.e., white wines that are clear as water will often taste washed out. 2) 1997 was a ripe, warm year and I was hoping the fruit may have achieved more flavor intensity than normal. 3) The importer was based in San Leandro, CA, and there was a good chance that this wine would not have been damaged in the distribution system. 4) I examined the capsules and corks on several bottles and they didn’t show any signs of bad handling. Close-out wines are often damaged goods, e.g., too much heat in transit can ruin wines.

After a couple hours in the fridge to chill, I popped the cork and was pleasantly surprised. An attractive nose with grapefruit, lemon curd and maybe a whiff of honeysuckle and peach fuzz, light-medium body and fresh acid balance, tangy citrus fruit on the palate with no oak influence, and a clean, crisp finish. Not complex but very refreshing and cleanly made, and better than other examples of the style I’ve tasted.

This wine is easily worth $8. If you enjoy unoaked Sauvignon Blanc or Soave in the under $10 price range, you’ll like this one at a bargain price. Keep a couple bottles in the fridge to enjoy during the last warm days of our Indian summer as an aperitif, mixed with crème de cassis for Kir, at the beach, or to nip over the stove. Drink now through year-end.

If the Bay Area Grocery Outlet near you doesn’t have this bottle, the other one I considered was the 1998 from the same region, imported by Yvon Mau, also $2.99. Yvon Mau is national importer and producer of inexpensive Bordeaux wines and worth a bet at this price.

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