This month the French #Winophiles offer suggestions for newcomers to explore French wine. As college professors, and especially since Pierre started teaching a course called The Idea of Wine six years ago at the University of Puget Sound, most wine newbies we meet are college students in their senior year. We’re so lucky! Usually just turned 21, they come to wine with no preconceptions, an open mind, and sharp critical thinking skills. They also come to wine with a very tight budget and the pressure of being on the job market a few months later.
The plan: not spending much on the wine, and not overthinking the food
Many students love Trader Joe’s because of the atmosphere and affordability. Part of the genius of Trader Joe’s has been to make the European hard discount model appealing to brand-conscious American shoppers by giving it a cool and hipster vibe. So, what is it like to explore French wine 101 at Trader Joe’s on a tight budget?
You can actually splurge a bit on French wine at Trader Joe’s. But we focused on the under $9 range. This being Trader Joe’s, this still left a lot of choice, so we narrowed down to four wines from different parts of France: Muscadet, Tavel, Bordeaux, and the Languedoc.
The total bill was barely over 30 dollars with tax for four bottles, which of course is far from the cheapest we could have done at Trader Joe’s. At the price points we chose, we knew not to expect a transformative wine experience, but we hoped that the wines would still show good contrast in styles and be representative of their regions. And if you have 6-10 housemates and a few friends to share the fun, the wine cost per person is as low as $3-5, with plenty of wine for everybody.
How did it turn out?
Food needed to be affordable too, though we don’t claim to know what our students eat, and they likely spend even less than we did here. The food didn’t come from Trader Joe’s, simply because, in the spirit of tight budget and not overthinking the meal, we decided to do with whatever we already had in the fridge and pantry, notably that piece of top round steak that was on its last legs but still smelled fresh enough. We had two meals, each with two of the wines: Muscadet and Tavel with one, and Bordeaux and Languedoc with the second.
Muscadet stood as our representative of the otherwise very diverse Loire Valley. One thing we like about Muscadet is that the grape variety, Melon Blanc, is not on students’ radar at all. Our TJ’s pick was from the better known and smaller appellation within Muscadet, Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine. It is also “sur lie” meaning it spent some time on its lees (dead yeast sediment) before bottling. This wine was a clean, fresh, youthful wine with high acidity, notes of citrus and pear, light bodied and balanced. Don’t expect too much for $6.99 but really, quite enjoyable and indeed, it tasted the way we remember Muscadet.
We happened to have leftover guacamole, and an opened box of Triscuits. And you know what? It was a great little appetizer with the refreshing Muscadet.
We couldn’t resist the deal on this wine from the Tavel appellation, which is entirely dedicated to rosés.
This was a fairly dark rosé, more on the orangey pink range, dry, medium body, with refreshing acidity and red fruit notes. Better to ensure it’s served appropriately cool to keep it balanced. Again, there are obviously far better Tavel wines than this, but way to go Trader Joe’s for offering this at $8.99 and allow people to get an introduction to the appellation on a budget.
With our Muscadet and Tavel, we ate canned sardines, simply dressed greens and spaghetti with the olive oil-lemon marinade from the can of sardines and some freshly grated cheese (OK, the Parmigiano-Reggiano part is not strictly budget, but we had a tiny leftover piece, so no extra money was spent for the occasion). It all worked very well, thanks to the refreshing acidity in the wines.
The second meal used our almost questionably old piece of top round steak. We made it into Vietnamese shaken beef (bò lúc lắc) from Andrea Nguyen’s recipe in Viet Food Any Day, served (as she suggests) on top of lightly dressed greens. We used our trusty Coravin to pour glasses of our two red wines from Trader Joe’s.
The wines were clearly distinct from each other and again, without expecting too much from them, representative of their respective places. The Bordeaux had tighter tannin and structure, while the southern Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre blend was a bit more fruit forward and plush. Both were clean, fresh, fruity wines with good acidity.
So, can you get 4 bottles of French wines from different regions at Trader Joe’s for a grand total of about $30, and get an enjoyable sense of what the wines from these places are like? We think so, and in fact, we’re going to try this again soon. We might even try exploring Trader Joe’s options within a region and going up in price point (for example, tasting different levels of Bordeaux).
Check out all the great ideas for newcomers to French wines in the Winophiles posts below!
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “French Wine…Where to Begin?”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Cam shares “Deciphering French Wine Labels”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Mediterranean Shrimp with a Corsican Wine”
- Jill at L’Occasion shares “Your Ticket To French Wine Is Actually A Map“
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “French Wine 101 Cheat Sheet”
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Learn about Wines from the Bourgueil AOC While Eating Pork Tongue Head Cheese + Napa Cabbage Salad”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “One Name to Get You Started on French wine”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Discover French Wine: Where to Start”
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares two:
- “Introduce a Friend to French Wine 1: Chateauneuf – du – Pape and Cassoulet”
- “Introduce a Friend to French Wine 2: Loire’s Amirault in Nicholas Bourgeil”
- Susannah at Avvinare adds “Start Your French Wine Study With Beaujolais ”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “French Wine 101: Taste for Yourself”