Tasting wine isn't just for sommeliers who can call what vineyard a wine came from in a single sniff. Blind tasting helps you hone in on what you actually like without being influenced by labels, prices, or marketing, so it's something that anyone who likes wine should try a few times. Plus, it's fun!
In order to find out what people really think of wines from Trader Joe's, Aldi, and Costco, I strong-armed a few folks into blind tasting them. My tasters? Booth Hardy, owner of Barrel Thief Wine Shop and Cafe in Richmond, Virginia; my mom, Lynn; and my fiancée, Kate.
The White Wine Taste Test
For white wine, I chose Pinot Grigio, because this is what I often advise people to buy when they're looking for cheap wine and I wanted to see if my advice held up with people other than, you know, me. Here was the lineup with tasters' comments. These were all from Italy and the 2017 vintage.
Wine 1: Giretto Pinot Grigio at $4.49 from Aldi
Kate: "Really light, kinda smells rubbery. Tastes better than it smells"
Booth: "It's kind of watery, but it's not a bad wine."
Lynn: "Weak, watery."
Wine 2: D'Aquino Pinot Grigio at $4.49 from Trader Joe's
Kate: "Less of that rubbery smell."
Booth: "Floral, foxy, and a little bitter — it's funny how it's sort of drying on your palate."
Lynn: "A light pear aroma. This tastes like one of those really light Loire Valley wines." (Now you know what styles of wine I foist upon my family most often. Ha!)
Wine 3: Kirkland Pinot Grigio at $5.99 from Costco
Kate: "A little sharper than the second one."
Booth: "Creamy, cool climate freshness, maybe Chardonnay? I'm not mad at it, but it's not great."
Lynn: "This tastes like the Pinot Grigio I buy at the Kroger." (This is a woman who's always telling me she has a "bad palate." Clearly she's too modest!)
So, we don't have any conclusive winners, but here is my assessment based on my tasters' comments. No one loved the Kirkland Pinot Grigio, but no one really hated it, either, and the Trader Joe's d'Aquino was divisive because of its sulfury aromas. How bothered people were by those aromas determined how much they liked the wine. I personally preferred the Giretto, as did Booth, and I think it's because it had the highest acidity. So if you're someone who prefers their whites on the tart side, you might really enjoy the Giretto from Aldi. Otherwise, try the Aquino, and if it smells a little rubbery, throw it in a decanter for 30 minutes or so and try it again. You might be pleasantly surprised!
The Red Wine Taste Test
Now, let's move on to our Cabernet Sauvignon lineup. I threw the Aldi red blend in there because I wanted to see how the trendier red blend style fared next to the more traditional choice of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine 4: Kirkland Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon at $8.99 from Costco
Kate: "Lots of blackberry and plum!"
Booth (shrugging): "I'd drink this at a wedding."
Lynn: "Kate, that was a very sophisticated comment! I'm going to guess this is a California Merlot — or maybe a blend. It's OK." (You guys, I think my Mom might be a low-key tasting genius. She got in the right part of the world AND the right family of grape varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are from the same part of France and often blended.)
Wine 5: Moon X Cabernet Sauvignon at $6.99 from Trader Joe's
Kate: "Darker and has more of a ... fruit smell. Sweet, which I kind of like, but I can tell it's not very good."
Booth: "Whoa, alcohol! Lots of alcohol! I think this is California Merlot, but it's really sweet tasting. I don't think I could drink that."
Lynn: "I don't know if it's supposed to be a Cab or what, but it's too sweet."
Wine 6: Stormchaser Wild Ride Red Blend at $6.49 from Aldi
Kate: "Not as much ripe fruit. Meh."
Booth: "A little more subtle than the last one, which is nice. I think this is cheap Cab/Merlot from Bordeaux. There's an extra layer here but it's still not very nuanced."
Lynn: "Might be a Pinot? I like it!" Then she takes a second sip. "Hmm, never mind."
Wine 7: Outlander Cabernet 2016 from Paso Robles at $8.99 from Aldi
Booth: "More of a classic Cabernet with some pyrazine (Author note: That's the compound in green peppers that makes them smell sharp and "green" and it's also found in some red wine grapes), which I like. Some scientist made that and did a decent job."
Lynn: "A little like the first red, but I like this more."
The Kirkland Cabernet was Booth's favorite for its "no-shame" jamminess, Kate's second favorite, and Lynn didn't dislike it. Lynn's favorite was the Outlander Cabernet, and it was Booth's second favorite. The Moon X performed the worst — even Kate, who didn't mind the sweetness, didn't go back for another sip after her first taste. I liked the Kirkland the most and poor Moon X the least, as well.
The Final Takeaway
If you're looking for inexpensive wine that most people will either find inoffensive or actually like, Costco's Kirkland private-label wines are the way to go. They're not quite as bargain-friendly as Trader Joe's or Aldi, but for a dollar or two more, you get quality that's a bit more consistent. With TJ's and Aldi, there's a little more variation, my advice would be to try a few before you buy in quantity. Also, the most interesting takeaway here is that I think my mom could give the guys in SOMM a run for their money!
Tell me about your favorite Aldi, Costco, or Trader Joe's wines in the comments below!