The Trader Joe’s at 640 W. 17th St. in Costa Mesa has the distinction of having the chain’s first in-store wine-tasting bar in the country. Opened about four years ago, it has become so popular that several more such tasting bars have since opened in other California Trader Joe’s.
The Costa Mesa location is the only one in Orange County, however, and I’m told that many dedicated TJ’s shoppers travel to this very busy store just to experience it.
It doesn’t hurt that this location also has the largest wine selection (about 500) of any local TJ’s, and stocks every wine the chain offers (other stores have a more limited selection).
The wine-tasting bar, staffed by friendly and enthusiastic Hawaiian-shirt-clad staff, is open daily from 1 to 7 p.m., and usually has three or four wines available for tasting, although shoppers are limited to two. Pours are in 1-ounce cups, and accompanied by crackers and other snacks.
I thoroughly enjoy this unpretentious wine-merchandising program. Displays of featured wines include hand-written, informative descriptions without snobby wine-critic scores. Prices are unbeatable, particularly for wines bottled under the Trader Joe’s label and featured “hustle buys.” The latter are from wineries trying to clear their inventory. They’re available for a short time, and sold at deep discounts. The Trader Joe’s-labeled wines are significantly discounted from well-known producers whose names are kept secret to protect their own label pricing.
Trader Joe’s may be well known for it’s “Two-Buck Chuck” Charles Shaw wines, but the store offers many more interesting labels, including those from premium wine producers such as La Crema and Belle Glos. Here are two reds I sampled, bottled under the Trader Joe’s Reserve label, both of which offer reasonable quality at a modest price.
2013 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Lot #23 Carneros Sonoma County Pinot Noir $13). Pleasant aromas of black cherry, strawberry, and toasty oak lead to a mid-weight core of juicy dark cherry fruit. Subtle notes of anise, cola, and grilled mushroom add interest, and the finish delivers a pleasing burst of cherry. This wine is decent and what you would expect at this price point for pinot noir.
2013 Trader Joe’s Reserve Lot #117 Bennett Valley Sonoma County Malbec ($10). A dark, violet-colored, well-endowed wine with pleasing aromas and flavors of boysenberry, ollaliberry, blueberry, dark chocolate, vanilla, and spice. The fruit has respectable attack and finishing power, and its gritty tannins lend good structure. This is a wine that competes favorably with the en vogue malbecs from Argentina in this price range.