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