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November 17, 2010

The Grape Escape: Generic Chianti rates two thumbs up

What’s your stand on store brands and generic products? Great bargain or second-rate stuff? The debate rages across a range of products from canned tomatoes to prescription meds. But wine? Nobody makes store-label, generic wine ... do they?

Well, actually, yes. Wine is a competitive industry, and both technology (think screw caps) and the marketplace can trump tradition.

Generic wine broke into the news a few years ago when the Trader Joe’s chain launched a store-brand wine called Charles Shaw, which sold for $2 a bottle in California ($3-$4 in the rest of the country), earning it the moniker “Two Buck Chuck.”

Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club matched Trader Joe’s national price with a private-label line called Oak Leaf, which sells for $3 a bottle in many markets. Costco, as you might expect, sets a higher standard for its private-label brand, Kirkland, which may adorn $10 or even $20 bottles but is usually quality stuff.

The other day, I popped into the Whole Foods Wine Shop (4920 Shelbyville Road, 897-4998) and spotted several bright labels bearing the chain’s “365” logo. I’m a sucker for a good Chianti, even without the old wicker basket, so I snapped up the “365” Chianti (apparently bottled for Whole Foods by a Tuscan firm called “Di Flora”) for a bargain $8.99.

“365” 2007 Di Flora Chianti ($8.99)

Clear dark purple color with a bright garnet edge. Good benchmark Chianti aromas focus on black cherries and dried fruit and just a wisp of spice. The flavors are standard Chianti — black fruit and a sturdy backbone of mouth-watering acidity and soft astringency, a combination that’s made to work with red meat or that stereotypical match — pasta with tomato sauce. Don’t knock the generic store label. You won’t find better dollar-for-value Chianti anywhere.