Wine Guide Wine Guide Wine is bottled poetry - Robert Lewis Stevenson

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Wine is also fermented grape juice. Stevenson's angle is a little more elegant, but the truth remains: the natural yeasts on grape skins convert the sugar in grape juice into alcohol—wine. Simple enough. Sort of. Making fine, complex wines is an intricate interplay between art, science and Mother Nature's magic. Ardent admirers of this grape-based libation, we've composed a basic 'wine guide' to provide a bit of information about everything from wine styles and Trader Joe's labels to proper techniques for storing and tasting for our fellow oenophiles [lovers of wine] and casual connoisseurs who are equally curious.

Trader Joe's Wine Guide Index:

  • Sparkling Wine
  • White Wines
  • Red Wines
  • Dessert Wines
  • TJ's Wines
  • Storing Wine
  • Tasting Wines
  • Glossary of Wine Terms

Sparkling Wines

Sparkling Wine — It's a gas! And it's the gas — carbon dioxide — that fills this wine with shimmering, tongue-tingling bubbles. Sparkling Wines are generally lower in alcohol than most table wines and some of the most versatile wines to accompany food, especially appetizers. Plus, they are the quintessential celebration libation. So whether it's a birthday, a holiday, or a Monday (why not?!), bring on the bubbly.

Sparkling Wine Classification: Extra Brut (extra dry), Brut (very dry), Extra Dry/Extra Sec (dry), Sec(semi-sweet), Demi Sec (sweet), Doux (very sweet)

Famous Sparkling Wines from Around The World—And Their Grapes:

France : Champagne—Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir
Spain: Cava—Macabeo, Xarello, Parellada, Chardonnay
Italy: Asti—Muscat & Prosecco—Glera (previously aka Prosecco)
German: Sekt—Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

Sparkling Wine Glass: The flute — the narrower the opening at the mouth, the longer the bubbles will last.

Sparkling Wine Suggested Serving Temperature: 40-45ºF (to achieve this temperature, remove from fridge 30 minutes prior to serving. Or, if chilling from room temperature, place in ice bucket for about 30 minutes)

White Wines

Why white? Because it's refreshing and versatile. But why is it white? Is it white? (It’s all relative.) Pigments are localized in the skin of the grapes, so the color of wine correlates with how long the freshly-pressed grape juice interacts with the grape skins. When white wine grapes are picked, they are immediately pressed and the juice is removed from the skins with little contact, thus resulting in lucent liquids that range in shades from pale straw to deeper hues of gold. In addition to skin-to-must contact, grape varietal, the use of wood and the age of the wine will also influence the hue.

White Wine Glass: A narrow or tapered white wine glass will "trap" the delicate aromas of a white wine. It may also help the wine keep its chill.

White Wine Suggested Serving Temperature: 45-55 °F (to achieve this temperature, remove from fridge 30 minutes - one hour prior to serving. Or, if chilling from room temperature, place in ice bucket for about 30 minutes).

White Wine Styles Guide

WHITE: Crisp, Fresh, Dry, Unoaked
Body: Light/ Medium
Texture: Crisp/ Refreshing
Flavor Intensity: Light/ Medium-mild
Pinot Grigio (Italian)
Sauvignon Blanc
Vinho Verde
Classic Food Pairings
Steamed/Grilled Fish
Light Stir-fry Dishes
Noodle Dishes
Risotto with Seafood
Soft, Ripened Cheeses: Brie/Camembert
WHITE: Aromatic, Medium Dry
Body: Light/ Medium-full
Texture: Crisp, May Be Soft
Flavor Intensity: High, Complex
Pinot Gris
Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
Classic Food Pairings
Spicy Foods
Creamy Sauces
Curries (Green Curry with Shrimp)
Indian Food (Chicken Tikka Masala)
Pad Thai with Tofu
WHITE: Smooth, Dry, Earthy, Terra Firma
Body: Medium/Full
Texture: Firm, Substantial
Flavor Intensity: Medium, Minerally, Lightly Oaked
Fume Blanc
Chardonnay (European)
Soave Classico
Bordeaux Blanc
Classic Food Pairings
Poached Salmon
Roasted or Grilled Chicken
Chicken Pot Pie
WHITE: Rich, Full Bodied, Oaky/Woody
Body: Full
Texture: Soft, Rich
Flavor Intensity: High, Oaky
'New World' Chardonnays
Reserve Sauvignon Blancs
Chablis Grand Cru
Classic Food Pairings
Flavorful/Buttery Chicken or Fish
New Worlds:
Robust Poultry

Red Wines

The romance, the reservatrol, the range of styles... ah, red wine. When red wine grapes are crushed, the juice, skins and seeds ferment together before being pressed. The skins' contact with the grapes' juice during this process allows for the dispersion of both color and tannins. The longer the skin-must contact, the darker and more astringent the wine will be.

