Fine Wine

Costco, Gus’s and Berkeley Bowl

Grocery stores are not always the best places to shop for wine. Many large chains carry only wines made in enormous quantities, a way for them to stock the same bottles at each of their locations. The wine aisle, treated in this way, becomes like the cereal aisle for the consumer: predictable and mass-produced. Just as you can expect to find Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes in every supermarket in America, so can you expect to find Meiomi Pinot Noir and Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay.

But we’re luckier than most. We live in the Bay Area, where a number of our grocery stores punch way above their weight in the wine aisle. There are places that offer idiosyncratic selections of interesting wines, including many limited-production and local options.

I maintain that the best way to find a really great, unusual bottle is to patronize one of our many independent wine shops, staffed by knowledgeable experts who can provide tailored, personal recommendations. But for the days when you don’t have time to hit both the grocery store and the wine shop, I spent some time perusing the wine aisles at three popular supermarkets: Gus’s Community Market, Berkeley Bowl West and, yes, Costco. All three have very good wine departments.

Below, I highlight three affordable bottles from each store that would make fine additions to your holiday table — or could be fun host gifts if you’re attending a dinner party. These aren’t necessarily the three “best” wines available at each store; I haven’t tasted everything, after all, so can’t attest to that. But they’re wines that stood out to me as delightful and refreshing, and they represent excellent value. I hope they’ll bring you pleasure, too.

Three great wines available at Gus’s Community Market in San Francisco, from left: L’Antica Quercia Prosecco, Nortico Alvarinho and Eric Texier Brezeme.

Three great wines available at Gus’s Community Market in San Francisco, from left: L’Antica Quercia Prosecco, Nortico Alvarinho and Eric Texier Brezeme.

Esther Mobley/The Chronicle

Gus’s Community Market

Outer Sunset location: 3701 Noriega St., Unit A, San Francisco

I love shopping for food at Gus’s Community Market, which has four locations throughout San Francisco. (I’m especially fond of the market’s marinated gigante beans, which will enliven any salad or charcuterie board.) For this exercise, I visited its newest opening in the Outer Sunset, which boasts several aisles’ worth of eclectic, soulful wines; it features local products you won’t see in many other shops, like a juicy Contra Costa County Mataro from Fine Disregard ($27.99) and Edmunds St. John’s Bone Jolly Gamay ($24.99), a perennial favorite of mine. Even better: Purchasing four or more bottles gets you a 10% discount.

A surprising Prosecco: L’Antica Quercia Rive di Scomigo Matiu Brut Prosecco 2019 ($16.99, 11.5%). A lot of the Prosecco you’ll find in grocery stores is sweet, simple and boring, but I was impressed by this very dry, relatively complex example of the famous Italian sparkling wine. Apple is a common note I find in Proseccos, and this one has an intriguing flavor that reminds me of biting into a tannic, slightly bitter Red Delicious. Its soft bubbles disperse after several minutes in your glass, and hints of brioche and fresh cotton emerge.

Gus’s Community Market has four locations throughout San Francisco, all with great wine departments.

Gus’s Community Market has four locations throughout San Francisco, all with great wine departments.

Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle 2018

A fresh Portuguese white:
Nortico Alvarinho Minho 2020 ($15.99, 13.5%). This Portuguese Alvarinho — the grape known in Spain as Albariño — conjures the feeling of the Atlantic coast and its cool, salty air. It’s a fresh, lively, tangy white wine, as zippy as lemon juice, as fragrant as grapefruit zest and as briny as an oyster. It would sing alongside a plate of Dungeness crab.

A savory French Syrah:
Eric Texier Cotes du Rhone Brezeme 2018 ($30.99, 11%-14%). Vintner Eric Texier has gained a devoted following for his wines from the Rhone Valley in southern France, particularly the little-known appellation of Brezeme. Seek out his higher-end cuvees if you can, but for casual drinking, this entry-level Syrah, made from younger grapevines, is hard to beat. It shows all of those savory characteristics that make Syrah such a great match for food — olives, bacon, black pepper. Yet despite those full, rich flavors, the wine displays finesse and levity, leaving you wanting another sip.

Some great wines available at Berkeley Bowl West: Murgo Metodo Classico Brut Rosé 2018, Cantine Elvio Tintero Bianco NV and Thee & Thou GLHF Lodi 2020.

Some great wines available at Berkeley Bowl West: Murgo Metodo Classico Brut Rosé 2018, Cantine Elvio Tintero Bianco NV and Thee & Thou GLHF Lodi 2020.

Esther Mobley / The Chronicle

Berkeley Bowl West




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