Tag Archives: Trader Joe’s

Mini-reviews 123: Sauvignon blanc, Trader Joe’s merlot, chambourcin, mencia

Trader Joe'sReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Luis Felipe Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Autoritas 2018 ($8, purchased, 12%): Something very odd going on with this Chilean white — either that, or lots of winemaking to get it to some point I can’t figure out. Not especially Chilean in style, with barely ripe grapes and almost no fruit at all — just some California style grassiness. Imported by Pacific Highway

Trader Joe’s Merlot Grower’s Reserve 2017 ($6, purchased, 13%): This California red, a Trader Joe’s private label, is a bit thin on the back and a little too tart. Plus, the residual sugar shows up after three or four sips. Having said that, it’s easily one of the most drinkable and varietally correct wines I’ve had from TJ — for what that’s worth.

Oliver Winery Creekbend Chambourcin 2016 ($22, sample, 13.4%): Professionally made and varietally correct, this Indiana red shows how far regional wine has come. I wish it showed more terroir and less winemaking — it too much resembles a heavier wine like a cabernet sauvignon and it doesn’t need this much oak.

Virxe de Galir Pagos del Galir 2016 ($17, sample, 13.5%): There are quality grapes in this Spanish red, which is the best thing about it. Otherwise, it’s a very subdued approach to the mencia grape, taking out much of the darkness, earth, and interest. And $17 is problematical.

Photo: “Coburg wine cellar tour” by hewy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Stop hyping cheap wine like Two-buck Chuck rose just because it’s cheap

Two-buck Chuck roseCheap doesn’t mean a wine is worth drinking, and the Two-buck Chuck rose is almost undrinkable

The cyber-ether is agog with praise for the new Two-buck Chuck rose: “Who needs Two-buck Chuck when you can get $4 organic rose from the same brand at Trader Joe’s?” And, “Trader Joe’s Made $4 Organic Rose Just In Time For Memorial Day Weekend.”

Obviously, no one tasted the wine.

The only good thing about the Two-buck Chuck rose ($4, purchased, 11.5%) is the closure. It’s one of the new Helix corks that works like a screwcap. The wine itself is almost undrinkable – thin, bitter, practically no fruit flavor, badly sweet, and devoid of any rose character other than its light pink color.

In this, it’s everything that’s wrong with Big Wine, where more money is spent on the bottle and the marketing than on the wine. The back label actually refers to “the Charles Shaw family,” which doesn’t exist. Call that the height of marketing cynicism. The wine is made for Trader Joe’s by Bronco Wine, the seventh biggest producer in the country with at least $200 million in sales.

But none of this matters to the cyber-ether. The Two-buck Chuck rose is cheap. It comes from Trader Joe’s. What more does anyone need to know?

A lot, actually. Cheap wine is not worth drinking just because it’s cheap. Anyone who thinks that hasn’t been paying attention for the past 25 years. Besides, you’re hurting the cause when you write that. Cheap wine should offer quality and value, just like any other cheap product. Would you praise a broken car or a broken computer just because it’s cheap? Of course not. And the Two-buck Chuck rose is seriously broken.

Hence, this Wine Curmudgeon offer: The next time anyone in the cyber-ether wants to write about wine, send me an email. I’ll help you figure out what’s going on so you don’t recommend a wine most of us will pour down the drain.

Mini-reviews 89: The Wine Curmudgeon has questions

Mini-reviews 89Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

This month, I have questions that the wines can’t answer.

Tasca D’Almerita Lamùri 2014 ($18, sample, 13.5%): This Italian red offers about $10 worth of Sicilian nero d’avola at twice the price, and it‘s about as Sicilian as a Paso Robles red blend. My question: Why did I get it as part of a Sicilian wine promotion when it isn’t very Sicilian?

Kono Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($14, purchased, 13%): This New Zealand white offers $10 worth of Zealand sauvignon blanc and its citrus flavors at one-third more the price. My question: How could this vintage be so much less enjoyable than the 2012?

Les Portes de Bordeaux Rose 2015 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This French pink wine is not exceptional, but tastes like it should (freshness, red fruit) and is yet another reason why rose is always a good value. My question: How can this be, in the history of the blog, the first Trader Joe’s wine I can recommend?

