Grocery store wine aisles that once yielded row after row of generic bottles now boast a wide selection of domestic and imported wines, and some high-end chains even sport a few out-of-the-way "finds." Picking up a rose for an afternoon soiree — or a crisp white for a warm summer night — has never been easier.
"We've gone from a reality where only hugely distributed wines would ever show up in the big chain supermarkets because they were, frankly, too lazy and they didn't think there was enough demand to do otherwise," says Alder Yarrow, founder and editor of the widely read wine blog vinography.com.
But with consumers getting more sophisticated, "You're starting to see even the bigger chains in states where they're able to sell wine beginning to stock more than just what the massive distributors will send them."
When choosing your summer sip, think whites and roses with good acidity. "My supermarket wines consist of mouthwatering, zippy wines," says Joel Kampfe, wine director at ENO Wine Bar in San Francisco.
A good general choice is a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. They are competitively priced and just right for warmer days. Kampfe also likes Edna Valley Chardonnay, about $11. "Always consistent. Always delicious."
For Michael Taylor, wine director for Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House in Chicago, summer wines are "really all about refreshment. You want something crisp and light." It's also a good time to think pink; he'll be serving a Bodegas Muga Rosado, a rose from Spain's Rioja region, by the glass at the restaurant this summer. The wine is made with the red grape tempranillo and retails for around $11. "It's not your mom's white zin," says Taylor. "It's got a little bit of depth, a little bit of richness to it."
Not everyone gets to pick up some merlot along with the milk and eggs. There still are a dozen or so states, including New York, where the wine selection at supermarkets is exactly zero thanks to bans left over from Prohibition. Other states have restrictions on when wine can be sold, how much alcohol it can contain and whether beer, wine and spirits can all be sold along with groceries.
Still, many states do allow grocery store sales of wine and what they have on offer has improved as stores hire wine buyers and give more autonomy to shops to stock what they and their customers like, Yarrow says.
As a resident of the San Francisco Bay area, where summer means slightly more fog, Yarrow tends to drink the same wines year-round. Still, if he's planning a barbecue (maybe in the one warm month, October) he'll find himself leaning toward a wine like Ravenswood zinfandel, widely available and a good pairing for hearty roast meats .
— MORE SUMMER PICKS
— Robert Sinskey Pinot Gris, $22. "I think it's one of the best value wines in the country. Really light, really savory, really juicy."
— MacRostie Chardonnay, $15. "One of the wines you can find relatively easily. Great acidity and good fruit."
— Chateau St. Michelle Eroica Riesling, $22. "A great spring and summer wine, even over ice." (This was a Kampfe pick, too.)
— Borsao Tinto, under $10. A Spanish red wine made with the grenache grape. This is "great for grilling and backyard barbecuing and typical summer entertaining."
— Crios de Susana Balbao Torrontes, around $14. Made with Argentina's signature white grape, "it's really got these beautiful aromatics, really floral. On the palate, it's nice and peachy."
— Toad Hollow Mendocino Chardonnay, $12 to 13. An unoaked style of chardonnay, which means the wine has not spent time in oak barrels and therefore is a fresher-tasting, fruitier wine. "Most people think of chardonnays with these buttery, oaky overtones and a sort of richness to them, but really that comes from a winemaker's perspective. Chardonnay if left unoaked is actually a little bit more acidic; it's got some lemony tones to it and a nice bright crispness."
— Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine, $15. A crisp, sparkling wine. "Gloria Ferrer is one of the older houses in California making sparkling wines, a nice trustworthy name."