We did a blind taste test of cheap wines from Costco, Target, and Trader Joe's, and the winner cost less than $5

Wine Tasting 1

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

We set out to find which of these budget-friendly retailers makes the best wine.

  • Costco, Target, and Trader Joe's - each known for serving up great products at a low price point - offer their own take on low-cost wine.
  • In a blind taste test, we had 20 Insider Inc. employees taste wines by the three retailers.
  • We kept things as consistent as we could across all three brands - the test included a cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio, and rosé from all stores that had them on offer.
  • At the time of this tasting, Costco's Kirkland brand wasn't selling a rosé, and Trader Joe's Charles Shaw had produced only an organic rosé.
  • Each wine costs less than $10, and the cheapest wine cost $2.99.
  • Our tasters only knew the color of the wine they were tasting - not the varietal, price, or even the companies any of them came from.
  • After ranking, it was clear that Trader Joe's Charles Shaw pinot grigio was the crowd favorite.
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Millennials love wine so much that they're changing the way it's being made, sold, marketed, and packaged.

Millennials love wine so much that they're changing the way it's being made, sold, marketed, and packaged.

Source: Business Insider

More and more big brands are looking to create great wine for a low cost, defying the longstanding mentality of "the bigger the price-tag, the better the bottle."

More and more big brands are looking to create great wine for a low cost, defying the longstanding mentality of "the bigger the price-tag, the better the bottle."

Source: Business Insider

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So we turned to three retailers known for their low prices — Costco, Target, and Trader Joe's — to see how their private-label wine stacked up against each other.

So we turned to three retailers known for their low prices — Costco, Target, and Trader Joe's — to see how their private-label wine stacked up against each other.

Our 20 Insider Inc. tasters ranged from self-proclaimed wine experts to self-proclaimed wine amateurs, and they tasted a total of eight wines: a cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio from each retailer, and a rosé from Target and Trader Joe's, since Costco didn't have one on offer at the time of our tasting.

Our 20 Insider Inc. tasters ranged from self-proclaimed wine experts to self-proclaimed wine amateurs, and they tasted a total of eight wines: a cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio from each retailer, and a rosé from Target and Trader Joe's, since Costco didn't have one on offer at the time of our tasting.
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Tasters were asked to rank the wines on nine criteria: clarity, smell, first impression based on taste, breadth of taste, perceived price, willingness to drink it again, and willingness to serve it to a guest.

Tasters were asked to rank the wines on nine criteria: clarity, smell, first impression based on taste, breadth of taste, perceived price, willingness to drink it again, and willingness to serve it to a guest.

We also asked if any of them would gift any of these bottles, but almost no one said they would — unless it was to someone they didn't like.

We also asked if any of them would gift any of these bottles, but almost no one said they would — unless it was to someone they didn't like.
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To keep the tasting fair, we made it completely blind — which means not only did the tasters not know which wines they were tasting when, they also didn't know which retailers the wines came from at all.

To keep the tasting fair, we made it completely blind — which means not only did the tasters not know which wines they were tasting when, they also didn't know which retailers the wines came from at all.

All tasters had access to a Google Form with survey questions about each test cup, and they used their mobile phones to fill it out as they went along.

All tasters had access to a Google Form with survey questions about each test cup, and they used their mobile phones to fill it out as they went along.
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When properly tasting wines, it's best for the sake of all taste buds involved to start with the lightest wine and work your way to the darkest, so we started with whites.

When properly tasting wines, it's best for the sake of all taste buds involved to start with the lightest wine and work your way to the darkest, so we started with whites.

First up was Trader Joe's Charles Shaw pinot grigio.

First up was Trader Joe's Charles Shaw pinot grigio.
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Most people thought this wine was clear. And Matthew DeBord, a wine expert and senior correspondent at Business Insider, said clarity is the mark of a good wine.

Most people thought this wine was clear. And Matthew DeBord, a wine expert and senior correspondent at Business Insider, said clarity is the mark of a good wine.

But they were generally split on how much they'd pay for it. This bottle retails for $2.99, and while a quarter of tasters said they'd spend less than $7 on it, another quarter said they'd spend between $12 and $15 on the same bottle of wine.

