Best Two-Buck Chuck Wines at Trader Joe’s

Unless you live on a yacht and run in the same circles as Scrooge McDuck, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the bargain wines affectionately known as “Two-Buck Chuck”.

In 2002, Trader Joe’s debuted a store brand of wines under the label Charles Shaw, priced at $1.99 per bottle. Since then, the discount-hipster grocery chain has sold more than 800 million bottles of the value vino in the U.S. and the price hovers closer to $4 in some regions.*

Two-Buck Chuck is certainly popular, but is it any good? Charles Shaw has won some legitimate awards in the past, and some wine-tasters couldn’t tell it apart from expensive wines in blind taste tests. On the other hand, many sommeliers say it’s pretty darn bad, and you’ll probably get some side-eye if you bring a bottle to a dinner party.

But sometimes you just need a bottle of wine that’s cheap and drinkable.

To save you time and regrets next time you find yourself in the wine aisle of Trader Joe’s with an anemic bank account, below are reviews and a ranking of the best and worst Two-Buck Chuck wines.**

THE BEST 

Pinot grigio

Light, clean and lemony, the taste of the pinot grigio can best be described as a “generic white wine”, which is a good thing here. The flavor is fruity but fairly neutral, and you could definitely serve this to party guests without anyone being the wiser, if that’s your thing. Easily the best white of the Two-Buck Chuck, and in close first place for the best of the bunch.

Cabernet sauvignon

Extremely sweet and fruity, this tasted a bit like cherry pie filling, in a good way. It’s not as heavy and rich as true cabernet lovers might hope for, but it’s tasty. I’d hesitate to serve this to party guests, but if you just want something to drink with dinner with family, you could do worse for a few bucks. While I was checking out, I also learned from our cashier* that our local Trader Joe’s had a blind wine tasting, and the Two-Buck Chuck won best Cabernet in the store.

White zinfandel 

There’s no other way to describe the taste of the Two-Buck Chuck white zinfandel as anything but  strawberry Jolly Ranchers. And it’s strong — almost like a flat strawberry wine cooler. If that doesn’t bother you, and you’re a fan of white zinfandel in general, than you’ll almost certainly enjoy this. It’s the perfect wine to have on hand for a summer barbecue after the good stuff has run out.

THE MEH

Merlot

As a merlot, this is a failure. As a generic dry red table wine, it’s not terrible. The first sip is spicy and peppery, with faint citrus notes. But the burning, cheap-wine aftertaste is definitely there. Only purchase this if you’re resigned to buying a Two-Buck Chuck red and you absolutely can’t stand an overly-sweet cabernet for some reason.

Sauvignon blanc

I’m not saying this is good wine. It’s not. But I’m grading these on a curve, and for $3, it could be worse. There is a strong earthy, pungent smell after uncorking, and not in a good way. But once you get past the funky odor, the taste is just blandly acidic. There is no reason to buy this instead of the pinot grigio, but if your local store is out of stock, this one probably won’t make you gag.

THE WORST

Chardonnay

The first sip of this was okay. It was mild, buttery and a little bit oaky, just a run-of-the-mill cheap Chardonnay — and then BAM! It actually burned my throat going down. This is way too harsh and acidic to be drinkable. This tastes like Chardonnay-flavored nail polish remover and is a really, really bad wine in general. Do not buy this if you value your esophageal lining.

Shiraz

Perhaps as an alternative fuel or a drain cleaner, this would be useful, but as a beverage for human consumption, the Two-Buck Chuck Shiraz is an utter disaster. This is a harsh, bitter wine that tastes nothing like Shiraz and barely like wine — it has no flavor other than “alcohol”. It was so unpleasant that I couldn’t stand to take more than a few sips, and had to rinse my mouth out afterward. This was easily the worst of the Two-Buck Chucks and one of the worst wines I’ve ever personally tasted. The only circumstances under which you should ever buy this wine would be to give as a gift to someone you detest, or you are an employee of Guantanamo Bay. 