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2015 ($10, purchased, 13%): A French red that was too tart and not very Beaujolais-ish, without any of the round and fruity flavors that should be there. My question: How can anyone at Jadot, one of the most important producers in France, think this is what this wine should taste like?

Mini-reviews 65: Taris, Gruet, Cabirau, Yalumba

reviews Taris, Gruet, Cabirau, YalumbaReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

?Chateau Taris 2012 ($6, purchased, 12.5%): This Trader Joe’s red Bordeaux, with some red fruit, some oak, and soft tannins, is worth exactly what it costs. Whether it’s worth buying is up to you; I’d just as soon spend a couple of dollars more for a more interesting wine.

?Gruet Brut Rose NV ($16, sample, 12%): This New Mexico bubbly, now labeled American, was disappointingly dull and not what it once was. Not much body, with muted red fruit and a hit of caramel.

? Domaine Cabirau Ros 2013 ($12, purchased, 13%): Not quite Hall of Fame quality wine, but another in what is a wonderfully long line of delicious and well made roses for around $10. From southern France, made with a grenache blend, with tarti strawberry fruit, lots of crispness, and even a touch of spice.

? Yalumba Riesling 2012 ($10, purchased, 12.6%): This vintage of the Hall of Fame Aussie white is missing something, which may be nothing more than old age from sitting in a warehouse for too long. Some lemon and a hint of petrol, but thin and not all that much fun on the back end.

Wine of the week: Sara Bee Moscato NV

sara bee moscato Sweet wine is not easy to review, and this doesn’t even take into account that a lot of sweet wine isn’t worth reviewing — poorly made, sweeter than Coke, and as cynical as a carnival barker. Many of the Wine Curmudgeon’s readers — half? more? — will skip this review in annoyance and some will even cancel their email subscription in disgust.

But let it not be said that I am easily intimidated.

The Italian Sara Bee Moscato ($7, purchased, 5.5%) is one of the best sweet wines I’ve tasted in years, and especially at this price. Yes, it’s sweet — probably somewhere around a high-end soft drink like Jones Soda — but there is plenty of orange fruit aroma, common to the moscato grape, apricot, some wonderful “fermentato,” which translates into light, fun bubbles, and even a bit of crispness (usually missing in most sweet wines at this price).

I drank it with some delicately-spiced Indian takeout, and the sweetness correctly played off the spice. It would also work as a dessert wine; something with chocolate, perhaps? Sweet wine drinkers, of course, won’t bother with any of that. Chill it well, add an ice cube or two if you want, and enjoy.

So what’s the catch? The Sara Bee is made by Santero, a dependable producer of grocery-store priced Italian sparkling wine, but this is a private label for the Trader Joe’s chain. This means two things: Trying to get information about the wine is almost impossible, since Trader Joe’s doesn’t like to return phone calls, and you can’t buy it anywhere else. If you’re in a state without a Trader Joe’s or one that doesn’t sell wine — in New York and Pennsylvania, for instance — you’re out of luck.

This is a $10 Hall of Fame wine, but because of the availability problems, I probably won’t add it next year. But if you have $7, are near a Trader Joe’s that sells wine, and are curious about the Sara Bee, don’t hesitate to try it.

Mini-reviews 53: Epicuro, La Granja, Turning Leaf, Line 39

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, in honor of the U.S. budget mess, some really cheap wine:

? Epicuro Nero d’Avola 2012 ($6, purchased, 12.5%): This Trader Joe’s red tastes almost exactly like California merlot, with lots and lots of black fruit and not much else. This is the international style of winemaking at its best (or worst, depending on your point of view).

? La Granja Tempranillo 2012 ($4, purchased, 13%): This Spanish red, also from Trader Joe’s, is a very simple wine that is more tempranillo-like than tempranillo. Lots of cherry fruit and acid, but they aren’t balanced; rather, they cancel each other out. Probably worth $4, but better wine doesn’t cost that much more.

