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Trading Down at Joe’s

Trader Joe's Paper Bag Sign I gave it my best shot. For the last several weeks I’ve been working through the wines at Trader Joe’s hoping upon hope to find a deal. Yet wine after wine was hopelessly thin, bland industrial plonk or out-and-out faulted. Didn’t anybody ever teach whoever is tasting these wines what brett is all about? Trader Joe’s offers few deals on wine. A “deal” should mean good wine at a low price not crappy wine at a low price. In fact, the $5 wines at Trader Joe’s are overpriced. Without a doubt the best way to find a real wine bargain is to establish a relationship with a local wine merchant that cares about wine and you. That means finding a specialist – someone whose livelihood depends on wine. In other words good luck finding a real deal at Trader Joe’s. You’ll find a lot of cheap wine, some with well known names, but few good values.

castoro logo Yet among all the industrial and/or faulted plonk at Trader Joe’s I discovered a gem. As a lover of Côtes du Rhône, Dolcetto and Barbera as everyday wines I have searched and searched for American equivalents, but with few successes. What’s doubly amazing is that I found such a good wine in a temple of wine mediocrity (or worse) like Trader Joe’s. The 2005 Castoro Cellars Reserve Syrah, Paso Robles is one of the best deals in American wine I’ve ever tasted. Juicy, fresh and just plain delicious with clear varietal personality and all for well under $15 (actual price hidden to protect the innocent). I’m headed back tomorrow to grab a couple of cases because a better everyday American wine I’ve yet to taste. Not a great wine, but a damn good one to have with a burger on Tuesday night or a Friday night pizza, which, as we usually forget in the the United States, is what wine is all about. A good glass of wine elevates a simple meal and our spirits. That’s why they made Bacchus a god. The Castoro Syrah is a very good glass of wine and a great value. Castoro Cellars is to be admired for producing wines that should be easy to make in California, but that most producers seem incapable of achieving.

Trader Joe’s has a few great deals, like the Castoro Cellars Syrah, but the vast majority of their wines are bad deals. To be a bargain, a wine should have to taste good. At Joe’s you’re trading price for quality, which is not a fair trade.