A "beer run" in New York is just about as easy as walking outside until you see a corner, or an avenue, or...well...another person. But I've always been a little sad that a "wine run" just doesn't have the same accessibility. While most grocery stores, delis, and drug stores in New York have ample beer selections, the best that can be done on the wine front is "wine product"—effectively wine cut with sugar and juice. As you can imagine, it is not very good.
But 33 of 50 states allow grocery stores to sell wine, and a few others are allowed to sell wine if they meet certain restrictions. Overseas, grocery stores can also serve as a significant channel for wine sales. For example, the multinational grocer Tesco sells more than 320 million bottles annually in Britain alone—about a quarter of the total British wine market. While the convenience of buying my vino with my Honey Nut Cheerios would certainly be welcome, the same question arises when facing aisles of wine, no matter the setting: What should I buy? What are the best options in this super-convenient scenario? And are the prices competitive with better wine shops?
Safeway is one of the largest supermarket chains in North America. Wine availability and prices can vary somewhat by store, but for the most part, these stores are going to have a pretty similar selection (you're not likely to see super-small production wines in a situation where wine is bought for many, many stores at once.) You can get a better sense of the specific selection in your local Safeway from their website. Just enter in your zip code and "Shop by Aisle" for wine. To hone in on the best white wines available in the store, we tried 18 different bottles, which were mostly domestic (in line with the ratio of domestic/imports in the Safeway wine aisle). We narrowed them down to a few recommended bottles below.
Best Light, Crisp White Wines
Safeway offers a few drinkable examples of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Your best bets? Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($11) offers a blast of tropical flavor, cut with melon and grassy flavors. We'd happily pick up this wine again in the summer, but even in the dead of winter, ceviche or fried calamari calls out for this budget bottle. We also liked the refreshing style of Hanna Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from the Russian River Valley, which sells for around $14. The tropical fruit scent (like just-ripe mango) made us a little nervous, but fortunately this wine didn't taste like a fruit-bomb. It was relatively dry, with floral and lime flavors. It's not necessarily what I would call a representative Sauvignon Blanc, but it was crisp and easy drinking. (Pair with some salty Manchego before dinner.)
Hailing from Friuli-Venezia in Italy, the Bolla Pinot Grigio IgT 2011 ($8) was a runner-up. This wine had a nice lime-like acidity and a touch of honey flavor. With its friendly pricepoint, this is wine we'd recommend for a party.
Best Full-Bodied White Wines
In general, cheap Chardonnay is an iffy category: many of these wines are flavored with wood chips, not time spent in oak barrels, and have all sorts of bizarre flavors. But we found a few at Safeway that we'd drink again. From Mendocino County, Bonterra Chardonnay 2011 ($12) smelled of crisp green apple, and that tartness came through in the wine with citrus flavors. There was a tinge of welcome bitterness—more on the side of lemon peel—that was rounded out by ever-so-slight vanilla sweetness. This is a clean Chardonnay that's just the thing to throw in your cart along with ingredients for chicken casserole or pasta with a light cream sauce.
Though the vanilla aroma won't be for everyone, The Seeker Chardonnay 2011 ($13) offers nice acidity to balance out the oak flavors.
For unoaked Chardonnay, the Louis Jadot Macon Village 2011 ($14) is a decent option with crisp, clear acidity, but you could probably do better for the price elsewhere.
Best Sweet Wine
If you prefer a touch of sweetness in your wine, perhaps after dinner or with delivery Thai food, you might like Fetzer Gewürztraminer Shaly Loam California 2011, which sells for around $10. Honey and peach flavors in the wine are balanced by bright acidity.
What Are Your Picks?
If you find yourself pressed for time, do you buy wine at Safeway? Do you like the selection? Which white wines do you pick up? Tell us your recommended bottles in the comments below.
About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting. You can follow her on twitter @seemagunda
Wines provided as samples for review consideration.