Bottles and glasses of Trader Joe's Reserve 2018 Merlot Lot #202 (left) and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot #179

Two Ten Buck Chucks – A Lot of Flavor for $9.99

Fast facts:

  • 2018 Trader Joe’s Reserve Merlot Lot #179, Napa Valley, California ($9.99 @Trader Joe’s,  California)
  • 2018 Trader Joe’s Reserve  Cabernet Sauvignon Lot #202, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California ($9.99 @Trader Joe’s, California)


We’ve tried many of wines from the Trader’s Joe’s Reserve line up, and these may be two of the best we have tasted. They are similar, both well balanced with a nice depth of dark fruit flavors. But what really sets them apart from many of their predecessors in the grippiness of the tannins. This is uncommon for wines under $10. The Cab especially could stand up to some aging, although it is ready for enjoyment now as well.


Mark my words.  Wines this good from California, at this price, will be hard to find in six months. They may still be priced at $9.99, but my prediction is that the quality of the juice won’t be as good as these bottlings.

The fires up and down the west coast have already caused wine markets to seize up.  Wines like this were purchased and “in the works” by retailers like TJ’s months ago, before the conflagration upended things. So enjoy the bounty while it lasts, and stock up while you can.

The one thing that will help us wine consumers is that so long as Covid rages across the U.S. like another wildfire, all those pre-2020 vintage wines that would have ended up in restaurants are looking for new sales channels. That will help some, but not enough to fully offset the convulsion that is being caused by fears of smoke taint impacting the 2020 vintage from San Francisco to Vancouver!

OK, enough of that doom and gloom. Right now, there are still some incredible deals to be found from past vintages – like these two gems from the 2018 vintage at Trader Joe’s.

Let’s start with this Merlot. There is some chatter and speculation on the web that the juice for this wine actually came from Duckhorn, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.  But I can say that at $9.99 it “punches above its weight.”


Front label of Trader Joe's Reserve 2018 Merlot Lot #202
Trader Joe’s Reserve 2018 Merlot Lot #202

Tasting Notes:

A nose of nice dark and red cherries balanced with appealing chocolate and subtle barrel spice. Moderate, ripe tannins, medium body of fresh black cherries, plum and sweet spices. The higher alcohol level (14.5%) is noticeable on the nose and palate. Although it may be counterintuitive, Merlot pair especially well with grilled salmon. Trust us on this.


Front label of Trader Joe's Reserve 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot #179
Trader Joe’s Reserve 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot #179

Tasting notes:

Easy to drink right after pulling the cork.  Vanilla and cedar on the nose. Weighs lightly on the palate (for a cab) with notes of cherry, cloves, blackberry, black plums and pepper.  Tannins have some grip but are soft and silky for the most part. Solidly pleasing and would pair well with a hearty stew or roasted meats.

Cabernet Sauvignon remains the top selling red wine variety in California, and wines like this are why.   Hopefully your local Trader Joe’s sells wine (it is not the case in all states) and that if they do, they have these two so you can try them out for yourself.

If you’re prepared to put a $20 note at risk, I would suggest you try them both. And if you find these wines at your local TJ’s, and put them to the test, let us know what you think by leaving us a note in the comments section or on our Facebook page. And if you have a wine tip, by all means let us know about that too!

If you’re  shopping finds you at Trader Joe’s, keep an eye out for our Lucky 13 list of TJ’s wine.

If you’re headed to Costco soon, you can find our most recent reviews of Costco wines here in our Lucky 13 list.

Happy hunting!





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