Charles Shaw (Two-buck-chuck) Cabernet

When people find out that I enjoy cheap wine enough to devote a website to it, they usually ask me if I have been to Trader Joe’s. My response, until last week, has always been “No, not yet”.

Well, I finally caved and took a trip to Detroit, the nearest Trader Joe’s location for me here in Lansing. Ann Arbor might actually be closer, but as an MSU Spartan, I try to stay out of there.

Trader Joe\'s - Home of Charles Shaw Wines

I’d like to preface this review of Charles Shaw Cabernet with a synopsis of Trader Joe’s. If you have one near you, go there. If not for the wine, then for the thousands of food items that pack the small market. I spent 80 dollars, which sounds like a bit much especially for me. I ended up leaving with 2 cases of wine and enough food for a week. Fresh mozzarella, fresh gnocchi, fresh salsa (notice a pattern?), Guacamole chips, Trader Joe’s Marinara, soups, veggies…. I was in heaven. They have got all kinds of cheeses, breads, meats, micro-brewed beers, and their wine selection was out of this world. What a great store!

Trader Joe’s is the exclusive retailer of Charles Shaw Wines, better known to most as “Two-buck Chuck”. In California these wines sell for $1.99, which is just amazing. Here in Michigan, though, the price was $2.99.

Did we like it? Was it worth the trip?

Hell yes it was! For 3 dollars, I don’t think it could have been any better. The Cabernet was great. At first, I found it to be a little sweet, but looking back, I was actually enjoying the salsa with the wine, which probably wasn’t a great combination. Along with the Cab, I also purchased some of the Shiraz, Merlot, and Chardonnay (reviews coming soon).

Congrats to Two-Buck-Chuck and Trader Joe’s for achieving the highest rating available here on Cheap Wine Reviews. Hats off to you!

Rating: 10/10
Price: $2.99
Place of Purchase Trader Joe’s




215 responses to “Charles Shaw (Two-buck-chuck) Cabernet”

  1. Daniel Clayton Avatar

    It was interesting to read your review of the now famous(or infamous) Charles Shaw, specifically the Cabernet. As a wine afficianado in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Trader Joe’s are ubiquitis, I generally hesitate when I hear about fantastic two dollar wines. My dad’s P.H.D. is in the history of the wine trade, and other than his research into the resurection of “corrupt” wine in Tudor-Stewart London, I have always understood wine to be the drink of the sophisticate & the cultured, while beer has been the beverage of the common man. Certainly there are cultures in southern Europe where wine is an important part of every day life, but these cultures take their wine seriously, and give it full expression.

    Trader Joe’s is a wonderful institution, in that it makes available to everyone what was once only found in small, specialty stores. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that it has , in fact, put out of business most of the small specialty food stores here in California, and I’m sure the same is happening elsewhere. A similar thing has occured with A.G.Ferrari & authentic Italian delis, as well as Starbuck’s & specialty coffee houses. Wine & upscale liquor stores are having a hard time here with TJ’s , BevMo & PriceCostco waging price wars. So I do shop at TJ’s with a small degree of guilt.

    In terms of wine, however, I never purchase wine at TJ’s. Trader Joe’s possesses great purchasing power, and they use it to actively pressure wineries to sell to them at advantageous prices, not at the regular quantity discounts most retailers receive. They also purchase older vintages of wine, of varying degrees of preservation, whenever they can get the price low enough, without taking quality into account. I do not believe that this is a responsible business practice for a seller of premium specialty products, as TJ’s claims to be. I know that they do the same in other areas of their business, but unlike dry canned or boxed goods, wines actually do deteriorate at room temperature. And most specifically, they do not staff wine specialists at their stores, but buy on a corporate level & cookie cutter their wine sets, so that the unknowing customer has no resources to make a good decision for his tastes.

    But this article is written in response to your rating the Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon as a 10/10. Charles Shaw used to be a real winery. They actually made wine in a real winery setting, and produced a product which some people liked. But evidently not enough, or enough for the price, and the winery closed. Then, some number of years later, the name was purchased by Fred and Joe Franzia’s Bronco Wine Company.