Red Wine Glass: Ideally served in a glass that has a larger bowl. A broader bowl gives the wine a chance to "breathe" or oxidize, which enhances the overall flavor of the wine.

Red Wine Serving Temperature: 50-65 °F

RED: Easy-going, Fruit-forward, Light, Soft, Drink Now!
Body: Light/Medium
Texture: Low/Med tannins, Soft
Flavor Intensity: Med/High, Refreshing
'Pinot Noir (California or Imported)
Merlot/Cab (Chile, Argentina)
Classic Food Pairings
Hard Salami
Turkey Burger
RED: Traditional, Shy, Mild-mannered, Polite
Body: Light/Medium
Texture: Low Tannins, Soft
Flavor Intensity: Subtle, Refreshing
Cru Bourgeois
Merlot/Cab–Northeast Italy
Classic Food Pairings
Pork Chops
Ham and Cheese Croissant
Lamb Kebab
RED: Bold, Racy, Spicy, Juicy, Fresh
Body: Medium/Full
Texture: Medium Tannins, Firm
Flavor Intensity: Medium/High, Vibrant
Beaujolais Cru
Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois
Chianti Classic
Côte du Rhône Villages
Pinot Noir (Sub Appellated)
Classic Food Pairings
Fully Loaded Pizza (spicy)
Blackened Fish
Italian Sausages
RED: Full-bodied, Brawny, Powerful
Body: Full
Texture: High Tannins, Sturdy
Flavor Intensity: Medium/High, Concentrated
Northern Rhone
Bordeaux Cru Classe
Classic Food Pairings
Boeuf Bourguignon
Leg of Lamb
BBQ Ribs
Blue Cheese

Dessert Wines

Dessert and wine—best of both worlds. The sweetness of dessert wine helps to "close" the palate after a meal, naturally leaving mouths open for more conversation and frivolity. In selecting a dessert wine to accompany your dessert, it is helpful to match the weight, colors and flavors of the wine to your dessert.

Dessert Wine Glass In general, Dessert wine glasses are smaller than a traditional wine glass, but with a curved/rounded bowl designed to emphasize the acidity of sweet wines and create balance.

Late Harvest Wines:
Wines made from grapes picked toward the end of the harvest when they are very ripe. Such grapes have higher sugar content, particularly those with botrytis cinerea, a beloved, beneficial mold that shrivels the grape thereby concentrating its sugar. This translates to a sweet wine, a wine that is high in alcohol or a wine with both of these characteristics.
Flavor Intensity: Rich, Deep, Honeyed
Serving Temperature: 51-61º F
Late Harvest Semillon
Late Harvest Muscat
Late Harvest Riesling
Late Harvest Muscat Canelli
Classic Food Pairings
Raspberry/Blueberry Tarte
Baked Apples
Fresh Pear Slices with Honey
Veined Cheeses
Port originates in the Douro Valley, Portugal (though it's named for Oporto, the city from which they're shipped). Originally crafted to ensure the draught lasted over long sea voyages, these sweet red wines have been fortified with a portion of brandy, giving them a higher alcohol content (20% average).
Port Suggested Serving Temperature: 62-65º F
Styles Characteristics Dessert Pairings
Ruby Port: a blend of wines aged in bulk for around 2-3 years and then bottled young, while still ruby red in color. Sweet, fresh, fruity, unfussy. Meant to be imbibed immediately after bottling. Gouda Cheese
Blueberry Tarte
Ultimate Berry Pie
Chocolate Lava Cake
Tawny Port: A blend of wines aged in wood for 5-50 years, allowing the color to dissipate to an orange-amber (aka tawny) hue. Slightly drier than Ruby, Tawny Port boast flavors reminiscent of caramel and brown sugar. Blue Cheeses (Roquefort)
Apple Blossoms
Pecan Pie
Fresh Peaches
Vintage Port: Made from the very best grapes of a single year, the wines are aged in wood for just two years, then in the bottle for at least 10. It's bottled unfiltered and should always be decanted prior to enjoyment. Deep color, exquisite bouquet and fruity taste with hints of plum and blackberries. Full bodied with a long finish. Raspberry Tarte
Chocolate Lava Cake
Dark Chocolate
Blue Stilton
Aged Cheddar

