Let’s face it: If you’re looking for a great bottle of wine that won’t break the bank, there’s no better place than Trader Joe’s. Whether you want to impress the fam with a delicious wine that’s expertly matched to your meal, or just enjoy a cheap bottle (or three) with your hometown pals, TJ’s has got something for every holiday gathering. Here are our picks for crowd- and budget-pleasing reds to enjoy all season long—plus how and when to serve them.
Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon, $8.99
There’s nothing like a California Cab—except this wonderful Washington varietal. Red Diamond’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (with just a hint of Syrah and Merlot to create some depth) tastes like a much more expensive bottle—blackberries and licorice on the nose and a jammy, velvety sip, ending in a long, oaky finish. And its beautiful ruby red color is a perfect match for its gem-inspired name, Red Diamond.
For the Holidays: This Cabernet isn’t quite as big as its California cousins, so skip the steak, and serve instead with cheese hors d’oeuvres (even a big, stinky blue cheese) or a bitter dark chocolate at dessert. Or, try a pasta or chicken with cream sauce, which will help bring out the wine’s true fruit flavors by subduing its tannins a bit.
Poet’s Row Merlot, $8.99
Put your nose in this one, you’ll be delighted with everything from mixed berries to salty olives to coffee. And when you take a sip, you’ll love it even more: It’s soft, and fruit-forward, yet has a great balance between tannin and acidity. In short, an easy-drinker that will please almost everyone.
For the Holidays: This Merlot is fairly full-bodied, so it’ll pair nicely with something meaty—a hearty lamb or beef stew. If you’re a seafood fan, it will also work well with salmon or tuna steak. Something earthy, like a mushroom sauce or steamed greens, would also make for a tasty combination.
Zafrika Pinotage, $4.99
Hello, earth and smoke! The South Africans are known for their Pinotages (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut grapes), and this wine is pretty indicative of the both the grape and the region—at a great price. Some sippers complain that they get a paint or acetone smell from the Pinotage varietal, but if you like a dirty, earthy wine, this one is definitely worth trying.
For the Holidays: If you like to get adventuresome in the kitchen, pair this wine with something gamey. If you’d rather keep things simple, serve it with a first course of leafy greens or treat it like a port and serve with a flourless chocolate torte.
Green Fin Cabernet Sauvignon, $3.99
One of the cheapest 100% organic wines out there, this California Cab is the perfect bottle to enjoy on a low-key night, or after you’ve had some good stuff with dinner, but you’re not quite ready to switch to coffee and tea. The vanilla and black cherry make this flavorful wine quite enjoyable (though not necessarily what you want to serve as the star of the show).
For the Holidays: When you have the night off from family obligations, order a pizza or put together a quick pot of spaghetti to pair with this wine, and you’ve got a great night in. Or, if you’re having the siblings and cousins over for game night, grab a couple bottles, crack open a holiday popcorn bucket, and kick back and relax.
Charles Shaw, $2.99
I had to save the most famous and talked-about wine for last. Charles Shaw, also lovingly called “Two-Buck Chuck,” offers a variety of red wines, including Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Try them all and see what you like—hey, one bottle is less than your morning latte! Largely produced from California grapes, the Charles Shaw name is owned by the Bronco Wine Company in Ceres, CA. Fun fact: Bronco’s CEO is none other than Fred Franzia, the nephew of wine legend Ernest Gallo. You could say wine runs in the family.
For the Holidays: Although you might not want to serve Charles Shaw’s Shiraz with your Thanksgiving turkey, invite the family around the table for a blind wine tasting and include a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck among the tasting samples. It’s always fun to see who thinks they know their wines and picks the super-cheap bottle as their favorite!
What are your favorite budget-friendly wines to enjoy over the holidays—from Trader Joe’s or elsewhere?