But they were generally split on how much they'd pay for it. This bottle retails for $2.99, and while a quarter of tasters said they'd spend less than $7 on it, another quarter said they'd spend between $12 and $15 on the same bottle of wine.
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While most tasters said this particular wine smelled faintly like citrus and didn't have a strong smell at all, one taster had a different reaction: "It smells kind of gross, like broccoli." After a sip, though, the majority of tasters said they would drink it again.

While most tasters said this particular wine smelled faintly like citrus and didn't have a strong smell at all, one taster had a different reaction: "It smells kind of gross, like broccoli." After a sip, though, the majority of tasters said they would drink it again.

One taster described it as "very smooth," while another said, "It’s easy to drink and the flavor doesn’t linger in your mouth too long."

One taster described it as "very smooth," while another said, "It’s easy to drink and the flavor doesn’t linger in your mouth too long."
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Next up for pinot grigio was Target's The Collection.

Next up for pinot grigio was Target's The Collection.

In terms of clarity, this wine didn't rank as well as the previous one. And the smell was much worse, according to the group. Tasters said it smelled like wood, wet oak, a marker, and vinegar.

In terms of clarity, this wine didn't rank as well as the previous one. And the smell was much worse, according to the group. Tasters said it smelled like wood, wet oak, a marker, and vinegar.
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With "sweet," "bitter," "buttery," and "citrus" notes, according to our tasters, this wine fell short of the one before. Tasters also said this Target varietal had more of a noticeable alcohol taste.

With "sweet," "bitter," "buttery," and "citrus" notes, according to our tasters, this wine fell short of the one before. Tasters also said this Target varietal had more of a noticeable alcohol taste.

Most people were willing to pay mid-range prices for this wine, though. It retails for $9.99.

Most people were willing to pay mid-range prices for this wine, though. It retails for $9.99.
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The last pinot grigio we tasted was from Kirkland Signature.

The last pinot grigio we tasted was from Kirkland Signature.

It ranked highly for clarity ...

It ranked highly for clarity ...
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... but after tasting, 27% of tasters said they wouldn't even spend one cent on this bottle. A 1.5-liter bottle retails for $7.89.

... but after tasting, 27% of tasters said they wouldn't even spend one cent on this bottle. A 1.5-liter bottle retails for $7.89.

This wine clearly — pun intended — didn't make a good impression.

This wine clearly — pun intended — didn't make a good impression.
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Some people said they thought it was slightly carbonated. Others said, "It tastes like stagnant pond water" and "This one tastes more like a juice than a wine."

Some people said they thought it was slightly carbonated. Others said, "It tastes like stagnant pond water" and "This one tastes more like a juice than a wine."

While there were a couple of people who didn't hate it so much, the majority rules on this. Sorry Kirkland, pinot grigio just isn't your strong suit.

While there were a couple of people who didn't hate it so much, the majority rules on this. Sorry Kirkland, pinot grigio just isn't your strong suit.
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Next, we moved onto rosé. First up was Charles Shaw's rosé, the only organic wine of the group.

Next, we moved onto rosé. First up was Charles Shaw's rosé, the only organic wine of the group.

The clarity ranking here was pretty average, and it made a neutral first impression on our tasters.

The clarity ranking here was pretty average, and it made a neutral first impression on our tasters.
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Even though it's part of the Two Buck Chuck family, this wine retails for $3.99. Most people said they'd pay in the mid ranges for it.

Even though it's part of the Two Buck Chuck family, this wine retails for $3.99. Most people said they'd pay in the mid ranges for it.

One taster, Paige DiFiore, said "The taste is quite weak — it almost tastes like plain water spiked with a shot of wine."

One taster, Paige DiFiore, said "The taste is quite weak — it almost tastes like plain water spiked with a shot of wine."
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Next we tried The Collection rosé.

Next we tried The Collection rosé.

A lot of people thought this wine was the most cloudy of all — some even thought it tasted cloudy and dry. One person thought it smelled strong and "funky" — not in a good way — while another said it wasn't harsh and didn't attack their nose. Opinions were pretty polarizing here.