OTHER NOTES

I had an unusually difficult time opening the bottles. The corks kept breaking off or crumbling, and it turns out there is a reason for this other than my lack of skill/upper body strength. Rather than just use a plastic cork, like most bargain wines, Two-Buck Chuck uses one of the cheapest forms of natural cork, which is essentially just a bunch of cork pieces glued together. Just something to keep in mind if you’re prone to cork destruction/embarrassing displays of physical inadequacy.

*In Illinois, Charles Shaw Wines are $2.99 per bottle. So it’s more like Three-Buck Chuck.

**Note: All wines were purchased at a Trader Joe’s location on the north side of Chicago. Shout-out to cashier Danny for reserving judgment on this purchase during check-out. All bottles were 2014 vintage except for the white zinfandel, which was 2013. I tried the seven main varietals, but skipped the seasonal/regional varietals like the Beaujolais Noveau. 

10 Underrated Cheap Red Wines

Realizing we have a decent history of drinking (er, “tasting”) here at Metasip World HQ, we thought we’d look back into the vault and figure out the 10 Best in the Red Category.

Cheap Red WinesLet’s be honest here: the world of the internet adores lists. We’re not alone, as we have to admit to having tried the “Listicle” thing recently (see: Metakitchen) and not-so-recently (see: 10 White Wines). In fact, it was that very post on White Wines that reminded us…we promised everyone a list of 10 Red Wines. Darnit! We’re slow to the draw, or we got busy doing other stuff, or we decided to give up drinking alcohol for Lent. Alas, we’re back, with the “better late than never” listicle: 10 Underrated Cheap Red Wines.

Define: “Underrated…”

By “underrated,” we mean just that. It’s also a subjective term, so feel free to argue with us on whether or not the wine we’re talking about qualifies – if you’ve never seen it rated anywhere, is it REALLY underrated? And if we say it’s an “A-” or “B+,” does that mean that you’ll think we’ve rated it highly in comparison to other wines, and thus when you try it you’ll say it’s “overrated?”

Work with us here…we’re going to go with “wines that we’ve found that have scored a B+ or better rating…and fit with the definition of “cheap.”

Define: “Cheap…”

I don’t know…under $10? Under $20? This is also subjective. But, from our days slinging wine at Costco, we can tell you that we’ve had some people tell us their threshold for quality IS $10! Yes, they won’t pay LESS than $10, even if the wine is outstanding at $9.99.

Our view – as you may have guessed from our trips to places like Aldi and Trader Joe’s – is actually different. We’re willing to pay more than $10, sure, but we’ve found that both our palate and our budget can do just fine at $5 sometimes.

So here we go: it’s our list, and, well, if you disagree with the ten…let us know.

10 Underrated Cheap Wines

1. Here’s one from Aldi, and Australia

Lil Koala ShirazWe have to admit that this is one of those wine reviews we did that we didn’t realize would take off like (virtual) (non-viral) wildfire. Why? Bloomberg picked it up. (This was awhile back, and our searching skills aren’t what they used to. We found a really good article on the site from right around that time, on the differences between the Aussie dollar and the US dollar, and why that means good wine coming here: Bloomberg Article.)

Here’s that glorious article on Lil’ Koala.

You might end up sensing a theme here: we love the wine values you find at Aldi. But it’s not the only place you can get underrated cheap wine.

2. A surprise from Walmart

Oak Leaf Metasip

This one really fits the “cheap” category: Three Bucks!

Part of a video review series:

Walmart! (Note that the photo is a Cabernet; the video review is of a Merlot. We’ve generally had good luck with the Oak Leaf label.)

3. An Italian Masterpiece?

Masterpiece might be a little much. But this is a Monetpulciano D’Abruzzo, and it’s from Aldi. We reviewed this one in video format:

Aldi’s cousin, or sibling, or…well, you’ve heard various themes on the story about Trader Joe’s but they strike with item 4:

4. Charles Shaw!

Charles ShawWe’ve heard different things about good old Chuck. Some of the grapes are really solid in Charles Shaw sub-three-dollar format. Others are a little more meh. (This one, incidentally, only got an overall grade of “B” from this reviewer; as we compared it to other sub-$4 reds and found the value to not be there in comparison. But it still was a more-than-serviceable Shiraz.)

This one? Pretty good. Shiraz. We’d say “go with it.”

