Guest Post: Is Trader Joe’s a Good Place to Buy Wine?

This is a guest post from Bob Dwyer from The Wellesley Wine Press: A Consumer’s View on Finding and Enjoying Wine.  You can find my response to this same question on his site here.

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Is Trader Joe’s a Good Place to Buy Wine?

Yes. But with some exceptions.

At the Entry Level ($5-$15)

Trader Joe’s excels at providing us with affordable tastes of unusual treats. This statement applies to their wine assortment as much as it applies to their groceries. In this segment, I’ve had the best luck with unusual varietals like Nero D’Avola and Garnacha. It’s a ton of fun to experiment with an unusual wine at a reasonable price- especially when you’re rewarded with a delicious wine.

However, I’ve had decidedly *bad* luck with their affordable offerings of more prestigious wines like Burgundy and Bordeaux. Take for example a $6.99 bottle of Hangtime Red Burgundy. I scored this wine 68 which may be the lowest rating I’ve ever given a wine. It was thin, watery, and overall basically lacked discernible flavor of any sort. Have a look at the CellarTracker notes from other users on the 2005 vintage of this same wine. “What do you expect for $13?” and “Not worth $8″- they sold that stuff for $13 at one point? Yikes. For me, it’s not even worth $2.

I’ve had similar experiences with their affordable Bordeaux lineup. One bad bottle after another. The big problem I have with these bad examples from famous wine regions is twofold:

  1. It turns us off to the varietal as we’re first exploring. Who would want to sink $30 into a bottle of wine that they’ve not enjoyed at $10? In the case of Bordeaux in particular it would be a huge mistake to think that since you didn’t enjoy a $8 bottle from Trader Joe’s that you don’t enjoy Bordeaux in general.
  2. With a little searching you can find a better value at your local wine shop. Take for example the 2005 Chateau Puygueraud. A 92-point Wine Spectator wine I was able to find for $16.99 (less a 10% mixed case discount) at a local wine store. For around $15, I feel this wine is a much better example of Bordeaux than what Trader Joe’s stocks in this category.

At the Higher End ($30 and up)

I feel that Costco performs better in this category, with its limited but focused selection of more expensive wines. Take for example the 2005 Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon. A 94-point Wine Spectator wine with a release price of $85, this one has been available at my local Costco for $64.99. When Costco has a wine in stock, I typically find their pricing unbeatable. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, seems to price their upper-end wines near release price.

Local wine shops often perform better on pricing in this category too. Between case discounts (which vary in my area between 10%-25% depending on the quantity and their markup model) and sale items I often find better prices at local wine shops. Last year for example, I was seeing a bottle of 2005 Caymus Cab for around $59 on sale at local shops whereas Trader Joe’s had it for $69. Not that big a deal, but certainly better pricing (and selection) can be found at local wine stores with a little searching.

America’s Secret Love Affair with $2 Wine

It would be irresponsible to discuss Trader Joe’s and wine without mentioning their exclusive Charles Shaw label. Priced at $1.99-$3.99 (depending on region) Two Buck Chuck re-defines the notion of Quality-to-Price ratio. Last time I was there, I saw *multiple* shopping carts filled with 2 (or more!) cases of Charles Shaw. And why not? The wine isn’t bad- at least not in my humble opinion. I would typically rate Charles Shaw between 82 and 85 points on a 100-point scale, giving it high marks for decent aromatics and approachable flavor.

I’ve served Charles Shaw blind alongside $70 wines and though most people correctly guess which wine is more expensive, many do not -and- some of those that *do* guess which is more expensive say they prefer the easy drinking style of the less expensive wine.

In my view, mixing in a weeknight bottle or two of Charles Shaw can greatly reduce your monthly wine bill, freeing up opportunities to splurge on more expensive bottles. There is a *ton* of $10 supermarket wine that is worse than Charles Shaw, and avoiding spending $10-$15 on bad wine is a must for any value-minded wine consumer.

Question of the Day:

What do you think? Is Trader Joe’s a good place to buy wine?
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I’d like to thank Bob for posing this questions and crafting this post.  I encourage you to check him out further at the Welllesley Wine Press.  We look forward to hearing your thoughts as well…

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12 thoughts on “Guest Post: Is Trader Joe’s a Good Place to Buy Wine?

  1. very timely blog post…i just published 6 posts on two buck chuck – decided to taste all charles shaw wines i could find on my last trip to trader joe’s. i rate the cab, merlot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and white zin. you rate the wines higher than i did, with the best one, the cab, getting an 80 and the worst one, the white zin, getting a 60. not sure if i’m biased or not to the $2 price tag on the bottle, but i’m just not a fan of these wines. no question that the qpr is pretty good, but i’d rather spend a little more and get a better wine.

    check out the posts at http://www.rjswineblog.com if you’re interested. 5 have published and one more is going out at 9:00.

