Now that dry January is almost over—hey, I tried!—it’s time to kick off a very exciting series diving into how to find truly great, highly affordable wines right at your favorite grocery stores. Because wine should be easy, folks—from the buying to the drinking. So, we’ll be perusing the aisles of your favorite one-stop shops, divulging tips and tricks for scoring the best (and obviously, most budget-friendly) bottles, starting with Trader Joe’s.
For the longest time I bypassed the Trader Joe’s wine section, thinking that I needed to be in a boutique wine shop to get good wine. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to support local shops but there’s something magical about getting everything you need in one run, wine included. Most shoppers have heard of the infamous Charles Shaw “two-buck Chuck” wines (even Mykal Kilgore, a singer and songwriter, gives a shout out to this wine in one of his songs)—but after spending a good amount of time examining the aisles over the holidays, I was pleased to find that there’s a whole world of delicious, affordable wine waiting to be consumed.
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Point being: Bookmark this page for your next trip to Trader Joe’s. There’s bubbles, highly drinkable whites, light reds and much more. And don’t forget to stock up on the $5 to $10 bottles. Honestly, after a few bottles have been consumed, no one is going to be able to tell if they’re drinking a $100 bottle or a $10 bottle. My entertaining trick? Start the evening with a more spendy bottle to really savor and enjoy and hit the TJ’s stockpile moving forward. Plus, it feels good to be that person who always has wine on hand for whatever occasion arises (or for absolutely no occasion at all).
On the following list you’ll find my personal favorites, picks from industry experts, and suggestions from longtime Trader Joe’s wine-loving friends. Together, there are recs for every taste, to make shopping for vino a breeze.
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The Party Bubbles
Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blancs Brut is the cream of the crop. The king of cheap bubbles. The party trick. And quite frankly, something I vow to always have chilled and ready to drink in the fridge. I buy at least 3-4 bottles each Trader Joe’s trip, as these bubbles are a complete steal at $6 a bottle—and they’re quite tasty too. Think of it like this: You can have have 10 bottles of this or one bottle of Champagne. I love Champagne, but this is how you throw parties, people. Line em’ up and pop them open all night long. Your wallet will never freak out, I promise.
To back up my two cents on wine, Natalie Stewart, sommelier at Fin & Fino, also fan-girls over these bubbles. “I love to stock up on this bottle for brunch or to have on hand for a last-minute invite to a friend’s place,” Stewart notes. “The sparkling wine is crisp and refreshing, and perfect to drink alone or pair with oysters, cheese, or any appetizer with a little grease.”
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You Might Not Know Albariño, But You Should
Luzada Rías Baixas Albariño, with a pretty turquoise label (and at $7 a pop), is a wine I keep in stock at all times. I gravitate towards Albarino (a delicious white grape grown in Northwest Spain), especially in the summer as it’s light and bright and an all-around good food drinking wine. Add seafood into the equation and it’s a no-brainer. I’m talking oysters on the half shell, peel and eat shrimp situations, grilled fish, and even seafood pasta.
An Easy Drinking Portugeuse White
Housed in a beautiful green bottle, Espiral Vinho Verde ($4.99) is another white wine (from Portugal) to buy by the mass. "Espiral Vinho Verde is a no brainer to add to your shopping cart at TJ's,” says Chef Soo Ahn, executive chef at Michelin-starred Band of Bohemia. “It's always refreshing and pairs with pretty much anything — grilled chicken, pasta, seafood, etc.,” noting that it’s even more palatable when super chilled.
A Noteworthy But Not-Too-Heavy Red
The duo behind JordAsh (Jordan and Ashley) are always entertaining and cooking on Instagram and such, so I tracked them down to see what red they’re drinking. Meiomi Pinot Noir, they told me, is “tried and true” and a bottle they always pick up. At $18.99 a bottle, it’s average price point for a red—just know that quality reds will often set you back a bit more as there’s more time involved in aging and all that jazz . But for the most part, pinot noir is a solid bet for a hearty but not overly aggressive red to pop out at dinner.
