Outlet Shopping 

Value sips abound at one East Bay purveyor.

The winds of change have scattered two of my favorite fellow Wineaux, affectionately known as the Beer Guys. Beer Guy #1 now lives in Brooklyn, where he takes a dry Riesling now and then, while Beer Guy #2 is in Portland, fighting the damp with hearty Cabs and Syrah blends.

And where am I? Well I'm at Grocery Outlet — eyes popping at the vast array of wines I've just tasted with my new friend Brent. Or, as I've grown fond of calling him, Beer Guy #3. The new beer guy on the block explains that his taste in beer (lagers, pilsners) echoes his taste in wines: Sauvignon Blancs trump "huge" Chardonnays, and he's drawn to big jammy Zins, fruit-forward Pinots, and Rhone reds. I'm with him on the Rhones, but I like a good oaky Chard, and while I once loved Zins, I've been finding them a bit overwhelming as of late.

In other words, we made the perfect tasting team as we joined a few others in a room above Grocery Outlet's main shopping space at Broadway and 29th in Oakland. Tastings aren't formally offered at the store, but if you catch resident wine guy Bennie Tiapon at the right moment, you too might get to sample the values here.

Beer Guy's oak aversion was seriously challenged as we dove head first into a flight of Chards, but even he found something to like in the 2002 Travis Chardonnay ($4.99), from Monterey. The lemony, buttery aroma of this wine signaled good things to come, and the medium body and nice finish didn't disappoint. "Too buttery," was Beer Guy's complaint about the 2005 Napa Landing Chardonnay ($4.99), but I liked its super-juicy nose and light lemon flavor. The crowd raved about the 2005 Silks Chardonnay ($4.99). "Signature Santa Barbara," intoned one taster, adding that its mild astringent taste "makes you know that it's alive."

Moving on to reds, we parted ways on the 2002 Aneas Agua Dulce Syrah ($3.99). I'll admit that I was mainly fascinated by this wine's origins — the grapes are estate grown in LA County vineyards flanked by the Angeles National Forest. There was even a bit of forest in the aroma here, and a round, fruity palate and finish. I'd put it in the "interesting find" category. Beer Guy would put it in the recycling bin, right next to the wet cardboard, because that's all he tasted here. We both had kinder words for the 2005 Big Ass Syrah from Napa Valley ($7.99): a pleasant wine with lots of leather.

Saving the best for last, I overcame my recent Zin phobia long enough to savor two $4.99 beauties: the 2004 Champion Select Zinfandel and the 2003 Bugay Zinfandel. Champion Select is a label produced, oddly enough, by the PGA Tour, and its Zin hails from California's Dry Creek Valley. I appreciated its heady floral bouquet, big fruity taste, and true finish. Nosing out the Champion Select just slightly as the group's favorite was the Bugay, another Sonoma Zin. We collectively enjoyed its aroma of smoke, toast, and seashore, fruit-forward palate, and smooth finish.


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