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. 

La Finca 2013 Tempranillo

Trader Joe’s strikes with this big, bold red.

La Finca TempranilloHere’s one of those times where I’m almost certain I’ve had something before – and I had to search my own site to find out whether or not that’s true. (Answer: False; I have not had this wine before.) La Finca 2013 Tempranillo has everything you want in a Spanish Tempranillo.

Except it’s from Argentina.

La Finca 2013 Tempranillo Review

Had a long chat with my local Trader Joe’s wine guy and I have no doubt that their wine buyers know what they’re doing. (And you can expect a few more reviews on this site thanks to their recommendations.)

Taste

Fruit: plum, blackberry. Solid, everyday-drinking red wine.

Profile

13% Alcohol. “Oak Aged.”

Value

Under $5 if memory serves.

Metasip Grade: B+

So this falls into the “everyday” category – but it’s also a “tweener.” You could spend more and get something that drinks a lot more expensively. You could spend less and get something just as good – in fact, some of the Charles Shaw stuff (see our recent review) is probably a better value in the grand scheme.

Why spend $5 when you can spend $3 on the same thing? Or, why spend $5 when you can spend $8 and have something three times as good?

It’s a conundrum – and this wine probably gets left off our “buy it again” list.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale

Metasip

Metasip Logo

My mother bought me my first bomber of Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale. She knew nothing about it. I knew nothing about it. I didn’t ask her to buy it. But she was in Trader Joe’s and decided to buy me a bottle. I wasn’t expecting much, honestly. But I’ll try any beer once for the sake of experimentation.

When I got the bottle, I was surprised to learn it was made for TJ’s by Canadian brewery Unibroue, which makes some pretty solid Belgian-style beers. And this one was as solid as any of them.

That chance encounter started a tradition for me. See, TJ’s gets a new version of the Vintage Ale every year and 2013’s offering is probably the best I’ve had.

Time for the Review: Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale

Taste

In true Unibroue style, this has a very prominent sweet (but not cloying) and malty flavor. A bready aroma couples with cocoa and spice notes and hints of fruit to create a very pleasant and almost dangerously easy drinking beer. At 9% ABV, it may not be the best idea to knock back a lot of this in one sitting. But be careful, because you don’t taste the alcohol much and it’s smooth enough that you can drink a lot of it quickly.

Pours a deep, rich brown with a creamy, thick head that sticks to the glass just a bit. It’s a beautiful-looking beer and is probably best served in a tulip glass.

Profile

Style: Belgian strong dark ale.

ABV: 9%

Value

At $4.99 for a 750mL bottle, this is one of the best craft beer values out there. It’s cheap enough to be an everyday beer or to keep around to serve to unexpected guests. Heck, it wouldn’t break the bank to buy a few bombers for a party. And while supposedly, it’s only available in limited quantities around the holiday season, I had no trouble getting hold of a couple bombers in May. Trader Joe’s is like that – Vintage Ale or regular old run of the mill beer, if it’s any good, they’ll stock it.

Metasip Grade: A

Jumping Cow Amber Ale

Jumping Cow Amber AleI still remember the first Jumping Cow Amber Ale I tried: shocked at how inexpensive, approachable, not pretentious. Then I stopped myself and said “Dude, it’s a beer, drink it.” And there we were.

This was a few years ago, mind you, and I think my palate has mellowed with age.

Now, this is something I’ll pick up from Trader Joe’s – still the only place I’ve found it – from time to time.

Jumping Cow Amber Ale Review

Taste

As ales go, this one is missing…something. When we’re able to put our finger on what it is that it’s missing, we’ll let you know. If beer had a “table wine” category, this one would be in it. You won’t embarrass yourself serving it to friends – but you won’t win over beer snobs, either.

Profile

ABV: 5.5%.

Value

Using the “buck a bottle” gauge, this is right about, well, okay. Not our favorite, and not a solid “B” when it comes to getting your money’s worth.

Metasip Grade: B-

 


Boatswain American IPA

Boatswain American IPAOkay, the Boatswain American IPA jumped out at us – might have been because we were in the mood to try something different, and by the bottle. Or maybe it was just the really loud label. Or all that.

Quick summary: Hoppy brilliance. Not too bitter. Seriously a phenomenal beer. Can’t get over how awesome this is. One of the best beers I’ve had in a long, long time.

Boatswain American IPA lives up to its billing – Trader Joe’s had this guy available in a 20-ouncer, and the price was under $2 for a bottle, which is one of the best deals maybe in the history of ever.

Taste

You can taste the malt. You can taste the hops. The alcohol content is pretty high, but that’s okay. This puppy is well worth whatever you pay for it.

Profile

In-between the overly hopped IPAs and the barely hopped domestic macrobrews. ABV: 6.8%. IBUs: 79.

Value

See above, where we found it at TJ’s for a crazy low figure. Would have paid twice that.

Grade: A-

Have you had the Boatswain American IPA?

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