Wine Under $20

Seeking the best value for the buck.

We Tried Every Trader Joe's "Trader Moon" Wine

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[Photographs: Jessica Leibowitz]

My coworker recently told me he was going to a fancy wedding and needed something to wear. He had on a blue suit at the time and pointed to himself, saying, "If I can get this—in black—I think should be good to go." Somehow black just seems to make things fancier.

And Trader Joe's private label line of "Trader Moon" wines is no exception. Each bottle comes with a sleek black label revealing the wine's moon shape, moon color and oh-so-cute moon name (for instance, the Viognier is called "Honey Moon"...I couldn't help but give a little chuckle).

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But niceties aside, I was intrigued to see some of the lesser known grape varieties among the mix. We tried the Venetian moon (Pinot grigio), Bay moon (Sauvignon blanc), Honey moon (Viognier), Velvet moon (Cabernet Sauvignon), Tuscan moon (Sangiovese), and Old moon (Zinfandel), although the options change from year to year and shop to shop. And while a few of the wines were forgettable, we were pleasantly surprised by a couple of bottles that, for $6 each, we'd be happy to pick up again.

I'll note that we took the pop-and-pour approach with these bottles, which was fine for most of the whites, but the reds clearly got better with some air time and swirling in the glass. Check out the winners:

Favorite White: Bay Moon (Sauvignon Blanc)

The wine had a sweet, fruity aroma, like ripe white peaches and hints of pear, but the flavor was much less sweet than we expected. There was a definite herbaceous and grassy quality, which was a good reminder that this was Sauvignon Blanc and not "generic white wine".

The bright acidity and slight lemon-pith-like bitterness lwas in balance for this wine, making it easy to drink on its own (though we'd happily drink it with seafood or an endive or arugula salad with a lightly lemony vinaigrette.) While we wouldn't call this a super complex wine, it's clearly a good deal for 6 dollars (as one taster noted, the Bay Moon was easily twice as good as the Three-Buck Chuck we gulped down at the classy college events).

Favorite Red: Velvet Moon (Cabernet Sauvignon)

This 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon poured out into the glass with a clear ruby color, which hinted at the smooth, silky tannins we'd experience once we tasted it. The initial aromas of sour cherry and cranberry aired out within a few minutes to make way for sweeter scents of caramel and butterscotch. Fortunately, these oaky characteristics didn't translate into over-oaked flavor. The fruity, ripe bing cherry flavors were laced with subtle vanilla and savory notes of bay leaf.

While we could feel a bit of alcohol in the back of the throat, we found this wine balanced enough to drink without food. But this wine did seem more full bodied than the other red options we tasted, so feel free to serve it with a meaty stew.

Honorable Mention: Honey Moon (Viognier)

As an amateur wine taster, I feel I have to call attention to the Viognier. If you ever think to yourself, "I'm not really a wine person", perhaps you just need more options that jive with what you already like. I've come across many friends, coworkers, and near strangers that discover that what works for them are lighter and sweeter white wines. If that sounds familiar, the Honey Moon might be a good option for you to try, without venturing too far outside your comfort zone.

This wine is pleasantly sweet smelling. The first few sips offered tropical fruit flavors (including banana) that with more time mellowed out to reveal ripe apricot notes. The warm taste of honey on the finish not only let this wine live up to its name, but also gave it a unique complexity that was lacking in some of the other wines. This was definitely a sweeter wine, but that can make it especially tasty with some slightly sweet and spicy dishes, including Thai food, Vietnamese food, and others.

What about you? Have you ever bought Trader Moon wine? Any favorites to tell us about? 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.

More Trader Joe's Wine and Beer

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New Beer: Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale
Cheap Lager at Trader Joe's: Name Tag, Simpler Times, and La Playa

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