Trader Joe's wine is a veritable playground for adventurous wine-lovers on a budget. But let's face it: Staring down the endless varietals can be as stressful as the fancy restaurant server watching you taste the first pour. While we're all tempted to grab a bottle of Charles Shaw (the cheapest wine Trader Joe's offers, affectionately known as "Two-Buck Chuck"), don't sell your wine taste buds short. With a little forethought, you can get the best bang for your buck without succumbing to an existential breakdown in the wine aisle.
Before you even reach the Trader Joe's wine aisle, keep your intentions in mind. There is nothing wrong with going for the "Two-Buck Chuck" as long as you're cooking with it or using it in a big-batch drink. If you're whipping up a bolognese or a quick shrimp linguine, then it's perfectly acceptable to pick that $3 bottle of Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc. Making breakfast mimosas? Snag the cheapest sparkling wine they've got. For all other situations, it's best to be pickier.
Just like a certain blond adventurer, you don't need something too cheap or too pricey. You don't have to go for the $20 bottle for it to be good -- just pick the middle ground. Start around the $6 range, and at Trader Joe's you can find some truly delicious wines. A favorite? Cocobon. It's an $8 red blend that tastes like that $40 bottle of wine you only buy for special occasions.
If you're still not sure where to start, ask the Trader Joe's staff. They are some of the most cheerful, helpful people you will ever meet (they don't wear Hawaiian shirts for nothing). If you know you like not-too-fruity Pinot Grigio, they will give you a smattering of options, like this Italian Grigio Luna Pinot Grigio for $6. Even better, Trader Joe's has an online Wine Insider monthly blog post that features new and old favorites, along with food pairings and vintage background information.
While you're asking your resident Trader Joe's Wine Aisle Person (TJWAP; copyright pending) for help, don't be afraid to go outside your comfort zone. A fan of French reds? Try a Malbec from Argentina or a Spanish Garnacha instead. It can also be fun to ask which wine has been flying off the shelves. On a recent trek the TJWAP recommended a French Bordeaux Rose for $6 that was the perfect summer sipper.
It's OK if you're not feeling adventurous and just want that one favorite $8 Chilean Carmenere that you always drink while catching up with Olivia Pope during your Scandal marathon. Trader Joe's, like all grocery stores, tries to woo you with their endcap or mid-aisle displays. But if you don't like the variety they're promoting, don't let the fancy cardboard cutout or reduced price tempt you. Just remember these words to live by: "The best wine is the wine you like."