Grapes West by Robert Ehlert: Scoring a ‘value wine’ hidden among the shelves

If money is no object and the world is your wine cellar, you don’t need to read this. But the rest of us sometimes need to prowl around looking for something to sip under the category of what I call Value Wines (VWs). This is not to be confused with the car, which is also a value – especially if it runs on some Austrian juice such as Berger’s Gruner Veltliner.

But I can't move on this topic without first defining what a Value Wine is – at least to me:


The Boise Co-op Wine Shop’s 15-percent-off sale in honor of tax day was a dangerous VW encounter for me, because, yikes, the more expensive the bottle, the more savings. But even if it wasn’t on sale, I would visit the Co-op wine shop to peruse the bargain bin at the front of the store or the “back wall” where a collection of domestic and international wines priced $8-$15 keep me in good grapes.

I also have found VWs locally at Treasure Valley tasting rooms, Whole Foods, Winco, Trader Joe’s, Walmart and especially at the Grocery Outlet in Boise, which is located at 5544 W. Fairview Ave.

Warning: VW hunting has its hazards. I have paid good money for wine I have dumped down the drain or wouldn’t even cook with – and that’s saying something.

I could go on and on, but today the object lesson involves a recent trip to the good old Grocery Outlet. Sometimes when I visit the Outlet, it frustrates. Other times, it yields diamonds. I try to choose varietals from regions famous for those expressions; Zinfandel not Chardonnay from the Sierra Foothills. With some exceptions, I like my Pinot Noir from California’s Carneros or Russian River regions, or Oregon’s Willamette or McMinnville areas. I buy bottles of wine varietals from regions where they make a lot of it well and shy away from anything made in Manteca – a place where taste seems lose out to volume.

This was on my mind when I wandered into Grocery Outlet’s 20-percent-off sale a few weeks ago. I was looking for whites, and a stack of cases of 2012 Dancing Coyote Chennin Blanc sourced from Clarksburg, Calif., caught my eye.

Clarksburg is located just south of Sacramento in what is called “The Delta” along the Sacramento River and a network of backwaters. The combination of hot days and cool nights has a magical effect on the grapes. A renowned Sacramento grocer and wine expert named Darrell Corti has praised the chennin blanc grown in Clarksburg as among the best in the country.

I bought a bottle for just over $4 (thanks to the sale), brought it home, undid the screw cap before noon and shared a half glass with my wife. A confirmation sip sent me back into the car, so I could go buy a case.

Always on the lookout for a summer white besides Chardonnay, this is a beautiful dry and crisp wine with a fruity and slightly tart trail that lingers on the back of the throat.

I tracked down the winery to get the back story about why it ended up at an Idaho clearance warehouse. For whatever reason, it wasn’t selling at $12 a bottle, and the company decided to stop making it. They still own the chennin blanc vineyard and sell the grapes to other wineries.

The 2012 Dancing Coyote Chennin Blanc is what I call a VW. Still selling for around $5, you’d better hope you get to the last of it before I do.

Robert Ehlert‘s wine column runs the first Friday of each month. Reach him at 377-6437. Twitter: @IDS_HelloIdaho