The truth about Aldi's Winking Owl wine

For a wine lover, there's nothing better than a good bottle of vino. It can be the perfect complement to a delicious dinner, a romantic date, or a night of binge watching your favorite television shows. And as wine becomes more popular, it's also becoming extremely accessible to consumers who realize that a good bottle doesn't have to cost a fortune. Consumers who are looking for affordable wine options are discovering that Aldi has a selection of locally-sourced wines that won't completely obliterate your paycheck. Winking Owl, one of the German grocery chain's budget wine brands, has been receiving a lot of buzz from shoppers who are drawn to the low price and the adorable bottle. What's not to love about a colorful winking owl, right?

But Winking Owl has received mixed reviews from wine critics and consumers who have found themselves unable to agree on how they feel about Aldi's wine brand. In fact, the wine has been described as everything from "tasty" to "terrible." 

So what exactly is the deal with this polarizing wine? 

It's part of a huge wine family

Wine lovers who haven't already tried a glass of Winking Owl may be wondering what all of the hype is about. Is it even possible to get a good bottle of wine for $3? If you're looking for a bottle of the low-cost wine to conduct your very own taste test, there's only one place to get it. You're going to need to keep plenty of shopping bags and quarters in your car because Winking Owl wines are sold exclusively in Aldi stores.

But even if you've never heard of Winking Owl, you've probably sipped one of the brand's pretty famous cousins at some point. Winking Owl, which is produced in California, is part of the E&J Gallo family of wines (though it isn't listed in their portfolio, sources confirm that Gallo does indeed make it). The family-owned company was founded by brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo in 1933, and is a major player in the wine game. The winemakers behind Boone's Farm has several other well-known brands of vino in its portfolio, including Apothic, Barefoot, and Turning Leaf.

There are lots of wines to choose from under the label

When it comes to wine, tastes vary. Some wine lovers enjoy sipping a sweet white, while others prefer to linger over a deep, rich red. But no matter what kind of wine your palate is craving, Winking Owl has you covered. The brand makes 10 varieties of wines that range from a sweet moscato to a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon.

Winking Owl wine is available in five varieties of red, including a medium-bodied red blend which comes in a 3-liter box — perfect for a girl's night in. When you're looking for something to pair with your seafood, there are four types of white wine on the market, including a pinot grigio which was awarded 86 points and a silver medal by the Beverage Testing Institute in 2013. And when you're having a picnic or backyard barbecue, there is a Winking Owl White Zinfandel to quench your thirst. Keep in mind that every store's inventory is different, so you may have to shop around.

It gets some pretty bad reviews

It's true that lots of people are talking about Aldi's Winking Owl wine. There's plenty of chatter on Instagram with the hashtag #winkingowlwine, which is pretty impressive for a company that doesn't do a lot in terms of marketing and advertising. But unfortunately, not all of that talk is very nice. In fact, a quick Google search on the brand will reveal that there are some people who have some pretty awful things to say about Winking Owl wines.

Comments on the wine rating site Vivino complained that Winking Owl's red blend was "weak in flavor" and tastes "like water." As of April 2019, the wine had a dismal ranking of just 2.8 stars out of 5. In a thread about Winking Owl wines, Reddit reviewers described them as "terrible" and "just nasty." And if that wasn't enough to completely turn you off, one especially tough post on CellarTracker said the wine tasted like a "wet sponge that was used to clean the sink after pouring it down the drain."

Shiraz gets the best reviews

You may not want to rely completely on the Winking Owl reviews, preferring to try the wines out yourself and make your own decision. But if you're overwhelmed by all of the choices and you aren't sure where to start, you might want to check out the shiraz. Of all the Winking Owl varietals, this red gets the most love out in cyberspace.

Online reviews of the shiraz have been among the most complimentary overall. The wine, beer, and spirit review site Metasip describes the wine as "quite tasty" with a "good finish." Vivino reviewers add that Winking Owl's shiraz is "smooth with no bitterness" and a "great value." And in his in-depth brand review on Indy Star, Robert Scheer called the shiraz "the winner" of the Winking Owl brand, and praised the wine for its "good fruit flavors."

Given all the positive reviews, red wine lovers may consider Winking Owl shiraz a good low-cost domestic option.

You can get it super cheap

Aldi is building a following as the place to get a good bottle of wine at a low price. As an Aldi representative told EatingWell, approximately 90 percent of the store's wine selections cost less than $10. And of those brands, Winking Owl is one of the wines on the lower end of the price spectrum.

Prices around the country vary, but on average, a bottle of Winking Owl is priced at just under $3 (and you shouldn't see it for more than $5). That means you can get an entire bottle of Winking Owl wine for less than the price of a latte at your favorite coffee shop. And let's face it, who buys just one bottle of wine? Wine lovers looking to get their booze on a budget may be willing to overlook some of the negative reviews Winking Owl wines have received in order to save a little money in the long run.

But you can't get it everywhere

It's no secret that Aldi crushes the competition when it comes to finding a lower-priced alternative to almost everything on your grocery list. And although you can shop at just about any one of Aldi's more than 1600 stores across the United States for an affordable selection of cheese, bread, and other pantry staples, shoppers in some parts of the country are not able to take advantage of Aldi's amazing inexpensive wine selection. Unfortunately, in certain states including New York, Mississippi, and Arkansas wine can only be purchased in a liquor store.

