I realized that it is quite a while since I did a Trader Joe's wine tasting. So on Monday I headed off to the Trader Joe's Wine Store in New York City to see what I could find at less than $10 a bottle for easy summer sipping. Well, some gems and some disappointments — read on to see which I liked, and which I didn't enjoy as much.
As you all know Trader Joe's is the name synonymous with 'Two Buck Chuck'. Trader Joe's also carries a fairly broad range of Californian and International wines that for the most part are keenly priced. With my limit of $10 per bottle I roamed the aisles to see what I could find.
It was a Monday morning, so the store was quiet. Sales assistants busied themselves positioning and arranging wines on shelves for the day.
On entering the store I noticed that a particular brand was heavily merchandized up front for $5.99 / bottle. It came in "rouge" (red), "blanc" (white) and rosé options. That gave me the idea of buying a red and white from a few different producers to see how they fared, rather than a hodge-podge of different wines. Though I passed several shelves laden with Trader Joe's own label wines for $3.99 I decided to give them a miss, as they seemed too easy an option.
Perusing the aisles, I finally selected two additional producer pairs as well as the trio mentioned above. The trio of red, white and rose was French and called La Ferme Julien, and the two pairs (red and white) were Australian. One pair was from from Western Australia (Madfish) and one from McLaren Vale (d'Arenberg).
Back home, having chilled the whites and rosé, I lined them up to taste. Here is what I thought.
A Trio from La Ferme Julien, Ventoux, France
The Ventoux appellation is in the South of the Rhône Valley.
• 2010 La Ferme Julien Blanc, AOC Ventoux, France, $5.99 - Of the three whites this was my least favorite. Aromas of grapefruit and pear with floral nuances were attractive. However, on the palate it was a trifle hot and lacked vibrancy. Flavors were heavy and quite candied, almost chemical with notes of spice and a bitter nuttiness.
• 2010 La Ferme Julien Rosé, AOC Ventoux, France, $5.99 – After the white this was a very pleasant surprise. Simple but clean jammy aromas of strawberry, rhubarb and cherry. Quite lively and fresh in the mouth with flavors of strawberry and raspberry cream, candied cherry and hints of anise. Slight noticeable sweetness on the finish, but not intrusive. Great value, easy-drinking summer sipper. Serve well-chilled.
• 2010 La Ferme Julien Rouge, AOC Ventoux, (a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault), $5.99 – Not bad. A little rustic and simple but has decent fruit flavor. Aromas of jammy strawberry, cherry and plums. Soft tannins, spicy with ample ripe red and black fruit flavors. Little short and one dimensional, but easy-drinking and certainly a great value crowd-pleaser for casual summer gatherings or Monday night with pizza.
A Pair from d"Arenberg, McLaren Vale, South Australia
McLaren Vale is a very well-known and renowned wine region in South Australia.
• 2009 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump White (a blend of Riesling, Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc), McLaren Vale, $8.99 – This was my favorite white. Nicely aromatic with enticing notes of nectarines, apricots, lemony/lime custard and white flowers. Crisp, even a tad racy. Lively and refreshing with plenty of juicy flavors similar to the nose but also hints of orange peel, spice and grapefruit. A delightful, easy-drinking warm-weather sipper.
• 2009 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump GSM ( A blend of Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre), McLaren Vale, $8.99 – Modern, sweet, jammy, spicy, creamy aromas are certainly inviting. Smooth and creamy with super supple tannins. Lively, very fruity showing lots of sweet jammy blackberry and plum flavors with creamy sweet spices and vanilla notes. Shortish on the finish, but pleasant and easy-drinking.
Another Pair from Madfish, Western Australia
While Western Australia only produces about 3% of all Australian wine, the region is especially recognized for the quality of its wines.
• 2008 Madfish Shiraz, Western Australia, $9.99 – This was my preferred red of the line-up. More subtle on the nose but opened up to ripe blackberry, plum and sweet cherry aromas with notes of sweet spice, pepper, vanilla and coconut. Fresh and lively flavors of bright black fruit, ripe but not too jammy. Smooth, supple tannins, but showing enough grip to give the wine structure. Moderate length.
• 2008 Madfish Sauvignon Blanc /Semillon Western Australia,$9.99 – I really liked this also. Aromas of gooseberry exotic spice, jasmine and a little jalapeño. Zesty on the palate and lively fruit with lots of refreshing citrus and gooseberry flavors. Has an attractive waxiness on the palate, ample fruit and a decent finish.
I would love to hear from readers about what great wines you have discovered at Trader Joe's this summer. Any new favorites?
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman)