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Value Vino: Three-Buck Junk?

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I cut my wine teeth on the three-for-$7 bin at the corner liquor store in my Manhattan apartment building years ago. By today’s standards they were tough wines, but they got me started down a long and convoluted path…

I couldn’t help but think that the same might be true for other newbies when I recently came across a trio of wines being sold for $2.99 each by Whole Foods. (We smell a counter offensive to Trader Joe’s newly arrived West Coast college kid staple Charles Shaw, known formerly as “two-buck Chuck” but still a deal at its Texas price of $3.) Decent training-wheel wines or crappy jug plonk in smaller, albeit lightweight “Eco-Glass,” bottles? Only one way to find out.

The label is Three Wishes, there is no vintage date, all are designated “American,” and, miraculously, each claims 12 percent alcohol. Not many tasters would peg the chardonnay as such—it could be any of a number of relatively neutral whites. But it’s also cleanly made with a lightly citrus nose, a bit of lemon on the palate, and, though I am surely stretching here, a touch of minerality. The cabernet, chilled slightly, offered a cherry Kool-Aid nose and cherry-berry cola on the palate, but it avoided (barely) a cloying, candied quality. Nevertheless, look elsewhere for barbecue buddies.

The surprise winner, however, was the often-flabby merlot. Aromas of cherry, plum, and light herbs were supported by a touch of smokiness on the palate. Both the color and the acidity were unexpectedly bright. I’ve had a lot worse for much more, and it was fine with a roasted beet salad.

Imbibers willing to step up to a princely $5.99 may find Whole Foods’ 365 Paul Valmer label, with the same chard-cab-merlot lineup, attractive. Don’t know about the contents, but the extra scratch gets you a geographic destination (Spain’s Vino de la Tierra de Castilla), and an actual vintage date (2011). Woo hoo.

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