Trading with Joe

Richard FadeleyWe finally got our Trader Joe's back in 2013 and the parking lot has seemingly been full ever since. Their first store was opened in 1967 in Pasadena, CA and since 1979 the chain has been controlled by the German owners of Aldi's, another food chain that takes a draconian approach to marketing, and as you might imagine has been pretty successful in that regard. TJ's has been recognized as selling more products per square foot than any other chain. Their wines are somewhat eclectic – they are the only distributor for Charles Shaw wines – with eighty percent of their food products being house labels. And one of their signature lines is their smartly chosen wine selection.

So we thought that we would survey their offerings and do a blind tasting. We randomly selected sixteen wines (based on our knowledge of the different regions), bagged them up and tasted them blind, with appetizers. The results were interesting.

Trader Joe's has forged relationships with several European co-ops that can produce marketable quantities of decent wine under many different AOCs (labels for different areas). And their relationship with the Charles Shaw winery is unique – they are the only distributors for Charles Shaw wines. And what do they do with this clear advantage? They use it as a "lose-leader" and invent "Two Buck Chuck" – actually $3 Chuck east of California. This was very disruptive to the normally sedate and orderly wine market. But the dynamics of the market place have come into play, as they normally do, hatching a flock of low-end look-a-likes, not unlike the "Yellow Tail" craze.

We find ourselves once again with a downward spiral in wine prices. A testament or "curse of" free market machinations. But at some point quality suffers at the expense of price. We are right there on the razor's edge with some of the wines being offered by TJ's and others trying to compete at close to the same lower price points.

This tasting showed that we have defined a balance-point where prices will actually improve quality. We found Bronco Wine's "Blue Fin", label priced just one dollar more ($4.99), a marked improvement in quality. But Trader Joe's thankfully distributes wines from many other producers, giving us a lot to chose from.

We found enjoyable wines from Italy and France (two of our favorite producing countries), with small producers as well as large co-ops. TJ's offers wines from large co-ops in Bordeaux as well as Burgundy, and Italy showed some well made esoteric wines, the Grifone Primitivo is tasty (purportedly a predecessor to our zinfandel). Bordeaux showed us a nice white as well as a left-bank (cabernet based) and a right-bank (merlot based). The co-op in Burgundy has a nice little aligoté from the very minor grape planted there, only about 12% of white wine. The Quinson rosé was one of the stars, but the price has climbed dramatically over the past 2 vintages.

The "sweet-spot" for TJ wines seems to be $8-$10, here they offer good quality, and occasionally their higher end wines will be payoff. You will just have to get in there and see for yourself. If you don't like a wine, just use it for cooking, they all are at least decent.

You might consider giving these wines about a 2-week "rest" after you get them home. They a selling fairly large quantities of some of their more popular labels so they might suffer from a little bottle shock.

This is by no means a call to forsake your regular wine shop, only a source for new discoveries. Ask them what they might offer as an alternative, but you will find that you usually get what you pay for. We would like to hear about your experience with these wines.

Free Times Trader Joe's Wine Review

White & Rosé Rating   Buy again? Price
Quinson '14 Cotes de Provence Rosé ***1/2 Nice Rosé Yes $ 7.99
Sauvignon de Seguin '13 White Bdx *** Our Top White Yes $ 6.99
Blasson de Bourgogne '13 Aligoté *** Another Favorite Yes $ 7.99
Charles Shaw Chardonnay *** A Best Buy Maybe $ 2.99
Terrenal '12 Chardonnay, Spain (Kosher) **1/2 A Bit Sweet No $ 4.99
Zonin Prosecco Frizzante **1/2 A Bit Light No $ 5.99
Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio ** Not Much Here No $ 2.99
Grifone '13 Primitivo, Italy (IGT) ***1/2 Another Best Buy Yes $ 4.49
Ports de Bordeaux '11 Fronsac (Merlot) ***1/2 Personal Favorite Yes $ 9.99
Cht. Langlade '12 Medoc (Bordeaux) ***1/2 Bdx Blend Yes $ 8.99
Cave des Haute Cotes '10 Volnay (Pinot) *** 100% Pinot Noir Yes $ 20.99
Black Mountain '13 Merlot (California) *** This Could Age Maybe $ 6.99
Barreri '02 Barbaresco Riserva (Italy) *** Pricey No $ 19.99
Quinson '13 Beaujolais-Villages (France) *** Pretty Nice Maybe $ 7.99
Blue Fin '12 Pinot Noir, California *** Decent Pinot! No $ 4.99
Charles Shaw '13 Cabernet, California ** Not Much Here No $ 2.99


Our four-star rating system and how it might compare to the WS 100-point scale:
* Decent (80-83)
** Good (86-87)
*** Very Good (87-89)
**** Excellent (90+)

All ratings are only the opinions of our tasters and not meant to offend your personal favorites.

April, 2015

To contact Richard Fadeley, write him at

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