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Surprising Wine Values at Whole Foods

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A lot of people I know refer to Whole Foods as "Whole Wallet" because of its relatively high prices on produce and other food items. I shop there regularly for health supplements and specialty foods I can't find elsewhere. I am finding, though, that their wine department, stocked with many relatively obscure organic and sustainably grown wines sourced by their buyers from around the world, does contain some relative bargains.

When Whole Foods--the 30th largest retailer in the U.S., with over 400 stores around the country, as well as in Canada and the U.K.--recently offered to send me their "Summer Top 10 Wines," currently on sale and highlighted with large display posters at local stores, I said I would be happy to receive and evaluate them. What arrived was a diverse group of wines--four whites, five reds and one sparkler--from literally all over the globe. A few came from producers I am very familiar with, but most are from makers I've never heard of. The price range runs from $7 to $20.

After tasting through this collection, which I scored from 86 to 91 points, I decided to apply a new QPR algorithm I've been working on for awhile. I'm calling it the RJ Quadruple P Scale, which stands for Price Per Premium Point.

My current scale is still very much a working model. I've tried to base the values and increments between the values on a rough notion of the market value of wines at various point scores. I've aimed for a PPPP averaging $2 as representing a reasonable price for wine at different price points. For example, a price of $22 is not unreasonable for a wine rated 90 points, so I've assigned a value of 11 to a 90-point score, yielding a price per premium point of $2 for a wine priced at $22. For wines of much lower quality, where the incremental price difference between a wine scoring, say, 81 points and 83 points is not that significant, the steps per half rating point are only .2. For very highly rated wines, the increments between half rating points go up dramatically starting at the 92 point level, so that is reflected in the value per point.

In the case of the Whole Foods Summer Top 10, the #1 wine after I apply the PPPP scale is a tasty, varietally correct New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with bright balancing acidity and complex flavors. It would be a refreshing accompaniment to a variety of summer fare, especially seafood and white cheeses, and at a price of only $12, and therefore a PPPP of only $1.09, it represents a very significant value.

My #2 wine on this list is a $7 Tempranillo from Spain's Castilla-La Mancha region, which resembles a decent Rioja with some bottle age on it. Its 87-point score at that price point results in a PPPP of $1.27. This would be a very drinkable and affordable pairing for everything from grilled veggies to lighter meats.

My third place wine on this list is a decent Vinho Verde from an importer I have gotten to know well over the years, from having been on panels and at tasting dinners with him. Bartholomew Broadbent knows how to source good quality, well priced wine. Vinho Verde is a perfect summer wine for its bright citrus flavors and vibrant acidity. This one is priced at $9--which is reasonable for a Vinho Verde, although there are many others that generally run under $15. It will serve well as an aperitif or with salads and light cheeses of all kinds, as well as lighter seafood dishes.

Number four gets my highest rating--91 points--and also has an excellent PPPP of $1.31. It's a flavorful old vine Zin with good balancing acidity--Valravn. This is a small project by the owners of Banshee Wines, based on dry-farmed bush vines ranging from 50 to over 100 years old. I've seen this wine priced elsewhere at $20, which is still a good price, but Whole Foods currently has it for only $17. This is a wine that should age well for at least five years, so would not only complement this summer's barbecues and grilled meats, but could be lovely to open in cooler months over the coming years as well.

The Chardonnay on the list--Andover Estate Arroyo Seco--comes in fifth for me based on its 89-point rating and excellent price, for good California Chardonnay, of $13. Whole Foods claims to have bought the entire production of this wine, so you're not going to find it elsewhere. It will be a crowd pleaser, and a versatile wine to pair with summer afternoons by the pool and a host of summer foods.

All in all, I applaud Whole Foods for this diverse summer line up and the relatively bargain prices overall. Here's to a fun summer full of food friendly, balanced wines that don't burn a hole in our wallets.

For my complete tasting notes, scoring and pricing on each of these wines, see the complete post on my blog here.