The Lowdown on Trader Joe’s Pinot Noir
Trader Joe’s is a remarkably successful grocery store chain that as of October 28, 2016, had 460 stores with
half in California (the most located in Southern California), and the rest in 40 other states and Washington D.C..
The original Trader Joe’s was opened 49 years ago in Pasadena by Joe Coulombe and named Trader Joe’s to
evoke images of the South Seas. Today, it is owned by Germany’s Albrecht family. Total sales in 2009 were
roughly $8 billion, about the same as the Whole Foods grocery chain and was number 314 on Fortune 500 list.
Wine was originally a major part of the store’s inventory and at one time his store had one of the world’s largest
stock of California wines. I can remember back in the 1970s when Trader Joe’s had a store in Santa Ana,
California. The wine department occupied a significant part of the store and many wine aficionados, including
myself, shopped there regularly for California wine because of the large selection and reasonable prices.
Today, there is a wine department in each store with an extensive collection of domestic and foreign wines,
wine tasting bars in some stores (see photo below of store in Costa Mesa, CA), and even a free standing
Trader Joe’s Wine Shop in New York’s Union Square adjacent a Trader Joe’s Market that is very busy
according to Yelp.
There are still some mass market wines from well-known wineries offered in the wine department at Trader
Joe’s, but these are usually more expensive, making Trader Joe’s own labels seem like better deals.
The biggest selling wine by far at Trader Joe’s is Charles Shaw, produced by Bronco Wine in California, with
sales over 800 million bottles since it debuted at $1.99 in 2002. Trader Joe’s is the exclusive seller of the
Charles Shaw line of varietals (no Pinot Noir) that have become known as “Two-Buck Chuck.” The wines are
no longer priced at less than two dollars, but are still priced below three dollars a bottle.
Beyond the Charles Shaw wines, that are displayed in case boxes for easy case purchase and take out, and in
keeping with the store’s emphasis on its own brand names, many of the wines that are now stocked are offered
under Trader Joe’s own label or private labels with fetching names. Trader Joe’s is a négociant that buys wine
someone else makes and sells it under its own label. The wine may be declassified by the winery as not
meeting their highest standards, it may be excessive wine production in a certain vintage, or it may have been
produced in a manner directed by the négociant for the private label purpose. These private label wines are
sold at a significant discount as they are obtained directly from wineries without a middle distributor.
Some examples of private label Pinot Noir at Trader Joes are Cherry Blossom California Pinot Noir ($3.99,
produced by Bronco Wines), Liberté San Louis Obispo County Pinot Noir ($9.99, Malbec and Syrah added),
Moon X Black California Pinot Noir ($6.99), Cotillion Tri-County California Pinot Noir ($9.99), Green Fin
California Pinot Noir ($4.99) and VINTJS Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($8.99).
There are also Pinot Noirs bottled under the Trader Joe’s name. These wines often carry designations such as
“Reserve,” Petite Reserve,” “Grand Reserve,” and “Platinum Reserve,” with Platinum Reserve being the top of
the line and the most expensive at about $15. Reserve, of course, is an unregulated term that has no legal
definition and is essentially meaningless.
Like all products in the store offered under Trader Joe’s proprietary labels, the producer of the Trader Joe’s
private label wines is not allowed to publicize its business relationship. As pointed out in a Fortune magazine
article, www.fortune.com/2010/08/23/inside-the-secret-world-of-trader-joes/, Trader Joe’s is secretive about its
products including wine. The Albrecht family has never given a major story about their business, and Trader
Joe’s does not want its shoppers or competitors to know who makes their products.
Labels are in important in choosing wine as the more information you can gather, the better your odds of
finding a good wine at a good price. The problem is, the labels on Trader Joe’s wines offer little useful
information other than the region or appellation of origin, the ABV and occasionally the case production. The
back label may offer the words, “Vinted and bottled by,” and the name of a producer that usually has no
physical facility and means that the producer or winery on the label had little or nothing to do with making the
Deciphering the Producer of a Wine
“Produced and bottled by”: By law, 75% or more of the wine in the bottle must be made (fermented) by the producer listed on the label at the stated address.
“Made and bottled by”: At least 75% of the wine has been made (fermented by) the winery listed on the label at the stated address.
“Vinted and bottled by”: The winery on the label may have had very little to do with making the wine at the stated address.
“Cellared and bottled by”: The same as vinted in that the company or winery name on the label did not make the wine, only subjecting the wine to cellar treatment before bottling at the stated address. (Note: if a California based vintner makes a wine from the Willamette Valley of Oregon the label must say “cellared and bottled by if Willamette Valley designated, but the label can say, “produced and bottled by” if the broader Oregon AVA term is on the label)
“Cellared by or Vinted by”: The wine was aged or cellared before bottling. If the label does not have a winery of its own, it can only claim “cellared and bottled by.”
“Bottled by”: The company listed on the label did not make the wine and only bottled it at the stated address.
“Estate bottled”: The winery on the label owns or controls 100% of the grapes that went into the bottle (either the grapes are grown by the producer on its own land or from a vineyard that the winery controls 100% via a long-term lease) and the wine was crushed, fermented, finished, aged and bottled all in the same place and the place has to be located in the same viticultural area that is stated on the label.”
“Estate grown”: The winery controls all the grape growing on its land but does not ferment or bottle on its property.
Here is some advice regarding purchases of Trader Joe’s Pinot Noir (applies to other varietals as well).
(1) The Trader Joe’s labeled wines may carry a “Lot #” designation. You must pay close attention to this
number when you are repurchasing a wine you liked as the Lot # will change with each vintage and there
may be multiple lots of the same appellation Pinot Noir within a vintage.