[BREAK TIME! Or, more accurately, ADVERTISEMENT: At the Plonk Wine Club, we do the picking and you do the drinking! We do all the work so that you don’t have to. ]

5. La Finca Tempranillo from…

La Finca TempranilloYah, you hear Tempranillo and you think “Spain.” Then you see that it’s actually from Mendoza in Argentina and you think…really?

We liked this one, as you can see at the original blog post.

6. Yet Another Red from Aldi…

Flirty Bird 2012 Syrah

We’ve had some REALLY good luck with Aldi wines, as you have likely figured from watching this site over the past couple years. This red, though…Flirty Bird. Falls into the “great price” category. And the “great everything else” category. Got an A from this reviewer.

7. Portugal in the House

Monte Velho 2011 Red Blend

Monte Velho 2011 Red Blend

All right, this one is close to the edge: $10 or so. Still, it’s the bomb. It’s Monte Velho 2011 Red Wine. We gave it a grade of A-, and that we equates to about a 90 or 91 on the 100-point scale. Well, well worth the money.

8. Aldi…AGAIN? REALLY?

Grate Red Toscana Rosso

Yeah, this one – Grate Red Toscana Rosso – scored a B+. But you need to find it – we haven’t seen it in awhile. “Perfect for anything grilled” according to the label, so MAYBE we’ll see it again soon.

9. Winking Owl Shiraz

The Winking Owl Shiraz is one of the first Aldi wines we tried for the site. And it, too, got a B+. (Sorry, photo not available. Blame the hackers.)

10. Finally, a wine that only got a “B” but…

Vina Decana 2009 Tempranillo

Vina Decana Tempranillo. When we first rated this one, we said it could very well be a house wine for years to come. And, if you haven’t experimented with Tempranillo yet, this is a good one to experiment with.

And, there you have it. Our listicle. For you.

10 Underrated Cheap Red Wines

Let us know in the comments if you agree with any of these choices, or want to suggest your own!

 

 

YAO MING MAKES WINE! OMG!

We have never, in our history here at Metasip, been driven to immediately stop what we are doing and go straight to the blog and post something with a title in all caps. Until today.

Yao Ming

Photo courtesy sporta.com.

There he is, all smiles. Yao Ming. Chinese basketball megastar. The first Chinese national to play in the NBA, Yao gained fame in the 2000s, and helped the game continue to grow globally. And, it turns out, he is using that superstardom and fame back home to make wine. People: YAO MING MAKES WINE! OMG!

I’ll admit: this sneaked up on me. I wasn’t expecting this AT ALL, but…it does make total sense.

I was going about my business actually…my business is that of site manager for two burgeoning properties here on the web: Not just Metasip (where you are right now) but also Metakitchen (where you will soon visit, and sign up to Like on Facebook, and Tweet with and…). Part of this mission includes the mantra of “subscribe to everything,” since we don’t know what we don’t know (and we also want to make sure that we have the right stuff in our own email newsletter when we launch it).

Imagine my surprise, then, when reading a great Wine Enthusiast post on “Pairing Wine with Mother Sauces,” I saw an ad on the right hand side of the page. For a wine. With the name “Yao Ming.” I did not know that Yao Ming makes wine.

YAO MING MAKES WINE! OMG!

We’ll stop yelling, now that we have your attention.

Yao at Work

Courtesy yaofamilywines.com

A couple of notes about this particular wine that caught our eye:

  1. It is NOT cheap. The folks over at WineExpress will sell you a bottle for under $90. (Link provided as a public service; we don’t make anything if you buy from that link.)
  2. It has been well-received by the wine community, it appears. The video from the tasting guy at WineExpress, Josh Farrell, tells us it’s got “a nice chocolate note, black cherry, black currants.” “Made by someone who knows what they are doing.” AND…”this will really show something in five to eight years.”
  3. Yao Ming might be the smartest guy on the planet. Look at the label:

Yao Ming Wine

Am I going to buy this wine? NO. You can buy me a bottle, and, if you work for Yao’s winery, I’m happy to taste-test a bottle and give it a review. That’s not likely though…and, that’s okay. I’m not the target audience.

