This post was created in partnership with ALDI. All opinions are our own.
“Why do we drink wine?” Wine glass in hand, I was in the middle of Washington wine country with a group of experts. Marveling at the tangled grapevines against the purple-blue sky, we were talking philosophy. “When someone is born, we toast; they graduate, we toast; they get married, we toast. Wine is part of human tradition.” The speaker went on to list a few more reasons, but I was stuck on the first, getting a bit teary thinking of toasts in my own life. When Alex and I brought our son Larson home from the hospital 8 months ago, we popped a bottle of champagne. A few weeks later when we finished our cookbook manuscript, a toast. When my sister tied the knot on a sun-drenched beach last year, a toast. For many, wine is part of what it means to be human. And I’ll admit: that’s why I drink it. I’m not a connoisseur; I just love to celebrate life’s moments with wine.
A few weeks ago, ALDI invited me on a trip to Washington wine country for behind-the-scenes look at how some of their private label wines are made. ALDI has been selling wines since 2003, and they’re quickly becoming well regarded. Here are some highlights from what I learned–and of course, some wines to taste!
Wine country…in a nutshell
One of the main things I took away from the trip was simple: Washington wine country. When I think about wine in America, I think of California. However, southeastern Washington is an emerging region that is producing more and more wine each year. This is where all of ALDI’s Washington-sourced private label wines are made. It’s incredibly dry country, actually considered a desert. The difference in temperature between day and night (which balances the fruit’s acid and sugar), the sandy, silty soil, and the strong winds that form the skin of the fruit are just some of the features that make this land perfect for growing grapes. After spending some time in this region and tasting the wine it has to offer, I’m excited to bring this less explored region to light.
Onsite in the vineyards, I also grew to appreciate the care and passion necessary to make wines. Precept Wine is the wine company that hosted us; they own and manage the vineyards and wineries where many ALDI wines are made. During one meal, I chatted with Hal Landvoight, the head winemaker for Precept. He told me about how he used to be in the IT industry, and then developed a passion for drinking wine. He made a career jump into winemaking, and hasn’t looked back since. Wine nerd? All the way. As you may know, I love discovering people’s passions and what they “nerd out” about. Being around self-proclaimed wine nerds was an incredible experience, to learn the intricacies of not only how wine is made, but how it’s best served and paired. Every single person I met at Precept was incredibly passionate about making the best wine possible.
In terms of sustainability, Precept is deeply committed to caring for the land. They spray the vines only if absolutely necessary using non-toxic sprays, get compost from a local dairy, use organic fertilizers, and use drip irrigation systems to conserve water usage. They’ve learned that in order to keep doing what they love, they’ve got to care for the land that makes it all possible.
And how could I leave out wine tasting? One thing I realized along the way was that one component that affects the flavor has nothing to do with the wine: it’s the experience itself. The moment we landed in wine country, we went up to a high point for a champagne toast, surrounded by vineyards. In the bright sunlight, we watched David Oldham from Precept saber a bottle of Brut, slicing the entire top of the bottle off! We all giggled and once the next bottle was open, we filled our glasses and toasted in the open air. Being surrounded by beauty and community, the glass of cold bubbly filled my stomach and heart.
Another favorite flavor moment was when Hal had us taste the difference between two Cabernet Sauvignon wines made with grapes from the two vineyards we visited. The first one was dry from the first moment you took a sip, and the second dry after swallowing. When “experts” tell me I’m supposed to taste cherry or plum or sandalwood in a wine, sometimes it’s very difficult to actually discern it. In this case, the difference was exactly what he described. And then, he proceeded to mix the two wines together! He had us try it again, and this time the flavor was rounded out and nuanced. This, he said, is the reason to mix grapes from different vineyards or varietals: it makes for a more complex flavor. Tasting takes time and experience, and the more you taste wine, the more you’re palate is able to discern.
Finally, community. As I mentioned, wine is all about community: dining together, toasting together, and sharing life together. Having this experience with freelance writers and wine makers and sommaliers made me appreciate the communal aspect of wine even more. Together, we ate dinner around a big table in our dining yurt and wandered through a winery discussing the intricacies of the process. We heard real live people from ALDI talk about the moment when they met Precept at a vendor fair and realized they were passionate about the same thing: making the best quality wines at affordable prices for the every day person. Everything about the trip was better and more fun because we were learning and tasting and laughing together. And that’s the thing I love most about wine: the way it brings us together.
