Ariel asked me to pick out a few budget-friendly wines from Trader Joe's for her Friday Board Game Night Gathering, where she planned on serving easy, make-ahead Italian food. I was excited for an excuse to visit Denver's newly opened Trader Joe's for the first time. Rumors of lines that wrapped around the building and parking up to three blocks away had kept me from venturing into the new store. Turns out, the rumors were true. I can definitely say, however, that the wine discoveries I made were well worth my wait.
After gathering three friends within the wine industry and filling them in on the menu, we hit the shelves. We collectively ventured into the Italian wine section; however, a great Spanish Tempranillo also made the cut. We uncorked 15 different wines and narrowed the standouts down to three bottles that are food-friendly and versatile for almost any Italian preparation. These three wines paired perfectly with the Fiery Kale Salad and Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups on Ariel's table.
How to Choose a Budget Wine
What do I look for when choosing budget wines? There is really no way to judge a bottle's quality at this price point without experimentation or research. We opted to experiment and taste multiple bottles, which is rather easy to do at TJ's. If you make a mistake, it won't be devastating to your wallet.
Although many of the wines we tried were out of balance, I was pleasantly surprised to find several delicious and enjoyable wines at this price point.
- Banfi "Centine", Red Blend, Toscana IGT, Italy, 2011, $10 - A blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Merlot, sourced from the rolling hillside vineyards of Tuscany, this red wine is substantial for the price. This wine has kept me intrigued over the years as a value-driven Tuscan blend. Old World in style, this savory, complex wine boasts notes of dark cherry, baking spices, savory cured meats, and dried herbs, complemented by a mineral-driven finish.
- Gaetano d'Aquino, Orvieto Classico DOC, Italy, 2012, $5 - The isolated hillside town of Orvieto in central Italy is known for its crisp, dry, food-friendly white wines, made primarily from the grape, Trebbiano. This particular wine has a rich mouthfeel, with notes of apricot and orange blossom, exhibits mouthwatering acidity, and is very approachable, making it a versatile food-pairing option.
- La Granja, Tempranilo, Cariñena DO, Spain, 2012, $4 - This wine's selling points? Price and balance. I almost didn't give this wine a chance because of the price, but it delivered with balance on multiple levels. Although much lighter in body than a typical Tempranillo, this wine will immediately appeal to red wine drinkers, who might usually drink Pinot Noir, and to white wine drinkers looking to branch out. Its vibrant acidity prompts your next bite and showcases notes of bright, candied red raspberry, mushroom, and potpourri.
- Cantina del Grifone "1967", Toscano Rosso IGT, Italy, 2010, $6 (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah)
- Angelo Rocca "Trentatre Rosso", Salento IGT, Italy, 2012, $6 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Montepulciano)
- Zonin, Prosecco DOC, Italy, NV, $7
- Femar Vini "Epicuro", Salice Salentino IGT, Italy, 2011, $6 (Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera)
Along with the vast variety of regional cooking styles within Italy, the varied wine selection at TJ's allows much room for exploration and creativity. Of course, pairing Italian food is not strictly limited to Italian or Old World wines, but with so many excellent and diverse options coming from Italy, why not explore the old adage, "What grows together, goes together"?
Which Trader Joe's wines do you enjoy pairing with Italian food? Any outside of Italy that you deem a perfect pair?
More on Budget Wines & Pairing from the Kitchn
(Image credits: Alexis Buryk)