(2) The selection of wines varies from store to store.
(3) If you find a wine you like, it is advisable to repurchase it soon as stock changes on the private labeled
(4) You won’t find scores on any of the wines, only brief descriptions of the flavor profile on shelf tags. The
wines are not submitted for review or reviewed in any of the major wine publications.
(5) Don’t even think about any Pinot Noir priced less than $9.99 unless you need something to serve relatives
who know nothing about wine. The cheaper wines often have generous oak overlay in place of fruit quality.
(6) The Trader Joe’s private label wines are hit or miss. By that, I mean you will be frequently disappointed, but
you may occasionally find a good or even very good Pinot Noir in the $9.99 - $14.99 range. None of the
private label Pinot Noirs can match up with premium Pinot Noir produced by so many domestic wineries,
with most Trader Joe’s Pinot Noirs falling in the “Good” (80-85 score) category, and occasionally “Very
Good” (86-89 score) range. Most often, the Pinot Noirs bottled under the Trader Joe’s name have the best
chance of pleasing you, particularly the ones priced at $14.99. I would use the term “innocuous” or
“quaffable” for the Pinot Noirs and this is a credit to their QPR ratio.
(7) The best private label Pinot Noirs are on the first or second shelf in the wine department racks.
(8) Information on Trader Joe’s Pinot Noirs is hard to come by. Online there is the Trader Joe’s Wine Insider at
www.traderjoes.com/digin/category/WineInsider where a few wines are reviewed but only reflect a typical
retailer’s enthusiasm for every wine. Those on the Trader Joe’s mailing list, can receive the monthly
Fearless Flyer that also features a description of select wines. This is also available online at
www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/category/11. There are also wine blogs such as Trader Joe’s Wine
Compendium at www.traderjoeswine.blogspot.com. You will not find in-depth information about any of the
Trader Joe’s private label wines from any source. That may not be important to you if you are only spending
$10 for a quaffable Pinot Noir.
Here are reviews of six private label Trader Joe’s Pinot Noirs that I bought at my local store (Tustin, CA) in the
past two weeks.
2014 Upper Eden Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $12.99. Produced and bottled by Upper
Eden Wines, Soledad, CA.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The nose is not unpleasant but
offers little cheer, with only restrained aromas of cherry and rose petal. A simple wine with black cherry and
black raspberry flavors in an easily quaffable style with silky tannins and welcome balance.
2014 Trader Joe’s Reserve Lot #109 Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $9.99. Vinted and bottled by
Reluctant Wine Co., Arroyo Grande, CA.
purple color in the glass. Perfumed with aromas of black
raspberry, blackberry, spice, and vanilla, picking up more oak
notes over time in the glass. Velvety and lush on the palate,
with good fruit intensity and drive. Nicely balanced array of
purple and black fruits with a hint of oak toast and spice, finishing with
good roundness. Impressive harmony. Over delivers for the price.
2014 Trader Joe’s Platinum Reserve Lot #33 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 5,000 cases,
$14.99. Cellared and bottled by The Vine Intervention, Napa, CA.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the
glass. Aromas of cherry and baking spices with a bit of apple core. Silky smooth on the palate in a cherrydriven
mid weight styled wine. Easy going, with gentle tannins, a shallow mid palate and a very modest finish.
2014 Trader Joe’s Platinum Reserve Lot #66 Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 2,000 cases,
$14.99. Estate grown and produced by Eris Vineyards, Napa, CA.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the
glass. Blackberry fruit aromas are accented with scents of earthy flora and toasty barrel. Highly flavorful, with
plenty of black cherry and exotic spice notes to please. The fruit is nicely framed by silky tannins and there is
noticeable length on the finish. A bit too much barrel on the nose, but the oak is better integrated on the palate.
Well worth the money.
2015 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Lot #23 Carneros Pinot Noir
13.9%, $12.99. Bottled by Carneros
Cellars, Napa, CA.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Fruity aromas of black cherry lead to a
mid weight core of black cherry fruit framed by modest tannins. Not appreciable depth or nuance, but true to
the varietal, balanced and offers a modest but pleasing finish. A decent value.
2015 VINTJS Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $8.99. Vinted and bottled by ABJ Wines,
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Primarily oak-derived aromas of smoke,
mulch and graham with a slight note of cherry. Drinkable in a mid weight style, but little depth of cherry flavor,
little complexity, and sparse length on the finish. The muscular tannins are aggressive.
Other Pinot Noirs tasted in 2016:
2014 Cotillion California Pinot Noir 13.8% alc., $9.99. Vinted and bottled by Ashford Court, Napa, CA. 85.
2014 Sphere Monterey County Pinot Noir 13.8% alc., $6.99. Said to be crafted by “a winemaker with deep
roots in California wine country.” 87.
2014 Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Lot #57 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 14.2% alc., $14.99. Cellared
and bottled by DNA Vineyards, Ukiah, CA. 88.
The best Trader Joe’s private label Pinot Noir I have tasted in the past two years is one I reviewed in April of
this year. It is still available at Trader Joe’s.
2014 Ocean View San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $14.99. Produced and bottled by Sinor-LaVallee in
Arroyo Grande by noted winemaker Mike Sinor for Trader Joe’s
markets. Sourced from the Estate Ocean View Vineyard
located only 1.3 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The nose
opens nicely with swirling, offering engaging aromas of dark red and
black berries, spice, briar and a subtle salinity. A giving and satisfying
mid weight wine with flavors of blackberry, black raspberry, spice and
anise framed by ruddy tannins. Silky on the palate with good cut, subtle
oak seasoning, and a satisfying finish with some length. Still highly
enjoyable the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle. This wine could easily bring three times the price.