Wine blogger Jason: Top wine picks at Trader Joe's
A very useful resources I've found online is Jason's Wine Blog which lists reviews of Trader Joe's wines as well as regular "Trader Joe's Top Ten" lists (see if your favorites are there!). Jason is a self-described "professional consumer" who writes about what he loved (and didn't). His tasting notes and ratings are accessible and easy to understand. If you're on twitter, you can follow him @jasonswineblog for useful tips and picks. I recently had the chance to interview Jason and get some valuable insights into exploring and enjoying wines from Trader Joe's.
Deana: What makes Trader Joe's wine section stand out for you compared to other stores?
Jason: In a word, value. True, to find it you are searching for the needle in the haystack. In the meantime, my analysis (of 250+ bottles sampled) shows that 98% of Trader Joe’s wines, while nothing special to a connoisseur, are perfectly quaffable to the vast majority of the wine drinking public. And furthermore 30% percent are worthy of buying again. When asked to describe why I blog in a sentence I often fall back to this mantra: “focused on filtering through the masses of wines to find those that deliver tremendous value to the wallet and the palate.” For more on my thoughts you might be interested in reading my guest post on The Wellesley Wine Press: Is Trader Joe's a Good Place to Buy Wine?
Deana: What is your advice to novice wine drinkers who want to explore the selections at TJs?
Jason: Start simple. To quickly get an idea of what you like here’s my recommendation. Pick three wineries, I recommend the following if you are brand new to wine: Charles Shaw, Columbia Crest and Geyser Peak. Buy a bottle each of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A case of wine with the recommended wineries would run you $72 (in CA). These are the four most widely available grapes you’ll see in both the store and restaurants so best to get to know them first.
Before you open the first one check out Cellar Tracker. A great place to get tasting notes for just about any wine under the sun. More importantly a place to start a log of your own. That’s right. You can start with I liked it or I didn’t but if you want to learn, take notes from day one. If interested, here are some tasting tools to help you along the way. If not, go ahead and skip it, drink up and enjoy.
Deana: A lot of people sweat over how to pair wines with meals. Do you have some basic tips?
Jason: Three rules: 1) Spicy = Sweet (especially with Asian fare. Grab a Riesling or a Gewurzt) 2) Seafood = White or low alcohol red(traditional rules say if red only Pinot but others under 13% or so work as well) 3) Red Meat = whatever you want (from the darkest red to the lightest white almost anything works). Despite these three simple rules I often search for cheat sheets of my own, especially for foreign wines. As of late, Nat Decants Food & Wine Matcher has been my favorite as it allows you to search by food or, in my case more importantly, by wine. If any readers have a source you like let me know in the comments!
Deana: What are your current favorites from Trader Joe's?
Jason: I track my favorites as part of my Trader Joe's Top 10 Wine List. My current top choice is the Castle Rock Mendocino County Pinot Noir. The top rated white at #3 is the King Shag Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Be sure to check the list for the rest and let me know if I am missing any of your favorites…
Deana: For a big party, which wine gives the biggest bang for the fewest dollars?
Jason: Just one, toughie. Though I love many I’d have to choose the Chariot Gypsy ($5). This one is a lively, bright and juicy effort with loads of fruit. Certainly an easy drinking, summer BBQ wine. Easily comparable to a $12 bottle (some say $30) this should be a crowd pleaser.
Thanks Jason! Cheers!