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!

 

 

Charles Shaw 2013 Shiraz

Inevitable Trader Joe’s Tasting…

Charles Shaw 2013 Shiraz

You knew this day was coming, right? The famous – or infamous – “Three Buck Chuck.” (I don’t think ANYWHERE sells it for $2.00, so we’re sticking with that name, not “Two Buck Chuck.”) If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, you’ve seen this brand of wine over along the wall and you’ve likely thought…”Really?” In this case, the Charles Shaw 2013 Shiraz is up for review, and, well…”Really?”

A few things before we get to the review itself: yes, we think in terms of overall score – Taste, Profile, Value – when coming up with our grades. No, we don’t grade on a curve. Yes, you might take issue with what appears to be a relatively low grade for this wine (at least in comparison to other similarly inexpensive vinos, e.g. Oak Leaf Merlot from Walmart).

Watch the video above, or read the review below. And let us know what you think in the comments.

Charles Shaw 2013 Shiraz Review

This likely falls into the “expectations” category for me – in that my expectations clouded my review. I was expecting cheap wine. And I got, well, cheap wine.

Taste

It did not taste bad – earthy, peppery, fruit-forward. But it did not taste expensive.

Profile

Shiraz from California, it says “Napa & Sonoma” on the bottle. 2013. ABV of 12.5%.

Value

$2.97. A fine everyday table wine, but not sure that it’s worth much more than that.

Metasip Grade: B

This didn’t ace any one category – you could do a lot worse in the $3 category. But you can also do a lot better – see Walmart – and thus we can only grant Chuck a grade of B.

Flirty Bird 2012 Syrah

Aldi: You don’t disappoint. You’re like the Triple Crown of Alcohol.

Let me explain what I mean there, and why Aldi’s Flirty Bird 2012 Syrah has a “Triple Crown of Alcohol” thing going for it.

Flirty Bird 2012 SyrahSee, you don’t want to spend too much, do ya? It’s okay to splurge, it’s okay to go buy a $50 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon if that’s your thing. But it’s not our thing – and we don’t think this site would have gotten the traction it has gotten so far if we focused on the $50 bottles.

But you also want something that DRINKS more expensively than it actually is.

This is why we focus on the three pillars to make up our Triple Crown: Taste, Profile, and Value.

It’s got to Taste good, that’s a given. But Profile is often overlooked – and that actually gets woven into the overall Metasip Grade. If the “profile” of the wine is “White Zinfandel,” then you have a certain level of expectation, right? (Cheap, watered down, flavorless, too sweet, etc.) And you would expect to pay…what…$6 for an enormous jug of the stuff?

Value, then, has a little something to do with Profile and Taste, too.

It would be easy to get an A grade here at Metasip if you had a dynamite White Zinfandel that tasted outstanding and only cost $1 for a bottle. But the odds of that happening are slim.

However, as you’ll learn in this review…the odds of Flirty Bird 2012 Syrah getting an A? Pretty good.

Flirty Bird 2012 Syrah Review

Taste

I was actually very impressed with this bold, dry, earthy Syrah. It took a few minutes – it needed to breathe – but once it did, it served as a great complement to steak. It was what you would expect from a big, bold Australian Shiraz, were you to pick one up from any of the Aussie providers. Read here for a review from the…unfortunately named…Terroirist website.

Sidebar: really, I know you’re trying to be cute over there, but it looks too much like a word that would get you on the NSA watch lists.

And, before we get back to the review, one other note. We can’t explain the difference between Syrah and Shiraz very easily, so let’s let someone from Popsugar do it. Here’s a link. Popsugar on Syrah vs Shiraz.

Anyway, this wine, IMHO, has a very Australian character to it…which segues nicely into the “Profile” section of the review…

Profile

IT’S FROM SPAIN????!!!!

Those extra exclamation points are warranted because – SHAME ON ME! – I didn’t actually read all of the label. I just saw “Syrah,” thought “Shiraz,” and said “cool! Australia!”

It’s from SPAIN.

This is totally unexpected. And a bonus, in my book, since I’m drinking something that has the profile you’d expect from Australia, but it’s not even from a country you’d expect to get THIS wine from.

Value

$4.99. A jaw-dropping price.

Metasip Grade: A

Yes, that Triple Crown. Tastes great, an expensive profile, and a VERY affordable price. I’m buying more.

 

Why a $3 Wine from Aldi Is Worthwhile

Breaking from the usual review format to weigh in on a trend: Value Wine from Aldi.

So we opened up something called “Winking Owl Shiraz” last night.

Winking Owl Shiraz

And we were quite impressed. More on that particular vino in a second, but first, let’s talk about Value Wine from Aldi.

Really…what are you waiting for?

