Grocery Outlet is an interesting place to buy wine. The selection is a bit bizarre--ranging all over the place and including wines that show up nowhere else (around here anyway)--and always changing. Odds and ends. That all makes sense. Grocery Outlet generally picks up leftover lots and older vintages (often a good thing) at deep discounts from wineries and distributors that need to clear storage space for newer products.
The prices can be ridiculous (ridiculously low, that is). I stopped in this morning returning from teaching a printmaking class at my son's school. Grocery Outlet (in Santa Rosa, at 1116 College Avenue, occupying the site of a former Safeway) just happens to be on my way.
My usual strategy is to buy a mix of cheap wines on speculation, try them all quickly, and then go back to stock up on the good values before they disappear. Today I bought 12 bottles, of which six were the 2005 Cousiño-Macul Maipo Valley Merlot (I was pretty confident this would be worth the price). I had intended to buy ten bottles, but the cashier pointed out there was a 10% discount on cases, even mixed cases. I was flabbergasted (I hadn't been aware of the case discount), so I went back for two more bottles. I couldn't help laughing. Not even Trader Joe's gives a 10% case discount on its inexpensive wines, arguing its prices are already heavily discounted, and rightly so--but, I wasn't going to complain.
The wine was a moderately deep garnet red--suggestive of its age. It had a distinctive nose--herbs and leather. After some thought, I was finally able to pin the herbaceous scent down to garden sage. A bit unusual, but the pungency was not at all unpleasant. Tasting the wine, I was immediately impressed. It was surprisingly elegant, with restrained flavors, but a very good balance of delicate, fine-grained tannins; lingering, fruity sweetness (just enough); and delicate acidity. Showing signs of maturity at five years, but still vibrant and fresh. Moderate to good length. With a little time and some air, the bouquet began to gain complexity. The wine became suggestive of black cherries, licorice, and earth. Not great wine, but excellent everyday wine--or better.
So, how much did I pay for it? $2.99 a bottle. Excuse me. It was $2.69 a bottle with the case discount. Needless to say, I'm going back for more. This is likely to become the house wine for the time being (until it's all consumed). Recommended. The 2005 Cousiño-Macul Merlot normally retails for $8.99-$12.99 a bottle--probably about $25 on a restaurant menu.