TJ’s, the well-accepted nickname for Trader Joe’s, has long been a go-to for affordable wine. When I was a young summer intern in NYC, we used to get cases of 2 Buck Chuck and take a couple bottles to Bryant Park on Monday nights to watch the HBO outdoor movie screenings and nibble on pungent cheese, hummus, and charcuterie. Yes, since we were all on a tight budget, I admit our aspirations were bougie, but we felt some kind of fabulous sipping wine and watching a “cultured” black and white film.
Now that I am older and have better taste buds, I buy better wine and TJ’s is a place with some serious wine game. The only problem is if you just make a random purchase, you end up drinking cheap, nasty wine.
beer, so I am not sure it’s always an acceptable excuse for wine. However, since a bottle of Sancerre at TJ’s is cheaper than a glass, I’ll give it an honorable mention if you must have Sancerre, but I am not co-signing like the staff member that tried to sell me this wine. Case in point: When I arrived at my local TJ’s to do some research, I found they were doing a Sancerre tasting. Sancerre is literally $16-$22 a glass in NYC and it is quite expensive at every wine store. So, it should come as no surprise, that I was thoroughly disappointed by the $12.99 Domaine de la Jolie Sancerre that I sampled seconds after entering the store. I admit that it may be more palatable colder, but that is also my solution for crappy
Instead, I waited for a couple shift changes and found employees with better palates and wine knowledge. Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t trust the staff. But, I would recommend asking about a bottle that you know well first. If you sharply disagree, don’t take their advice as they probably don’t understand your palate.
To try to avoid bias, I made several trips, made fabulous and questionable purchases, and, finally, I have a list of great wines for the holidays with the help of many a gifted TJ employee.
Now, I know that Champagne is traditional for celebration, but sparkling wine is made all around the world, so I think it is time to be more flexible.
Trader Joe’s Reserve North Coast Brut (12.5%, California), $9.99
TJ’s is constantly trying to improve and is stepping towards selling finer wine endorsed by its name by making a brand called Trader Joe’s Reserve. Trust, it is way, way better than Two Buck Chuck—hence the fancier name. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier are combined to make a brut that has notes of green apple and pink grapefruit and crispy apple and tart berry flavor.
Schloss Biebrich Sekt (11%, Wiesbaden, Germany), $5.99
Did you know that Germans actually consume more sparkling wine per capita than anywhere else in the world? Taste this sparkling wine and you’ll know why. On the nose, you get a hint of crispy green apple and citrus. Then, you taste a bit of juicy pear with lemon as your mouth enjoys the luxuriously finessed fizzy bubbles. If this sounds good, please note they also have a Rosé for $6.99.
Hanging Vine Lodi Parcel #109 (13.1%, St Helena, California – 2015), $13.99
Merlots are the accountants of wine. They are not always the biggest attraction, but Hanging Vine is enjoyable if you must. It is medium bodied with rich hints of chocolate.
Bogle Vineyards (13.5%, Clarksburg, California – 2015), $7.99
If Hanging Vine is a stretch for your pocket, you can rely on Bogle Vineyards. This vineyard makes a lot of wines and they are always a crowd pleaser. It will give you dark berries on the nose, smoked tobacco and chocolate with just a hint of sweetness on the tongue.
Pinot Cotillion (13.8%, Monterey, Sonoma, Santa Barbara Counties, California – 2015), $9.99
“Sideways” helped make Pinot Noir a highly desired grape because the picky nature of the grape so well represented how damaged and finicky humans can be. Well, Pinot Cotillion seems to be trying to outsmart the grape. The producer blends three different terroirs to bring the best of what a Pinot Noir has to offer. The result is a light to medium body, bright red cherry and vanilla on the palate, and a smooth but lingering finish.
Josh (13.5%, Hopland, California – 2015), $12.99
Josh Cellars Wines is an All-American winemaker whose owner is melting hearts daily on YouTube, as he explains that the wine is inspired by his father. This Cabernet is medium bodied, a little jammy with cassis, spicy at the finish, smooth overall. Well done!