    Bronco Wine Company is an anathema to the production of fine wines in California. It’s culture believes that wine is a simple commodity, not a quality product, and certainly not an artisan endeavor. Each day, over 200,000 bottles of wine are produced in Central California, out of grapes which are watered the day before they are picked, resulting in more juice with less flavor. The resulting wines are bottled under hundreds of different names: Forest Glen, Grand Cru, Salmon Creek, Franzia, Albertini, Hacienda, Silver Ridge, Rutherford Vintners, Forestville, Napa Creek, etc….
    How does one facility produce that much wine? They use centrifuges to split the chemicals found in grape juice, to remove naturally occuring tannins & flavinoids. They use oak chips to quickly infuse the wine with “complex” flavors. And they release the wine within days after bottling, when any responsible winery would be horrified to subject their customers to wine undergoing bottle shock. The major wine & spirits distributors naturally shy away from representing this sort of product. So the Franzia’s created Classic Wines, the distributor arm of Bronco, to represent there products directly to retail outlets, primarily in markets without a great demand for premium wines, and where price was everything. They contracted with TJ’s to exclusively distribute Charles Shaw, as they are now doing with the “Four Buck Fred,” which actually contains enough fruit from the poor, outlying sections of Napa County to qualify as Napa wine.

    Knowing this, I was not one of those who rushed off to buy a bottle of “Two Buck Chuck” at my local TJ’s when the first news of this incredible bargain broke here in California a few years ago. After all, I’m in the restaurant business, and I’ve always been able to buy Salmon Creek wines from Classic at $2.40 a bottle, which is what they push for restaurants to use as “house” wine. So the $2 price didn’t surprise me, knowing TJ’s buying power. But sure enough, plenty of people were excited, even those who I knew sometimes drank quality wine. So one day, a group of wine-savvy friends decided to hold a blind tasting of California Cabernet. Twelve wines in all, prices ranging from $1.99 to $110.00(Silver Oak, Napa Valley). The bottles were brown bagged, and everyone tasted each wine and made their own notes. Only two of us knew what wines were being tasted, and we didn’t know the order.

    The results were not what I expected. Not one of the sixteen cared for the Charles Shaw. But it only ranked last in eleven ballots, with two much more expensive wines taking the rest of the twelth place finishes. Two guys found the York Creek too sweet, and three complaining about the harshness(both acid and tannins) of the Chateau Montelaena Calistoga Cuvee. But several tasters questioned the grape selection of the Charles Shaw; they were convinced it was a cheap blend or Merlot with no bottle aging. Not offensive, but lacking any discernable flavors, or even typical Cabernet characteristics, like earthy cocoa & tobacco tones in the finnish, and strident, intense berries and tannins on the mid palate. But we understood why immediately, it was not wine by our traditional definition, just alcoholic flavored grape juice. Plain, watery & boring.

    Now, many people still drink Charles Shaw wine, and the line has been expanded from Cab/Char/Merlot to a full line of Shiraz, Sauv Blanc, Zin, Petite Sirah & even Viognier(how the traditional growers in Condreiu must feel!). But while I’ve heard people talk about it as acceptable quaffing wine, I’ve never before heard such a glowing endorsement as you have given this, in my opinion, completely unremarkable, if unoffensive, wine.

    I would not suggest you abondon the brand, as I have not sampled the wine in over four years, and Bronco may have improved their technology to actually make the Cahrles Shaw Cab actually taste like a Cab. But I would recommend you taste it against a few other wines. Not big blockbuster Napa Cabs, or complex Bordeaux reds. Beringer “Founders Estate.” Mandavi’s “Woodbridge.” Sutter Home. Fetzer’s “Eagle Peak.” These are not the class of wines I normally consume. But they are representative of the standard wines made in California. They are made in quantity, not with the level of quality or artisan craft that I prefer, but they are eminently drinkable, and actually taste like Cabernet Sauvignon.

    This has been much longer than I intended, and I do understand that wine is not available in the Midwest as it is here in California. I did live in Kansas City for a few years, and there was not a great deal of high quality wine to be found. But I believe that wine is the greatest beverage in the world. It complements a greater variety of foods than any other drink, and is a living product that can develop in flavor & elegance. For this reason, when I opened my own restaurant, I made it an eatery & wine bar, to express the great relationship between food & wine. But this is the relationship of flavorful wines & flavorful food. I don’t particularly care for fast food, but even a McDonalds’ hamburger deserves a wine with enough flavor & concentration to bring out it’s best aspects.

    If you like, I would be glad to recommend a number of inexpensive wines which are easily available here in California, some even at Trader Joe’s, and which are flavorful, varietally distinct or intelligently blended, and which have the fruit, spice, acid, etc.. notes which make wine such a delight with a meal.

    Daniel Clayton
    Owner/Chef/Wine Steward/Resident Cheesemeister
    Nibblers Eatery & Wine Bar

    P.S. The “Moon” series of wines(Old Moon, Honey Moon, etc…) is a TJ’s label, though I’m not sure what winery it is made at. Beyond the fact that it is not available elsewhere, the Trader Moon company info is pretty indicative.

