There are times Your West Coast Oenophile finds himself short on wine. Not that my cellar is depleted, but occasionally I may not have the right wine for that evening’s dinner, or anything approximately close, on hand. So when Sostevinobile duties had me traveling down to Los Gatos for the trade tasting with the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association, I considered swinging by Total Wine & More in Daly City on my way back on 280. Coincidentally, just before I departed from San Francisco, I received a Flash Sale notice, offering $20 off the purchase of three or more bottles, and , with that, my mind was set.
The Santa Cruz tasting was most pleasant: small crowd; ample catering:a mere eleven wineries, including Cabernet legends Ridge, Mount Eden, and Kathryn Kennedy to taste through. In other words, hardly the kind of onerous event some tastings turn out to be. Of course, the event was not without its dose of theatrics, but once the histrionics had died down, I headed up the Peninsula to meet a college friend for happy hour at the Stanford Faculty Club.
Admittedly, if I could have secured a position at Stanford, I would probably have finished my PhD in Comparative Literature and remained in academia. It’s a fascinating university, a near-idyllic setting amidst the sprawl of Silicon Valley, and, quite importantly, extremely well-endowed. Having top-notch students would have been a critical factor for me—who wants to be burdened with teaching remedial skills that ought to have been learned in high school?—and to have ready access to a world-class metropolis like San Francisco would have sealed the deal. Little wonder Jim has spent his entire career here.
But an academic career would have kept me from my level of involvement in the wine realm, so ultimately I decided to apply my finely-honed research skills to acquiring an encyclopedic knowledge of the West Coast wine industry, so I feel my time in grad school was not spent in vain. The same, however, could not be said for my side trip to Total Wine. The store in Daly City is vast, at least twice the size of any of the local BevMo shops here. And the chain boasts of having the largest selection of California wines, compared to chains like the aforementioned BevMo, Trader Joe’s, Costco, etc. And, yes, their selection is vast, however…
Now I was in search of a white wine to pair with the chicken dish I had on tap for the evening, and, of course, I was only interested in a West Coast bottling. Total Wine offered nearly an entire aisle of Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, but I was the mood for something else. Off to the side, there was a tiny selection of Other Whites, which turned out to be mostly sweet wines like Moscato, along with a generic Riesling from Kung Fu Girl. But a Rhône White like a Roussanne or Picpoul Blanc? Or an Italian varietal such as Vermentino or Fiano? No Sémillons or Grüner Veltliners. No Chenin Blancs. No Pinot Blancs. Not even a local Pinot Grigio or Ramato! I could find more diversity in a 7-11!
And so, I returned to the mainstream aisle. After a cursory inspection of the Sauvignon Blancs, I reluctantly combed through the 100+ Chardonnays, hoping to find a clean, unoaked interpretation that suited my needs. And there I discovered that the $20 off three bottles only applied to their Winery Direct selections. Sure, there were a number of high-end labels included here, but an $80 bottle is not in my Wednesday evening dinner budget. But low & behold, virtually every one of their reasonably priced Chards were the private label brands they commission and sell exclusively.—ostensibly generic wines, sourced from whatever available bulk is out on the market, and bottled on some assembly line in American Canyon or the Central Valley. The sort of wine just barely above Two Buck Chuck and suitable (perhaps) for lowbrow art gallery openings.
Ultimately, I grabbed a bottle without even inspecting its label and regretted from the moment I uncorked it. But Total Wine does sell the staple of my pandemic survival, VYA Sweet Vermouth, for $5/bottle less than what I pay in San Francisco, so my trip was not a complete waste of gas and time…