Trader Joe’s is renowned for its friendly customer service, house-brand snacks, and, of course, wine that is cheaper than bottled water.
No conversation about Trader Joe’s wine is complete without mentioning Charles Shaw, a.k.a. “Two Buck Chuck,” the multiple-award-winning discount wine with which the chain is famously linked. The TJ’s staple is produced with mass appeal in mind — think smooth mouthfeel with pronounced, ripe fruit flavors.
But TJ’s means many things to many people. We decided to ask VinePair Insiders, our Facebook group, about their favorite Trader Joe’s bottles. We came up with a list of 16 — a mix of both wines exclusive to Trader Joe’s, as well as bottles that can also be purchased in other stores — and gave them to a team of experts for a blind tasting.
The results were surprising in both good and bad ways. Some of the regularly recommended wines fell short of the mark, prompting unfavorable tasting notes like “sugar-free, bad butterscotch” and “ashtray.” Others impressed us with their depth of flavor and recognizably high-quality winemaking. Best of all were these, our top five Trader Joe’s wine picks.
5. Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 ($8)
Displaying pronounced aromas of ripe black fruits and spice, our tasters enjoyed this old vine Zinfandel for its well-executed balance of fruit and herbs. With silky tannins and interesting flavors of olives and chocolate mixed in with luscious blackberry, this is an ideal wine for a BBQ with friends.
4. Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($14)
Based in Marlborough, New Zealand, Kim Crawford is one of the country’s best-known producers, and our experts had a lot to say about its Sauvignon Blanc. Reveling in its “floral Bath & Body Works” notes, the highly aromatic white transported tasters to “grassy peach orchards.” While floral on the nose, this Sauvignon Blanc offers refreshing citrus and green fruit flavors on the palate and has mouthwatering acidity.
3. Floriana Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($6)
In terms of grape variety and region, the Floriana Grüner Veltliner is the most interesting proposition in our top five. This light and zesty Hungarian white displays green apple and citrus flavors, with just a hint of spicy white pepper. “Good with food,” “would be good in a slushy,” and even, “good with popcorn!”, it was thumbs up all round from the VinePair tasting panel.
2. Villa Cerrina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016 ($5)
At just $5, the Villa Cerrina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the cheapest wine in our top five and represents phenomenal value for the money. Interesting and well-balanced, this wine is an ideal representation of the “earthy” style of Italian wines. Fragrant oregano aromas blend with red plum and sour cherry flavors. This is exactly the kind of wine people refer to when reminiscing about the great table wine they enjoyed on that recent Tuscan getaway.
1. La Paca Sonriente Garnacha 2016 ($7)
Topping the list is La Paca Sonriente Garnacha from Spain’s Catalayud region. This superb medium-bodied red provided our experts with a host of talking points and tasting notes. One taster favored its “refreshing acidity” — a pleasant surprise, given the warm region in which the wine is produced. Another enjoyed the “leather and fresh tobacco” aromas, which point to a form of oak-barrel aging one doesn’t expect in this price range. The wine will pair well with food but can easily be drunk on its own. And while the $7 price tag points to a mid-week sipper, the quality of winemaking and overall balance of this wine make it something we’d happily take to a Saturday night dinner party with friends.