It’s finally spring, right?! We’re on the edge of rosé and grilling season, but threats of rain and snow showers keep creeping into the forecast. Fortunately, after a cold commute home you can pour a glass of wine and imagine you’re somewhere else. So, to help ease into the season, I spent some time at my local Trader Joe’s to see if I could find some springtime wine to help with that escape.
After obsessing, studying and writing about wine for more than five years, my system for finding good bottles is fairly simple: I just look for wines that are similar to wines I know are delicious. For example: Is the wine from a region I've enjoyed before? Do I recognize the producer? Does the label or shelf talker (those little write-ups under each wine on the store shelves) mention flavors or details I find interesting (keywords such as “old vines,” “cool-climate,” “unoaked” are just a few). And I admit, an interesting label design can still pique my curiosity. Wine geeks like me love the thrill of discovering new things, so taking a risk here and there can be part of the fun.
When you hit the wine section, don’t be afraid to pick up the bottles that speak to you, but here are my picks (after tasting through more than a dozen I narrowed down from spending more than an hour looking through the entire wine section) for the best and mostly affordable wines you can buy at Trader Joe’s this season.
1. Cecilia Beretta Spumante Rosé, $7.99
Before walking into Trader Joe’s I already planned to purchase a specific sparkling rosé: the North Coast Brut Rosé. I had seen it highly recommended from some other wine enthusiasts I follow online, and as a fan of wines from the North Coast (think Mendocino/Napa/Sonoma regions of Northern California), I was confident it would be great. But just my luck, it was sold out, and when the Trader Joe's associate called another local store for me, we discovered it was sold out there, too. So, I did the next best thing and took her advice for something different, and I’m glad I did. This sparkling wine from Italy pours into the glass with a fizzy foam layered over a pale salmon color. The bubbles quickly dissipate into a crisp sip that finishes with some subtle strawberries. It would be a perfect start to any springtime brunch.
2. Vignobles Lacheteau Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, $6.99
Muscadet is a white wine from the Loire Valley in France known for its minerality (think flavors of damp river rock) and salinity (slight saltiness). It’s usually quite light and pairs beautifully with seafood. And this bottle is exactly that: easy to drink, with some floral aromas that bring a bit of brightness to those gray-not-quite-spring-but-it-should-be days.
3. La Peña de España Blanco, $5.99
This Spanish white blend is evenly made with Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Verdejo (a Spanish grape), and Chardonnay. Each grape imparts a fun characteristic to the wine, whether it's a bit of acidity for structure, some aromas of grass and florals, to flavors of pears and citrus fruits. The wine immediately made me long for a Saturday afternoon picnic.
4. Emma Reichart Rosé, $4.99
What’s a springtime wine list without rosé? This bottle, made in Germany of Pinot Noir grapes has a slightly tart cherry finish, with an herbal freshness and notes of summertime red fruit. It's refreshing qualities are slightly restrained, so it's a wine that will make you start thinking about warmer days, without actually making you long for summer.
5. Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages, $9.99
The first reason to try this wine is because Louis Jadot is a famed producer from Burgundy dating back to the 1850s. The second reason is because it's a Beaujolais (note: these are not the fruity sweet Beaujolais nouveau wines that are released each November). Often a bit lighter than Pinot Noir, and best served with a slight chill, these wines are always a great value compared to their Burgundy counterparts. But this bottle was a bit unexpected: Brooding dark fruit that evolved after a bit of time in the glass, eventually revealing a smoky, cranberry palate. Much like our spring weather so far, it’s a little moody, but there’s a promise of enjoyment with a little patience.
6. La Paca Sonriente Garnacha, 2016, $6.99
Even wine geeks like me will fall for a fun label every now and then, and this La Paca Sonriente Garnacha did it with its whimsical drawing of a person’s profile by the beak of a hummingbird (and I’ll admit, I didn’t even notice the hummingbird when I first took the bottle off the shelf). The Trader Joe’s shelf talker called this “bold and complex with a savory nose, and blueberry notes,” however I found the nose to be more floral. The palate was indeed bold, but not too dark. While it’s not necessarily a wine to think of for spring, there wouldn’t be a reason not to drink this anytime of year.
7. Ravenswood Vintners Blend “Old Vine” Zinfandel, $7.99
Now that grilling season is almost here, I wanted to find a bottle to pair with some burgers, so I scanned the Zinfandel section to find a medium-bodied red and immediately spotted Ravenswood, the 40-year-old California winery that made such an impact on the California wine industry that it’s part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s permanent collection. For just the sense that you’re sipping something with historical significance, this bottle is a fun buy. But its dark cherries and spicy finish had me grabbing a second glass.
8. Sainte Celine Chablis, $12.99
Chablis is made from Chardonnay grapes, but unlike the oaky-buttery Chardonnay you may think of, this is its opposite. The cooler-climate of this Burgundy region of France gives the wine more acidity (which gives the wine structure). This particular bottle is also “unoaked” which means the wine won’t have any vanilla or toast flavors that come from aging the wine in oak barrels. So even before I poured the wine, I had a clear idea it would be a good choice. And it did not disappoint. The Sainte Celine has aromas of citrus, which quickly turn into flavors of apples and pears on the palate.
9. A to Z Pinot Noir, $14.99
Pinot Noirs make for great springtime reds. They’re much lighter than the hefty Cabernets and Syrahs you may have been drinking during the colder months making for a nice transition between seasons. Pinots, like most reds, also taste better with a little bit of age, so when I spotted this Oregon Pinot was from the 2014 vintage I was intrigued (Most of the other bottles surrounding it on the shelves were younger). The A to Z was the prettiest wine I tasted among this bunch. It’s full of bright cherries with enough complexities, such as herbal and black tea notes from its mild tannins, to interest a wine geek yet not distract anyone who just wants to sip something light.
10. Miraval Rosé, $20.99
Launched in 2013 by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, this wine has fortunately outlasted their marriage. It’s a classic rosé from Provence, the premier region in France for rosé, and despite the celebrity ownership and fanfare, it consistently receives high praise from many wine enthusiasts. While the bottle is a bit spendy compared to most of Trader Joe's options, it’s a crowd-pleasing dry wine that shows off gentle flavors of peaches and raspberries.