This label is insanely smart because it has a photo of a vineyard, the name “Yao Ming,” the grape (Cab; the one tasted by Wine Express is from 2010, the photo is from Houston Press and shows a 2009 vintage), and the words “Napa Valley.”

At roughly $90 a bottle for a California Cabernet, Americans will likely pass and suggest a bigger name Cab. But the growing Chinese wealthy class will gobble this stuff up – not only is it from a premier region for Cabs, it’s also has Yao’s name on it.

Have You Had This Wine?

If you have sampled Yao Ming’s wine – any year is fine with us – we’d love to hear from you. Until we do, slow clap for Mr. Yao. Finding that niche – Chinese people who consume wine – and leveraging your good name to give them something of value…nice move.

 

Quick Takes: Wine Bee

Metasip Quick Takes

Hey, we’re back with another Quick Take – in this one, we introduce you to Wine Bee, a unique site that takes you all around Italy – twenty wine regions covered by their buyers – to . As with all the Quick Takes so far, this is an Affiliate Link, which means if you take advantage of a deal by clicking on this link, we’ll be compensated. But if we get compensated, we can keep bringing these Metasip reviews to you. And other cool stuff. Time for you to meet Wine Bee!

Quick Take: Wine Bee

WineBee.com is the link, and what we noticed first about the site is the imagery. I love wine, but, to quote Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”

But back to wine for a second or two…

Cavalchina Bardolino DOC

Yum. This guy over here looks like a steal at $16.40 per bottle. I think I want two.

NOTES on this wine: “The grapes used for this Veneto region wine mature late and it is necessary for there to be a good climate at the end of the season to realize the potential of these grapes. When this happens we have one of the most distinguished wines in the Italian panorama: not too deep in color but with an intense bouquet, nuances of cherries and marasca. On the palate it has a persistent peppery, spicy character.

“To ensure these characteristics the grapes are, after destalking and pressing, fermented for 72 hours at 280C then the temperature is lowered to 220C up to the end of the fermentation, to avoid over extraction of tannins. The average maceration is 10 days followed by the malolactic fermentation. The wine is kept for 3 months in stainless steel vats.”

This is one of the…well, it looked like HUNDREDS of wines on the WineBee.com site.

Give it a try, you may like what you taste over there.

Big Asterisk Here: only a few states are on their list – “We provide shipments to the following states: California, Alaska, District of Columbia, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, West Virginia and Wyoming.”

See you next time for another Quick Take.

Artesa 2012 Cabernet Franc

There are rare times when a wine reminds you how much you missed a particular grape. This is that wine, and this is that grape.

Artesa Cabernet FrancSaying hello to the Artesa 2012 Cabernet Franc wasn’t a tough thing to do – it was the holidays, the libations were flowing, and Artesa had already provided a couple other bottles that were more than serviceable. In other words, while the stuff isn’t cheap – you can’t get it at Aldi, and it’s normally in the $30-$40 a bottle range – when there’s a bottle in front of me, well, why not?

However, the Cabernet Franc – a grape with, dare I say, bite – is probably more than a little maligned here in the States. We don’t see it all the time, and, while it gets blended occasionally, it’s just not mainstream, is it?

Sidebar – if you ever get a chance to have a Cab Franc from the Niagara Valley of Canada, DO IT. Do not delay.

Artesa 2012 Cabernet Franc Review

Taste

People of Earth, this is a serious wine! When we got this baby open on Christmas, we thought…WOW. This is an expensive bottle. (Evidence on the website – the 2011 sells for $32 a bottle – IF you are a member of their club. We’re not, but we know people who are. Without it, it’s $40. Here’s a link to the Artesa web page.)

Plus, those jammy, “wine with bite” undertones you would expect from a Cabernet Franc – those are here. Yes, a little tobacco, some blackberry too.

This is an outstanding wine.

Profile

For the 2011, ABV is 14.2%. Expect similar for 2012. Small release in 2011 – 950 cases.

Value

It’s not your everyday wine – it was Christmas, after all – but, having sampled from $100 bottles in the past, if you spent $40 on this, you got your money’s worth and then some.