I’ve done more than my share of in-store wine tastings, wine demos and wine marketing over the past several years. I know that people have different preconceived notions, and those can be summed up in a few nice bullet points:

  • “All box wine is swill”
  • “I only drink [insert brand name here]”
  • “Unless you pay $10 for it, it’s cheap and undrinkable”

Not everyone is like this, mind you – but these are the “Big Three.”

(Item Four: “I have to taste it before I buy it.” Since some stores can’t – or won’t – allow you to actually taste the stuff, and since not all brands will do “wet tastings,” this is also one of those barriers to expanding one’s palate that is tough to overcome. In other words, if you’re not willing to take a chance on a wine (or a beer or a new spirit), then you’re likely only going to rely on what stores pour, and you’ll miss out.)

I can’t help you with point one…yet. We’re reviewing the box wines soon. Promise. Stay tuned.

Point two…well, that’s part of the problem with the business, especially wine. The big brands – let’s use Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio as an example – pour tons of money into marketing. You come to expect finding it on the shelves, and seeing it all over the place, and it becomes, say, the house white. And it feeds off itself, so it appears that’s all you see.

We’re all creatures of habit – and I’ve done it for years myself with what I consider the best beer known to man, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It wasn’t until I thought to broaden my own horizons that I tried other things. And I’m glad I did.

So part of this rant – apologies – is to get you out of the habit of buying the same old stuff. And to get you, too, to broaden your own horizons.

Which brings us to point three – price.

I’ll only drink something that’s more than $10 a bottle.

Okay, then. But…what are you paying for, really? Are you paying for the wine itself? OR, more likely, are you paying for the marketing behind the wine?

Why IS “Two Buck Chuck” $2? And when is the last time you saw a Trader Joe’s billboard?

So, once you get beyond the fact that there may NOT be a ton of difference – even these days – between a $5 wine and a $50 wine, let’s talk about Aldi and its Winking Owl Shiraz.

Winking Owl Shiraz Review

At first blush, this wasn’t a typical shiraz. The nose was very shiraz-like, but it had a very peppery taste. At first.

Taste

It opened up after an hour or so, and we’re glad it did. Quite tasty, some fruit, but pretty dry. Good finish – blackberry, black pepper. (Label pictured below says “a hint of spice.” We agree.) Earthy as well.

Profile

Here’s where you just have to…well, throw caution into the wind. Bottle doesn’t say the alcohol content. Doesn’t say the year. In fact, it only says “California, USA.” Mmmmkay.

Value

I will sacrifice the above profile information for a bottle of wine that is MORE THAN DRINKABLE and only costs THREE DOLLARS. In fact, I’d wager that this would be the second-best value out there right now.

(Want to know more about the best value? Click here: Lil Koala.)

Metasip Grade: B+

Yes, you heard me. This wine cost us $3 and gets a B+.

So…now that you know we’re partial to Aldi wines and not afraid of trying something that’s $3 a bottle…where are you gonna shop next? Or what crazy thing are you gonna try? Let us know!

 

Winking Owl Label

Lil Koala Shiraz

Lil Koala ShirazIn the interest of (1) causing a stir, (2) going out on a limb and (3) getting mondo traffic to this site from the Aldi Shopper/Value Hunter/Inexpensive Imbiber crowd, I would like to make the following statement:

Lil Koala Shiraz is the best value in wine today. Better than Charles Shaw. Better than any other house brand. You should check it out. Seriously.

Hyperbole aside, this is darn good. I could ask for a couple things – like a year, and maybe a bottle that doesn’t look like – and remind me of – Yellow Tail.

Other than that, let’s break it down. To the review, mate!

Lil Koala Shiraz Review

Taste

Plum, blackberry, black cherry on the nose. Fruit forward. Maybe a little black pepper, too – so there’s a kick and it’s not overly fruity. (Bottle identifies it as “semi-dry” and that’s a fair assessment.)

We had it with Mediterranean Chicken, and it complemented the meal extremely well. I can’t get over it – it could be that my expectations were low because, again, I was reminded of Yellow Tail. Oh, and the price – see more on that below.

But this is a “can I have another glass?” wine.

Profile

100% Shiraz, though undated. 14.1% ABV. Semi-dry and “Full-bodied” (according to the bottle’s little slider meter thingy).

Value

By the beard of Zeus – we got this for $2.98!

Okay, so it’s not going to drink like it’s $20 a bottle – but, and I welcome your comments here – this wine stands up to $12-$15 Shirazes.

(Plus, with what seems like a dearth of Australian wine at places like Costco, as we didn’t find ANY on a recent trip, this is worth snatching up.)

Metasip Grade: B+

We just gave a $3 bottle of wine from Aldi a B+. Yes, yes we did.

Note that on a recent Aldi trip, this wine had gone up in price to $4.79. Still, people – at $5, if it drinks like $15, can you see why we think this is the best wine value out there now?