Super value wines are those priced around $5 or less. Sounds like a great deal—a super deal.
Well, let’s see how winemakers like Bronco Wine Company (Two-Buck Chuck) and Treasury Wine Estates pull this off, then you decide.
The U.S. three-tier wine distribution system must accommodate three groups—winery, wholesaler, retailer, and that’s not counting something for the grape farmer. You really must cut corners to put the product on the shelf for $5.
Super value wines typically are made from grapes grown in fertile, hot regions such as California’s Central Valley—Bronco grows 35,000 acres there. This area produces tons of grapes, but not grapes of any distinction. Harvesting is done mechanically, which means all the fruit gets dumped into the bin regardless of quality.
Another option, even cheaper, is to buy bulk juice rejected by other winemakers or from wineries going bankrupt and dumping everything to pay creditors.
The result is really cheap juice. Bronco Wine’s Fred Franzia bragged he could get the cost of wine in a standard bottle down to 50 cents. Problem with wine this cheap is it seldom tastes good.
Enter wine chemists and conjurors and the additive onslaught. If the wine lacks acidity, toss in tartaric acid. Dull or unpleasant flavors, throw in oak chips or oak sawdust. No tannic structure, here comes tannin powder. Too high in alcohol—which raises the tax on the bottle—add water. Wine no longer has enough flavor, Mega Purple—a controversial grape concentrate—to the rescue.
We are not finished. Super value wines rely on loads of sulfur to stabilize the wine and make it taste the same as the million other bottles on the production line. Typically, workers adding sulfur must wear gas masks. Finally come cheap bottles, cheap labels, cheap corks. You are, after all, buying cheap wine.
Everything just mentioned is perfectly legal. Quality makers use some of the techniques, just not on the industrial factory scale of Super Value makers.
Bottom line in wine: you get what you pay for.
• Stemmari Pinot Noir Sicilia DOC 2016: Sicily’s version of pinot noir with its own charms, not the least of which is low price. $9-12 Link to my review
• Lubanzi Wines Chenin Blanc Swartland 2017: Solid South African chenin blanc with interesting backstory and admirable social element. $15 Link to my review
Last round: From my perspective, someone who abstains from wine is just a tragically weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself one of life’s greatest pleasures.