PC Wine Fall Collection Faceoff

22 10 2015

[These wines were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Grocery store wines are making strides.  Supermarket labels are no longer (or at least not all) resigned to Two Buck Chuck ignominy, and a select few are starting to pair their expected wallet-friendly price tags with actual quality inside the bottle, making them legitimate value plays in a competitive buying environment.  The Kirkland label from Costco comes immediately to mind, a negociant-style operation that sources wines from prestigious regions across the globe (even Champagne!  And it’s not bad!) and makes them accessible at a fraction of the cost of other bottles from the area.  Now Loblaws is making its own foray into the value wine world with a curated lineup of stylishly branded PC Wines, currently only available at an Alberta Superstore liquor store near you.  Take that, rest of Canada.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.

 

The PC Wines approach differs from similar supermarket offerings in a couple of ways.  First, the wine collections will be seasonally rotated, so the five bottles in the fall collection will be replaced with a whole new set of wines in a few months.  Second, the pricing is uniform:  all of the bottles cost exactly $20, but that price drops to $15 in each case if you buy 3 or more.  The fall collection was hand-selected by Aaron Bick, founder of local vino e-commerce site wineonline.ca, and features offerings from four different producers in California, Italy and Spain.  Although each bottle bears a PC Wines label, it still recognizes its original producer on the front, which is a nice touch.  There’s even some back-vintage stuff in the mix!

Cork Ratings (for the non-screwcaps, from top to bottom):  3.5/10, 4/10, 7/10.

Cork Ratings (for the non-screwcaps, from top to bottom): 3.5/10, 4/10, 7/10.

“But…”, I hear you all saying, “…are they any good?”  After all, it’s only value wine if the wine is worth drinking.  In order to answer this question in the most scientific way possible, I opened all 5 bottles of wine at once with a friend and we drank a lot.  We tasted each of the PC Wines’ fall offerings side by side, ranked them from top to bottom and determined which of them are best worth a trip to Superstore.  On the whole, I would call the tasting a very pleasant surprise, although some bottles flew the value flag better than others.  Here we go, starting with the lone white in the collection and rolling from there:

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Wine #1:  2013 Plata Chardonnay (California)

Plata is the only producer to have a pair of wines in the fall PC lineup, and the only New World producer to make the group at all.  Both of those facts may have heightened expectations about what it was bringing to the table, but unfortunately its expanded presence in the collection was not a sign of knockout quality or value.  This Chardonnay was a deep burnished gold colour and smelled heavily of winemaking techniques, margarine (from malolactic fermentation) and cedar shavings (from oak treatment), with only a quiet hint of red apple fruit.  It started out creamy on the tongue, then spiked hard with a jolt of flavour that dropped as quickly as it hit, smacking you with banana Runts, cantaloupe, vanilla and butterscotch pudding and then retreating to a tame, short finish.  The alcohol sticks around a bit after you swallow, and there is little acidity to lend verve and juiciness to the proceedings.  It is a drinkable stand-in Cali Chard, somewhat manipulated, but not really transcending the grocery wine genre.

RANK:  4th out of 5

VERDICT:  PASS – even at this price point you can find a well-made Chardonnay.

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Wine #2:  2012 Plata Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

There were two immediate things about this Plata Cab that worried me.  First, like the Chardonnay above, the Cab bottle bore a generic “California” region name, meaning either that the grapes were sourced all over the state (and not enough within a particular quality sub-region to allow the wine to list a more targeted appellation name) or that they were sourced from an area that fell outside of the recognized quality AVAs in the state.  Second, the 13.5% alcohol level was surprisingly low for your standard California Cabernet, especially with the same producer’s Chardonnay clocking in at close to a full point higher.  Neither of these things meant that the wine in the bottle would be bad, but unfortunately the Plata Cab did not even reach the level of its sister white, and after a half hour or so in the glass it stopped holding together entirely.  Lacquered cherry and blackberry aromas were tinged with a slightly artificial sweetness and a waxy trace of birthday candles, and the red fruit flavours on the palate had a thinness or tenuousness to them and an unripe-strawberry tartness that didn’t equate with the bold, deep, rich expectation of California Cab.  This one just wasn’t there for me, but there were better things to come.

RANK:  5th out of 5

VERDICT:  HARD PASS – just not a great wine, unfortunately.

