On the hunt for the finest wines $4 and $7 can buy

By Amy Ledig

Since I turned 21 at the beginning of the year, one of my projects, along with looking for jobs and finishing graduation requirements and all of that, has been exploring the wonderland that is the Trader Joe’s Wine Shop. In order to determine which of these bargain buys are worthy of a trip and which ones are better left on the shelf, I brought home a selection – two reds and two whites, one each in the bargain $4 category and the slightly nicer $7 category. I assembled a panel of willing tasters to help narrow down the field through a blind taste test, grading taste and design, guessing flavors, and trying to predict whether each was the bargain or nicer buy. The results? The bargains hold up quite nicely, and it is possible to get a decent bottle of wine that’s not Three Buck Chuck at the same price point.Blue Fin 2008 California Chardonnay, CA ($3.99)
Drinkability: A-
Flavors we detected: Berry, fruity, sweet, grass/nature undertones
Label says: Nothing, just wise words from the Surgeon General
Design grade: Check, nothing special.

Cheap or expensive: Group guessed expensive
The verdict: Hands down favorite of the group. One taster said it made them think of a “wooded glade,” which we’re say is a good thing.

Black Mountain 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, CA ($6.99)
Drinkability: C
Flavors we detected: Fruity, dry, a bit harsh
Label says: “nuances of melons and tropical fruit. It’s zesty finish is a result of lingering flavors of honey, mint, and soft acidity.”

Design grade: Check, the geologists in the group were into the mountains
Cheap or expensive: Group guessed cheap
The verdict: Least favorite of the night. Too tart to be enjoyable.

La Finca 2009 Malbec, Argentina ($3.99)
Drinkability: B+
Flavors we detected: Acidic, dry, “a red red.”

Label says: “bouquet is…rich in blackcurrant, vanilla and spices…soft and succulent ripe fruits follow”

Design grade: Check plus. Classy, the label reflects the flavors
Cheap or expensive: Group guessed expensive
The verdict: Group thought this was the better of the two reds. If you like “red reds,” this is a good budget choice.

Abrazo del Toro Reserva 2005 Cariñena, Spain ($6.99)
Drinkability: B
Flavors we detected: Spicy, sweet
Label says: “delicious and velvety wine, soft and dry. Rich with flavors of black cherries, dark chocolate and raspberry.”

Design grade: Check. Tacky or appropriately flamboyant, depending on your take
Cheap or expensive: Group guessed cheap
The verdict:Brought out strongest reactions in favor and against. A tad too spicy, pretty heavy.