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OK, it’s a chain store. But if you don’t know Trader Joe’s wine and spirits department, you’re spending too much money. I’ve said it.
My son’s girl friend is a serious winey, and brought us a bottle of Macon Villages chardonnay as a hostess gift when she came over for dinner a few months ago. Turned out I had just opened up a bottle of Macon Villages I’d bought at Trader Joe’s. So we did a blind tasting. She liked the bottle she brought over (a wine she drinks a lot), I preferred the one I had bought at TJ’s which I was drinking for the first time. We both agreed the wines were ALMOST indistinguishable (remember this was a blind tasting). Only I’d paid $7.99 at TJ’s and she paid $15.99 in a Princeton wine shop.
TJ’s is most famous for its “Two Buck Chuck”, which is a drinkable wine at $2.99 a bottle. It’s an amazing value at the price, though I don’t care for it much. What many people don’t realize is that TJ’s has a huge selection of other wines, some private labeled, some bearing the labels of their respective vineyards, at rock-bottom prices. There are a lot of bottles in the $4.99 to $7.99 range that are very pleasant, and if you can spring for $9.99 or so, you can find a superb bottle.
Spirits are even crazier. The TJ’s in Princeton has a small selection of spirits: name brands at decent (but not extraordinary) prices, and private-labeled and off-brand spirits at prices that will knock your socks off.
The spirits trade is one of the greediest oligopolies in world business. Through marketing and subtle collusion, they’ve trained you to expect to pay $30+ for a fifth of good bourbon, and $40-$100 for a single malt scotch. We consumers bend over and take it.
What do you say to a extremely drinkable single malt scotch for $17, or a blended scotch or a bourbon for about $12?
How do they do it? Trader Joe’s is strong enough that they don’t need to play ball with the oligopolists. They’ll find an independent distillery somewhere in the world and buy up their whole supply, and private label it. Or for a small, branded label, buy up their entire US allocation, cutting out three levels of importers and distributors in the process. We get a bargain.