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. 

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.

 

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.

 


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?