Store display for Trader Joe's Reserve 2020 Sonoma County Merlot

Great Mmmerlot for Just $50 per Gallon!

Fast facts:

  • 2020 Trader Joe’s Reserve Merlot Lot #227, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, California ($9.99 @ Trader Joe’s, California)


We hope our subject line extrapolating the price per gallon (there are five standard 750ml bottles in a gallon FWIW) for this wine makes you feel better about the last time you filled up your automobile. You’re welcome. But back to discussion of the liquid that is NOT powering your ride…


Store display for Trader Joe's Reserve 2020 Sonoma County Merlot
Store display for Trader Joe’s Reserve 2020 Sonoma County Merlot. Whether $50 a gallon of $9.99 a bottle, it’s still a lofty QPR!


In the Fast Facts above, note that we reference both Sonoma Valley and County.  In terms of wine appelations, the former is a subset of the latter.  Thus it is known as a sub-appelated wine.  This is a good thing since such designations normally denote wines of superior quality – and higher prices.  That is why this wine caught our attention…we are glad it did!

In last week’s post, we talked about the “incredible shrinking wine section” at Costco.  Well we are here to tell you it’s not unique to Costco. We have noticed the same thing at our local Trader Joe’s stores, and my moles in the wine department report that the pesky supply chain is to blame. Understand though that these supply chain disruptions impact imports disproportionately.  When you remove a whole bunch of imports from a store’s “wine set” you are left with domestic wines – and a smaller footprint. But getting wines into port is only half the supply chain story…

Think of the current wine supply chain as being impacted by a “double witching hour.” In addition to getting wines cleared at the ports, we are still dealing with Covid-related supply chain disruptions caused by a dramatic decrease in the amount of wine being sold at restaurants.  But this is actually a good thing when shopping at retail.  Wineries take their excess and pour it into bottlings such as this one from Trader Joe’s.  In this case, we actually know which winery is behind this Merlot. It is uncommon to deduce much from the back label of these Trader Joe’s Reserve wines, but this one lists the William Knuttle Winery in Sonoma as the minds behind this delicious wine with a sky high QPR. Wine of this quality could easily fetch 2-3 times the price at a winery tasting room, even more at a restaurant.

Fun fact.  Did you know Merlot means “the little blackbird” in French? This is charming, but for the past decade or so, merlot might as well have meant “the little black sheep,” as this often-easy-drinking wine gradually saturated the market and was subsequently portrayed (at least in the popular film Sideways) as inferior to more “serious” wines, like Pinot Noir.  Of course, the irony imbedded in said movie is that the Merlot-hating character Miles coveted his lone bottle of France’s Cheval Blanc  which is…wait for it…a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Miles was nothing if not pathetic, after all.

Thus, we have established that the Merlot grape is one of the elite grapes of some of the most famous parts of the Bordeaux region in France. In Bordeaux’s left bank, it is often used as a grape to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon (there are three other grape varieties allowed, but are usually in supporting roles) and the interplay between the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot produces some of the finest wines in the world.  In St. Emilion, on the right bank, most producers eschew Cabernet Sauvignon or relegate it to a bit part, to keep our movie metaphors going.  The vineyards of the aforementioned Chateau Cheval Blanc are only planted to 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Here in California we also produce Bordeaux-style blends (sometimes called a “Meritage”) but Merlot is more likely to be made and sold as a single varietal wine.

Tasting Notes:

Pours a lovely berry red. Aromas of hooded fruits, anise, baking spices, warm vanilla, and pleasant herbaceousness. In the mouth the wine is balanced and rich, with flavors of red and blackberries, mocha and baking spices. It has firm tannins and just a hint of green pepper on the finish. Would pair well with chicken or pork dishes, pasta with red sauce, or hard cheeses.


Front label of Trader Joe's Reserve 2020 Sonoma County Merlot
Front label of Trader Joe’s Reserve 2020 Sonoma County Merlot. Take that Miles!


Glass and bottle of Trader Joe's Reserve 2020 Sonoma County Merlot
Glass and bottle of Trader Joe’s Reserve 2020 Sonoma County Merlot. We are indeed drinking Merlot.



More Wine Picks from Trader Joe’s – or Costco?

If your search for this wine lands you in Trader Joe’s, take along our handy Lucky 13 list of TJ’s wine here.

And if your wine shopping excursions land you in Costco, prepare by grazing our most recent reviews of Costco wines here in our Lucky 13 list.

Happy hunting.



4 thoughts on “Great Mmmerlot for Just $50 per Gallon!

  1. Great find! Layers of soft smooth berries. Full bodied and beautiful aromas. Definitely a bargain. Thanks for the tip.

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