$3 Wal-Mart wines hold their own in our taste test
12:45 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 28, 2008
By KIM PIERCE / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News firstname.lastname@example.org Kim Pierce
With more than two dozen comments about Wal-Mart's Oak Leaf Vineyards wines on The Dallas Morning News Eats blog, most of them positive, we knew we had to put them to the test. Could a $2.97 bottle of wine really taste better than swamp water? And would it "fool" experienced wine drinkers?
As it turns out, the wines are better than you might think. The chardonnay won a gold medal at both the 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (chardonnays under $14.99) and the 2008 Florida State International Wine Competition. The Oak Leaf merlot and cabernet sauvignon earned bronze medals in the San Francisco contest.
Just in time for the holidays, we put Oak Leaf wines to the test with Dallas wine drinkers. We assembled a tasting panel in the upper sanctum of Adelmo's that included friends and regular customers of the restaurateur with a range of tasting expertise, from casual drinker to a former wine-and-spirits store owner.
The four wines were bagged and numbered before the tasters arrived. The score sheets asked tasters to rate the wines on a scale of 1 to 10, to circle the price at which the wine would be a bargain and to add comments.
"None of these are American," declared former Monticello Liquors owner Danny Chen just before their identities were unveiled. "The two reds were French." He liked the first and third wines, he said.
Just in time for the holidays, we put Oak Leaf wines to the test with Dallas wine drinkers.
"I liked the second one," said his wife, Celeste Chen. "I'd buy it right now. Do you have a case?"
"In the restaurant business," said owner Adelmo Banchetti, "you get to where you taste for, 'Can I sell it?' " For these wines, the answer was yes. He wrote in his tasting notes that No. 2 has mass appeal. "It would be the perfect house wine for most restaurants."
Then we unmasked the Oak Leaf Vineyards wines.
*No. 1: a pinot grigio-chardonnay blend
*No. 2: chardonnay
*No. 3: merlot
*No. 4: cabernet sauvignon
The panel was surprised and amazed to learn of the $3 price point. "That's a helluva deal," said Mr. Banchetti.
Everyone agreed the wines would be a bargain at three times the price and ideal for holiday entertaining. The wines don't say Wal-Mart anywhere, but if you're afraid friends might recognize the label, just put them in a nice carafe. No one will be the wiser.
Kim Pierce is a Dallas freelance writer.
ABOUT OAK LEAF VINEYARD
The wines are made exclusively for Wal-Mart by Oak Leaf Vineyards in Ripon, Calif. Oak Leaf is part of the Wine Group, the country's second-largest wine company, according to a company spokeswoman. Some of its brands include Concannon, Corbett Canyon, Fish Eye, Big House, Herding Cats, Pinot Evil and Inglenook. O at Home featured Oak Leaf in its summer edition.
The Oak Leaf wines continue in the super-value mold of "Two Buck Chuck," wine made in 2002 by Charles Shaw for Trader Joe's, the California-based discount gourmet retailer, which sold them for $2 a bottle.
Oak Leaf wines are made by Turning Leaf Vineyards winemaker Mario Pulido. They are nonvintage, which gives the winery greater leeway in using grapes. Most are on the low side for alcohol, about 12 percent -- not a bad thing for a party wine.
Oak Leaf wines are available for $2.97 a bottle at Wal-Mart Supercenters.
SCORING THE WINES
Tasters were asked to rank the nonvintage Oak Leaf Vineyards wines on a scale of 1 to 10 (best).
They were also asked at what price the wines would be a bargain: $5, $10, $15 or other. The tasters agreed that Jack Zahniser wrote the best tasting notes, so they're included here.
Oak Leaf Vineyards Pinot Grigio
A bargain at: $10
Tasting notes: Nice nose, crisp initial taste. A bit weak on the mid-palate. A little lime, kiwi, rose petal. Nice pool wine, with a bumpy finish.
Oak Leaf Vineyards Chardonnay
A bargain at: $10 to $15
Tasting notes: Close nose with pineapple, cream, a bit of eucalyptus (ever so slight). Nice color, with a clean finish.
Oak Leaf Vineyards Merlot
A bargain at: All over the map, from $5 to $30
Tasting notes: Blueberry-strawberry, lively red fruit. Nose is an earthy European terroir. Color is clean and clear. Short burst of a finish with lingering aftertaste.
Oak Leaf Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
A bargain at: $5 to $30, with most at $10 or $15
Tasting notes: Muted black berries. A bit cloudy. Earthy terroir of a European nature. Soft finish that lingers. A wine that grows on you. Has an aged quality, but also feels young.
Adelmo's owner Adelmo Banchetti
Dallas real estate agent Joe Akers
Former Monticello Liquor owner and Dallas real estate agent Danny Chen
Dallas homemaker Celeste Chen
Dallas software implementation specialist Kim Tham
Dallas architect Jack Zahniser