30 Second Wine Advisor: Bargain Spanish wine ... at Walgreen's?

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Bargain Spanish wine ... at Walgreen's?

The Walgreen's drug store chain recently resumed selling wine and beer in about 3,100 of its approximately 7,500 stores in the U.S., reversing a 15-year ban that had left the stores "dry" in most states.

Interesting news, I thought, seeing a story about this move in The Wall Street Journal last month.

But what kind of wine would Walgreen's sell if Walgreen's could sell wine? Curious, I popped into one of the Louisville shops that has added a wine section to see what I could see.

The first bottle that caught my eye was not particularly reassuring. It looked like a giant bottle of Yoo-hoo and bore the label "ChocoVine, The taste of Dutch chocolate and fine red wine." Uh huh. Even at a discounted $11.49, I was inclined to pass. I can get an entry-level Chianti or Côtes-du-Rhône for that price, thank you very much.

But wait, what's this? On the next shelf, a row of bright yellow labels bore a silhouette of a tusky critter over the single word "Agostón," with "Spain's Wild Boar" in tiny letters and, in script, "Garnacha and Syrah."

The back label wasn't much more informative, but revealed that the wine was from Cariñena, which is a designated wine region about midway between Madrid and Barcelona in east-central Spain, a bit south of Rioja.

A basic Spanish table red? That's a little more interesting than chocolate wine! And the price was the best part: $5.99, the lowest toll I've seen on a bottle of real wine for a long time. What was to lose? I grabbed one and took it home for dinner.

Surprise! It wasn't bad. Not the fanciest wine in the world, but it was nicely balanced and varietally correct, showing good fruit and a whiff of pepper over a firm acidic structure that made it food-friendly. What more can you ask for six bucks?

A little research revealed that this is a rather elusive wine. This Walgreen's had a sizable stash, but Wine-Searcher.com suggests that Agostón is just now coming into the U.S. - often doubling this drug-store sale price.

A little more Web digging indicates that Agostó is a relatively new product, launched in 2008 by Bodegas Virgen del Águila, a sizable producer with a bottling line capable of cranking out 8,000 bottles per hour, definitely an industrial rate. (Australia's Yellowtail, perhaps the ultimate mass-market producer, can bottle 36,000 in an hour.)

"Agostón ... is now found in half the countries in the world," according to the winery Website. Perhaps Walgreen's got their hands on America's first batch.

Nevertheless, if you can find it, at $6, Agostón 2009 Cariñena makes a compelling argument for the risk-benefit ratio of making an occasional wine-shopping foray into unexpected places like your neighborhood drug store.

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Today's Tasting Report

Agostón 2009 Cariñena ($5.99)


Clear, dark ruby. A blend of 50% each Garnacha and Syrah from Spain's Cariñena wine region, it offers good, varietally correct aromas, raspberries and the appealing scent of freshly turned earth. Bright acidity on the palate, softens a bit with breathing; red berries, a grind of freshly ground black pepper and just a touch of oaky vanilla as a grace note; alcohol quite reasonable for a modern Spanish red at a claimed 13.5%. Simple but appealing, not a wine for the ages, but a whale of a lot more than you might expect for $6. U.S. importer: Pelican Brands LLC, Carmel, Ind. (June 24, 2011)

FOOD MATCH: Although it's made to go with red meat, this Cariñena made a fine match with the bold vegetarian flavors of Imam Bayildi, a Middle Eastern dish of eggplant chunks simmered with tomatoes, lots of onions and garlic and parsley.

VALUE: If you can find it for $6 (or, frankly, if you can find it at all), it wouldn't hurt to stock up on a case or two at this price.

WEB LINK: Here's a short fact sheet in English on the producer's Website. Actually, the most detailed information I could dig up about this elusive bargain came from Curious Wine, an Irish wine-shop site.

This was apparently a buy-out by Walgreen's, perhaps regionally. However, Wine-Searcher.com lists limited vendors and significantly higher prices at this link.

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