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Trader Joe's

Have you heard the one about Charles Shaw, namesake of Trader Joe's fabulous -- and at $3 a bottle, fabulously cheap -- wines? Legend has it that the wines are so easy on the wallet because the old oenophile, while in the middle of a bitter divorce, wanted to reduce his vineyards' assets and so flooded the market with cheap wine. How about the airline theory? Post 9/11, airlines could no longer use corkscrews, so many of them dumped their vinous stockpiles on the market at cut-rate prices. No? Well, then, you haven't been spending enough time at Trader Joe's, St. Louis' newest emporium of fantastic foods at rock-bottom prices. Whether you're looking for packaged guacamole (made from five Haas avocados, no less) or a box of tasty chocolate truffles, TJ's has it all. The preternaturally friendly staff is always on hand to answer a question or offer up a sample. So what's the skinny on the California chain's two-buck (three-buck around these parts) Chuck? Simple. Vineyard overplanting in the 1990s has led to a grape glut. That, and the good folks at Trader Joe's are cozy with their supplier, who buys grapes in massive volume. The result? For a few bucks, you get a nice bottle of Chuck.

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