That first glass of Brut
And the view
Hal from Precept
My partner in crime, Bev Cooks
The idyllic setting
And the wines
Alex and my approach to food is this: We’re creatives. I guess you could call us foodies. We love high-class dining and sophisticated food and wine. At the same time, we typically save that for special occasions. On the regular, we like real, humble, delicious, approachable food. (In fact, that’s why we wrote our cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking.) So when it comes to wines, we look for wines we can pair with an everyday dinner. That’s why we love ALDI wines: they make wine drinking accessible and affordable, making it easy to try new wines.
Since 2013, ALDI has worked with Precept Wine to develop private label wines for ALDI shoppers. The current collection of ALDI exclusive wines produced by Precept includes five award-winning varietals. Several are best buys with scores of 87+ points. In November ALDI will unveil six additional wines, several with 90+ scores, available for a limited time! ALDI wines range in price from $5.99 to $14.99 per bottle. (Points are awarded by the Beverage Testing Institute.)
These wines should be available year round at most ALDI stores. Here are a few that I tried:
- Crystal Creek Cellars Riesling (88 points) $5.99 – This one is on the sweeter side, but the finish is dry. It’s perfect for sweeter wine drinkers (I personally prefer a dryer Riesling, but this one was drinkable for me!). Honeysuckle, apricot and bright pear flavors layered with refreshing acidity and balance. Pairs well with Asian cuisine, chicken and seafood.
- Crystal Creek Cellars Chardonnay (87 points) $7.99 – If you don’t like oaky Chardonnay, this one’s for you. To me it almost tasted like a Pinot Grigio. Aromas of Granny Smith apples and layered notes of pear, toasty oak and a hint of vanilla. Pairs well with roasted chicken, fettuccine with alfredo sauce or seafood.
- Maison de Joie Brut Sparkling (89 points) $11.49 – If you know me well, you’ll know I’m a big fan of bubbles. This one was lovely! Inviting aromas of apple and peach open at the front, leading to a light-to medium-bodied palate and a round effervescence. Pairs well with shellfish, strong cheeses or apple and walnut salad.
- Crystal Creek Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (86 points) $9.99 – This Cab was straight-forward and a very drinkable red. Fruit-forward aromatics of black cherries, followed by ripe plum and velvety mocha notes with soft, approachable tannins. Pairs well with grilled red meat, wood-fired pizza, or dark chocolate.
Lot Series Wines
These new limited release Lot Wines should be available at select ALDI stores starting November 1, 2017. The Lot Wines have a more complex flavor profile. They’re perfect for those interested in expanding their palate or exploring emerging wine regions.
- Lot Series Reserve Malbec (92 points) $11.99 – This wine just received a Gold Medal BTI rating! If you know me, you’ll also know I’m a Malbec girl. Washington Malbec is a unique new way to enjoy this traditionally Argentinian varietal. Black cherry and dark plum aromas and flavors are followed by a long finish with hints of vanilla and smoke. Pairs well with grilled red meat or wood-fired pizza.
- Lot Series Grande Brut (91 points) $13.99 – This wine also just received a Gold Medal BTI rating! Again, I’m a huge bubbly fan, and this one hit the spot for me. Lot Series Grande Brut is created in the true Méthode Champenoise winemaking style and aged a minimum of three years in the bottle. Delightfully effervescent with green apple and citrus flavors followed by a dry finish. Pairs well with poultry, seafood or spicy foods.
- Lot Series Cabernet Sauvignon $9.99 – If you can find this Cab, I’d absolutely check it out. Vibrant cassis aromatics and blackberry flavors followed by a long, velvety finish. Pairs well with grilled red meat or wood-fired pizza.
You can find these wines at your local ALDI; use this store locator to find a store near you. Let us know if you try them out; we’d love to know your thoughts!
Since this post is about wine, we’d also like to pay special homage to California wine country, where massive wildfires destroyed vineyards and wineries in Napa Valley. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost treasures they’ve been cultivating for decades.