A lot of people I know refer to Whole Foods as “Whole Wallet” because of its relatively high prices on produce and other food items. I shop there regularly for health supplements and specialty foods I can’t find elsewhere. I am finding, though, that their wine department, stocked with many relatively obscure organic and sustainably grown wines sourced by their buyers from around the world, does contain some relative bargains.
When Whole Foods–the 30th largest retailer in the U.S., with over 400 stores around the country, as well as in Canada and the U.K.–recently offered to send me their “Summer Top 10 Wines,” currently on sale and highlighted with large display posters at local stores, I said I would be happy to receive and evaluate them. What arrived was a diverse group of wines–four whites, five reds and one sparkler–from literally all over the globe. A few came from producers I am very familiar with, but most are from makers I’ve never heard of. The price range runs from $7 to $20.
After tasting through this collection, which I scored from 86 to 91 points, I decided to apply a new QPR algorithm I’ve been working on for awhile. I’m calling it the RJ Quadruple P Scale, which stands for Price Per Premium Point. I started developing it a couple of years ago to try to evaluate large numbers of Champagnes and Bordeaux I had rated, to help me make recommendations that took into account both the price tags and my scores. I used the latest iteration of this scale to help me identify the best relative values amongst the over 200 grocery store Chardonnays I reported on here recently. I was hoping to come up with a very elegant formula that others could easily use to plug in a price point, but that goal has so far eluded me.
The very simplest form of evaluating point scores by price is to divide the price by the point score. Such a simple ratio, however, fails to make vital distinctions between significantly better wines–e.g., between those scoring, say, 87 points and those at the 92 or 93 point level.
Instead, what I’ve found most useful to date is a spreadsheet of values for point scores from 70-100, using a sliding scale of values based on the fact that premium points–points above a score of 90, and again above scores of 93 and 95–are reflected by the market in the form of dramatically increasing prices.
My current scale is still very much a working model, and I am open to suggestions for improving it. I’ve tried to base the values and increments between the values on a rough notion of the market value of wines at various point scores. I’ve aimed for a PPPP averaging $2 as representing a reasonable price for wine at different price points. For example, a price of $22 is not unreasonable for a wine rated 90 points, so I’ve assigned a value of 11 to a 90-point score, yielding a price per premium point of $2 for a wine priced at $22. For wines of much lower quality, where the incremental price difference between a wine scoring, say, 81 points and 83 points is not that significant, the steps per half rating point are only .2. For very highly rated wines, the increments between half rating points go up dramatically starting at the 92 point level, so that is reflected in the value per point.
Once I score a wine and then go to my spreadsheet for the value for that score, I then divide whatever the market price is for the wine by its value. That yields the Price Per Premium Point or PPPP score. As you’ll see from the spreadsheet below, a 93-point wine gets a value of 18, so a wine with that score priced at $36 ends up with a PPP of $2. A wine scoring 96 points has a value of 40, so a wine costing $80 would also have a PPPP of $2. At the low end of the scale, a wine rated 82+ points would have a value of 1.6, so to get a PPPP of $2, it would have to be priced no more than $3.20.
In the case of the Whole Foods Summer Top 10, the #1 wine after I apply the PPPP scale is a tasty, varietally correct New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with bright balancing acidity and complex flavors. It would be a refreshing accompaniment to a variety of summer fare, especially seafood and white cheeses, and at a price of only $12, and therefore a PPPP of only $1.09, it represents a very significant value.
My #2 wine on this list is a $7 Tempranillo from Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region, which resembles a decent Rioja with some bottle age on it. Its 87-point score at that price point results in a PPPP of $1.27. This would be a very drinkable and affordable pairing for everything from grilled veggies to lighter meats.
My third place wine on this list is a decent Vinho Verde from an importer I have gotten to know well over the years, from having been on panels and at tasting dinners with him. Bartholomew Broadbent knows how to source good quality, well priced wine. Vinho Verde is a perfect summer wine for its bright citrus flavors and vibrant acidity. This one is priced at $9–which is reasonable for a Vinho Verde, although there are many others that generally run under $15. It will serve well as an aperitif or with salads and light cheeses of all kinds, as well as lighter seafood dishes.
Number four gets my highest rating–91 points–and also has an excellent PPPP of $1.31. It’s a flavorful old vine Zin with good balancing acidity–Valravn. This is a small project by the owners of Banshee Wines, based on dry-farmed bush vines ranging from 50 to over 100 years old. I’ve seen this wine priced elsewhere at $20, which is still a good price, but Whole Foods currently has it for only $17. This is a wine that should age well for at least five years, so would not only complement this summer’s barbecues and grilled meats, but could be lovely to open in cooler months over the coming years as well.