Metasip Grade: A

We cut right to the chase with the photo – this wine earned an A and was the best-in-show (or breed, or class) among what we had over the Holidays. If you’re the type of person who drinks the good stuff, it’s probably worthwhile to get into their club; saving 20% on a bottle is highly worthwhile.

But even at $40, as we told ya, this is outstanding.

 

Quick Take: DirectCellars.com

Here’s a new Quick Take for ya, and this one is an affiliate link. There’s a kicker at the bottom, and it actually really got my attention. Really. Read on for more!

So today’s Quick Take is from DirectCellars.com – and they have a pretty interesting concept in the whole wine world. First up, here’s a link: DirectCellars.com-Great Wines, Exceptional Prices, Delivered to Your Doorstep! Click here!

Really, though, DirectCellars.com is different…HOW?

I see three different varieties of membership. Hmmm. Here they are:

Wine Lovers. Basic, two reds, two whites, or one of each. $50 a month.

Red Wine Trio. They do the hard work. “Hand-picked reds of the world.” $60 a month. Three bottles.

Connoisseur’s Choice. Two bottles, but “best wines on the planet.” $75 a month.

But, Dave, what’s that kicker that really got your attention?

“Always free shipping.”

So wait, think about that for a second. Schlep over to the wine store, or use another club that charges for shipping…or go for the “all in” price above. I like the thought of not having that extra shipping charge every month.

Here’s that link again – it’s an affiliate link to DirectCellars.com. Good luck and happy shopping!

Quick Take: Global Wine Cellars

You had me at “Reds of Italy.” Affiliate Links below, meaning we’re compensated if you buy through this link.

Today’s Quick Take features Global Wine Cellars: they’re running a pretty darn cool special on Reds of Italy. Enjoy exceptional reds from 3 of Italy’s premier growing regions. Only $49.99 (a $59.75 value).

Global Wine Cellars

Italian Reds from Global Wine Cellars

Elsewhere on these pages, we’ve reviewed a couple reds from Italy. (That sound you hear is me scratching my head trying to remember which ones…OH, that’s right: Montepulciano! So maybe it’s just one red from Italy. We really liked it, it was from Aldi, and often the big, bold red grapes from Aldi are, indeed, a tremendous value.)

But what about THESE Reds from Italy? Well, we have yet to take advantage of this particular deal – though we’ve heard good things about Global Wine Cellars – here are the three that, as of this writing (December 10, 2014), they are featuring on the site:

Dolcetto

Though the name means “little sweet one,” that doesn’t refer to the taste but, rather, the ease of growing and making the wine from this grape. It’s also the everyday red for people in the Piedmont.

Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

They do blends in Italy, and even blends of grapes more popular in, say, the Bordeaux region. Of France. France and Italy DO get along!

Nebbiolo

The name means “little fog,” and it’s considered the “most noble” grape among those grown in Italy.

More than Italian Reds

Not interested in wines from Italy this time around? No worries, spin through the Global Wine Cellars site and see what else is there – again, “Global” is the operative word. Hand-crafted, boutique wines, delivered. 25% off your first club shipment and no shipping charges.

Fine print: wines subject to change, per the website. We make no guarantees, use the affiliate link at your discretion, and Global Wine Cellars terms and conditions will apply here.

 

Quick Take: California Wine Club

Today’s Quick Take is, for us, a trip down memory lane. All links in this post are Affiliate Links – so we may be compensated if you sign up as a result. Read on!

Way, way back when – we’re talking MID-1990s – we signed up for a deal with something called The California Wine Club. It was our first foray into a wine club – and, given the fact this was actually pre-Internet, a really novel concept for the time. This Quick Take revisits the California Wine Club – and finds tons of options to choose from.

The Drill…

It’s one of the first non-magazine subscriptions we ever signed up for. Every month, we received a couple bottles of wine – and there were tasting notes and recipes and more in each shipment. It was a great way to learn about wine, and to discover wines and wineries that weren’t household names. A great deal for us newbies.

They’re still at it over there at The California Wine Club – and you can use one of the links below to sign up.

California Wine Club

Mom and Pop Wines? They’ve got that: The California Wine Club – Handcrafted, Quality Wines from “Mom & Pop” Wineries. No Bulk Wine.

