Tastings: Heading back to her 'tribal area'
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CARMEL, Calif. -- My husband, who spent way too many years living in Africa, calls this my "tribal area." I grew up in Carmel, a Bohemian artist's village at the southern end of Monterey Bay, and raised two children here.
In wine terms, it is more commonly referred to as the Central Coast of California, but the explosion in vineyard plantings, and eventually the fine wines coming from both Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, happened largely after I moved away. The number of wineries in the two counties have gone from a handful, in my day, to well over 150 today. The area is definitely worthy of a trek for wine lovers, who will find gorgeous scenery of coast and mountains while discovering wines of great character and finesse without the crowded tasting rooms of Napa and Sonoma counties in the north.
Normally I try to visit a few new wineries on each visit but this trip was devoted to grandchildren, so I didn't get to do a wine tour. Instead I went shopping for wines from the area to taste at home. Both Trader Joe's and Costco here sell wines and I did find interesting wines at good prices at both places.
To my surprise, though, I found that the best deals by far were at our local Safeway market. For years, when visiting my mother in Carmel, I had been buying all of the wines I purchased from either Costco or directly from local wineries. When grocery shopping at Safeway, I rarely slowed down in the wine aisles.
Now I realize what a foolish mistake that was. Safeway Club (the same as Giant Eagle Advantage card) members benefit from a huge discount on all wines. It starts at 10 percent and goes up, depending on the deals offered by a particular winery -- much like Pennsylvania's Chairman's Selection program. The big difference is that the reductions are on every bottle in the extensive inventory. Plus there is an additional 10 percent discount for buying six or more bottles. (That 10 percent discount for six bottles of mixed labels also is the norm at local liquor stores as well as most retail shops around the country.)
Those are year-round discounts. But four times a year, for a two-week period each time, Safeway offers a 30 percent discount on any wine in the store. When you combine that great price with the quantity discount, you are buying any wine in the store at 40 percent off.
The selection is awesome, with wines coming from all corners of the globe but with a particular emphasis on California vineyards. With hundreds of labels, it's virtually impossible not to find something that pleases both taste and pocketbook. A modest selection of lower-end wines primarily from California are sold at similar discounts at California CVS pharmacies and retail liquor stores.
My first purchase was for Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, normally $14.99. I paid $9. (In Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stores it is $15.99) For Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Cabernet 2006 I paid $36.90 (PLCB: $51.89). Sterling Vintner Collection Merlot 2009 was $9 (PLCB: $15.99). Argyle Pinot Noir 2010 from Oregon was $18 (PLCB: $30.19). La Crema Chardonnay 2010 was $12.60 (PLCB: $20.99). Acacia Chardonnay 2010 was $11.70 (PLCB $21.99). Ferrari Carano Chardonnay 2010 was $18 (the 2010 is not available at PLCB, but the '09 is $33.99).
Those prices were after the 10 percent quantity discount I got for buying a minimum of six bottles. The same discounts apply to spirits. Johnnie Walker Red Label scotch, 750 ml, was $18 (PLCB $24.99). That is the everyday club price with the six-mixed-bottle purchase.
The Carmel Safeway beats Costco in both price and selection (with the possible exception of Dom Perignon Champagne, which Costco offers once a year for an unbelievable price in the neighborhood of $60). Naturally, some California residents try to make their Safeway wines and spirits purchases during those eight 40 percent off weeks, but even if they miss that opportunity as I did, there are hundreds of bottles discounted 25 to 30 percent.
Is it only a dream to think that someday Pennsylvania residents with Giant Eagle Advantage cards might find similar deals at our grocery stores? Republican Gov. Tom Corbett campaigned on a pledge to privatize state liquor sales. Since winning that office he has little inclination to push his Republican-controlled Legislature into accomplishing the job. Will we ever be free of our state's monopoly and Prohibition-era liquor sales?
First Published August 9, 2012 12:00 am