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!

 

 

Oak Leaf Merlot

Oak Leaf Merlot

Prepare to be shocked.

I must admit that, when I picked up the Oak Leaf Merlot, I didn’t immediately make a plan for it.

When I grab other wines, there’s almost always a plan. I’ll get a bottle of Cabernet to go with a pasta meal, or a Malbec if I’m having something spicy (underrated combo: Malbec with flank steak). Or, I’ll pick up something with the idea of a glass at night by itself – sometimes in the late fall, a Sauvignon Blanc will actually do the trick for this. (Try it.) With this Oak Leaf Merlot, though, I had no plan.

Spoiler Alert: We’ll tell you where it’s from below. You might be shocked. (If you watch the video, you’ll hear us about 2 minutes in tell you where this wine is from.)

We picked this up in a pair – there was a Cabernet, too, and the price was right – at least for an experiment.

Anyway, let’s get to the review…

Oak Leaf Merlot Review

We warned you that there was a little shock value here – because the wine was from Walmart. And, as you’ll see in the video, it knocked us off our feet.

Taste

Really, this has all the Merlot qualities you’re looking for. Dry, not fruit-forward but there’s some fruit, nose was strong – in that we could sense the alcohol. Mellow is another good word.

Profile

Non-vintage. 12.5% ABV. “American.” So could be somewhere out west, likely California, probably not Arkansas.

Value

Where it’s a real score – this wine was $2.97. If you’re like me, and you like a glass now and then, can’t really have more than a glass on the nights you do drink, this is right up your alley. $3 for a glass, or two, of wine – and it’s better than average? Nice job, Walmart. Nice job.

Metasip Grade: A-

We have to give this a good score, right? Mostly because of the shock value, I think. Unexpected. Go get some.