A Guide to Buying Wine at Trader Joe’s

After many a conversation with Trader Joe’s “wine stewards,” I have some advice for customers of TJ’s wine section. I put wine stewards in quotes because, while most of them are knowledgeable about wine, they have little/no choice in choosing the wines they offer. Follow these rules at TJ’s and you will end up with a tastier bottle:

1.  Never buy wines labeled Trader’s Joe Exclusive. If they are only sold at TJ’s, it is almost guaranteed they are complete crap. The exception to this is often TJ’s own wine priced $10 and under, which is often organic, and at least gulpable. A wine steward told me this exactly and my experience agrees.

2.  The “wine steward’s selections” will differ from store to store, but they are usually the best bet for moderately priced and tasty wines.

3.  Local options abound. Shitty wine can be found everywhere, including Oregon and Washington, but I’ve found that the quality of northwest wine is generally higher than the sludge that often floods out of California.

4.   As much as I’d like to say—don’t buy three-buck-chuck—it is undeniably a good value. It beat out 2,300 other wines at the 2004 International Eastern Wine Competition and earned double gold status. (Read the article.) There are too many bad $15 bottles of wine to pretentiously scoff at these $3 bottles. That being said, each “batch” of Charles Shaw varies significantly in quality and taste and their facility looks more like a Dupont chemical factory than a winery.

5. Bubbly for Sunday morning mimosas? Cheap will do just fine.

6. Consume less, but consumer better. It’s so easy to revert to the college dictum of quantity over quality, but let’s be real. You don’t need four bottles of three-buck-chuck for one evening unless you are making sangria. And if you consistently get your wine at TJ’s, you probably don’t know the difference between Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Chardonnay, which means you are looking for a simple good wine with some food and not a world class wine education. Do some research and find an honest $10 bottle of local wine.

7.  Still confused? Ask the wine steward and don’t be afraid to be honest. Does this California cab taste like gym socks rubbed in dirt? Can you promise me there aren’t hints of nail polish in this French Cotes-du-Rhone? It’s likely that those wine stewards have tasted nearly every bottle there.

8. Check out Trader Joe’s Wine Compendium, a humble site by a local Portlander who reviews Trader Joe’s wine with a simple thumb up or thumb down. You can also check out a TJ Top Ten Wine List at Jason’s Wine Blog.

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