Cuartel Reserva (14%, Valle Central, Chile – 2015), $8.99
If you are going to go down in price, you’re best of going abroad. Chilean Cabernets are known for their thick skin which creates fruit-forward wine on the nose and palate with high tannins. Cuartel has a silky smooth texture with cherry and cassis on the palate and green peppers on the nose.
There is no wine I love more during the holidays than a Malbec. It is bold, spicy and drinkable with or without food.
Broquel by Trapiche (14.5%, Mendoza, Argentina), $12.99
Trapiche actually has a cheaper Malbec that just goes buy Trapiche, so Broquel is the more grown-up Malbec with a more robust palate. This is why it is the perfect red to bring to a holiday party as it is spicy with notes of vanilla and chocolate, jammy, and rich with flavor. It will make Malbec virgins fall in love and be a great talking point for lovers of the grape.
Gascon (12.5%, Mendoza, Argentina – 2016), $9.99
If you need to go under $10, try Gascon instead. It is more intense than the cheaper Trapiche. You’ll get similar spice and fruity flavors, but it will certainly be a lighter wine than the Broquel. Gascon also has an $18.99 2015 Reserve that is measured up well to the Broquel, but for $18.99 you could buy wine at any other wine shop or two to three bottle of wine at TJ’s.
Mezzacorana (12.5%, Trentino, Italy), $6.99
This Northern Italian wine will give you everything you love about Pinot Grigio. It has fruity stone fruit notes and crisp minerality.
Contadino Vivace (12%, Veneto, Italy), $5.99
If you need something drier, how about something semi-sparkling, fruity on the nose but not at all sweet? This effervescent dry wine is perfect for a person searching for something similar to a dry crisp Riesling.
Kim Crawford (12.5%, Marlborough, New Zealand), $12.99
Sancerre is great, but Marlborough, New Zealand is also known as a region of praise-worthy Sauvignon Blancs. One such gem is the Kim Crawford at $12.99, which is frequently priced at $18-20 elsewhere. It is a Wine Enthusiast Wine of the year with bright, fresh stone fruit notes, herbaceous flavors, and crisp acidity. I love this wine because it has a refined and mature flavor that you don’t find at happy hour. Plus, it comes in a cute golden holiday bottle while supplies last.
Oyster Bay (12.5%, Marlborough, New Zealand – 2017), $9.99
Oyster Bay is basically Kim Crawford’s more affordable cousin. You’ll get a lighter body, bright, green apple and cut grass notes, and crisp acidity on the tongue.
Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay (13.5%, California – 2015), $12.99
This Kendall is not Kardashian famous, but it has been around the block. I have seen it at weddings, corporate events, and now at TJ’s. The price quote is a steal so don’t hold back if you are looking for a friendly name. It delivers light toasted oak, peach, and mango on the tongue with vanilla notes and a full body. Please note, this wine has a bit of residual sugar.
Phantom from Bogle Vineyards (14.5%, Clarksburg, California – 2016), $15.99
Now, I have searched long and hard for Chardonnay like this one. At first sip, it hits you with vanilla and caramel on the nose. Then, it is creamy with pear and apple on the tongue and oaky like silk without being too sweet and has a clean finish. It is incredibly drinkable on its own or with food. The employee that showed me this had to stop and take a moment after remembering drinking it. This wine is definitely a sensual experience that will be must-have for Christmas!
Bogle (13.5%, Clarksburg, California – 2016), $7.99
If you cannot afford Phantom, try its cheaper cousin from the same vineyard. It is still creamy and buttery with balanced acidity and a hint of Barnett pear flavor.
And there you have it. I certainly cannot wait to sip these wines this Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The only thing better than the quality will be remembering that money isn’t everything, but I find few who complain about having too much of it after the holidays end. Right? Right.
Related Video: Steal This Quick Wine-Cooling Trick from Ina Garten
This post was originally published on December 1, 2017.
Header image courtesy of The Wine Idiot.