If you're unsure about the laws for wine and liquor sales in your area, you can use their handy store locator to see if your Aldi store has Winking Owl or other wines in stock. If they don't, you can always search for the closest store across the state line that sells wine and gas up your car for a Winking Owl road trip.

It goes great with Aldi cheese

As Game of Thrones' Tyrion Lannister famously said, "Everything's better with some wine in the belly." Erica Banas, a rock music reporter for the '80s radio station WROR in Boston, put Tyrion's words to the test when she tried out a musically-themed cheese line from Aldi brand Happy Farms. The name of each cheese type in the line was inspired by a well-known '80s rock song including "Total Eclipse of the Havarti" and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fontina."

In her review, Banas notes although she enjoyed most of the flavors, some of the cheeses didn't taste so great on their own. But she was able to make her cheese tasting experience way more enjoyable by pairing the cheeses with Winking Owl wines. She wrote that washing the"Pour Some Gouda On Me" down with a glass of Winking Owl cabernet sauvignon was the perfect way to "take things to the next level."

It is not vegan

Grapes are the main ingredient in wine, but vegetarians and vegans still have a reason to pay attention to how their wine is made. During the winemaking process, wine makers often add animal products such as gelatin and egg whites to help speed up the process of removing all of the impurities and unwanted ingredients that are left in the wine after fermentation. 

This method of using "processing aids" helps get wine from the vineyard to your table a lot faster than if left to happen naturally. But your wine can no longer be considered vegan if any of that animal product is left behind. Since winemakers won't necessarily advertise whether or not their wines are truly vegan, vegans can take advantage of the Barnivore alcohol directory, which maintains a searchable database of information on wine brands. 

The directory lists Winking Owl as "not vegan friendly," but a representative at Winking Owl told Barnivore, "Treatment of wines with milk or egg products is a common wine industry practice and is done by winemakers as needed to provide the appropriate treatment and clarity to the wine. These milk or egg products are removed during the filtering of the wines after treatment. In addition, we go one step further to verify that milk or egg products are not detectable after filtration by testing each lot of wine that is treated." You be the judge.

It wasn't included in a 2015 arsenic scare

In 2015, wine drinkers got news that made them pause before they popped their corks: A lawsuit alleged many popular (and cheap) California wines contained dangerously high levels of inorganic arsenic — essentially, poison. Testing experts confirmed that the wines sampled we high in the toxin and, "in some cases, up to 500 percent or more than what is considered the maximum acceptable safe daily intake limit."

While 83 wines were listed in the suit, including recognizable names like Charles Shaw, Wine Cube, Sutter Home, and Beringer, one producer was noticeably absent: Gallo. 

So how did Gallo manage to dodge this allegation? Wine blogger The Gray Report surmised that it likely wasn't something nefarious, like Gallo paying off the plaintiff's lawyers, or Gallo being behind the suit as a way to mess with competitors. No, Gray suggested something far less provocative: "Gallo, known for its technological prowess for decades, can make super-cheap wines with arsenic levels lower than others." In fact, the plaintiff's attorney told him, "From the testing we've done, Gallo does it right. They try to be competitive and try not to have excess arsenic in their wines. To me that's proof that it's not necessary to have excess arsenic in wine." 

For what it's worth, the lawsuit was eventually thrown out in 2016, but you can still rest easy knowing that Gallo and its Winking Owl wine for safe for the drinking.

The brand is growing

The true measure of a brand's success is in the amount of revenue it generates. Despite some negative online reviews, Winking Owl has proven itself to be a valuable member of the Aldi family with the brand showing the kind of growth that would make any retailer proud. Winking Owl has seen a steady increase in sales between 2014 and 2017, and that fact is making some people in the beverage industry take notice.

Liquor store trade mag, Beverage Dynamics, keeps track of the best wine brands in the business as they try to help sellers decide which varieties they will choose to stock on their shelves. In 2018, the magazine named Winking Owl to their Fast Track list of brands that are growing at impressive rates. Aldi's brand came in at number five with sales that have increased from 1,270,000 to 1,450,000 cases between 2016 and 2017.

It's definitely not Aldi's best tasting wine

Winking Owl may be one of the wine brands that gets the most buzz, but according to wine lovers and critics alike, it definitely isn't the best tasting brand in Aldi's wine section (even if its pinot grigio did once manage to win a silver medal). In fact, several of Aldi's lesser-known wine brands have received critical acclaim and awards from highly-respected industry organizations.

Aldi's Moiselle Moscato, which is available in white, red, and pink, was a 2014 Editor's Pick by Progressive Grocer. The Giretto Pinot Grigio won a silver medal at the 2017 Beverage Tasting Institute's World Wine Championship. And who could forget the highly anticipated limited U.S. arrival of Aldi's $8 Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rose? The wine, which was previously only sold in Aldi's U.K. stores, was named "best value rose" at the International Wine Challenge two years in a row.

The next time you're browsing the wine section in your local Aldi, try one of the award-winning brands to see how they stack up against Winking Owl yourself. When you consider that you can buy them for less than $10 a bottle, you can probably afford to try them all.