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:
- 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.
- 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?
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…