? Turning Leaf Chardonnay NV ($8, sample, 12.5%): Offers quality and value, in the way that its pinot noir did during this summer’s cheap pinot tasting, though it’s more varietally correct. Fresh with a little green apple, and very little fake oak. A simple wine does not mean a stupid wine.

? Line 39 Chardonnay 2011 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Fairly typical grocery store chardonnay in the late 20th-century style, with green apple fruit and more fake oak than I like. Nothing really wrong with it if you like this kind of wine.

Private label wines, value, and quality

We ?re in the middle of a tremendous price war in Dallas, where retailers are selling some wines more or less at cost. Segura Viudas, one of my favorite cavas, is $6 ? about half of what it cost here a year ago (and about what it costs in Spain).

Yet the retailers don ?t seem especially concerned that they ?re giving away wine. Items like Segura Viudas are loss leaders to get customers into the store; once they ?re in, they can switch them to brands with better margins ? and, increasingly, these brands are private labels. In fact, private and store label wines, which are sold exclusively at one retailer, are perhaps the most important development on the retail side of the business over the past couple of years.

Some retailers, like Trader Joe ?s and Total Wine and More, focus almost exclusively on private label, but national grocery stores and regional chains are doing them as well, tucked onto the shelf next to the Kendall-Jackson, Yellow Tail, and Barefoot.

The question, then, is whether these private labels offer value and quality, or if they ?re just dodges to sell wine that consumers wouldn ?t normally buy. The answer, sadly, after the Wine Curmudgeon ?s recent private label experiment (unscientific, but worthwhile nonetheless) is that more and more, private labels are becoming the latter.

Consumers have long known that private label is not quite as good as the national brand ? the ketchup doesn ?t taste quite like Heinz and the peanut butter doesn ?t taste quite like Skippy. But they buy it anyway, because they ?re willing to trade quality for price, and the store brands are cheaper than the national brands.

In wine, the equation is more complicated. A traditional wine retailer ?s business is based on the premise that better wines are always more expensive, so any foray into private label sticks to that line. Kroger ?s private labels, for example, don ?t try to undercut the national brands, and you can’t even tell which are which on the shelf. However, more retailers are junking that approach in favor of ?this wine is cheaper and just as good ? or even better. ?

The most obvious example is Trader Joe ?s and Two-buck Chuck, which Two-buck Chuck ?s maker, Fred Franzia, insists is just as good as any bottle of pricey Napa wine. I ?m not quite sure anyone believes him (or that Franzia even believes it himself), but, as a marketing approach, it has been incredibly successful.

Total Wine, with 82 stores in 13 states, has taken this one step further. It identifies its private label wines as such, which almost no one else does, and displays them next to the comparable national brands ? complete with little cards under the wine, or shelf talkers, that say that its private labels are cheaper and better (or as much as it can without running afoul of federal regulations).

Are Total ?s private labels cheaper and better? Or is this just a cynical ploy to prey on consumers who can tell the difference between ketchups but who can ?t tell the difference between wines? I ?ve argued for years that the wine business is not as interested in educating consumers as it is in selling them wine, and it ?s easy to see how this could be part of that. Given how confusing wine is to most of us, our first instinct is to trust whatever the store says. They ?re not going to lie about their product, are they?

One distributor I asked, who doesn ?t have Total in his state, is convinced that the chain is counting on the consumer ?s ignorance. My experience, in the short time Total has been in Dallas, has been much the same. Their private labels are less expensive, but you can also taste the difference ? and not in a good way.

Case in point: Victoire Champagne Brut Prestige ($20, purchased), which the shelf talker claimed was half the price of branded Champagne and just as Champagne-y. I ?ve done this long enough to know that this is all but impossible, but I also pride myself on my open mind. Besides, what if it was just like Champagne at half the price?

The Victoire wasn ?t, and it wasn ?t even as well made as $20 cava or French cremant (or many $10 cavas, for that matter). The Big Guy tasted it with me; he took a couple of sips and asked if I had anything else to drink. The wine had little structure, and tasted more like apple juice mixed with club soda than sparkling wine.

No wonder it ?s easier to buy ketchup. Or that it ?s more popular than wine.