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

Monday, February 23, 2009

This is a guest post from Jason from Jason's Wine Blog: A view from inside the glass of a professional consumer… You can find my response to this same question on his site here.

The more I considered this question the more it seemed an opportunity to take a trip down memory lane. So let me do so while accentuating why I think Trader Joe’s is indeed a great place to buy wine.

What led me to wine? More specifically to Trader Joe’s wine? Three words: Two Buck Chuck. I used these wines as a launching pad for further exploration. For $2 I could learn what varietals I liked more than others. Back in those days I think there were only three options but it provided me the confidence to go deeper into the wine aisle. Trader Joe’s is an excellent, low cost resource for those trying to learn the basics.

I know the basics now let’s learn more. Trader Joe’s literally has over a hundred bottles of wine for less than $5.99. These wines are of all shapes, sizes and varietals arriving from around the world. 99% of these, while nothing special to a connoisseur, are just fine to the vast majority of the wine drinking public. Trader Joe’s has a plethora of easy drinking, quaffable wines.

Now I know I like wine, I’ve learned more. What’s next? Time to start exploring the world of wine. Trader Joe’s excels at offering varietals and regions you may have never heard of. Epicuro immediately comes to mind with its four unique Italian varietals; Aglianico, Salice Salentino, Nero d’Avola and Vermentino. Whether it’s a Pinotage from South Africa or a Chardonnay from Tasmania there is always something new on the shelves at a price suitable for exploration. One important rule here. Introductory offerings are meant be just that; a first impression and a learning experience. For instance, I didn’t care for the South African Pinotage I mentioned earlier, that doesn’t mean I’ll never have another wine from South Africa or another Pinotage. If you don’t like your first experience with a varietal or region remain open to trying it again.

Somewhere in these first three stages it inevitably happens. You stumble on a wine that catches your attention with subtlety, nuance or complexity. You like it. Now just a quaffer isn’t good enough. So you start looking for more. This is where problems set in. Many novice consumers when thinking of a nice wine immediately gravitate to Napa Cab or Boudreaux. Getting access to high quality grapes in these regions is a highly competitive, costly exercise. These bottlings are the most expensive in the world. Those factors combine to make the wines that come from the most coveted areas the weakest in Trader Joe’s portfolio.

For that reason, I believe this is where many sour on Trader Joe’s wines. When I get above a certain price bracket, for me $7.99, I start to lean toward spending my money with a local wine merchant. In fact, I can count the number of times I have spent over $10 on a bottle of TJ’s wines without using all ten fingers. My way of saying, Trader Joe’s value proposition falls as the price rises. Malbec comes to mind as TJ’s has disappointed often while many of my favorites, including the Pascaul Toso, are readily available in wine stores.

Once you know what you like and want to go deeper into a specific niche it may be time to consider looking elsewhere. That said, be careful of your expectations. The majority of wines in the world are not special. I find that the more I spend the more I am disappointed. Nothing like dropping a $20, only to find out you liked your favorite $6 wine twice as much. I find that in the $10 - $20 price range at best 4 in 10 bottles are better than my faves at TJ’s, meaning I am left wanting 60% of the time. By sticking to a diet of mostly Trader Joe’s wines I help minimize the risk of disappointment.

Last but not least to answer the question, is Trader Joe's a good place to buy wine? Unequivocally yes, at under $8 a bottle it is extraordinary. Which are my favorites? Glad you asked. Here are the most recent Top 10 from my Best of Trader Joe’s Wine list.

Update (5/28/2009): Jason has updated this list. Read more here.

I'd like to thank Jason for doing this guest entry. I'd encourage you to check out Jason's Wine Blog and if you like what you see make it part of your regular reading.

You might also be interested in this list of all the grocery stores in Massachusetts that sell wine.

Question of the Day: What do you think about Trader Joe's wine? We'd love to hear from you.


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