A Wine Expert’s Best and Easiest Tips for Picking Out a (Good) Cheap Bottle at Target, Costco, and Trader Joe’s

updated May 1, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

While it would be great if we could all exclusively buy wine from cute independent wine shops, it’s not always possible. Not everyone lives near a great independent wine shop. Not everyone feels comfortable in one. And sometimes you have to buy toilet bowl cleaner, socks, and a gift for a housewarming party — all in one shopping trip because you’re busy and that’s just how life works sometimes.

I get it. No matter how you feel about big-box stores and behemoth grocery chains, they’re a part of modern life for most of us, so if you’re going to buy wine at one, you might as well do it right.

Here are my tips for buying wine at Target, Costco, and Trader Joe’s without ending up with any terrible choices.

(Image credit: Carina Romano)

Tips for Buying Wine at Target

1. Don’t go in thinking you’re gonna get the best deals.

The interesting thing about Target is that a lot of their wine isn’t actually that cheap. The bulk of what I see on the shelves, especially leaving aside gallon jugs and boxes, is in the $12 to $15 range. So if you’re looking for really inexpensive wine, you’re better off at Trader Joe’s or Costco.

2. Pick a French wine.

Your best bets at Target are big, well-known French brands. This idea that French wine is expensive persists, and it’s silly. France is still one of the world’s biggest producers of wine, and a lot of what is made there is everyday stuff. Belleruche is the supermarket-tier brand from the Chapoutier family that I see at almost every Target I’ve been to that sells wine. The red, white, and rosé are all quite good, but the red is usually the best of the three. Another good brand in this category is Louis Jadot. For a light, easy-drinking red, the Beaujolais-Villages will certainly not change your life, but you could do a lot worse.

3. Don’t dismiss boxed wine.

Black Box and Wine Cube are the main brands I see in Target, and I’ve had decent wines from both brands. I also love that they’re selling wine in those little 500-milliliter Tetrapaks, both for how environmentally friendly they are and because you can easily sneak them into the movie theater (um, I mean, take on picnics — cold, winter picnics).

Your best box bets are usually Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Choose styles with descriptors like “fresh” and “fruity” rather than “vanilla” or “toasty.” Those last two descriptors imply oak, and good oak barrels are expensive. These producers are not using nice oak barrels; they are using oak chips or staves, and unless used with a very deft hand, they can make wine taste like how a Vanilla Glade Plug-In smells.

(Image credit: Trong Nguyen)

Tips for Buying Wine at Costco

1. Beware of name brands.

Some of the best values at Costco are famous brands like Veuve Clicquot and Catena. Stores like Costco have huge buying power so they can get good pricing on big name brands by buying a ton more than any smaller shop would be able to.

The caveat here is that the discount on these big brands isn’t uniformly amazing. Sometimes the price I see at Costco is pretty close to traditional retail, and sometimes it’s way under. So before you buy something just because it’s a good name, check the average price for the wine on a site like Wine-Searcher to see what the average retail price is around the country. This is not to say you should only buy wine on deep discount, but sometimes the thrill of bargain hunting can cause us to buy more than we really need!

2. Checkout the Kirkland Signature wines.

The other place where Costco shines is its Kirkland brand private-label wines. If you see the Kirkland brand on a bottle of wine that also has a famous place from a European wine region, like, say, Côtes du Rhone, or Provençe, it’s likely to be pretty good. Again, this is where Coscto’s buying power comes into play. They’re able to make deals with producers in Europe and put their own label on them for less than you would find an equivalent wine elsewhere.

3. Avoid cheap Chardonnay.

I would avoid inexpensive Chardonnay from either private labels or just brands you don’t recognize. This is one of those categories that really varies. When I worked in a retail shop where I helped make buying decisions, trying to find an inexpensive Chardonnay with some oak in it that would satisfy richer Chardonnay lovers but didn’t make us want to hork was one of our biggest challenges, so you would probably have to go through similar trial and error to find an oaked Chardonnay you were really happy with for less than $12 or so. With fuller-bodied, oaked Chardonnay, you unfortunately usually get what you pay for.

(Image credit: Diane McMartin)

Tips for Buying Wine at Trader Joe’s

1. If you see something you want to try, buy it right then and there.

Trader Joe’s does have some labels that I’ve seen on shelves for years, but just like with the rest of their products, not every wine will be there forever. If you see something you’re interested in trying, or know you like, that’s the time to buy it — because it might not be there the next time you go.

2. Go with wines from Spain or Southern France.

I’ve tried a lot of cheap wine from Trader Joe’s, and the parts of the world where you can go the cheapest and still get something palatable are Spain and Southern France.

The La Granja line from Spain is one of the most consistent sources of good, cheap red wine I’ve ever found. They make a Tempranillo and a Tempranillo/Garnacha blend — usually around $4 each. Both are fresh, tangy, and juicy without being too light. Serve La Granja in some of those cool, modern juice glasses next time you have people over for a casual dinner and everyone will think you’re sophisticated without trying too hard. Use it for sangria, take it to parties — it’s so cheap you could bathe in it. (But that would be weird and probably sticky.) The white and sparkling from this line are less successful, but the reds are great. In Southern France, the Vieille Ferme wines (they make a red, white, and rosé) way outperform their sub-$6 price.

3. Skip the domestic ones.

The domestic wines from Trader Joe’s are much more of a toss-up. I honestly haven’t found much from California or Washington State from Trader Joe’s that I’ve liked. Please let me know in the comments if you have! I would love to be wrong about this and find some great TJ’s domestic wines I can recommend.

Have a wine strategy that wasn’t listed here? Let me know in the comments!