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 Wines Under 10 Dollars – White Wine Edition

It finally happened. I got stopped by someone on the street. And they took me to task for not reviewing white wines.

It’s not that I don’t drink whites. It’s not that I don’t like whites.

It’s just that I tend toward reds – I almost always have – and that’s just the nature of the beast.

But wait…haven’t I said you should expand your palate? YES. And haven’t I done a ton of tastings over the past several months – ones where other people voted with their pocketbooks on the best white wines? YES.

So, it’s time for…

10 Wines Under 10 Dollars – White Wine Edition

Ground rules: These wines are ones that can be found in stores in Illinois – my home base – so you may not have them in your state. Price, also, may vary – some of them were way under $10, others are on the edge (and, as you know, once something gets popular at $7, it disappears, then returns at $9).

You’re not going to get the more in-depth reviews that you get elsewhere on this site – the point of this post is to be as simple as possible and give you 10 wines that won’t break your piggy bank.

Here goes. (These are in no particular order, by the way…so, Number 1 is just the first one on the list.)

1. Sequin Pinot Grigio

Sequin Pinot Grigio The same person who asked why I don’t review any white wines asked specifically about Pinot Grigio. It’s a much-maligned grape, IMHO, because of Santa Margherita. (I’m not a big fan.)

These folks, though, champion the “Delicately Bubbled” version of Pinot Grigio. Good for them – and you. It’s pretty festive, if you’re looking for a festive white.

Expect to pay: About $9.

N.B. This stays in the white wine category – in spite of the bubbles. We’ll have the “10 Wines Under 10 Dollars – Sparkling Wine Edition” in early August.

2. Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand Wines

Photo from jambox998 on Flickr, used with Creative Commons license

“This stands up to Kim Crawford. And it’s under $10.”

Kim Crawford does good stuff, and the random comment above from someone in the Dominick’s wine aisle was good enough for us. Nobilo is a name that’s been around for awhile – and there’s a golf commentator with the same name.

Expect to pay $8 or less.

3. Alamos Torrontes

Alamos TorrontesWe reviewed this a couple weeks ago and it scored quite well. (Read the Alamos Torrontes review here.)

It is one of those wines that might change how you think about white wine. (They make other stuff, too – here’s a link to the Alamos web site.)

Expect to Pay around $9.

4. Coppola Diamond Collection Chardonnay

Coppola Diamond Collection ChardonnayOne of the things Francis Ford Coppola did well? Buy the old Inglenook estate, get into wine.

His Chardonnays are always a good value, and inexpensive.

Expect to pay $8-$10.

5. 120 Sauvignon Blanc

120 Sauvignon Blanc“Honoring 120 Patriots who helped lead Chile to Independence.”

AND…

Expect to pay under $7. (!)

6. Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc

Joel Gott Sauvignon BlancOne of the best – and most alliterative names – in wine, pretty much any year Joel puts his name on will be a winner.

For the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, expect to pay right under $10.

7. Menage a Trois Pinot Grigio

Menage a Trois Pinot GrigioThey make the unavoidable red – wherever you go in search of wine, there’s the Menage a Trois red blend. (And it’s almost always $7-$8.)

Here, then their Pinot Grigio. A little more expensive than the red blend.

Expect to pay $9-$10.

8. Naked Grape Pinot Grigio

Naked Grape Pinot GrigioWhy not stay with the Pinot (Grigio)? Naked Grape is, well, a “supermarket wine” – at least, from my perch, you’ll have no problem finding their work at your local supermarket.

Expect to pay $6-ish.

9. Flip Flop Riesling

Flip Flop RieslingAnother one of the semi-ubiquitous brands you’ll find at your local supermarket. Advantage to Flip Flop and number 8 above – if you’ve not tried them, you’re only out a few bucks to expand your palate.

Expect to pay $5-$6; we have seen it under $5.

10. Los Hermanos Moscato

Los Hermanos Vineyards MoscatoThis one might set you back close to the $10 mark – but Beringer’s own label that honors the name of the original 215-acre tract where the Beringer brothers set up shop in 1876. It’s also a nod to the rich Hispanic heritage of California’s Wine Country.

Expect to pay right around $10.

So there you go: 10 Wines Under 10 Dollars – White Wine Edition

Coming soon, Red Wine Edition and Sparkling Wine Edition.

Until then, we’d love to know in the comments what you think – if you’ve tried any of these, if you think we’re out of whack, or if you want us to add some for future lists.