Quiz: pretend you are a professional troglodyte or otherwise oenophilically obsessed. You walk into a large space you've never previously been. What's the first thing that catches your eye?
In the interest of science and all things troglodyte it was my duty to further explore. Here's what I learned:
Trader Joe's now has 40 stores with free wine tasting, including this one at 3rd and Fairfax. It is within a designated area, a mini saloon about the size of my apartment in NYC, or perhaps a corner news stand. While in there I was getting cozy with three other sets of elbows. You enter through the swinging doors, show your ID, and get a free plastic Robitussin cup of wine to sample. There are three wines daily, and you are welcome to sample all three, once, and then you must leave, hopefully with a bottle of something you just sampled. The woman next to me walked away with two bottles of the three. It is "open" 12 - 8 daily, and during this eight hours only one person pours to assure no double-dipping. There is also free cheese to cleanse your palette between swirls.
On this day I sampled only one of the options,the middle one, the Cotes-du-Rhone red. It was: inoffensive, simple, clean, unmemorable; a fair enough daily dinner wine. I did not walk away with a bottle. The gentleman pouring that day was very kind and answered all my questions.
It would be that week that Gil stopped in. After sousing me good, he raided his locker. Now, lore has it when Trader Joe's began in 1958, it had a pretty good wine department. Also, original TJ's had secondary buildings on the property that were wine storage. The Eagle Rock store recently tore theirs down when it renovated. When Gil came out with his wines, this was in the mix, a 1982 Chateau Croix de Bertinat St. Emilion. For it he paid $3.49.
There is a bottle of this being auctioned off on superior French e-bay. (American e-bay doesn't allow for wine sales unless pre-approved). 20,00 euros is being asked. That's like $28.00 US. If you adjust for inflation - the bottle would now be around $7, not horribly dissimilar from what you can get now. Maybe it was before 1982 that Trader Joe's was known for its wine. Still, I'd be curious to know how this one drank.
Chances are if you are buying wine at a Trader Joe's you're not bringing it to dinner with William Koch. Still, with free wine tastings @TJ's, customers might have greater peace of mind about their purchases.