A Look at Trader Joe’s Wine Labels

"Good wine needs no bush." - William Shakespeare

The question is frequently raised; how is it that Trader Joe’s can carry caliber wines for crazy-good prices? In brief, it’s because of how we do business. We deal directly whenever possible, we pay on time, and we take the integrity of our products seriously. Plus, we private label. This part plays in our favor when a prominent wine producer needs to sell some juice - fast - but wants to protect their anonymity for reasons of privacy, perceived value or just plain preference. We’ll bottle the wine under a Trader Joe's brand label, which guarantees exceptional quality for an exceedingly good price. But what do all the different labels really mean? Take a look:

Charles Shaw: The game-changer. This forthright label brought to light the fact that really good wine need NOT cost a lot. Since 2002, our Charles Shaw Wines have garnered a large, loyal following for two simple reasons: 1. The juice is good (in many cases, award-winning). 2. The juice is a really good value. Hence the friendly moniker: Two-buck Chuck. Made for us by one of California's largest winemakers – a real stickler for quality and consistency – these wines are fruity, uncomplicated and meant to be drunk young (and often). Label
Trader Joe's Coastal: Made by a well-regarded California wine producer (if you’re curious, just look closely), these wines represent the unique qualities of the cooler-climate coastal wine growing regions. Our wine buyers work closely with the vintner to establish reliable varietal characteristics that deliver vintage to vintage. If they don't, we simply won't sell them. They're more than just your everyday table wines, though for the price, they’re an easy bottle to bring to the table, every day. Label
VINTJS: The label that proves how productive our wine buyers are, even in traffic. Seriously. While creeping along the freeway, our wine buyers were contemplating the plethora of personalized license plates. After puzzling out a few, they started putting together one for play and it quickly became quite practical. Not for our cars, though–for our bottles. Thus was created the VINTJS (that's "vintages") label. It showcases finite quantities of vintages that are purchased directly from wineries of pedigree, who prefer to remain anonymous. Why? That's their business. Ours is the really great wines that you get for an exceptional value. Label
Trader Joe's Petit Reserve: Every so often, our wine buyers happen upon a deal so incredible and so very much NOT the mainstream, that there is one thing to do – pounce. Generally, these unique offerings are very limited in availability. A big part of the "Petit." Whether it be a Central Coast Pinot Gris or a Russian River Valley Petite Sirah, Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve wines must first WOW the tasting panel, then your pocket book. Once they do, they're bottled with the elegant hibiscus and put on the shelves for you. Label
Trader Joe's Reserve: Trader Joe's Reserve label is “reserved” for small lot, mostly Estate, opportunities from specific growing regions. While the high quality sources and producers may be really well known, by maintaining the privacy of their profiles, we are able to procure preposterous prices for you. Some might find this perplexing, others enticing, but any which way you look at it, these bottles are BIG values. And they're always embossed with the signature lighthouse spiral staircase cross section (yep, that's what that sunburst really is!). Label
Trader Joe's Grand Reserve: Grand says it all. These are prime "grower's lots" of wine from highly sought after AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Occasionally, a grower has wine in reserve for a contract buyer who, for whatever reason (economy?), can’t honor the contract. Or some other striking change takes place, like the sudden sale of a vineyard, and premium juice is left in limbo. Well, we can’t abide by that. And we don't. Since our buyers have built solid relationships and business reputations in the wine world, we are often well positioned to purchase these first-rate finds for phenomenally GRAND prices, which, naturally, we pass on to you in these black-labeled beauties. Label

Disclaimer: The labels displayed here are examples. The exact varietal/vintage/appellation may not be available in stores now.

Storing Wines

Drink now or cellar ever after (or at least for a little while longer)? For some, this question is never raised, as the glass always is. For the rest, here are a few, not-so-hard-and-fast-yet-can-be-helpful tips about when/what to store:

  • In general, less expensive wines are meant to be enjoyed within a year or so of purchase.
  • In reds, the higher the level of flavor compounds and tannins, the longer it is capable of being aged. Many finer quality wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Syrah/Shiraz grapes for example, may be aged for five or ten years – sometimes even longer. Wines made from Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese (Chianti), and Zinfandel grapes, on the other hand, are usually best enjoyed within five years.
  • White wines are generally not designed to be aged, although you may find some finer Chardonnays that benefit from a few years in the bottle.

