99 Cent Store Wine vs. Trader Joe’s (also La Finca & Contado Mankas)

We had a battle of the cheap wines wine tasting a couple weekends ago, where I wrapped 4 inexpensive and 1 regular wines in brown paper bags and asked guests to rate them blindly.  The result was that our guests really could tell the difference in price.

The contenders?  Here they are along with comments….

Trader Joe’s Chilean Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon  (3.99)

Arwin liked it and gave it a 6.  Mike gave it a 5.  Kelly thought it was bland and her mom would use it for cooking.  Annie gave it a 5.  I gave it a 6 and thought it drinkable.  Jen S.  thought it was smooth, thin, with medium tanning an likely a pinot noir.  It was her #2 wine.  Jane thought it was plain, blag, bitter and rated it 4th overall.  Lucy couldn’t describe it but thought it was “just good” and gave it a 6.5.  Joey gave it a 5.

Overall average: 5.58/10


La Finca Malbec (2.99 at Trader Joe’s)


I thought it didn’t have much taste and gave it a 3. Jen thought it tasted like nothing.  Jane thought it had some fruit with acid on the end and had it tied for 2nd place.  Mike gave it a 3.  Arwin thought it lacked flavor, was acidic up front and peppery at the back.  She gave it a 3.  Annie gave it a 2 and called it a bad wine.  Lucy thought it was smooth with not much smell.  Oaky and different.  She said she could drink more.  Joey gave it a 3.  Kelly thought it “smells like wine”, but her mom tried it and turned away in disgust.  Kelly thought it was a sharper taste and might be ok with the right meal.

Overall Average:  2.8/10


Trader Joes’ Charles Shaw Cabernet

Mike gave it a 3 and called it “like water with wine”.  I gave it a 2.5 and said it was bitter and ok to drink, but didn’t like it.  Jane found it acid, peperry, and fruity and had it tied for her 2nd choice.  Jen thought it was thin and with pepper.  Arwin thought it was too acidic with too little taste and gave it a 3.  Annie gave it a 3.  Joey gave it a 4.

Overall Average: 3.1


99 Cent Store Red Wine

(Picture to be added)

Joey gave it a 1.  I thought it was very bad and smelled like paint and gave it a 1.  Jen said it was awful and maybe corked.  Jane said “peppery, acid, NO”.  Annie gave it a 2 and said it smelled like manischevitz.  Mike found it light and tart and gave it a 4.  Arwin thought it was bad and gave it a 1.

Overall Average: 1.8


Contado Mankas Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (2006 pictured, but real bottle was a 2007)

I thought it was drinkable, but less complex than #1 and gave it a 5.  Jane rated it her favorite and said it was not bad and fruitier.  Jen thought it was med/full rich, spicy, and smooth.  She also thought it was the most expensive and her favorite.  Mike called it “refined” and gave it a 6.5.  Arwin thought it was a little acidic and gave it a 5.  Annie gave it a 6.  Lucy thought it had more aroma, some vanilla, was stronger, had more aftertaste and complexity and gave it a 7.5  Joey gave it a 6.  Kelly said it was much smoother and her mom liked it too.

Overall Average: 6/10


The verdict?  People could generally tell the prices, even in a blind test and the overall average ratings were:

Contado Mankas ($11.99) 6/10
Trader Joe’s Chilean Reserve ($3.99) 5.58/10
Charles Shaw Cabernet ($1.99) 3.1/10
La Finca Malbec ($2.99) 2.8/10
99 Cent Store Wine($0.99) 1.8/10

Overall, I would say that I learned that people can tell price more than I might have thought.  Also, I learned that 99 cent store wine is barely drinkable and smells awful.  The Trader Joe’s reserva is definitely better than the normal Charles Shaw wines and a few people actually thought it was better than the $11.99 wine, so it’s probably the best budget wine here.  The La Finca wine was largely tasteless.