  2. 2007 Chateau Auguste Bordeaux is pretty good.
    Garnacha (Grenache) is something like the second most planted varietal in the world! Hardly unusual.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Oenanist,

      There is no grenache in Bordeaux.
      The most common varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and sometimes even Malbec.

  3. Yeah, y’all can probably find better deals on some of the higher-priced wines when they’re on sale elsewhere, but for many people, they just don’t want to make another trip. My favorites for the most part are in the $10 and under category, with many being $7 and under. It does help being on the Wine Team, so I don’t have purchase before I try something as long as I can wait for that wine’s turn in the Tasting queue. We’re still working our way slowly throught the Pinot Noirs, and I’ll report if anything interesting comes up.

  4. @rjh Very timely indeed! I had a look at your ratings yesterday and I’ve added your blog to my feed reader. If we don’t include the white zin, your ratings are between 70 and 80, which is fair value for $2! :) Wine Spectator has been between 77 and 83 on the Two Buck Chuck they’ve tasted blind since 2000. I’d be very interested to see how your ratings might be affected if you mixed them in as part of a larger blind tasting. Let’s do it! ;)

    Angela- thanks for your comment! I’d love to see Trader Joe’s pass along the savings I presume you get on the volume of wines you buy in the more expensive categories. I do like the product mix (Two Hands Angel’s Share and Sanford Pinot Noir immediately come to mind) but the pricing just isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. I’d love to hear what you find in the tough Pinot Noir category. I’ve found it tough to find a great bottle for under $20.

    @oenanist- I don’t think the nuance between using the term “varietal” vs “variety” adds to the discussion so much. Although Grenache is heavily planted, I’ve never seen a Grenache section in the supermarket alongside Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. That’s why I called it an unusual varietal wine. Do you think Trader Joe’s is a good place to buy wine?

    Thanks again for the comments everyone- I really appreciate them.

  5. thanks, bob. that’s my next step is to taste a two buck chuck in a blind tasting. for this round, i wanted to see if the wines would hold up in a daily, grab a bottle of wine approach. some held up better than i thought (the cab, chardonnay and merlot) and others were crushed under the $2 pressure (the sb and definitely the white zin). my next blind tasting is a two buck chuck cab, a california cab and a washington cab, to see how the $2 cab holds up – if you have any suggestions on what the other cabs should be, i’d be interested to hear your thoughts. or, even do the same tasting and post on our blogs the results, maybe you me and jason. what do you think?

    been following your blog for a while – nice work. you’re now on my blogroll as well.

  6. rjh- I love the idea of doing a blind tasting in parallel and then posting our results. I also like your idea of WA and CA Cabs vs. Charles Shaw.

    For a WA Cab, Columbia Crest Grand Estates immediately comes to mind- do you think it would be a fair enough comparison to do a couple of $10 wines against Charles Shaw? What did you have in mind for a CA Cab?

    Thanks a lot for adding me to your blogroll- I appreciate it.

  7. let me give it some thought. i think it’s only fair to keep the ca and wa cabs to about $10. anything more than that, we get into territory that i think two buck chuck gets blown away. i’ll get back to you in a few days with ideas – if we’re doing this on both coasts, i’ll focus on easily accessible wines, so we’ll be able to get our hands on it.

    glad you like the idea overall – jason, you in?

  8. @oenanist adding the 2007 Chateau Auguste Bordeaux to my shopping list!

    @Angela Love the ’07 Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot. Getting ready to post that one tonight. Any other finds?

    @rjh @Bob Sounds like you guys are on to something. I’ll let you run with. R.J. let me know when you are planning on it and perhaps I can join you. That said, blogging looks busy and don’t want to be a roadblock

  9. Did a C.S. blind tasting for the Crew last year and a lot of them couldn’t tell the difference. (I’m working on them thought!) Paired La Crema vs. C.S. Chardonnay, Geyser Peak Merlot vs. C.S. Merlot and I believe a Clos du Bois Cab against the C.S. Cab. Surprisingly, the Cabs were the hardest to tell apart and the C.S. Cab didn’t make me gag or want to scrap my tongue off like the Merlot did. It’s definitely a fun tasting, I’d think especially with folks with more refined palates. I’ve love to see some of the facial expressions ; )

    Yeah, the decent Pinots are hard to find under $15. We’ll definitely be tasting the Castle Rock again soon and we can compare notes. The Robert Mondavi Carneros ($22) is smoky, smooth and yummy.

  10. Absolutely TJs is worth the trip for stocking up on vino. Luckily for us, we have one next door to a World Market, so I can get the higher end ones there and walk next door to TJs for “second bottles” and pizza wines. Honey Moon Viognier is a favorite & some of their sparklers aren’t bad either.

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