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We Tried Every Trader Joe's Private Label Coastal Wine

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[Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Having recently visited a Trader Joe's in San Francisco as well as the TJ's wine shop in New York City, I was surprised to discover how many different private label wines this chain has to offer. Even aside from the infamous Two-Buck Chuck series (which Serious Eaters tasted their way through a few months back), Trader Joes' spectrum of budget-friendly house-branded wines is impressively extensive.

Below is a list of the house-brand offerings we've seen recently at Trader Joes, from least to most expensive:

  • Charles Shaw ($2.99): 2 or 3 Buck Chuck, fruity, simple, and sometimes even drinkable. For our recommendations, look here.
  • Trader Joe's Coastal ($4.99): These California-made bottles are supposed to offer more "cooler-climate" wines.
  • VINTJS ($5.99-$8.99): Cute name, huh? This label highlights the fact that TJ's purchases select quantities of vintages from anonymous "wineries of pedigree"
  • Trader Joe's Petit Reserve ($6.99)
  • Trader Joe's Reserve ($9.99)
  • Trader Joe's Grand Reserve ($12.99+)

*Prices may vary a little within each line. There are also a few more lines available at select stores (e.g., Trader Moon at around $6 each and ViƱas Chilenas closer to $4). Each store might not stock exactly every wine within every line, so be prepared for that when visiting your local shop.

We had to wonder: how much do these wines really improve as you climb the price ladder? Are there any good bottles among the house-branded wines at Trader Joe's? Could any of these wines be worth buying in bulk for Thanksgiving? We splurged a little and picked up every wine in their Coastal line to put it to the test.

Here's how they fared.

Favorite White: Trader Joe's Coastal Chardonnay

The Coastal Chardonnay was a flavorful and pretty balanced option to consider for serving at Thanksgiving. The vibrant acidity lifted up ripe peach and apple flavors, and though it had a buttery richness with hints of vanilla coming through, we didn't find it overly oaked or cloyingly sweet.

This wine had a bit of alcoholic burn at the back of the throat, but it was not nearly as abrasive as the burn from the TJ's Coastal Sauvignon Blanc. Skip that one and choose this softer, smoother, Chardonnay.

Favorite Red: Trader Joe's Coastal Merlot

If you're serving a large crowd at Thanksgiving, TJ's Coastal Merlot works as a crowd pleaser, especially for those who tend toward white wine instead of red. It's smooth and easy-drinking, though some might find the sweet oaky caramel aroma offputting. But for $5, we enjoyed the dark cherry fruit flavor and hints of holiday-appropriate warm baking spices.

This bottle offers very soft tannins, with just a tinge of dryness coming through at the finish. The acidity was also somewhat mellow, but was adequate to stay in check with the other elements of this wine. It works with food (or without) and most of us would be happy to shell out 5 dollars for this bottle again.

Honorable Mention: Trader Joe's Coastal Zinfandel

Although our group of tasters voted the Merlot as the favorite red, we wanted to call out another option for those of you wanting to go in a different direction than "easy drinking." With more structure and heft than the Merlot, the Coastal Zinfandel is more of a red wine for red wine drinkers.

This wine offered a savory, earthy scent which transferred to the flavor. With a stronger bite from the acidity—balanced by less perceived alcohol than the Merlot—this wine would be even better with food, especially a slice of succulent turkey and a hearty portion of stuffing. The acidity helped the fruit flavors of plum and a touch of bing cherry come through, without seeming too jammy or boring. This Zin has enough character to stand up to a Thanksgiving dinner—and we just might pick up a few bottles for the feast.

Have you tried the Trader Joe's Coastal line or their other private label wines? Do you have a favorite? Let us know in the comments section!


About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.

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