  2. Greg Avatar

    Two buck chuck is one of the most digusting wines I’ve ever tried. I will no longer visit this site because you gave two buck chuck 10/10. That’s a shame.

  3. Michael Connell Avatar
    Michael Connell

    Wow, Daniel!? How did you efflate yourself so much? That was one of the most pompous and ridiculous self advertisements I have ever seen. So you didn’t agree with the author’s assessment of the lousy 2 buck Chuck Cab? Why blow your own horn and talk about your dad’s PHD in wine?

    While I agree that the 2 buck Chuck Cab is pretty awful and not really a Cab, 2 buck chuck is a decent Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay. There are plenty of awful wines out there selling for more than $10 per bottle. You take direct jabs at TJ’s business practices yet fail to mention how they have made good food affordable for so many families. I guess these aren’t families that would shop at your over priced snobby wine and cheese bar.

    You act like a bottle of 2 or 3 dollar wine should be aged in oak casks for 6 months or something. What the hell do you think most of these wineries do now? Its such a revelation that you share saying that some of these wines may be exposed to oak chips or aged for a day or two. Ahh..actually the fermentation process takes a little bit longer than a day or two. Get off your high horse and stop your self promotion.

  4. Tom Avatar

    I went to the same Trader Joes that you went to presumably (in Northville) and looked at the same wine you looked at and just couldn’t bring myself to buy some. First of all, they were sitting on top of cases and cases of wine; probably more than 50 cases. Second, the price makes me nervous. I love my cheap wine, but 2.99 is a bit too cheap. When I can get a 40oz of Malt Liquoer for MORE than a bottle of wine – that makes me nervous.

    If you’re in Michigan and want a bottle of inexpensive yet delicious wine, I prefer the “Wine Barrell” in Livonia (by the old Wonderland Mall) or “Cost Plus Wine” (in Eastern Market in Detroit). Plus, the one in Eastern Market is in Eastern Market which has FAAAR better food than the crappy suburban Trader Joes.

  5. suzy Avatar

    Thanks for the review of Charles Shaw. My mom’s been buying it lately to show that she’s a sophisticated wine aficianado. It’s a step up from the boxed wine she used to drink – I just wish she’d stop chilling the cabs in the fridge before dinner…

    I couldn’t find a place on your site for recommending cheap wines. I’d like to suggest that you try the 2002 Crane Lake cab. We’ve been buying it at our corner liquor store for $4 and we think it’s a darn tolerable “table wine.”

    By the way, we think the Charles Shaw sucks butt.

  6. Victoria Avatar

    The 2 buck chuck is not THAT terrible. I mean, no it’s not even in the same category as a Whitehall Lane or a Silver Oak….but when cash has been tight for me in the past and I really wanted to drink a cab – it got the job done!!

  7. Scott Anderson Avatar

    I agree with Michael above when he says that the 2-buck Chuck wines are not fabulous, but you know what they are? Pleasant little conceits. Drank the Merlot the other night with some pasta and red sauce. A revelation? NO! But a pleasant-enough beverage without me having to crack open a $20-40 bottle of the good stuff.

    I have always thought of wines in two categories; the first, wines that you can drink by themselves and you need nothing else to enjoy, and second, wines that tend to come alive with different foods.

    Two-Buck Chuck is the latter….drink it alone, and you might spend your time picking nits about it’s lightness or the occasional discordant note. Drink it with food, and it becomes a nice drink which matches well with a number of good foods. What the heck more can you demand from 2 or 3 dollar wine?

    It ain’t a $40 bottle of my beloved Robert Biale Vineyards Zinfandel or Petite Sirah, but then what is?

  8. BoxWineGuy Avatar

    Like you, I’m nowhere near a Trader Joes. On a recent trip east, I had a chance to pick up a bottle of the Charles Shaw cab. I guess I was impressed that someone could create a bottle of wine, sell it for two bucks, and still have something remotely wine-like. Overall, I’d prefer to ratchet the per-bottle price up to 5 or 6 bucks (still really cheap) and get a better wine – a nice Aussie shiraz, or California merlot. I’m glad I finally had a chance to give Two Buck Chuck a try, though.