Anytime Rosé Bubbles
District lead bartender, Tony Gonzales, is an advocate of affordable Trader Joe’s wine, and come summer, Reserve des Chastelles Tavel Rosé is where it’s at. “With hints of strawberry,” Gonzales adds. For $9 a bottle it’s doable to invite friends over and actually drink (responsibly) #Roséallday. I find that friends who don’t like regular bubbles often like pink bubbles as they’re a tad bit sweeter.
A Non-Traditional, “Break Away” White
Chef Tony Celeste, of Whitestone Restaurant in California, buys Mbali Chenin Blanc-Viognier every Trader Joe’s visit. And at $5 a bottle, who can blame him? "It’s a decisive break away from traditional white wines without being too different,” says Celeste. “Mbali hits all the right notes beginning with bright flavors of melon and ending with a refreshing, crisp acidity."
The “Don’t Feel Guilty” Table Wine
I turned to many friends when writing this piece as they’re the ones with honest palates; or more so, they simply drink what they like—and that’s how you should always approach wine. My friend Josh Deal brought Green Fin White Table Wine to my attention. “It’s impossible not to add this wine to my shopping basket on any trip to Trader Joe's,” says Deal. “I usually finish off a whole bottle at a time and never feel guilty about it.” At under $5 a bottle, it’s a bargain wine that’s “smooth with subtle fruit notes.”
You’ve likely had J. L. Quinson Côtes de Provence Rosé at a party or have passed the bottle in the wine aisle. Anyway, it’s in an aesthetically pleasing bottle (because yes, that sometimes matters too) and you can’t beat the under $10 price tag. “Wine-savvy friends pointed me in the right direction on my search for my rosé—made in Provence, spend a little more,” says Rachel Sutherland of Rachel Sutherland Communications. “But I always felt like Goldilocks: this one is too fruity, this one is too sweet,” she adds, until tasting J. L. Quinson Côtes de Provence Rosé. “It was supremely refreshing in August last year during an outdoor community feast, ice-cold right out of the cooler (that screw top is a game changer).”
Working Mom Snacktime Wine
Everytime I pop over to Ivy Black’s house (a childhood best friend and interior designer), she’s got the most amazing snack spreads—and aways good wine to accompany. I’m constantly impressed as she has a full time job as an interior designer, a husband, two kids, and a gorgeous home… so naturally, I’m always intrigued with what she’s drinking. “Chilean Sauvignon Blancs have always been my favorite,” says Black. “As a working mom and business owner with two kids I often eat a ‘snack supper’ while feeding them,’ she adds. “Kidia Sauvignon Blanc ($5.99) is citrus-y and refreshing and It pairs so nicely with Trader Joe’s dumplings and shelled edamame.”
For Oaky Chardonnay Lovers
When it comes to Chardonnay, typically you either like oakiness or ya don’t. And if you do, Rebuttal Chardonnay ($6.99) will tickle your fancy, but isn’t too aggressive. “Personally, I can’t get enough of a good oaky, super buttery Chardonnay,” says Black, noting that she is one of the few (I personally am anti-oak but I don’t mind a taste from time to time). “Bring it out with your cheese board and pair it with chicken or salmon—you’ll convert your friends and partner.”
Porch Sitting Sauvignon Blanc
“I love Trader Joe’s for for a multitude of reasons, but especially for their wine,” says Kaylin Fulp, chef at Union Special. “I love that I can buy a bottle to take to a dinner with friends and it tastes like a $40 bottle and It only set me back $10,” she says, of Sauvignon Republic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($7.99). “This one is crisp, light and definitely leans towards a more stone-fruit flavor note,” she adds. “It gives serious Casamaro Blanco vibes and reminds me of summer porch sitting—just peachy.”
For a Good Red, Seek the Bottles with the Animals on the Label
Stacey Sprenz, a photographer, notes to seek out “the Spanish varieties at TJ’s with the animals on the bottles.” I’ll agree quickly La Granja is a go-to, as I simply love Spanish reds. They’re easier to dive into and, for the most part, are easy wines to drink with food. La Granja 360 Tempranillo (with a pig on the bottle) is a full-bodied but approachable red I grab on the regular.
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