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Wine #3:  2009 Poggiofoco Sovana (Italy)

Yes, that’s right:  2009.  Superstore is offering a six year-old back vintage Tuscan Cab at $15/bottle if you buy three.  Props where props are due — while the first couple wines we tasted lined up with the connotations you might have of grocery store wines, this bottle was the utter and exact opposite.  It’s from an obscure DOC in southern Tuscany called Sovana, which is located just south of Brunello di Montalcino.  It’s almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a hint of Sangiovese, but it doesn’t try to be pretty or approachable, emphatically choosing substance over style with a dank, dense, fruit-minimized profile that takes full advantage of a little bit of bottle age.  It was freaking awesome.  A deep, thick, almost blackened ruby in colour, it distinguished itself from the first smell:  tomato leaf, fresh topsoil, black liquorice, raspberry, burnt wax, mint.  And it didn’t stop there, ramping up the Old World savoury even more once I finally got around to tasting it, highlighting cured meat and black pepper over primary fruit and backing it up with prominent, powerful, structured tannin and a rich earthy finish.  Read all those words again and remember that we’re talking about a 1/$20, 3/$45 Superstore special.  The level of contrast between this Cab and the Cab that immediately preceded it in the tasting lineup was almost comical.  I would be VERY happy to come home with a bottle or three of these at those prices.

RANK:  2nd out of 5

VERDICT:  EMPHATIC BUY – Real character, complexity and sense of place.  A true wine.

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Wine #4:  2012 Banti Toscana (Italy)

The second Tuscan offering of the collection goes another direction, throwing down a baby Super Tuscan blend from an intriguing combination of grapes:  indigenous Italian varietals Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo mixed with international grape (and often blunt instrument) Alicante Bouschet.  This might be the most esoteric supermarket blend of all time — I had never heard of Ciliegiolo before seeing it on this bottle (it’s a genetic relative of Sangiovese and named for the Italian word for “cherry”), and most casual wine drinkers aren’t that familiar with Alicante Bouschet, one of the rare set of teinturier grapes whose actual pulp and flesh, and not just its skins, are red.  Probably thanks to this colour injection, the Banti was much more purple than its Italian counterpart from Poggiofoco, although it was also more translucent.  Through and through, the bottle came across as dark.  The aromas were black-tinged, from permanent marker to blackberry and blackcurrant to raisin, old leather and violets.  The flavour profile on the palate, if possible, was even darker:  tar, pavement, smoke and anise lifted slightly by hints of blueberry.  And the level of structure was unbelievable, with flat-out lockdown tannins and impressive levels of balancing acidity.  This would be an incredible food wine, to the point where it almost needs to be opened with something edible around to give your palate some respite.  Although it’s the minor partner in the blend, the powerful Alicante dominates here, taking the Super Tuscan template to a whole new place.  PC Wines has this Old World thing down, apparently.

RANK:  3rd out of 5

VERDICT:  BUY – Structure and depth, crazy flavour density.  Bring on meats and cheeses.

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Wine #5:  2010 Rotllan Torra Priorat Reserva (Spain)

We ended up saving the most obscene value for last.  Priorat at $15 per for 3??  Insanity.  This renowned and on-trend region in eastern Spain is known for many good things, but wine bargains is not one of them; this is definitely the cheapest bottle of Priorat I have seen around.  AND it’s five years old already, and has the stuff inside to put that time to good use.  A blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, it perfectly represented where it was from while also being more overtly delicious than its Old World counterparts in this collection.  Trying to assess this wine’s colour was like looking into the abyss:  my tasting note just says “all-encompassing darkness”.  That note is immediately followed by “smoked meat and sweet red fruit, together at last”, which covers off in a nutshell the sensory experience of drinking this bottle.  The nose is emphatic and unafraid, both pretty and funky, playing ripe cherry off rubber, parchment and an overarching tangy, almost cheesy, twang, part old Manchego and part sulphur, fire and brimstone.  There are no holes in this wine, which dances from lush cherry and blackberry jam to roasted earth, burnt coals and charcuterie with ease, all of which truly reflect what Priorat is all about.  I am DEFINITELY going back to buy this, in multiples.  Winner.

RANK:  1st out of 5

VERDICT:  BUY LOTS – Universal appeal meets terroir, flavour meets history.

OVERALL COLLECTION VERDICT:  Avoid California.  Try everything else.

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6 responses

23 10 2015
Alan Tanaka

The pc wines you wrote about was great. I really appreciate your advice as to which wines I can count on to be good. There are so many bottles that are crap that I don’t know which to buy. The wines that you suggest is excellent and within financial budget.
Thank you

23 10 2015
petervetsch

Thanks Alan!! If you try any of these, I’d love to know what you think of them.

26 10 2015
Robin

Couldn’t remember which one rated #1 so we picked up the three from Not-California. Can’t wait to give them a try!

26 10 2015
petervetsch

Nice – let me know what you think!! The two Italians will definitely show better with food, so have with supper. Enjoy!

7 11 2015
Robin

We agreed with your order of ratings. Cab Sauv is my favorite so I probably didn’t properly appreciate the Banti wine–I feel like I’ve had much better $15 wines. The other two were excellent. Neck and neck for me but Mark (who worked in fancy restaurants for 20 years) picked the Priorat as the clear winner. And we’re going back for more! 🙂

7 11 2015
petervetsch

Awesome!! The Banti is definitely not for all tastes – quite dank and savory. But that Priorat is a revelation for $15. Glad you tried them!

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