  9. Anthony J Biacco Avatar
    Anthony J Biacco

    We were given a bottle of this 2 buck chuck a couple days ago by a friend. Haven’t drunk it yet, so my jury is still out on it’s quality and value. But as a student and connoisseur of wine, i’d like to add a few things about the wide range of comments i’ve read here.
    First, I respect the original reviewer’s opinion on the wine. If he likes it, great, good for him. For him it’s a great ‘value’. He didn’t say if anyone else should like it, just that he liked it. He wasn’t speaking on its quality as an expert, so it’s all good.
    In the wine world, as a general rule of thumb, we say that better ‘quality’ wine is more expensive.
    ‘Good values’ obviously represent better quality for less money than it’s worth.
    When serious people review wine, and when i say serious, i mean sommeliers, magazines, master blenders, anyone credentialed and looking for fact and trurth, the range of differences in reviews is very small. You’re not giving a whole lot of opinion, you’re trying to give fact. This wine has tannins, this wine doesn’t have tannins, high acidity, low acidity, etc..
    When common people review wine, the range of differences in reviews is very large. It’s mostly opinion and based on the reviewer’s ‘taste’. Some people like dry wines, some hate them.
    We’ll always have people that love a particular wine, and others that will hate it. As long as we discern whether we’re giving our opinion rather that our expert analysis, we should be fine in agreeing to disagree.
    As for my expert analysis on cheap wines as this one, in our industry, I think it’s a good way to get people into wine, but i think people should be aware, through education, magazines, dicsussions, whatever, of the range of quality and prices, and the general rule of thumb.
    As for my opinion, i’d rather 1 bottle of my favorite $20 wine, than 10 bottles of a $2 one. But that’s just me.
    Decide for yourself.

  10. Gophers Rule Avatar
    Gophers Rule

    Bought a case of this the other day at a new TJ’s in MN.

    Got the case home and was pulling out bottles to stock the shelf with. As I accidentally clanged two bottles together one of the bottles exploded-sending 750ml’s of Shiraz onto my near white carpet.

    Note to all: This wine is very good but in addition to taking advantage of grape purchasing power-the mfgr of this wine is clearly cutting other corners including the quality of the bottles they bottle this stuff in.

  11. Gaia Avatar

    This wine is horrible. If you’re going to bring this to a party, you’re better off not bringing anything.

  12. Mitch Richmond Avatar
    Mitch Richmond

    I almost vomited when I read the pious review by Daniel Clayton. What a quant little fellow. However, the review was so boring, drawn-out, and lacked any sort of cohesiveness. The bias was so obvious.

    Two buck chuck is ….well……two buck chuck.

    Please don’t try to promote your sub-par eatery in such a disparate manner. I’m offended.

  13. Anonymous Coward Avatar
    Anonymous Coward

    For the person who hates the Charles Shaw, but loves the Crane Lake. Hate to tell you this, but Bronco produces both brands.

    2$C is a good dinner wine … it makes no pretension of being the sort of haute couture wine that should be sipped reverently from crystal goblets after spending ghastly sums of money. It’s just a reliable, pleasant beverage to have with dinner. I’ve had better, but I’ve also had lots worse.

  14. sean moran Avatar
    sean moran

    You all need to get your hands off your johnsons for just 1 minute and think about the absurdity of everything that has been written here. You have all obviously consumed far to much wine of any calibre. Sheesh

  15. Osama bin 32 Merlot Avatar

    Ingrates! You should try Fatwa Freds 40 shackle shiraz. Sure it tastes like camels piss, but then, since when did you filthy Americans have any taste at all? Two Buck Chucks is stupid I tell you.

  16. Desertvino Avatar

    Two Buck chuck is American vin de table–a low quality mass produced wine like that which the French, Italians and Spanish have downed for centuries, and which cost less in its heyday than a bottle of Evian. Ironically, the thirst for flavorless industrial wine is dying in these countries.

    Perhaps there is a place in the US for tasteless mass produced wine to go with our tasteless mass produced beer, but rating it a “10” is a joke.

  17. Kurt Avatar

    I actually learned a lot from the pompous wine guy. My doctor told me to drink red wine, and I usually buy the Mondavi Woodbridge at TJoes for $4.99, so it’s good to know that snobby wine people approve.

  18. Larry Avatar

    Daniel Clayton posted a great review and seems to be somoene well aquainted with the wine world. He did not suggest abandoning CS if you liked it, he only suggested tasting it alongside some other lower cost wines for comparison. He also provided some great information on the winemaker that I had not heard of. So, relax all.

    My wife drinks the CS Chardonnay and likes it. “It’s good” she says. Then again, my wife cannot tell the difference between CS and a $80 bottle. Her response is always the same “it’s good.” So for her, I only buy the CS Chardonnnay and I could care less (I only drink red). My wife admits she does not have discriminating tastes and also loves eating at the Red Lobster. But, I digress.