…and to reiterate: I don’t think I’ll buy wine from the 99 cent store again.

Comments welcome.

- Ravi

Spellbound Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Below is a picture of a ~$15 bottle of wine that Arwin, Jane, and Ravi all enjoyed.  It wasn’t super special (in Ravi’s opinion), but was very drinkable and we’d all have it again.


2008 Apothic Red, a winemaker’s blend from Lincoln Fine Wines

Ravi and I brought a bottle of wine to our friend’s, Carlyn’s, birthday party about a year ago now (Friday, March 12, 2010).  It was a 2008 Winemaker’s Blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Merlot called Apothic Red.  It cost $9.99 from our then new favorite wine store, Lincoln Fine Wines.

I had told the knowledgeable staff that I enjoy fruit forward, full-bodied wines that are neither spicy nor smoky.  Their recommendation of the Apothic Red was spot on!  Ravi, Carlyn, and I all enjoyed it and we decided we would definitely buy it again.  It had good flavors, with dark red fruit and the taste of vanilla.  Yum!  (The label also claimed that one could detect mocha in the wine, but I did not.)


“Produced and Bottled By” says Keith Wallace

The reason I noted in my last post that the Cakebread Cellars and the Bodega Norton bottles were both “produced and bottled by” their respective vineyards was due to an interview on National Public Radio in November of 2009.  NPR had a short interview with Keith Wallace who founded the Wine School of Philadelphia and who had written an article entitled “How Wine Became Like Fast Food.”  During the interview, Michele Norris asked Wallace how wine is produced in the States.  He revealed that 80 to 90% of all wine sold in the US is not coming from actual wineries but from large factories.

If it is made by an actual winery, the words “produced and bottled by” will be written on the label: “…If it says produced and bottled by in tiny – it’ll be tiny lettering, that wine is actually made by a real winery.  But if it says something like vinted and bottled by or cellared and bottled by, that is not made by the winery on the label.”


Cakebread Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir

Friday, 2/19/2010

We had a few of Ravi’s friends and colleagues from USC over last night for dinner and we shared two bottles of red wine – one Melbec and one Pinot Noir.  The Melbec was a 2006 bottle from the Bodega Norton Reserva located in Mendoza, Argentina. It was a great deal at only $10. I really enjoyed it; full and fruit forward.

The second bottle, from the Anderson Valley in California, was a gift from our friend Scott.  It was a Cakebread Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir, which sells for $50.  It was wonderful! Fruit forward, good flavor, a bit of spice.  The label on the bottle suggests it: “offers fragrant black cherry and rose petal aromas, with lush black cherry, red plum and blueberry flavors bolstered by ripe tannins, fresh acidity and subtle oak tones.”

Both bottles were “produced and bottled by” their respective vineyards.


Canadian Club Whiskey Factory Tours near Detroit (Windsor)

In December of 2009, I visited the Canadian Club Heritage Center in Windsor, Ontaria, just across the river from Detroit, Michigan where my father lives.  As someone who has visited Detroit often, I was quite surprised to find such a wonderful exhibit so under-promoted in the Detroit area.  I half expected the place to be closed, but when we arrived there, we were one of a handful of people to take the tour.

The highlight was the history of prohibition, as Detroit was one of the primary places where liquor was smuggled across from Canada (where liquor was still legal) and then brought to Chicago by the mob.  As such, there was a lot of colorful history of that time, like this woman, who had a convenient hiding place for her liquor.

Of course, we also saw their various brands of whiskey.  Apparently, they are very popular in Japan.  And I hadn’t drawn the connection between the popular “CC & Coke” (though not quite as popular as a Jack and Coke) and Canadian Club, the brand.

Our $5 tour price included a tasting of 3 whiskeys.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember them now, but for the purposes of this blog post, I bought a bottle (also to thank them for the hospitality) and here are my brief notes on the below bottle…

[ to be added...must by bottle! :) ]