Great Wines, Great Values

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Story by Dave Eckert    |    Intro photo courtesy of ALDI

If you’re a wine drinker, you can relate to the following question: where in the metro are the best places to find decent wine at reasonable prices? It’s easy to walk into a wine shop or a supermarket and purchase an inexpensive bottle of wine. However, most times, the result is a mediocre, or even a plain awful, wine-drinking experience. I say this not to disparage or even discourage these purchases, but from years of personal experience. So, what to do and where to go for a good value AND a good bottle of wine? Read on, McDuff.

Let’s start with a visit to my personal favorite place to buy wine in the Kansas City metro – Cellar Rat Wine Merchants. There are many reasons I enjoy shopping at “The Rat,” but perhaps the most important one is the store’s monthly $100 case. Each month, Cellar Rat owner, Kevin Hodge, and his team assemble a collection of wines customers can taste, evaluate, and purchase for $100 a case. The price is great. Making it even greater is the fact that the wines offered often retail for twice as much or more. Good wines that are good values- exactly what I’m looking for. Hodge calls it a win-win-win! “The distributors can move a larger volume of wine at a very competitive price. We make a little money on the deal. And, best of all, our customers can try new wines every month from all over the world made with grapes both familiar and unfamiliar and buy the wine at a fantastic price!” Hodge exclaimed. “It’s become kind of a cult thing that we’ve become known for.”

Next, some thoughts from Mike’s Wine and Spirits in-house sommelier, Ross Jackson. “I encourage customers to venture outside of domestic wines. Real estate prices are skyrocketing on the west coast, and that can be reflected in the price of wine. On the other hand, most of the great producers in Europe have owned their properties for generations, so there’s not as much pressure to ‘pay the rent’,” Jackson explained.

Of course, enjoying a bottle of wine is not only about the cost, but also the taste and the style of wine you enjoy. It’s not easy to discern without research and tasting – both of which can be time-consuming, and the latter, costly. On those fronts, Jackson recommends Kevin Zraly’s book, Windows on the World, for the research, and helpful, knowledgeable employees at your favorite local wine shop (hopefully Mike’s) to help you find wine you’re going to enjoy. “My phone is filled with regular customer correspondence as to what’s new, what’s inbounding, and what’s happening in our stores. In the six years I’ve been involved with the company, many of my closest friends have been customers I met in the store,” Jackson recalled.

Finally, a source many of you might not even know sold wine, let alone very good wine at excellent prices – Aldi. Yes, Aldi, the supermarket known for low prices, interesting finds, and shopping carts that cost a quarter, has a line of wine labeled “Specially Selected.” I’ve found the bottlings to be both excellent values and delicious. So, off I went in search of information on the “Specially Selected” wines. My queries landed me at the desk of Arlin Zajmi, Aldi Director of National Buying. “After two years in the making, ALDI unveiled its Specially Selected Wine Collection in Fall 2023. Each wine in the collection has been sourced from the best valleys in the top regions across the world, including Côtes de Provence, Uco Valley, Marlborough, and more. To elevate the collection further, the best grapes from each of these regions were used in the process,” Zajmi revealed.

Zajmi says there are currently five Specially Selected wines available year-round and nationwide at Aldi stores that carry alcohol: Specially Selected Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Specially Selected Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Specially Selected Côtes de Provence Rosé, Specially Selected Alto Adige Pinot Grigio, and Specially Selected Uco Valley Malbec. I’ve had them all, along with others, and while some are more to my palate than others, I’ve found them all to be well-made, well-sourced representations of the grapes and the regions from which they are sourced, and thoughtfully priced, ranging from $8 to $15! Not surprisingly, a tremendous amount of work and research went into the final selections. “For the Specially Selected Wine Collection, more than 50 wines across many wineries were evaluated to provide exceptional value for each wine. ALDI utilizes internal and external experts and conducts rigorous testing and quality assurance for all wines found at ALDI but especially for the curation of the wines in this collection,” Zajmi stated. 


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