Bottom shelf

Who does not rejoice in a good bottle of wine selling for under $12?

But beware, there is plonk a’plenty where label legerdemain lurks to bamboozle buyers.

If it seems too good to be true, pause. Puffed up suggested retail prices are popular flimflam. If seller claims bottle regularly sells for $20, but for limited time you can get it for $9.99, pause. The bottle likely is same quality as other $10 wines, or the store is desperately trying to clear out tired, past-prime inventory.

The government has rules for labels; careful reading imparts useful information. For instance, the label must state where the wine was made.

California’s Central Valley is heartland of bulk wine. Nothing wrong with that—box wine for your frat party needs to come from somewhere—but there is difference between wine made from hand-pruned Napa vines meticulously selected by experts in the cool of a full-moon night and wines made from push-the-tons-per-acre mega-plots harvested by whirling machines in searing heat of a Central Valley day.

Lodi is center of Central Valley. Lodi makes some good zins; pinot noir and chardonnay, not as often. Check location on the label.

Be skeptical of label fluff. “Our family has crafted outstanding wines from the finest vineyards in California for generations” sounds nice, but doesn’t really mean anything.

“Finest vineyards in California” is blather. “Our family” seems bucolically nice and homey, but the largest wine maker in the world—Gallo—is an “our family” operation. Gallo makes some exceptionally good wine, but mom and pop with dirt under their fingernails patches on their dungarees, it is not.

Exclusive brands—usually found in supermarkets—often are what wine industry calls “shiners.” These are finished wines sold without labels—the bottles are “shiny.” The store slaps a clever label on the bottle and promotes the pour as an “exclusive” offering.

Shiners often are made by bulk producers, so paucity of information is one shiner tell. That said, some good shiners can be worthy. If you find one you like, stock up. Next year the wine might not be so nice.

Last round: Wine connoisseur went to hell. Fortunately, there was plenty of wine. Unfortunately, it was served at room temperature.