Actually, the variety is pretty stellar – we could send you to a variety of different products:

Buy The California Wine Club’s Signature Series for yourself
OR
Buy The California Wine Club’s Aged Cabernet for yourself
OR
The California Wine Club’s International Wine Club for a global wine experience.

Free Shipping?

We love this deal – if you give a Premier Club membership as a gift, you’ll get free shipping. Free Shipping Offer.*read the fine print over at the landing page.

Considering they go BEYOND just California – there’s International, there’s Pacific Northwest! – tons of stuff to try out over at The California Wine Club!

Quick Take: Plonk Wine Club

Back with another Quick Take. If you missed yesterday’s from Cameron Hughes, well, don’t fret. Here’s another thing you can take a look at.

Quick Take: Plonk Wine Club

Today’s Quick Take is on the Plonk Wine Club, and we’ll tell you up front this is an Affiliate Link. That means we will be compensated if you sign up using this particular link:

Plonk Wine Club Signup Form

Alas, this is one of those wine clubs that uses a combination of smarts, savvy, and, dare we say it, sex appeal; all done to make sure you get the best possible wine selection. Want an example of what we’re talking about? Check out the video and get to know Etty, who knows her stuff.

One of the cool features of this club – tasting notes with recipes, and they’re right on the website. For instance…here’s what they say about one of the wines available this month.

Brack Mountain Fable Charbono 2010
Napa Valley, California

Charbono, also known as Bonarda (in Argentina) or Douce Noir (in France), is an obscure red variety with historic roots in the Savoie region of France. This fantastic California grown example hails from the Napa Valley, is fermented with native yeasts, and aged in neutral oak barrels. You’ll see tons of black currant, blueberry and blackberry fruit here as well as a firm core of acidity that maintains a wonderful liveliness on the palate. Only 518 cases produced.

Pair with:

Recipes courtesy of
Fun, eh?
Check ’em out…we plan on sampling the wines in the near future and we’ll give you our review. But Etty has turned Plonk into a name you can trust, so, if the price point is up your alley, give it a whirl.
Cheers!

Quick Takes

Quick Take: Cameron Hughes Wine on Groupon

Starting a new feature here called “Quick Take.” We’re sharing a link – sometimes it’s an “affiliate link,” but today’s isn’t – because it’s something we think is a tremendous value. And it appears to be a “Limited Time Only” thing today. So, here it is…

Cameron Hughes WineCameron Hughes Wine on Groupon

Dave here, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I worked for the Cameron Hughes team for a couple years, mostly doing in-person wine events – “brand ambassador” stuff – and spent a ton of time talking up their stuff while standing at a table at a Costco.

[Hey, that reminds me, didn’t we do a post on buying alcohol at Costco? Yes, yes we did! Here’s a link.]

So this particular deal jumped out at me – because of what I know about their business model, and because of how I saw people BUY Cam’s wine at Costco, I can vouch for the following:

1. You’re getting more than $60 worth of wine

Supply, demand, etc. – there is a glut of expensive wine, especially in California, and Cam figured this out years ago. I used to tell people that the stuff will drink like it’s $30, but you’re buying it for much less.

2. Costco did “dry tastings;” the stuff STILL sold

You can’t sample wine at Costco – it’s a policy they may have tried to relax from time to time, but, for the most part, you have to take a chance.

When I did “dry tastings,” I often was politely ignored by people in the know; they’d reach right past me and take a few bottles or even a case. Without having sampled the particular wine before.

Word of Mouth and/or Cam’s marketing newsletter had told them it was coming to Costco. And because of the track record, spending $12-$15 on a bottle of wine was a worthwhile investment. THIS ONE IS $10 a bottle.

Enough already…where’s the link?

Again, this is not an affiliate link – I just found this and wanted to share it with the Metasip community. You should totally take a chance on this. Trust me.

Cameron Hughes Wine on Groupon.

PS – a number of different samplers. Red-only, white-only, and a mix. I’m not a huge Chardonnay guy, and any mention of the word “Meritage” gets me rather excited. So I’m going with the red.

Final note: I penned this on Thursday afternoon, November 20. You’ve got til midnight Central Time – TODAY – to take advantage.