Derision and immediate dismissal: when I heard that President’s Choice (PC) wines were being launched in Alberta, my knee-jerk reaction was resolutely negative. That alone prompted me to look into them further—why was I willing to write off these wines without a second glance? I like to think I’m an open-minded wine drinker who will try anything once—and I’ve publicly decried wine snobbery.
In some sense, these PC wines didn’t seem “real” to me. This is silly, of course: the liquid in these bottles is fermented grape juice, so of course they are real. I blame my reaction on the stigma surrounding private-brand wines; namely, that they suck. (President’s Choice wines have proven this in the past themselves, by releasing a generic plonk under the No Name label and a thoroughly mediocre wine under the PC brand.)
Private/store-brand wines aren’t a new phenomenon, though we don’t see a lot of them in Alberta. The first wine shop I worked at had its own private label, but it was branded under a generic name rather than the actual store moniker—with a really garish, terribly designed label to boot. Now, the juice in those bottles was actually pretty decent, and it was priced very well—the trick was convincing people to give it a shot.
That should be the essence of any successful store-brand wine (or beer or spirit, for that matter, because this phenomenon isn’t limited to the wine world): they must offer a great value over any other wines at that price. The bottles also need to clearly display all the appropriate information of the wine’s origin, because we are no longer in the days when a bottle reading “red wine” under a meaningless name will attract any attention.
President’s Choice has obviously clued in to this with its new line, which comprises five wines selected by Aaron Bick of the WineOnline marketing agency: two Italian, two Californian and one Spanish. A small PC logo adorns the top-right corner, while the rest of the label is devoted to the necessary identifying information: winery/producer name, region and vintage on the front, grape variety(ies) and producer contact info on the back. Interestingly, the company decided not to highlight the grape variety as a selling feature, which is actually surprisingly encouraging—grape types are over-emphasized these days. The labels themselves attempt to marry Old and New World sensibilities and while this works in general, it feels a bit like trying to have the best of both worlds. Still, the bottles look pretty good and stand out on the shelf—and they’re infinitely better than the vast majority of private-label wines I’ve seen.
Most importantly: what do these PC wines actually taste like—and are they good values?
In short, yes—these are all actually pretty solid. They retail for $19.98 each, or $44.94 in multiples of three ($14.98 each). At the single-bottle price these wines don’t really stand out, but they are definitely a good deal at the multiples price. (Note: if you buy more than three bottles but not a multiple of three—five, for example—you’ll only get the discount on three bottles and pay full price for the other two. I think this is kind of ridiculous, especially since there are only five bottles—not six or three—in this line.)
We’ll undoubtedly see more of these store-brand wines as time goes on. More grocery-store chains are entering the liquor-retail world and it’s inevitable that they’d want to tap into wine sales under their flagship brands. Moreover, I think we’ll eventually see legislation passed to allow wine (and beer) in grocery stores (this has already passed in BC and is on the table in Ontario): it’s a perfect opportunity for large grocers to sell their branded wines alongside items that would pair with them—pasta sauces, meats, cheeses, whatever.
Would I seek out these PC wines again? I probably won’t make a trip for them specifically, but if I happened to be in a Real Canadian Liquor Store and nothing else caught my eye, I’d certainly consider them.
These would also make fantastic entries to a blind tasting, if only to highlight the innate prejudices most wine geeks have when it comes to these mass market, grocery-store labels. I’d love to see the expression on a true wine snob’s face after discovering that a delicious little Cabernet Sauvignon had President’s Choice on the label.V
Mel Priestley is a certified sommelier and wine writer who also blogs about wine, food and the arts at melpriestley.ca
President’s Choice Wine Tasting Notes
2012 Banti Toscana (Italy)
This is a blend of Sangiovese, Alicante and the obscure Ciliegiolo grape. The nose is redolent of smoked meats and pepperoni, along with an undercurrent of pomegranate and cherry skin. The palate features a similar profile of cured meat and cherry, along with integrated tannins. This is eminent food pairing wine: perhaps a little too meaty on its own, but would be great with a charcuterie platter.
2009 Poggio Foco Sovana (Italy)
This Cabernet Sauvignon has a surprising amount of bottle age for a wine of this price, which is a pretty fantastic deal that pays off in a wine that balances red fruits and licorice with a whiff of dusty old books and dried flowers. The palate features a bit of slate and drying oak spice on the finish. It’s a lovely wine for sipping or could pair with medium-weight dishes, nothing overly heavy or light.
2010 Rotllan Torra Priorat (Spain)
Easily the best value in this bunch, Spanish wine is often a source of great value these days, but finding a Priorat for $15 is pretty exceptional. This wine will please Malbec fans and anyone else who likes big reds, but will also appeal to fans of Old World styles with plenty of secondary non-fruit characteristics. Aromas of ripe black cherries and licorice along with a hint of dry cured olives give way to a palate of fine-grained tannins. A core of juicy black fruit is overlaid by oak-driven spice and black pepper on the finish.
2012 Plata Cabernet Sauvignon (California, US)
This Californian Cab is quite smooth with medium-grained tannins and a slightly drying white pepper finish. The nose is fairly one-note: essentially just some vague red fruits. It’s overall pleasant and unassuming but doesn’t really give you much to consider after the first impression; the other wines in this line-up have far more personality.
2013 Plata Chardonnay (California, US)
The sole white wine in the PC line-up is a middle-of-the-road Californian Chardonnay, featuring a nose of vanilla oak, peach skin, stone fruits and jelly candies, followed by a creamy palate with an undercurrent of tangerine acidity. It’s a little too heavy on the sweet vanilla oak, though this can be tempered by pairing it with slightly spicy dishes. Overall it’s okay, but really nothing special at this price.