Storing Wines "How To":

  • Rest bottles on their sides. Corks must always remain moist to keep their viability.
  • Never expose the bottles to direct sunshine. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can harm the wine.
  • Pick a location where the wine won’t be disturbed by sunlight, motor or generator vibrations, or strong odors the wine may pick up.
  • Never allow the wine to become warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat damage is one of the biggest problems when keeping wine at home.

Tasting Wines

Drinking wine is as simple as tilt glass and swallow. Tasting wine takes a little more focus. Some of the steps may feel awkward or even pompous to the novice, but they’ve been developed over centuries to achieve specific sensory goals. So why not try? By following a basic pattern you can effectively enhance your capacity to perceive a wine clearly, understand your palate preferences better and be able to discuss wines with bravado... or well enough to get the bottle that’ll make you smile.

"It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one's present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason." - Latin Proverb


1. Lift your glass up against a neutral background (preferably white) to get a general impression of the color and clarity. Observe how clear and bright the wine looks and take note of any cloudiness. Brillant wines are clear and with no haze to the color. Also examine the degree of color and take note if it is: bright purple (typical of young red wines), ruby and browny-reds (ageing red wines), or brown and dull in appearance (often indicates oxidation).


2. Swirl the wine around gently, holding your glass by the stem or foot, in order to release the aroma (forward smells that come from the grape) and bouquet (subtle scents that develop as a result maturing and oak aging).

3. Stick your nose in the glass (don't be shy) and sniff the wine, concentrating on the smell and of what it reminds you. There are so many descriptors for smells, but most of us have little practice in using them, so we relate a wine’s smells to something similar. For example, you may hear wines described as floral (rose, jasmine, violet), spicy (pepper, licorice), fruity (lemon, apple, cherry, melon) and woody (oak, cedar, vanilla).


4. Take a sip and work the wine around your mouth for several seconds. This is called “chewing,” and should present more flavors on your palate to taste. With the next sip of wine, in addition to chewing it, purse your lips and suck a little air through the wine before swallowing. Feels a bit funny at first, but you should be able to taste/smell even more of the wine this way because you have "aerated" it, deliberately releasing its aromas. After you’ve swallow the wine, note the flavor in your mouth once it's gone. This is known as the finish.

Glossary of (some) Wine Terms: (A Work in Progress)

Acidity: The component of wine that feels sharp in the mouth and gives wine its crispness and vibrancy—too much will make a wine tart and too little will make a wine flabby.

Anthocyanin: Phenolic (related to natural compounds found in plants) pigments that give red wine its color.

Appellation: A designated growing area governed by the rules and regulations established by its central and local government bodies.

Balance: The harmonious relationship of the components of wine – acids, fruit, tannins, alcohol, etc.

Body: The sense of weight (thick, thin, oily, watery) of a wine in the mouth of a taster. Wines are usually described as light-, medium- or full-bodied. The 'body' is essentially the cumulative effect of fruit, tannin and alcohol.

Bright: When describing the visual appearance of the wine, it refers to a high level of clarity and very low levels of suspended solids (cloudiness). When describing fruit flavors, it refers to noticeable acidity.

Brut: French for "dry." A classification term usually applied to sparkling wines.

Corked: A tasting term describing wines with cork taint (a broad term referring to undesirable smells or tastes found in a bottle of wine).

Dry: Wines with low levels of residual sugar. Also a tasting term used to describe a wine that is lacking the perception of sweetness.

Legs (aka Fingers or Tears): Streams of swirled wine or spirits that run down along the inside of a glass.

Must: The expressed juice of grapes before fermentation. Must can include pulp, skin and seeds.

Noble Rot (aka Botrytis cinerea): A beneficial mold that can pierce grape skins causing dehydration, thereby concentrating the sugar. The resulting grapes produce sweet wine, generally dessert wine.

Nose: A tasting term for the aroma or bouquet of a wine.

Viniculture: The art and science of making wine. Also called oenology (or enology).

Viniculture: The cultivation of grapes.

Zymology: The science of fermentation.

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    The finest quality ingredients. This means:

  • NO synthetic colors
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