Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

Escape your Wine Comfort Zone - Trader Joe's 30 Wines under $10 Tasting

Posted by Mark Gibson on Fri, Jul 31, 2015

Trader Joe's Thirty Wines under $10.00 Tasting

Trader Joe's is a privately held supermarket chain with over 450 stores around the USA, in business since 1967.

You need to know that when it comes to wine, TJ's has some of the biggest wholesale clout (and that translates direclty into lower prices) on the planet as they are owned by European mega-supermarket chain Aldi. 

Trader Joe's rose on the shoulders of its wine business more than any other product  - it carries around 50,000 bottles in inventory.

Its wine reputation is linked with Charles Shaw (Bronco wines), also known as Two Buck Chuck, currently selling in the vicinity of $ 3.00. We decided to exclude this label from our tasting. 

Trader Jeas reds

We initially tasted 10 whites and 10 reds under $10, but quickly expanded the wines reviewed over the following months. We look for drinkability and quality at this price-point... they are not special occassion wines.

The Search for Quality and Value

I have run wine clubs in Australia, the UK and the US and have found the general public in the USA to be the least informed about wine - unless it is Californian.

I have also found that the vast majority of Americans cannot afford the price of an average Napa or Sonoma red or white wine, but would like to drink better quality wine than is offered on the bottom shelf of their local supermarket (where they buy the majority of it). If only they could decipher the label and knew what was in the bottle.

Herein lies the opportunity.

A Sense of Adventure can be Rewarding

It's hard to get people to try new things. I often make suggestions when I'm in a wine shop when I see people browsing shelves with that "lost" look on their face.

whites

I ask what wines styles they like to drink and make suggestions. People crave variety in their lives, but don’t know what to buy when it comes to wine. They look at the wine I recommend, consider it and often put it back on the shelf and buy what they are familiar with, even if it's crap. Lately I suggest that if they don't like it to bring it back... and most stores will happily exhange it.

People know what they like and they like what they know; it gives them a sense of certainty. Why else would anyone drink Budweiser or Corona - (both watery and tasteless lawnmower beers), when we are in the middle of a craft brewing revolution

The Trader Joe's tasting sprang from a couple of surprises in an ad-hoc purchase of wine during a visit to TJ's.

I invited my friend Moris Senegor wine blogger, author and neuro-surgeon and a few friends to participate in the tasting and the following are tasting notes. We were both blown away with the quality and value offered in many of these every-day drinking wines. This tasting was held on June 30th. 2015.

Tasting Summary

You have to go the old world if you live in the new World, to find wine value, i.e. quality, inexpensive wines. 

What surprised me about the wines in this group, with the exception of the Californian wines was the refreshing absence of high alcohols and no smack in the head with a bit of 4x2 (excessive oak).

Two other aspects of these wines that I found desirable were ripeness with lower alcohols i.e. balance, with alcohols between 12-13%, with the exception of the Yountville Merlot at 14.5%. Finally I only saw obvious sulphur in a couple of these wines.

Trader Joe's does have plenty of expensive wines as well as low priced wines. 

You won't find many of the wines in this tasting in your local supermarket. The lower shelves where wines under $10 are displayed are populated with junk wines that show the opposite characteristics in our tasting; they tend to be mass produced = poorly made, overly alcoholic 13.5%+, over-oaked, overly sweet and often showing careless use of sulfur.

To find real value wines i.e. well made, balanced, showing true varietal character and drinkable today, but with short term cellar potential, Trader Joe's is the place.

Every TJ's store that stocks wine has a wine specialist who can give you great insight on what's what in the store. In our Pacific Grove store, Rigo Mendoza was most knowledgable and very helpful when we explained our tasting and steered us to the value wines.

Stop Press

See the tasting notes for the La Granja 360, a stunning extra-brut style sparkling wine for just $6.99. Looks like and tastes like a good Champagne.

 

tjs_tasting

Reds

1

Santa Barbara Landing

13.8%

Pinot Noir Santa Barbara $5.99

Light color, strawberry fruit on nose,
palate, lighter style, true varietal character, good acidity, French in style, amazing value. 

