What lucky little New Yorkers we are. First the grand opening of the new and improved Astor Wines and Spirits and now, we get Trader Joe’s Wine Shop. It’s a wine cornucopia all packed neatly in one square mile. With such great options, so close (or conveniently located next to subways), we realized there was only one thing to do – hold a wine-off. May the best wine purveyor win.

trader joe's.jpg
Trader Joe’s Wine Shop:
Overview: This wine shop, located adjacent to Trader Joe’s just opened a week ago, yet is already bustling with curious shoppers looking to try that “2-Buck Chuck.” Fairly large in size (by New York standards), this wine store is laid out by country and grape varietals (although not that clearly) – but don’t worry, there are sales associates all around, easily located in their Hawaiian print shirts – to help you navigate the store.

Pros: If the “2-Buck Chuck" didn’t give it away, one quick stroll around the wine shop will confirm it – the prices are low. How low? Low. While this may not be a scientific analysis, we would guess that the average price of wine at Trader Joe’s was around $6.00. Another plus was the easy to locate and friendly sales associates. While they still may be working out the kinks, they were sure eager to please.

Cons: The selection is quite narrow. Forget walking into Trade Joe’s Wine shop to find that 2001 St. Joseph from Northern Rhone. If you are looking for a specific bottle of wine, this may not be the place for you (unless of course it’s “2-Buck Chuck”).

>astor wine.jpg
Astor Wines and Spirits
Overview: Holy crap, it’s big. Give yourself at least a full 30 minutes to navigate the floor of this wine shop. Take a stroll through the temperature controlled cool-room, peek your head into the research lab, peruse the collection of wine books and accessories and rest at the tasting bar to sample the latest featured wine or spirit.

Pros: The selection brought a tear to our eye – in terms of producers, locations, grapes and price. It was just as easy to find an interesting wine from Rueda for under $10 as it was to find a Grand Cru from Burgundy (we bought the Rueda, but as soon as they develop a lay-away program that Corton-Charlemagne is ours).

Cons: The overall experience can be somewhat overwhelming. This isn’t a wine store that you just drop into to pick up a bottle. The selection, while great, can be too much. The store is also a little difficult to navigate. It’s set up by country with little markers on the end caps and occasionally a sign above the display – but these little markers can be easy to miss, and you find yourself wondering around searching for wines from California (they’re all the way in the back. Keep going.)

So who’s the winner? In the end that all depends on what you want. If you are looking to pick up an inexpensive bottle of wine, that may not knock your socks off, but will go well with your Kung Pao Chicken – then Trader Joe’s Wine Shop is a great bet. There were many wines under $10 and even a few good choices worth “splurging” for – the J.J. Prum that the Eric Asimov mentioned this week in the New York Times, was available for $19.99. However, if you love discovering new regions, producers and styles of wine then Astor has nailed it. The wine shop becomes a destination for exploring, tasting and learning about wine and spirits. You know what, just for that, we have to give it to Astor.