A lot of people thought this wine was the most cloudy of all — some even thought it tasted cloudy and dry. One person thought it smelled strong and "funky" — not in a good way — while another said it wasn't harsh and didn't attack their nose. Opinions were pretty polarizing here.
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Regardless, most said they would spend $10 or more after tasting. This retails for $9.99.

Regardless, most said they would spend $10 or more after tasting. This retails for $9.99.

DiFiore said this was her favorite — or the "least terrible" as she put it — but she also added, "I still prefer my $5 Barefoot moscato to be honest."

DiFiore said this was her favorite — or the "least terrible" as she put it — but she also added, "I still prefer my $5 Barefoot moscato to be honest."
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We then transitioned to our last category: red wines.

We then transitioned to our last category: red wines.

Trader Joe's Charles Shaw cabernet sauvignon was up first.

Trader Joe's Charles Shaw cabernet sauvignon was up first.
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Tasters agreed that it's harder to judge the clarity of a darker-colored wine.

Tasters agreed that it's harder to judge the clarity of a darker-colored wine.

To fix this issue, DeBord suggested holding up the glass against something white like a piece of paper. After that, tasters thought this wine was fairly clear.

To fix this issue, DeBord suggested holding up the glass against something white like a piece of paper. After that, tasters thought this wine was fairly clear.
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This wine yielded some pretty differing results across the board, but most tasters said they'd pay mid-range prices for it. This retails for $2.99.

This wine yielded some pretty differing results across the board, but most tasters said they'd pay mid-range prices for it. This retails for $2.99.

One taster said, "It smells like a mix of butter and vinegar," while another said, "It’s actually slightly sweet. Hearty. I dig it!" The butter profile was a popular opinion with responses like "Butterrrr" and "It legit smells like butter," but one taster said that's not necessarily a bad thing.

One taster said, "It smells like a mix of butter and vinegar," while another said, "It’s actually slightly sweet. Hearty. I dig it!" The butter profile was a popular opinion with responses like "Butterrrr" and "It legit smells like butter," but one taster said that's not necessarily a bad thing.
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When it came to the taste, someone reported a "Sharp start. Honestly a bit cardboard-y in terms of the kick." Another taster had a similar reaction: "This is the first one that made me gag a little. It tastes like i shouldn’t be drinking it. I hate it. It tastes savory, sort of like butter that was left in the garbage."

When it came to the taste, someone reported a "Sharp start. Honestly a bit cardboard-y in terms of the kick." Another taster had a similar reaction: "This is the first one that made me gag a little. It tastes like i shouldn’t be drinking it. I hate it. It tastes savory, sort of like butter that was left in the garbage."

But the results tell a little bit of a different story. Some people actually really liked this wine. One even went so far as to say, "I can definitely see myself drinking this with a lovely Italian meal or any kind of carb really."

But the results tell a little bit of a different story. Some people actually really liked this wine. One even went so far as to say, "I can definitely see myself drinking this with a lovely Italian meal or any kind of carb really."
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Next we tasted Target's cabernet sauvignon.

Next we tasted Target's cabernet sauvignon.

Clarity was fairly split on this one, but most thought this was cloudy enough to rank a one on the scale.

Clarity was fairly split on this one, but most thought this was cloudy enough to rank a one on the scale.
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While 56% of responders said they would pay between $16 and $25 for the bottle, 17% said they wouldn't even spend one cent. This retails for $9.99.

While 56% of responders said they would pay between $16 and $25 for the bottle, 17% said they wouldn't even spend one cent. This retails for $9.99.

And tasters were spit on the first impression as well.

And tasters were spit on the first impression as well.
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Taste responses ranged from "Truly disgusting. Tastes like it could be poison. I hate it so much. The aftertaste is so sour and tangy" to "It's earthy," which was the most positive review. Someone else said it tasted like leather.

Taste responses ranged from "Truly disgusting. Tastes like it could be poison. I hate it so much. The aftertaste is so sour and tangy" to "It's earthy," which was the most positive review. Someone else said it tasted like leather.