2

Monte Ducay

13%

Temp, Grenache, Cab

Carenina,
Spain

$8.99 Interesting pack, wrapped in brown paper. Deep dark color, dark fruiit and plums, pencil shavings on nose (Americal Oak), palate long and complex. Never had this combination before and a great substitute for Merlot drinkers. Well made and very good drinking.
3

Perrin Reserve

13.5%

Cote du Rhone France $7.99 Lovely berry nose, dark color, red currants and white pepper on nose, ripe round and forward with plenty of acidity. Clean, well made and a fantastic value for every day drinking. Will improve with short term cellaring.
4

Pontificis

13.5%

Grenache,
Shiraz, Mouvedre

France $6.99

Candied orange peel and berries, white pepper on nose, slightly artisanal, but authentic, palate soft, round, sweet, some grape tannins (typically these wines are unoaked). A no-brainer for every day drinking, great with food, buy this by the case as it will improve with short cellaring.

5

Zumaya

13.5%

Tempranillo Spain 8.99 Gamey, orange peel nose, sweet ripe, lovely acidity. Could benefit from decanting, will improve. Try this wine, it's delicious!
6

Vina Olaya

13.5%

Tempranillo Spain $7.99 Smoky, tobacco nose and ripe berries. On palate soft, easy to drink, some chalkiness. 
7

TJ's Reserve

14.5%

Merlot Yountville, CA $9.99 Obvious Merlot on nose, big style, sweet, over-ripe and fat (low acid). If you love Lodi Zinfandel you'll love this California Merlot. It was out of place in this line up of more balanced styles.
8

Chateau Mayne Guyon

13%

Bordeaux France $6.99 Our first bottle was corked, but I returned it and retasted. I was skeptical of Bordeaux at this price. What a surprise. A killer wine value, showing subtle Merlot to the fore, balanced, deliciuos now and will improve. Great with food.
9

Penfolds Koonunga Hill

13.5%

 

Shiraz Australia $6.99 Obviously Australian (the mint on the nose is a clue), lovely ripe and long palate, showing some menthol and stewed plums on nose, also showing American oak. This is a great wine now for the money, but will improve over next 3-7 years.
10

Albero

14%

Monastrelle Spain $5.99 If you haven't tried Monsatrelle from Spain, you are missing out. Could a wine this cheap be any good? It is a cracking wine for the money, showing sweet ripe cherries, pepper  and spices on nose, lovely medium body and a long finish... delicious. BTW, this grape is called Mouvedre in France and Oz and Petite Shiraz here in the US. Does this change your mind?

 Whites

 Cecili

11%

Prosecco   Italy $9.99  Grapey nose, bone dry finish, austere style but perfect for making Mimosas 
 2

 Mezza corona 

12.5%

 Pinot Grigio  Italy  $6.99 Some spritzines, apples and pears slightly dirty nose, austere, dry and some sweetness on middle palate. If you like PG, this is a good every day quaffer!
 3

 Villa Sonia

12%

PG   Italy  $5.99 I don't normally drink PG, but this wine has me rethinking this position. Tastes and looks just like a $20 wine (Santa Margherita), ripe, classy fruit driven nose, palate lively acidity balanced. A steal. 
4

Portico Da Ria

12% 

 Albarino Spain  $7.99 If you haven't tried Albarino, what are you waiting for? Lovely floral nose, complexity and crisp acidity, long finish. Delicious. Great seafood wine. For a top Albarino, try La Cana, available at Costco.
 5

 Nobilo

12.5%

Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand   $9.99 Most NZ SB is over the top, This one is perfect, more like a Loire, SB, stinging nettles and capsicum - a greener style of SB, Lovely long palate, dry finish, delicious. 
6.  

 Lachetau 

12.5%

 Vouvray  France  $7.99 (Chenin Blanc has never been a favorite of mine, I can't get past the cheesy, dirty sox nose that is almost universal for this varietal) Dirty sox nose, sweet and dull, lacking complexity. 
 7. 

Cuvee Azan 

12.5%

 Picpoul de Pinet  France  $8.99 I've had many lovely Picpouls, both still and sparkling - this was not one of them. Dumb nose and not appealing on any dimension.
 8. 

