Twenty dollars is the new $10 when it comes to purchasing interesting, well-made wines from Sonoma and Mendocino counties (Napa is a whole other story). So where can thrifty wine lovers find great bottles, outside of winery tasting rooms? There are several stores in the region that offer good deals. We picked Oliver’s Market for this article.
Why Oliver’s? Because it has four stores that are accessible to shoppers in Santa Rosa, Windsor and Cotati. It’s locally owned and focuses on local products and makers. The first store opened in 1972 and the company isn’t going anywhere soon. And Oliver’s offers smartly chosen, well-made wines that are affordable by today’s Wine Country standards.
To corporate wine and spirits buyer Richard Williams, an 11-year Oliver’s veteran and the one responsible for selecting the bottles and cans for the adult beverage aisles, “Local at Oliver’s means Sonoma County. We have products from elsewhere, of course, but if a wine is labeled as ‘local,’ it’s from Sonoma.”
Williams and his team taste every wine presented to them before they stock it, and value is always top of mind. This doesn’t mean all wines are inexpensive (check out the Champagne section), but they are appropriately priced for the interest and satisfaction they deliver.
According to Williams, all the Oliver’s Market stores stock the same wines, allowing him to place large orders and receive volume discounts. His current wine and liquor inventory is worth $1.4 million, he said, warehoused off-site and delivered to the stores to keep shelves and coolers stocked.
Some of those wines are made specifically for Oliver’s, by a Sonoma County winery Williams won’t name. “Oliver’s Own” wines — merlot, pinot noir and sangiovese are current fan favorites — cut out the middle men (and middle pricing) and give Williams the opportunity to dial up wines he thinks his customers will like.
Recent reports of California being awash in unsold wine in tanks and barrels, and of grapevines being pulled because there are no buyers for the fruit, are certainly discouraging to the wine industry. But it could be a boon for consumers, who might see a lowering of prices, albeit at the expense of growers and winemakers.
“There will be a lot of reasonably priced wines coming up in the next year or two,” Williams said. “A lot of discounts will be offered, and we’ll see new labels from the people who work the bulk market (buying finished wine and bottling it under their own labels).”
It’s a grape-glut cycle that comes along every decade or so, and there will be years of shortage, too. It’s how the wine business works, and it will be to shoppers’ benefit in the near future.
For now, here are 12 excellent-value wines from Oliver’s shelves, priced under $25.
Pech Merle Winery 2018 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($12.99). This any-day sipper offers ripe white peach, mango and citrus aromas and flavors, balanced by bright acidity and with a wet-stone flintiness on the finish.
Leo Steen Wines 2017 Saini Farms Dry Creek Valley Chenin Blanc ($17.99). Vines planted more than 40 years ago produced this generously flavored wine with apple, pear, citrus and honeysuckle notes and a crisp finish. Few chenin vines remain in Sonoma County. Here is an opportunity to taste a fine example of the variety.
LIOCO 2016 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($19.99). This winery founded by sommeliers is trendy with, yes, other sommeliers and fans of subtle, elegant wines. This one is a fine and affordable introduction to LIOCO, coming mostly from Russian River Valley vineyards and showing racy Meyer lemon, golden apple and high-acid character. It’s a great mate with seafood.
MacRostie Winery 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($21.99). This classy, cool-climate chardonnay from multiple vineyards comes at a remarkable price for the quality. It smacks of clean lemon meringue, pineapple and baked apple flavors, with hint of caramel and spice.
Paradise Ridge 2018 Brides Blush Russian River Valley Rosé ($14.99). Winemaker Dan Barwick produced this wine that’s simply a joy to drink. The wild strawberry, red raspberry and watermelon character comes out in a juicy, full-flavored way, finishing crisp and refreshing.
Balletto Vineyards 2018 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir ($16.99). The longtime, family-owned company grows its own grapes and makes a beautiful pink wine that’s elegant, bone dry on the palate and brisk. The mouthwatering finish goes on and on.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut ($16.99). This moderately rich yet racy wine is predominantly pinot noir, with a delicate pink color and vibrant red berry, cherry and strawberry personality. The price is right for this level of quality.
Cline Cellars 2018 Sonoma Coast Syrah ($12.99). The Cline family’s Diamond Pile Estate in the Petaluma Gap AVA produced this wine that balances savory notes of black pepper, espresso and pleasant earthiness, with sweet, ripe blackberry and dark cherry fruit. Syrah skeptics, give it a try.
Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery 2016 Merlot Sonoma County ($14.99). Supple and juicy, as most expect merlot to be, it’s filled with black cherry and plum aromas and flavors and a lushness that invites another sip.
Gundlach Bundschu 2017 Mountain Cuvée Sonoma County ($18.99). This merlot- and cabernet sauvignon-based wine is a perennial crowd pleaser. Medium-full-bodied and with supple tannins, it‘s ready to drink now, without the challenging tannins of many Bordeaux-style reds this young.
L’Oliveto 2017 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($16.98). This mouthful of black cherry and blackberry juiciness and vibrant texture has a pleasant earthy edge and a hint of spice. It’s produced by Brack Mountain Wine Co. in Sebastopol and is a real find in the increasingly pricey world of Sonoma pinot noir.
Elizabeth Spencer Wines 2017 Proprietor Selection Special Cuvee Grenache Mendocino ($24.99, sale price $19.99). This winery produces high-end cabernet sauvignons in Napa Valley. Wanting to offer an affordable extension of its business, it looked to Mendocino for this crisp, red-fruit-loaded grenache that’s spicy and mouthwatering with hints of cranberry and pomegranate.
Vintages and prices were current as of Feb. 12.
Oliver’s Market Locations
9230 Old Redwood Highway, Windsor, 707-687-2050
546 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati, 707-795-9501
560 Montecito Center, Santa Rosa, 707-537-7123
461 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa, 707-284-3530