ALDI uncorks some surprises


Vina Decana Tempranillo is an exclusive ALDI label. (ALDI)

One way to cut corners on your holiday spending for wine is to hit the deep-discounters. Like, really deep.

I mean ALDI.

You know, the food market where they corral the carts and make you pack your own bags — and you may be in for some surprises.

The German-owned chain that has been in the U.S. since 1976 has changed over the years: It is now open on Sundays, takes debit cards and sells wine, beer and some liqueurs.

I checked out a new store on North Telegraph Road in Dearborn Heights last weekend, and sure enough, right inside the door in the first aisle sits a small, compact wine display priced like everything else — deeply discounted.

The wines are from all over the world — California, Italy, South Africa, Germany and even the Marlborough district of New Zealand.

You won’t recognize any of the brands, which are exclusive to ALDI, and your eyes will probably pop out at the prices — mostly $4.99 to $6.99, with ice wine at $9.99.

According to ALDI-U.S. wine buyer Renee Peck: “One of the ways that ALDI keeps prices so low is that we stock the most frequently purchased grocery items. We apply this same buying technique to our wines. Taste and quality are of the utmost importance to us as well, and all of our products, including the wines, go through a rigorous internal and external taste testing process.”

ALDI, headquartered in Batavia, Ill., has ratings for some of the featured bottles from the Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago, where wineries and businesses can submit wines to be judged by wine professionals. In October, the Institute awarded five ALDI wines a Silver Medal — including the Walker Napa Valley Red Wine and Viña Decana Tempranillo, each with 88 points. And beyond that, ALDI submits wines to Wine Spectator magazine — the 2009 Gonfalone Chianti got a “Best Value” designation — and to Wine Enthusiast, which rated the Landshut Riesling a “Best Buy.”

An informative back label is on every ALDI wine. (ALDI)

The back label on every bottle tells you all you need to know: the style (full-bodied, for example), the taste (sweetness level — from dry to sweet and in between), notes (descriptive words about the flavors), food choices, the best temperature for serving, and the origin with a map to pinpoint it.

I purchased a few bottles and loved the Viña Decana Tempranillo from Spain, $4.99. I also liked the Gonfalone Chianti, $5.99, and Sunshine Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, $6.99. The Tempranillo is also buyer Peck’s favorite.

And one more tidbit: The Albrecht brothers founded ALDI (short for ALbrecht DIscount) in 1961 in Germany, and after some disagreements, they split it into two companies: ALDI Nord and ALDI Süd. Today, ALDI Süd operates stores under the ALDI name in the U.S. and elsewhere.

However, ALDI Nord invested in a more upscale chain based in California: Trader Joe’s.

What to buy

* Results for ALDI wines in the October 2011 World Wine Challenge by the Beverage Tasting Institute:

* Walker Napa Valley Red Wine (California) — 88 points, Silver Medal

* Viña Decana Tempranillo (Spain) — 88 points, Silver Medal

* Memoir Red Wine (California) — 83 points, Bronze Medal

* Villa Malizia Pinot Grigio (Italy) — 86 points, Silver Medal

Chaza Moscato (South Africa) — 85 points, Silver Medal

Sovinello Private Collection, Pinot Noir (Italy) — 85 points, Silver Medal