 Ulrich Langguth

12%

 Riesling  Germany  $6.99 I grew up on Riesling, it was one of those formative wine experiences as a 12-year old and I love the variety. This wine is a classic example of great Riesling, orange blossom, ripe nectarines and honey on nose, lovely lively acidity on the palate and looong finish. Amazing value, buy by the case. This was the top wine of the tasting.
 9

 Husch

13.5%

Chardonnay   Mendocino  $9.99 Out of place in this line-up of mainly unoaked and aromatic whites. Subdued nose, some apples and pears, oaky simple and finishes sour. Typical and why I dont drink cheap American Chardonnay. If you want a great and inexpensive Chardoonay try the Louis Jadot Macon Villages, unoaked and pure fruit.
 10 

Carayon La Rose

11%

 Rose  France  $5.99 I saw this wine a couple of weeks before I bought and was skeptical at the price. I can't think of a better wine for the money to drink in the park with a picnic lunch in the summer sun. Delicious and moreish.

 Addenda

I bought and tasted a few more wines after the tasting. These continued to be terrific wines for the money with a couple of duds.

Louis Latour

Chardonnay Viogner

France $9.99 I had high expectations for this wine, but was disappointed with this factory wine. The first wine in the tasting showing sulfur on the nose and a giveaway to a wine that was made in a factory to a formula and price-point. Ugly. 
2

Rosa Dell Olma Cortese

11.5%

Gavi Italy  $7.99 Light, almost colorless, white nectarines and pears on nose, palate, clean, lively, balanced, delicious. long finish. I'm a big fan of this wine and it's a first Gavi for me. 
3.

La Granja 360

12%

Verjedo Viura Spain $4.99 Bright straw, some nectarine and citrus on nose, fleshy mouth filling, lovely acidity, clean and long. Stunning value and a delightful new experience for me. Try it if you like Chardonnay without the oak. Tried on 3 separate ocassions, again last night... what a great drink. My in-laws loved it.
4

LaGranja 360

13%

Tempranillo Grenache Spain $4.99 Get down to TJ's and buy some of this. I'm a big Grenache fan and this wine blended with Tempranillo is gorgeous. Lighter in style but plenty of middle palate ripeness and a long finish for an inexpensive wine. Stunning value. 
5. 

Il Tarraco

13%

Chianti Classico Italy $8.99 You can't get Chianti Classico for under $10 that's any good can you? Yes you can. Sour cherries and slightly metallic character which Sangiovese often shows, but this wine is a lighter style Chianti and a bit of a throw-back to older winemaking. By that I mean lower alcohol and leaner style. Good food wine, decant for an hour.
6. 

Sauvignon Republic

13%

Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand $7.99 Herbacious grapey nose, slight sulfur, delicious and well priced SB. 
7

Floriana

11.5%

Gruner Veltliner Hungary $4.99 I love Gruner Veltliner, an unknown grape variety in USA prior to mid 1990''s when Greg St. Clair at K&L Wines began importing it. The #1 wine grape in Austria is a perfect accompaniment to food. This inexpensive wine shows a little CO2 on opening, but typical lychees and kiwi on nose, with some pepperiness. Palate is clean, dry straight forward. Not a long palate, but fine for $5.00 and a perfect summer quaffer. If you want to try a great Gruner, go to KLWines.com and be prepared to spend $25+
8

Cotillion

14%

Pinot Noir California $9.99 This wine was not a patch on the $4.99 Santa Barbara Landing. A blend of ripe fruit from 3 regions and a complete failure. Oak chips, overly sweet and simple - ugly.
9

TJ's Reserve

13%

Merlot California $4.99 $4.99 Merlot can't be any good, can it? Yes it can and this was way better than the Yountville Merlot at double the price. This is a blend of organic California grapes to make a lighter style of Merlot for every day drinking. You don't have to think, just drink, it's good.
 10

 La Granja360

13%

 Shiraz-Grenache Spain   $4.99 After such good experiences with other wines from this maker, tried this last night. Lovely dark berry nose, medium bodied, lively acidity, but perfectly balanced. Had with Pork tenderloin - delicious and really good for $5.

 

La Granja  
360; Cava 

Xarel·lo,
Parellada        

Spain           6.99  Simply delicious and the classiest sparkling wine I have ever drunk for $7.00. Ultra-brut in style, very fine bead, yeasty and stone fruit on nose. Lovely mousse on the palate and a great finish. We opened this alongside a Sonoma Brut with 18 months on lees and the La Granja Cava was better. Amazing value, my new house sparkler

Topics: wine

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