When asked if they'd drink it again, the majority of respondents said, "yes." But one taster said, "Please, God, no," along with five other No's. Someone said they'd only serve it to a guest if they were seeking revenge.

When asked if they'd drink it again, the majority of respondents said, "yes." But one taster said, "Please, God, no," along with five other No's. Someone said they'd only serve it to a guest if they were seeking revenge.
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Last but not least, we tasted the Kirkland cabernet sauvignon.

Last but not least, we tasted the Kirkland cabernet sauvignon.

Respondents were pretty split on the clarity here. This was definitely one of the cloudier wines in general.

Respondents were pretty split on the clarity here. This was definitely one of the cloudier wines in general.
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Opinions also ranged widely — and fairly evenly — across price. A 1.5-liter bottle retails for $7.99.

Opinions also ranged widely — and fairly evenly — across price. A 1.5-liter bottle retails for $7.99.

One person wrote, "Mass produced, medicinal," while another wrote, "Ew. It tastes truly rancid. I couldn't take a second sip. It was so bitter." Some people thought this was a pinot noir.

One person wrote, "Mass produced, medicinal," while another wrote, "Ew. It tastes truly rancid. I couldn't take a second sip. It was so bitter." Some people thought this was a pinot noir.
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One respondent gave us a pretty great idea of exactly the type of vibe she got from this wine: "This tastes like every boyfriend I’ve ever had: amazing and bright and jammy at first, then takes a sour and dry turn. SO DRY, so unpleasant. At least it's complex and keeps things interesting."

One respondent gave us a pretty great idea of exactly the type of vibe she got from this wine: "This tastes like every boyfriend I’ve ever had: amazing and bright and jammy at first, then takes a sour and dry turn. SO DRY, so unpleasant. At least it's complex and keeps things interesting."

The feedback wasn't all bad, though. Taster Kevin Reilly said this was his favorite red.

The feedback wasn't all bad, though. Taster Kevin Reilly said this was his favorite red.
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All of our tasters were anxious for the big reveal. They wanted to see if their guesses were correct, what the price point of the wines were ...

All of our tasters were anxious for the big reveal. They wanted to see if their guesses were correct, what the price point of the wines were ...

... and most of all, which their favorites turned out to be.

... and most of all, which their favorites turned out to be.
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After the reveal, our tasters had the chance to re-try — or just drink more of — the ones they liked.

After the reveal, our tasters had the chance to re-try — or just drink more of — the ones they liked.

Everyone was chatting about their expectations and how they couldn't believe some of the wines were from these well-known retailers.

Everyone was chatting about their expectations and how they couldn't believe some of the wines were from these well-known retailers.
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Although it wasn't unanimous, a number of tasters were surprised with how much they liked the wine selection from Kirkland Signature. Taster Rose Lee called the label's cabernet sauvignon "sublime," and Anthony Fisher said it was his favorite.

Although it wasn't unanimous, a number of tasters were surprised with how much they liked the wine selection from Kirkland Signature. Taster Rose Lee called the label's cabernet sauvignon "sublime," and Anthony Fisher said it was his favorite.

Corina Pintado was also pleasantly surprised. She said, "I have never had Kirkland wine, and I don't shop at Costco at all, but I was thoroughly impressed with their wine and plan on buying bottles in bulk."

Corina Pintado was also pleasantly surprised. She said, "I have never had Kirkland wine, and I don't shop at Costco at all, but I was thoroughly impressed with their wine and plan on buying bottles in bulk."
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Overall, the responses varied just as taste buds do.

Overall, the responses varied just as taste buds do.

The reds and rosés ranked lower overall than the whites ...

The reds and rosés ranked lower overall than the whites ...
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... but of the reds, Kirkland and Trader Joe's were the favorites. Of the rosés, Target's The Collection was the favorite.

... but of the reds, Kirkland and Trader Joe's were the favorites. Of the rosés, Target's The Collection was the favorite.

And judging by overall responses and comments after tasting, Trader Joe's pinot grigio reigned supreme overall.

And judging by overall responses and comments after tasting, Trader Joe's pinot grigio reigned supreme overall.
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