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. 

Grate Red Toscana Rosso

We should be working for Aldi. Yet another sub-$5 wine, this one a red that you can drink everyday.

Grate Red Toscana Rosso“Product of Italy.” That should tell us a little something about this wine.

But it doesn’t tell us enough – Chianti? Montepulciano? Something else? A blend?

Aldi Strikes Again with an Everyday Red – Grate Red Toscana Rosso

In this particular case, the red wine from Aldi is NOT going to be something you save for that special occasion. In the “everyday wine” category, however, this shines – with the goal (at least for me) of having something that can stand up for a couple days in the bottle, and won’t make you feel insanely guilty if you have to pour the remainder out.

Grate Red Toscana Rosso Review

This is a non-vintage red. (No year.) It IS from Italy, and, if you look in the lower left corner of the photo up there, you’ll see all officially Italian markings on the cork. Adding to the cool factor.

Taste

Can’t pin this down – not a ton of fruit, actually, but the nose is strong and there’s a bit of pepper on the finish. THIS has to be why they say “An Italian wine perfect for anything grilled.”

We had it, night one, with pizza and that was a-okay. (Even if the pizza did not come right off the Weber.)

Profile

Red wine from Italy. ABV 12.5%. If you know the grapes at work here, let us know. Seriously.

Value

Again, where the above-average wine becomes worthy of the grade you’ll see below. Does this stand up to $30 bottles of Cab (like the Simi we reviewed this week)? No.

Is it an absolute steal at $4.99 at our local Aldi? Yes.

Metasip Grade: B+

Monte Velho 2011 Red Wine

“I want to go to there.” – Liz Lemon, “30 Rock.”

Monte Velho 2011 Red Blend

Monte Velho 2011 Red Blend

First thing’s first – Liz was talking about a place, not a bottle of wine. But work with us here…you can use this wine to take a virtual trip to an outstanding part of the world. Right? RIGHT?

Obrigado, Portugal. And thanks for this rather outstanding trip to your country, through one out-flippin-standing bottle of red.

To the review!

Monte Velho 2011 Red Wine Review

You know you’re in for an adventure when the highly knowledgeable wine steward at the highly reputable store tells you, point blank, that this wine contains “three grapes I’ve never heard of.”

Those grapes are Trincadera, Aragonez, and Castelao. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of them, either.

What do we call this blend? Don’t know. Not sure I care. Wine was awesome, just outstanding. Probably justifying an A-…but first, a little more.

Taste

“Soft tannins.” Yeah, that’s probably the winner. Really smooth. Nose isn’t over-powering. And the fruit? There’s fruit – berries, cherries – but it’s not a fruit bomb like a Malbec. Extremely mellow.

Profile

Trincadera 40%, Aragonez 40%, Castelao 20%. 14% ABV.

Vinho Regional Alentejano. I didn’t know there are 14 different wine regions in Portugal.

(BTW, need more info on the Wines of Portugal? Well, there’s a website for that – Wines of Portugal.)

Value

TEN BUCKS. Drinks like 20 or 25. You MAY want to let it open up for awhile – I’d recommend a good long decant – or cellar this if you want. But it’s drinkable today.

Did I mention it was TEN BUCKS?

Metasip Grade: A-

Yes, it earned an A-. That means like a 90 or 91 on the traditional 100-point scales. At $10 a bottle (wait, you didn’t say it was TEN BUCKS!) it is well worth your time.

As for the folks from Portugal: call me. I want to go to there. Or drink the wines from there. (Or…both.)


Acronym 2011 Red Blend

Acronym 2011 Red BlendI cannot tell a lie: this wine isn’t half-bad. The problem? I really was stumped when it comes to the grapes. What is IN this stuff?

Time to test my palate, then: let’s hazard a guess, THEN go to the Interwebs and find out exactly what’s in this.

My gut tells me it’s Cab, Merlot, Shiraz and Malbec, probably 2/3 of the first two grapes, and 1/3 of the last two. Now…let’s take a break from writing, open another tab, and find out.

PLEASE HOLD…

Okay, I’m not sure if I’m close. I missed the Pinot – and the web page tells me it’s “dominated by Pinot Noir and Syrah.” (Syrah, Shiraz, Tomato, To-mah-to.)

Here’s a link, actually, to their website. See if you can find out what’s really in there.

To the review!

Acronym 2011 Red Blend Review

Taste

Okay, so we missed the Pinot – but that’s okay, as we’re pretty sure that the multitude of grapes gives us a mellow, smooth flavor that is not as sharp as a straight Pinot anyway.

Profile

13.5% ABV. Beyond that, other than Pinot Noir and Syrah, we’re not sure what else is in here and we didn’t get much more info from the website.

Value

According to this press release we found, expect to pay $9 to $15 for a bottle. That’s an okay value, not a head-turning one.

Metasip Grade: B-

We give it that score entirely on value. I’d bump it up a notch or so…IF this were $6-$10, not $9 to $15.

 


Flirt 2010 California Red Wine

Flirt 2010 California Red WineBe prepared for a wine with an alluring bottle. And…

Honestly, not too much else going for it. IMHO, you’re paying for the bottle, and MAYBE the Tempranillo (17%) that’s part of this blend. It’s mostly Syrah (70%) and a little Zinfandel, too.

What’s really funny here is that those are three of my favorite grapes – maybe this blend mellowed out all three grapes and the result is une grande boutaille de meh.

(Sorry, my French may be a little rusty.)

Flirt 2010 California Red Wine Review

Taste:

The winemaker says “juicy red plum, baked cherry spice and cherry cola layered with vanilla and butterscotch.” We noticed the fruit, maybe the vanilla – that was about it. (As you may have gathered, we’re not gaga about this wine.)

Profile:

70% Syrah, 17% Tempranillo, 13% Zinfandel.

Value:

Around $11 when we found it in Chicago. Worth that? Maybe. Not much more, though.

Metasip Grade: B-

Bear in mind that a “B-” is still scoring in the 80s on a 100-point scale. And if you beg to differ, let us know!


Bodega Elena 2010 Red Blend

Bodega Elena 2010 Red BlendI was hopeful. I hoped that there being more than a little Malbec in this puppy would make it rock and/or roll.

The reality, though, is that it was a little bit above average, but barely so.

Bonarda might have something to do with its being a little above average – this is a grape that COULD BE THE NEXT MALBEC. (I had to shout that because, well, it sounds exotic, doesn’t it? Bonarda! No…BONARDA!)

Anywho, onto the breakdown:

Bodega Elena 2010 Red Blend Review

Taste:

Malbec plus Syrah plus Bonarda. If you’re not taken with Malbec – and a few tasters we met thought that it’s too…peppery? Fruity? Spicy? Those are all fair assessments, and the Bonarda grape has a tendency to “cut” the Malbec down to size.

In other words – no “fruit bomb” here. So if you’re into blends that taste like blends – might not be a bad thing to take a flier on.

Profile:

62/21/17 – Malbec/Syrah/Bonarda. (Honestly made me want to hunt down a straight Bonarda; more to come on that quest down the road.)

Value:

Boom! This is where it scores above-average for sho. We got our bottle for $6.99. It didn’t knock our socks off – but it was under $10 and probably drank like about $10.

Metasip Grade: B-

But, have YOU tried it? What do YOU think?