    Last week I bought a bottle of CS Cabernet to use in making a cabernet reduction sauce. With the excess wine, I had a blind tasting with a mid-priced Napa Cab. There was no comparison, I only needed to smell (not even taste) one wine to know which was which. The CS was flat and lacked any charachter. It tasted terrible. I am not a wine expert.

    I cannot afford to drink $100 bottles of fine Napa juice everyday. However, for an everyday wine, I would look elsewhere. There are some great value wines out there that work just fine for me. Thank you to Daniel for suggesting some!

    Let’s not forget the rule of wine. If you like it, it is a good wine. For me, CS is not a good wine. Just my opinion.

  19. Eric Avatar

    OK…I work for a wine distributor in Seattle as a sales rep. I have several of the TOP restaurant accounts in this city. For those of you familiar with Seattle, it has a very esteemed and vibrant restaurant scene and one of the finest wine growing regions in the world nearby (ever hear of Quilceda Creek? Several 100 point ratings from Parker and the Wine Speculator).

    My 2 cents: Who are we fricking kidding? Two Buck Chuck sucks by any stretch of the imagination. And I chuckle when I here the dude above talking about not wanting to open a 20-40 dollar bottle of wine with pasta. I get a HELL of a lot of wine FREE, and I still wouldn’t open a bottle at that price on an everyday basis. (By the way, with that meal, a good, cheap bottle of Chianti or any Sangiovese-based wine would beat the holy crap out of a merlot) How about a Straccali Chianti, widely available at 8 bucks most places, or Placido, 12 bucks for a 1.5 liter? It kills me that it’s such a race to the bottom. Will 4-5 bucks extra really hurt the bottom line so much that you have to buy a wine one step up from paint thinner?

    Jesus….I’ll go back to drinking my Laboure-Roi Pinot at 9 bucks and pray you race-to-the-bottom types go back to drinking Coors Light like you used to.

  20. Liz Brown Avatar

    Close to Two Buck Chuck: Four Buck Schmuck. Crane Lake’s Cab Sav was $3.00 at the local farmer’s market today. It’s amazingly smooth and tasty – no it’s not complex but for cripe’s sake it’s only$3.00!!!! Another cheap cab sav I recommend is Stone Cellars (Beringer) which I get for $4.00 a bottle at the local grocery store.

    I typically spend $10 on my cabs, but because I drink a glass (or two) nightly, I also love to find a decent cheapo wine. These two qualify!!!

  21. Steve Skalish Avatar
    Steve Skalish

    I will fully admit that I am a novice wine drinker. I am far from an expert on any of this. I just got into wine this year.

    I’ve heard so much about Charles Shaw wines, and I love Trader Joe’s. But being from PA, I could not purchase it here. However, yesterday since I was in Washington DC for business, I made it a point to go across the river to Alexandria, VA and purchase a case just to see for myself. I drove it back to PA happily.

    I tried the cabernet last night. Now, maybe some of you wine snobs have issues with it. I’m not advanced enough in my tasting to really go into whether it’s better than a $20 bottle of cabernet which I’ve had in my past and enjoyed.

    But I’ll say this… the Charles Shaw cabernet tasted good to me. And even at the price of $3.29 a bottle which is what it is sold at in VA, I consider it a great deal on a bottle of wine.

    Tonight, I may try the merlot. And I have shiraz and chardonnay waiting for me in the future.

    No, I wouldn’t bring this bottle as a gift for someone’s party. But I would happily invite friends over and share it with them.

    And it made me really happy that I could buy a case of wine for the same price I used to pay for two bottles. I’m not made of money, and anytime I can get a good deal on a drinkable wine and have more of it on hand, I’m loving that.

    As I’ve been told at the many wineries in PA that are near me, it really doesn’t matter in the end. The only thing that matters is what your personal tastebuds say. And anyone who tries to force their “sophisticated” tastebuds on me can go away. While I value anyone’s opinion and am happy to read about it, anyone who looks down on me for drinking Charles Shaw is not someone I would drink wine with in the first place.

    That’s just how I roll.