The Chardonnay on the list–Andover Estate Arroyo Seco–comes in fifth for me based on its 89-point rating and excellent price, for good California Chardonnay, of $13. Whole Foods claims to have bought the entire production of this wine, so you’re not going to find it elsewhere. It will be a crowd pleaser, and a versatile wine to pair with summer afternoons by the pool and a host of summer foods.
The next two slots on my ranking go to wines that also have very good PPPP scores, well below $2: a very good Bandol Rosé from Bieler Père et Fils, and a varietally true Pinot Noir with good acidity from Macedonia. The former, at $20, is the highest priced wine of this list, but that’s still a great price for a Bandol Rosé, since dry pink wines from this popular region have climbed to an average of over $30, and as much as $50 to $60 for some sought after producers. Whole Foods claimed that it bought the entire production of this tasty Rosé, so you won’t find it elsewhere. The Pinot, on the other hand, is a bargain at $11, a very tough price point for a drinkable Pinot Noir, let alone one with good flavor and acidity like this one from Stobi Winery in Macedonia.
There’s also a Cabernet on this Whole Foods list that represents a good value at a PPPP of exactly $2. Priced at only $8, this Chilean Cab from Autoritas has good varietal character and food friendly acidity. It compares favorably to low priced Cabernets that I have tasted for my Grocery Store Cabernet Project, the results of which will soon appear here.
The last two slots are weaker values based on my PPPP scale, both coming in at a PPPP of $3.25. But those who value convenience and portability in their sparkling wines might well find a lot of appeal in the 187 millimeter pop top can of bubbly from Prosecco producer Presto. Reportedly this is actually fizz that could have been bottled as Prosecco, but that, in a canned format, doesn’t meet the DOC regulations for Prosecco packaging. As a tasty and refreshing addition to a picnic, however, it’s hard to complain about the $13 price tag on this easy to carry and open sparkler.
The wine I rank number 10 seems like less of a bargain at $13, given the quantity of similarly priced Italian Sangiovese based wines showing less oak and reduction than this red blend from Capezzana.
All in all, I applaud Whole Foods for this diverse summer line up and the relatively bargain prices overall. Here’s to a fun summer full of food friendly, balanced wines that don’t burn a hole in our wallets.
Here’s a link to the spreadsheet displaying my PPPP scale: RJ PPPP scale for blog And I appreciate the work done by Robert Dwyer, The Wellesley Wine Press, in working toward a useful QPR tool: http://www.wellesleywinepress.com/2009/05/modeling-value-introducing-wwpqpr.html
For my complete tasting notes, scoring and pricing on each of these wines, see below:
Very light yellow color; pyrazine, cat pee, tart grapefruit nose; juicy, tart grapefruit, light smoke, light green herb palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 90 points $12.00 PPPP:$1.09
Black-tinged dark red violet color; coconut, vanilla, plum, berry syrup nose; plum, berry syrup, coconut palate with some balancing acidity and good varietal character; medium finish (13% alcohol) 87 points $7.00 PPPP:$1.27
Light yellow color; lime, citrus, chalk nose; tart citrus, green apple, chalk, saline palate with refreshing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (9% alcohol; good summer sipper for $9) 88+ points $9.00 PPPP:$1.29
Very dark ruby color; reduction, briary, raisin, tart berry, spice nose; juicy, briary, berry, cherry, red plum, spice palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.7% alcohol; good old vine Zin character for $17) 91 points $17.00 PPPP:$1.31
Light lemon yellow color; lemon curd, almond, pear nose; creamy textured, savory, almond, pear palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89 points $13.00 PPPP:$1.44
Light orange pink color; savory, tart cantaloupe, tart strawberry nose; tasty, tart strawberry, cranberry, tart cantaloupe palate with refreshing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Mourvedre, 40% Grenache, 6% Cinsault, 4% Syrah; 13.9% alcohol) 91 points $20.00 PPPP:$1.54
Medium dark ruby color; cherry, raspberry puree, black cherry nose; juicy, light-medium bodied, cherry, black cherry, berry syrup, raspberry puree palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 88 points $11.00 PPPP:$1.57
Saturated, very dark black-tinged red violet color; savory, tart red currant, green olive, cedar nose; juicy, red currant, green olive, cedar palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points $8.00 PPPP:$2.00
From 167 ml can – Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, small bubbles; ripe pear, banana, apple nose tart pear, apple palate with balancing acidity; medium finish (11% alcohol; reportedly this is Prosecco, but Presto can’t market it as such because DOC rules require Prosecco to be bottled) 86 points $13.00 PPPP:$3.25
Very dark black-tinged red violet color; reduction, red currant, cranberry, coconut oil nose; juicy, red currant, cranberry palate with medium acidity; medium finish (blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon & Canaiolo; 13.5% alcohol) 86 points $13.00 PPPP:$3.25