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My daughter and I took off for a week in Palm Desert to coincide with spring break from school. We rented a friend’s place at the Palm Desert Resort and Country Club. The two-bedroom unit was perfectly appointed for us, and one of the 20 pools was about 30 feet away…!

We headed to Trader Joe’s to stock up for the week. Of course, I wanted wine to sip and enjoy during our vacation. My challenge was purchasing wine I had not tried or heard of before. Also, I wanted them to cost less than $20 US.

Wines and Results in Order of Sampling:

Trader Joe’s Petit Reserve Chardonnay 2021 Paso Robles, CA $7.99 – On the nose, bruised apple, a hint of pear and honey but the overriding impression was a ‘synthetic’ wine. It smelled ‘flat’ in the glass and was the opposite of expressive. On the palate, it wasn’t great. I couldn’t find the residual sugar online, but there was a fair amount. I am often wary of the term ‘Petit Reserve’; it can be misleading and a marketing ploy. It was one of the worst-tasting Chardonnay wines I have sampled. Epic fail. Not a great start to this experiment!

Mark West Pinot Noir 2021 Central Coast, CA $9.49 – On the nose, aromas of plum and cherry. It was good, not complex or nuanced as I like my Pinot Noir to be. The palate mirrored the plum and cherry aromas alongside vanilla, cherry and crushed raspberry flavours. An easy-sipping Pinot Noir that is a great value. I can’t find anything of this quality in B.C. for under $20. A slam dunk wine for $1.50 more than the Chardonnay. Ok, maybe this idea wasn’t so silly…

Raeburn Chardonnay 2021 Sonoma County, CA $15.99 – On the nose, notes of fresh apple and pear alongside nectarine and apricot with a dusting of vanilla. On the palate – a pleasant surprise. Flavours of oak, tree fruits, and a nutty finish. A well-made Chardonnay. Sustainable winery. This wine impressed me. The most expensive in the group. Getting somewhere now…

Gaetano D’Aquino Chianti Riserva, Italy $5.99 – Aromas of dried oregano, cherry, and sunbaked clay are on the nose. Great acid, integrated tannins, is balanced and expressive on the palate. Super value wine! Paired perfectly with BBQ beef burgers. Best value for money and taste so far. Hurray!

Picton Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand 2022 $7.99 – On the nose, crazy intense aromas of gooseberry, white grapefruit, and a hint of grass and hay. On the palate, classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with loads of grapefruit flavours, yellow bell pepper, straw, and lime peel. Tart and fruity. A good value indeed.

Rancho Viejo ‘Reserva’ 2016 Rioja Navarra, Spain $6.99 – On the nose, aromas of black cherry, red cherry, plum, dusty earth, whisps of mocha and vanilla. On the palate, all the red and black fruit flavours shine through; medium-bodied, great structure and exp. This was a ‘late entry’ into my selections. I was chatting with the checkout fellow, and he commented on my wine selections. He asked if I had heard of or tasted this Rioja before, suggesting I throw it into the mix for $6.99. Thank you, kind sir. This was indeed the winner of my self-induced wine challenge.

If/when you are at Trader Joe’s, you now have a few wines to search for and those to avoid.