  22. d man Avatar
    d man

    i’m not about to go postal about wines, for heaven sakes. but i am interviewing for a postal job and next week i take a urine test, so maybe…,aww, forget it! spealing of personal taste, i like a wine that stands alone; i drink not only for the taste but for the slight buzz…and i try to drink responsibly when nothings going on what with family and all, maybe twice a month. i’m a fruity reisling kinda guy with about 6 different bottles of various warieties before me right now at my desk- a scuppernong from NC, some reislings i’m saving from Washington and i’m pretty sure are top drawer, Sutter, Turning Leaf and Beringer zinfandels. I was using the web to find out which one was the best to save so i could take it to my brother-in-laws as a gift (and drink it with him, of course!) He’s always treating me to off-the-wall imported beers. Anyway, the wines were cheap- all less than $8 except one of the Washington wines which i can’t find right now..#$*^%$ bleep bleep. Anyway, i appreciated all the advice above (especially daniel, larry and steve) and from other sites that i visited. i have made up my mind that my worst bet is probably a 2004 banrock station shiraz, and yes, from personal experience i’m thinking the year can make a big diff. I will put that poor bottle of wine out of its misery tomorrow if i can. but for my 2 cents worth, hang onto the empty bottle of the wine you really liked and go out soon after while it is still available and buy some more for your friends and inlaws. oh, and for yourself, too… you deserve a break today as mcdonald’s use to say.

  23. brian Avatar

    Well, We are all going a little crazy about this wine.. First off just so everyone knows Wine is all up to the eye of the beholder, just because you think it is camel piss does not mean that the next person will.

    For the price of 2 buck chuck I really dont see how you can complain about it.. it is under 4 dollars a bottle and we know it is not going to score in the 90’s, but we can say for the price you cannot beat it.. Some people really dig it.. I must say I keep some around the house, because you never know when you are going to need a quick bottle.. my wife and I like to keep a bottle open at all times, because that is how we roll.. We like wine and you never know when someone is going to stop over and share a glass.. Some of my friends are way into wine and we might open a bottle of Brander to show off we have good taste too, but for the price and for the person who does not make 6 figures a year and wants to have wine all the time.. there is nothing wrong with keeping a case of two buck chuck on hand.

    I do choose other wines over two buck chuck now that I have been drinking wine more often and can gadge the 2×4 taste of their Chardonnay.’

    blahh.. my point is if someone can find a bottle of wine for the price that is better share it with us so we can all induldge in the new taste and replace our stock of 2 buck chuck with a 4 dollar hollar or something…

    oh yeah and if you want a 15 dollar bottle of Sav. Blanc remember this BRANDER!!!!! YOU WILL LOVE IT

  24. buck in chicago Avatar
    buck in chicago

    I buy 6 to 10 cases of 3 buck chuck syrah for a party my group throws once a year. $35 for live cajun music, food, and all you can drink beer (Berghoffs, good stuff), wine or hurricanes, all in a spectacular setting. Nuff said, gotta keep it cheap. I find the syrah to be preferable over the cab. But it’s not what I would drink everyday; for everyday use, I believe you should kick it up a notch. Try Francis Coppola Rosso at $7-8, a good deal. Or Cusumano Nero D’Avola from Sicily for $9-11, depending on where you shop. Both good performers. Not cheap, but not $20 either. Best bet is if you have a real liquor store in your area that carries a lot of stuff, as they may have a close-out section that prices stuff way low. I picked up some AU Shiraz for $8 that normally retailed for $18. Bobby Burns is the producer. That’s the way to do it. Remember, liquor stores generally mark up their items 100% over cost unless there’s a price war going on, restaurants 300%. Do your due diligence–buy one, test it out asap, and if it cuts the mustard, buy a shitload more.

  25. suzee Avatar

    Hey Daniel,
    Please do give us your recommendations list. I think it would be very useful to have a list of good and accessible wines, especially for those of us “on a budget” as they say in the travel trade.

  26. Bert Kritzer Avatar
    Bert Kritzer

    TJ’s has opened in Madison, Wisconsin, a couple of weeks ago, and following the suggestion of my California-colleged daughter, I had to at least try the 2$C. Better than the rot gut the local large wine stores are selling in competition, but I would take a $5-7 bottle of Spanish wine over it without hesitation (and I found at least one such bottle at TJs).

    (BTW, a couple of years ago, I was in a small town in northern Spain, and wondered into the local wine distributor. Low and behold there were lots of 3 or 4 liter containers of wine in plastic milk jugs. Not surprising that wine in Spain is less than the bottled water …)

  27. Celeste Avatar

    I don’t know very much about wines but I want to start drinking a red wine for the health benefits. I think I would like to buy it in 1/2 to 1 gallon? Any good red wines here? I want to stay away from the sweet wines but not too dry, suggestions?
    Here in Oregon we have TJ’s and a chain called “Grocery Outlet” they have a fantastic selection of discount and discontinued wines!

