This is Season 1, Chapter 5 of Dan The Wine Man, a feature written for The Napa Valley Register and other media outlets. My angle is that I include guidance on how to find the wines I recommend. It’s 4-6 wines each time. Hope you like it and buy my picks!
Here’s a wine buying tip for you. Take a trip through the wine aisles of Raley’s Supermarket at Soscol and Imola. Their six bottle mix & match discount program offer is the best deal in Napa when you factor in pricing, quality, variety and convenience.
I discovered the killer wine selection at Raley’s back in my wine merchant days. On my way to the milk I passed through the wine department and spotted rows of Burgundy, Loire Valley, Italian, Spanish and Rosé wines available for 15-25% less than what I sold them for down the street. I discovered a plethora of California, Oregon and international wines made by modestly-sized family wineries committed to quality. There were wines I loved – wines I also sold! It scared the heck out of me. How could I compete? (Actually, it made me “up” my retail game in ways that stretched beyond price. Nothing better than healthy competition to keep one on top of their field.)
Nowadays, when I recommend Raley’s for wine it’s still a surprise to most. Makes sense: If you buy your milk elsewhere why would you know? That, and “supermarket wine” implies mass-production mediocrity. You will find the ubiquitous wine names here, but I’m taking you deeper. I’ve picked out six wines I found on the Raley’s shelves on Monday of this week that I’m pretty sure will be in stock if you go soon. My picks come from storied wineries with impressive track records for making excellent wines across the price spectrum. I suggest you buy one bottle of each because the prices I list require a six-bottle purchase. If some don’t fit your fancy by all means replace it with more bottles of another. Try them soon for best chance to get more of your favorites.
Total cost of my suggested six pack: $126. If you give these a try I’d love to hear from you. And please tell me if you’d like to read more wine store picks like this one. You can reach me here.
Before we begin: Nob Hill Foods at Soscol & Trancas is owned by Raley’s and also has a smart albeit smaller wine selection. You may find some of my picks there. If you do they will be the prices listed below on a 6 bottle mix & match purchase.
Roederer Estate Sparkling Wine, Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley, $29. Light salmon flesh color, tiny bubbles, citrus/cherry/pie crust, perky acidity. For 20 years and running this is my #1 choice for domestic sparkling wine under $40.
Vincent Dampt Petit Chablis 2018, $19. Petit Chablis wine is made from vineyards within the French Chablis town/region but is considered a “step down” from wines labeled simply Chablis. That’s often the case, but not here. Fresh squeezed limes, crisp apples. Exhilarating in the mouth like a tangy snow cone. It sings with oysters, fresh crab and the like.
Ponzi Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2017, $16. Family owned and run Ponzi Winery makes Pinot Gris like it’s Grandma’s secret recipe because it’s always fresh, fruity and easy-drinking. Too many fruit flavors to name in this dry, aromatic white. I like it the same with or without food.
le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône “Vieilles Vignes-Cuvée Unique” 2016, $24. Mostly Grenache from old vines growing in the rock-strewn vineyards of France’s Southern Rhone Valley. 2016’s an exceptional vintage in the area which means dark berry fruit flavors and a satisfying richness. It will hold up to any savory food you put next to it.
Allegrini “Palazzo della Torre” Veronese IGT 2015, $17.50. The producer Allegrini, known for their Amarone wines made from dried grapes, includes 1/3rd raisined grapes to this popular red blend. Enjoy this as you would a ripe California Zinfandel as there are similar flavors like oozy blackberries, cocoa and black pepper.
Lustau Oloroso Sherry “Don Nuño” Seco/Dry, $21. Nutty, caramel-scented, fortified wine from Spain. Have it with a slice of paté from Fatted Calf and Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk cheese. Or by itself, after dinner, with a show on Netflix. And if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s a great addition to stir fries and a pot of Rancho Gordo beans.
The Holidays are approaching which likely means a house party or seven with what I call the “wine buffet table.” This is the table laden with bottles brought by the guests – you included. As a certified wine geek, I can’t help but cull out the most interesting and tasty wines (with grace and subtlety of course). Folks always ask me for recommendations and I happily direct them to what I like the most. It’s my best party contribution since I don’t play the piano or juggle.
There’s a good chance I won’t be at your wine buffet table, so here are a few tips when you get there. 1) If there’s any Champagne or highly regarded local sparkling wine there, drink it before it’s all gone. Bubbles tend to disappear first. And reputable producers of sparkling wine are very consistent in making good wine. 2) If you see anyone taking small tastes of many wines, ask him/her for a recommendation. There’s a good chance that person is really “into wine” and will offer advice. If you’re lucky, you’ll be asked, “what type of wine do you like?” 3) Opt for the lighter wines, reds & whites both. Choose Pinot Noir over Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay. Buffet wine tables usually mean buffet food tables too, and lighter wines are generally more flexible with different foods. Of course, if The Grinch is carving the roast beast at the table, go with a heavier red there. 4) May be a harder one for you to pull off, but I bring a corkscrew with me to these parties and recommend you do the same. Your hosts may be too busy to keep bottles open & wine flowing and appreciate the helping hand. I figure if a bottle is on the table, it’s fair game to open. Haven’t been reprimanded yet. 5) Bring a bottle you want to drink.
I’m Dan Dawson, a Napa Valley wine writer, wine consumer advocate and recovering wine merchant. You can read more of my wine recommendations at DawsonWineAdvisor.com. When you visit, please check out my membership program. Contact me through my website with questions and comments.