Back over 20 years ago when I first started getting into wine Trader Joe’s wasn’t as widespread and popular as it is now. However, they were growing and I did shop there from time to time. They obviously seemed to pride themselves on having a diverse selection of wines from around the world and so at that time I did check out several Trader Joes wines. To be honest, at that time, I was far from impressed. I wasn’t yet as knowledgeable about wine as I am now, but I had had my fair share of excellent wines from top producers, and not a single wine I sampled from Trader Joe’s selection was really worth my time. Whether it was a cheapie at only a few bucks or a bit more expensive Barolo, Chianti or others (up to about $20 or so), I never thought they were worth my time, so I stopped buying Trader Joes wine.
So how about now? Has anything changed? Are wines from Trader Joe’s a complete bust or are there some gems to be found?
A few years ago I periodically started sampling some of Trader Joes wine selections again, mostly out of curiosity. I wasn’t expecting life changing wines. I still relied on my trusted, dedicated wine retailers for those special bottles when I could afford them. But I was curious if I could buy something that would actually serve the purpose of an inexpensive every day wine. I have to say, Trader Joes wine selection has improved! The specific selection does vary from store to store and region to region a bit, but overall I’ve notice a significant improvement in the average quality. Many of the very value-priced selections, many in the $4 - $8 range, are actually drinkable! Imagine that! Now let me be clear… again, I am NOT saying these are world-class wines. Not a one of them will you sit for hours with your nose in the glass admiring its complex perfume, luxurious mouthfeel and long finish. However, many of them provide ample ripe fruit and decent balance without any hard edges or anything dramatically out of whack.
I should note that the average quality of wine has gone up in most places. Winemakers are getting better at delivering wines without significant flaws. So some of the improvement at TJ’s may simple be because of that general improvement in the wine industry. However, another thing I’ve noticed about Trader Joe’s wine selections is that they have a decent selection of organic wine. As someone who drinks wine pretty regularly, I am concerned about the widespread use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in many conventionally grown wines. I think the wine industry as a whole should focus on more healthy and sustainable practices and highly encourage more use of biodynamic and organic viticulture practices. It is nice to see that even in the value wine section Trader Joe’s is trying to focus on organic wines and many of them are pretty good. In fact, the Trader Joe’s own label wine is made entirely from organically grown grapes.
All in all, I’ve been impressed in the value-oriented improvement in the wine selection at Trader Joe’s over time. However, for a true wine aficionado, if you can afford to spend $15-30 dollars a bottle for everyday wine, you can often find truly compelling wines at that price from a good wine retailer. Many examples from the Loire Valley, Rhone, Languedoc, Provence, Spain, Italy, California, and more can reach the next level of wine quality with more complexity, personality and overall interest. However, if you can’t afford that next level of everyday drinking wine, Trader Joes wine does offer enough quality to justify buying for simple wines for regular drinking. If you are a wine “snob”, go somewhere else. But if you just want a drinkable bottle to relax with without thinking too much about it, try some of their wines and see what you think.