German-based grocery chain Lidl is getting closer to Charlotte all the time: The newest store, in Thomasville, N.C., opened this week, about 90 minutes northeast, and three more are under construction in Gastonia, Fort Mill and Indianland.
And yes, Charlotte food shoppers are getting impatient to find out how Lidl will fit into the landscape: With the slogan “Rethink Grocery,” it’s bargain like rival Aldi, niche like Trader Joe’s, a little edgier and cool like a food version of IKEA (Heidi Klum just launched a Lidl fashion line).
As long as they were in the area for the Thomasville opening, Lidl reps offered to come by The Observer on Thursday to give us a walk through their wine programs with Lidl’s U.S. wine buyer, Adam LaPierre, one of the limited ranks of certified masters of wine.
Why should you care about Lidl wine?
1. Their prices run from a very bargain $2.89 (take that, Three Buck Chuck) to still-bargain versions of some high-end regions. There’s a South African Stellenbosch cabernet, Fat Barrel, for $9.99 and a Chateaunef-du-Pape for $19.99.
2. A Lidl sparkling wine, Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc NV, won the Silver Outstanding rank at the International Wine & Spirits Competition earlier this year, meaning that a $10 wine ended up in the same ranks with a Veuve Clicquot 2008 vintage champagne. (No, that doesn’t mean it’s as good as a Veuve, but it was pretty heady stuff in the bargain-wine world.) You won’t get the Cremant in the U.S., it’s only in Lidl’s UK division, but you will get an $8.99 prosecco, Allini Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG: It was named Sparkling Wine of the Year in the Indy Independent Wine Competition. (Take that, La Marca.)
3. Like Trader Joe’s does with its specialty foods, Lidl finds good wine makers and gets them to make wines that they bottle under their own labels, like their New Zealand sauvignon blanc Kauri Valley, but they also stock some wines under their original names, like the petite syrah Sinful Grin.
4. With 120 varietals and 100 private-label wines, they use a couple of ways to make it easier to find what you want. The wine section is color-coded by flavor type (fresh & fruity, rich & ripe, etc.), and the wines are sorted into three basic price categories and styles: Everyday Collection (your basic chards, cabs and merlots) for under $5; Wine Club, less known and more edgy, like the Pinot Noir Northern Sky, for $5-$10, and Sommelier Selection, higher-end quaff from top regions and producers, for $10 to $20.
Besides those, they also run limited-time themes, such as South African, coming up in the next few weeks, and specialty categories, like “Treasures,” special wines picked by buyers like LaPierre. That would be your Chateaunef-du-Pape, surprising deep for a $20 bottle, and a Mac Forbes chardonnay for $24.99.
On a very fast swirl-and-spit visit, our verdict: There are some very intriguing things here. Our favorites:
▪ That $8.99 extra-dry prosecco, a little sweeter but lemony, perfect for tossing in an Aperol spritz on a warm fall afternoon.
▪ Wicked Winds Russian River Valley Chardonnay, very buttery, for $12.99.
▪ Patois Pinot Noir Rose from Monterrey, $8.99. Rose season is passing fast, but we’ll keep it in mind for next summer.
▪ Sol y Mar, a Paso Robles Albarino. For $7.99, you can save enough money to splurge on some good seafood to go with it.
▪ Chateau Darius, a 2014 Bordeaux for $14.99 that drinks like a lot more.