  28. Gwen Avatar

    For anyone looking for reasonably priced white wines, I recommend Turner Road Chardonnay and Fat Bastard Chardonnay. For reds, try Smoking Loon Pinot Noir or Fish Eye Cabernet.

  29. Bill Avatar

    Ahhhhh…..Two Buck Chuck. I like some of their wine as my vin ordinaire. The Merlot and the Gamay Beaujolais/Valdiguie work well for this. The Cab is not that hot…pretty bad actually (I am a Cab snob I reckon)…neither is their Pinot Grigio….doesn’t even come close to a good one (I am a Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris snob too I guess). Their Sauvignon Blanc is their best white but I do generally go for something else anyways. Shiraz can work too sometimes but hey…to sum it up some of their stuff works for everyday drinking. This wine is perfect for music festivals and watching the sunset after an afternoon of surfing. I live in Monterey so I get to do that every so often. I’ve had sublime wines that cost
    $5.00 and have had some pretty bad $75.00 bottles of wine. I wish I could drink Beaulieu Georges de Latour Private Reserve everyday but old Two Buck Chuck fills the gap during ordinary everyday imbibing!!

  30. Ryan Avatar

    Oh my god people get a life! Two Buck Chuck is an amazing value- I like to have a glass of wine or two a night and there is no way I am going to pay $10+ a bottle on my everyday drinking wine. It tastes as good, if not better, than any bottle of wine I’ve tried that was under $20. Yes I can appreciate finer wines, but what the hell – I am not going to spend $60 for my everyday wine, and if I can’t tell the difference between $14 YellowTail or similar wines and $2.95 Two Buck chuck , why not go w/ the value?

    Its as good as any table wine I’ve tried (with a few exceptions- Red Truck is a favorite of mine), and I can go and buy a case for under $30! I tend to finish a bottle every three days or so- it is not as if i am going to ‘age’ my Two Buck Chuck wine hoping it will appreciate in value!

    I also give it a 10+++++ rating- it is that good of a deal, and that good of a wine!

  31. Avatar

    Wine snobs are wine snobs. Winerys sound like crybabies when complaining about making an affordable wine. Sure, they all hate it. The wine salesmen hate it, because they don’t have it…and it has forced prices DOWNWARD on all wines, creating more value for everyone. The snobby little PHD Daddy Dude doesn’t like it because it doesn’t fit in with his “california closeted cool” idea of what wine should be. There is no denying, most “sophisticate” wine drinkers are a bit out there, not quite on Mars, but definitely to the moon. Like bicycylists, they want the best for nothing. And they whine when they don’t get it. So, there you have it. An explanation of wine snobbery.

  32. John Avatar

    After turning 21 some months ago, I began to sample various alcoholic beverages. I started with beer, but fell quickly in love with wine upon the first sip (and especially from reading about the health benefits of wine 🙂 Although I am still rather new to wine, I have been able to taste some delicious examples of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, bordeaux and even some fortified wines as port.

    Charles Shaw, a.k.a ” two-buck-chuck” , at $1.99, made me very curious. Could it be an actual value, or perhaps, real trash? I poured a glass and let my tastebuds decide.

    The results?

    The aroma was rather tame and mild, but the taste was the complete opposite: wild and sour! I could barely finish half a glass due to it’s nature, but then, an idea came to mind. What if I let oxidation take it’s course on the wine? For most, that would prove disastrous, but SURPRISINGLY, after letting it stay in the fridge for about 7-8 days (after opening the bottle), the wine became very tasty. Maybe I should try this on other wines that have a “wild” first impression…

    Bottom line: For me, Charles Shaw wines are very drinkable AFTER they have been opened and left to settle in the fridge for about a week.

  33. Stan Avatar

    CS Cabernet and Chardone are pretty crappy, but Merlot is not bad at all, especially at $1.99. At least it does not stink with artifical oak scents as other cheap wines. In the range below $10 I can name very few better than CS Merlot.

  34. Jonathan Wendel Avatar
    Jonathan Wendel

    “but SURPRISINGLY, after letting it stay in the fridge for about 7-8 days (after opening the bottle), the wine became very tasty. Maybe I should try this on other wines that have a “wild” first impression…”

    Yeah. Why don’t you also try boiling or freezing it to see what surprises THEY hold?

  35. Mr. Misanthrope Avatar
    Mr. Misanthrope

    >> …but SURPRISINGLY, after letting it stay
    >> in the fridge for about 7-8 days… the
    >> wine became very tasty.

