Hunting for Red Wine Bargains at Trader Joe’s

The Back Story:

So, even though I’ve recently been exploring the over $30 fare in wines, I felt like revisiting an experiment I conducted weeks ago. I went bargain hunting for wine, trying to spend less than $60 for 10 bottles of wine. This was all too easy, of course, with Trader Joe’s in town. Though they carry some fare up to and over $20, by and large their focus is on the sub $10 market. They’ve got several brands in the $4 to $6 range, roughly the price per bottle of a boxed wine.

While the cost of manufacturing a bottle of wine can vary greatly, if we assume they’re at least breaking even on the wine they’re selling, then they’re probably quickening or cheapening the wine-making process, not getting the most out of their grapes. This means they’re more at the mercy of the quality of the grapes themselves, so the quality will vary more from region to region and from year to year. No salvaging wine through reverse-osmosis, no cherry-picking (or grape-picking, I guess) the best fruit, no limiting yields.

The moral of the story? If you find a bargain wine you like, make sure you try it every year before you invest heavily in the next vintage. On the slate for today? 2007 Il Valore Sangiovese and 2009 La Finca Malbec.

The Results:

2007 Il Valore Sangiovese, from the Puglia region in Italy

The appearance of the wine is a very dark purplish-red, barely translucent. Appears fairly viscous.

The nose of the wine is very fruity, ripe red-fruits, with slight floral notes. It’s rather spicy, and the alcohol comes through a little hot at 12.5%.

The mouth feel of the wine is nothing special. It’s rather smooth, rather light-bodied, a little lacking in tannins and acidity but not terribly weak. Honestly, for $4, I’m satisfied if it has any character at all.

The flavor of the wine is rather soft, subdued. It’s red fruit forward, primarily cherries, with an herbal, peppery finish that’s shorter than average but not a complete disappointment. The sweetness of the wine comes through more than I would have liked, but with the simple flavor it’s not really an issue.


2009 La Finca Malbec, from the Uco Valley in Argentina

Finca La Celia has (thankfully) much more than just this wine

The appearance of this wine is a deep-purple with a reddish tinge at the edge of the glass. The depth of red increases greatly directly in the light.

The nose of the wine is unimpressive, to say the least. There’s a slight aroma of blackberry and vanilla, but by and large, even away from the glass, all I could get from this wine was an overwhelming scent of alcohol, much higher than you would expect at 13% alc.

The mouth feel of the wine is probably the best part. It’s very smooth and doesn’t feel too heavy compared to its lighter flavor.

The flavor of the wine was an utter disappointment. The nose portends the weak flavor, which has notes of red fruit and pepper but mostly just tastes of alcohol. The wine is a little harsh due to an imbalance in acidity, tannins, and alcohol, all of which are, sadly, too high for this wine’s meager flavor. You’ll taste more of the imbalanced aspects of this wine jousting than you will the wine itself.


For the Casual Drinker:

These guys are on two ends of the bargain medium-bodied red quality spectrum: the Sangiovese is a smooth drinker with great flavor and many pairing possibilities. You’d do well to pair it with tomato and cheese fare such as ravioli or pizza, so long as the sauce isn’t too spicy. The red fruit flavors are a definite crowd-pleaser, and the balance of the wine ensures that even the more experienced wine drinkers won’t have much to complain about. The Malbec, with its harsh flavor and heavy alcohol presence, is best left alone entirely. There’s little you can do to salvage this wine.

The Conclusion:

The Il Valore Sangiovese is a fantastic bargain wine at $4, and it would be worth pretty much any price under $10. It’s far too simple to warrant a higher score than 6/10, though. The La Finca Malbec, however, just doesn’t cut it, and I’d be hard-pressed, even at only $4, to award it higher than a 2/10. I’d be interested to try another vintage to see if perhaps the Uco Valley simply had an overly wet year during this wine’s production, as from what I gather, Finca La Celia usually has much better output than this wine. For 2009, though, I can only recommend leaving it on the shelf.


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