Good value: Sea Ridge Merlot for $2.50 at Safeway
Here is a tip I picked up from the Thursday wine section in the Chronicle.
Sea Ridge is Safeway's answer to Trader Joe's Charles Shaw, a.k.a. Two Buck Chuck. Three weeks ago, in a review of bargain wines, the Chronicle wine section really praised the Sea Ridge merlot. They thought it compared favorable to merlots in the $10-$15 range. Generally I don't like California merlots, but hey, for $2.50 a bottle I was game. When I was at a Safeway I looked for it but they were out of the merlot. Other people must have read the Chronicle too. Figuring that it can't be that different, I bought a cabernet sauvignon. Well, that turned out to be very mediocre, about as poor as the Two Buck Chucks (which I don't think are worth the $1.99 a bottle). After cursing the Chronicle for their incompetence in judging wine, I forgot about Sea Ridge. Until I ran into the merlot last weekend at another Safeway (I think several/most branches in SF got a new shipment in.)
I picked up a couple of bottles, and lo and behold, it was pretty good! Good color, a decent flowers/berries bouquet, medium body, a bit of black cherries and blackberries on the palate, a touch of mint, some oak and a hint of cabernet-franc-like dustiness in the finish. Very easy to drink. After a mental apology to the Chronicle wine section, I went back to Safeway and got a case.
So, ignore the cab and the chardonnay (which I also tried and thought was very forgettable) and stick to the merlot. For $2.50 it's a great value; about as good a deal as the no-longer-available $2.99 Seven Peak Shiraz (which was a one-time-only sale at Trader Joe's). I don't know how long this merlot will be available (the staff at one Safeway was totally clueless) nor do I know if Safeway is the only supermarket chain that carries it.
By the way, the Safeways I went to seem to keep the Sea Ridge separate from their usual wine sections. (Maybe they think it's too much price competition.) So you may have to walk around the store to ferret it out.