The Tuatea Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is a $6.99 Trader Joe’s import exclusive, 100% Sauvignon Blanc sourced from vineyards in the Marlborough Region in the northeast corner of the South Island in New Zealand. Tuatea is Māori for “crest of a wave“, if you are attempting to learn the Māori language one random word at a time. Marlborough produces over 75% of the wine in NZ. This wine is produced for TJ’s by WX Imports, they produce nationally known retail wine along with custom wines for most of the large supermarket and pharmacy chains. In reading TJ’s Fearless Flyer, one section stands out, “illuminating balance between sweetness, acidity, and oakiness.” It’s the oakiness, most New Zealand Sauv Blanc is fermented and aged in stainless steel, the Sauvignon Blanc along with a splash of Semllion grape from Bordeaux, France is routinely aged in oak, but Sauv Blanc grown elsewhere isn’t, especially at the value wine price point. There is a growing movement among the NZ winemakers to oak barrel age a portion of their high-end Sauv Blanc, but the Tuatea isn’t priced anywhere near the high-end Sauvignon Blanc. Is this the left-overs of one of those high-end Sauvignon Blancs or is this your typically entry-level NZ Sauv Blanc that may have had a small portion of oaked Sauvignon Blanc blended in, or a 3rd option? Actually part of the fun of Trader Joe’s wine is trying to figure out what path a particular wine took to reach TJ’s shelves to sell for $6.99. The alcohol content is a reasonable 12.6%.
The color is a clear wheat yellow. The nose is apple, peach mixed with pear, lemon, melon, light spice, lime, and faint tropical fruit. This is a Sauvignon Blanc with excellent mouth-feel, it has some weight to it, there is solid acidity and flavor slightly subdued from the typical NZ Sauv Blanc. It tastes of grapefruit and lime, spiced apple, a little vanilla cream. The mid-palate shows peach, pear and mild chilli pepper, I have had green pepper in wine before, but this spicy pepper does very well here. The acidity is well-balanced and the finish lasts a long time.
The Tuatea Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 does not taste like a $6.99 Sauvignon Blanc, the lower end of New Zealand Sauv Blanc tends to be middle of the road, nice, but not great, the Tuatea has loads of personality. For an average retail wine, the winery receives maybe 40% of the retail cost of the wine, distribution, advertising and store margin of profit can take up 60%. Stores such as Trader Joe’s, ALDI, Costco and others have a large price advantage to retail wine shops. First they pay cash upfront for the wines they get a nice cash discount, there is no advertising budget, the distribution costs are significantly lower (all good distributors have a small army of skilled highly wine educated wine salespeople hitting the streets, who make a very nice living), these stores with their exclusive brands simply need warehousing and transportation, they do their own selling. And finally, the profit equation for a wine shop or liquor store is different from a store that mainly sell other items and do wine as a smaller part of their total sales. A $6.99 wine at Trader Joe’s or Costco may well be the equivalent of a $10 or $12 (maybe higher) at a wine shop. Again, this does not taste like a 7 buck New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, it has good balance and interesting flavors, it is good at twice the price.