    My wife seems to enjoy Chuck’s offerings, so I’ve had ample opportunity to experience the “bouquet” of week-old CS Cab as it makes its short journey from bottle to drain. The Upper-Midwesterners in the audience will likely understand when I say, predictably, uff da!!

  36. Feirce wine shopper Avatar
    Feirce wine shopper

    This entire chain seems a bit mind-boggling to me. I live in New York and had only 2 years ago tasted however-many-bucks-chuck (depending upon where you buy it) in California ona vist there. I was hoping to be an enthusistic supporter when NY got it’s first outlest, however the first two bottles of red were an undrinkable cabernet and a shiraze that you could choke down in a pinch.

    What I find so dissapointing about the commendary here is that everyone is posting as though they had tasted the same bottle of wine, yet somehow disagree as to its cost to benfit ratio. It is essential to differintiate wines that are blended on a mas ssclae (which cross vintages and climates), with wines produced in almost any more traditional way.

    I agree that some vats of 2BC are remarkably good for the price–but it is ESSENTIAL to understand that there is enormous variation in quality from month to month, case to case. It’s not as though they do one vintage release per year. However, I say this not as a criticism, but just as a way of clarifying and perhaps partially accounting for how several people might purchase the “same” wine, only to find the contents quite different.

    So, recognizing that we are specifically looking at ready-to-drink wines which are produced in such numerous vats and quantities that the label is nearly meangless (excepts as to the most predominent grape used) Trader Joes still has a bit to learn.

    Given all of that, I find the Chuck product is largely remarkable (both good and bad). The worst you could do is have decent cooking wine from it. And the varitials differe greatly. Certain grapes simply do not lend themseves very easily to immediate release and consumption–Cabernet, perhaps the most prominant Calafornia varietal among them.

    The real news here is that the technology of wine production–whth the ablility to controll nearly every aspect from temperature, pressure, sugar, humidity & acidity–has become so sophisticated (i.e controllable) in the laste twenty years, that a good vinter can produce drinkable wine out of grapes one would have thought of as completely unsalvagable untill very recently.

    If you MUST pay only 2-3 bucks for mass-market blended wines, by all means go for TJ’s. However I would venture to say that Australia is far ahead of America in producing large quatities of blened wines with remarkable regularity and consistency. I find that year inand year out, the Lindeman’s Bin series (produced as vintage releases) is perhaps the most consistently outstanding value in mass-blended wines. In New York I can get it for about 5 bucks a bottle, and the Bin 65 Chardionay tastes like a wine three times the price. (Unfortunately in less competitive markets, I have seen the same Bin series sell from between $9-13/bottle., and even occassionally in new York)

    Bit I am not writing this so much to recommend Lindemann’s Bin series, as to emphasiize that when it comes to mass-produced wines that are intended to be consumed shortly after release, consistancy is the most essential quality, given the huge number of cases produced. TJ’s just isn’t there yet. Unfortunatley, most of Califonia isn’t there yet, but that may be because it mostly seeks a higher-end market. Case by case, I would look to Zew Zeland and Australia as the countries who have produced the greatest quantity for the longest time of reasonably priced wines intended for mass market with the highest level of consistency–no matter the year or climate conditions. Just don’t expect to spend 3 bucks!

    Still when just a decent cup of coffee cost 2-3 bucks, I’m not sure why someone wouldn’t opt to spend, say six to eight dollars to get a truely wonderful ready to drink bottle of wine that serves at least four firends!

  37. StylinGirl Avatar

    All very interesting in deed!

    For my $.02, 2$C is a fine stash when the budget runs dry and I’m too tired, lazy, drained or just plain out of the better stuff. In a pinch, its better than nothing!


  38. Veronica Avatar

    We blind tasted Two Buck Chuck in my wine class. Everyone liked it. The only thing was no one could tell WHAT grape we were tasting. The Cab tasted like Zin. But if you don’t mind that, then what the heck? It’s two bucks. If you drink this, guzzle it down immediately. Don’t allow it to breathe for anything longer than 20 minutes, then its terrible.

  39. Alicia Avatar

    if someone has the capacity to differentiate between high quality wines and low quality lines, no amount of $2 wine will change that. a good palate is something that cannot be bought or sold. charles shaw will not destroy wine as we know it. this wine simply gives college kids something smoother than ernest and julio gallo to drink. and if some wine snobs you know claim that $2 chuck is great, they are just outing themselves as ignorant wannabes. its a litmus test. as long as we have wealthy people, or discerning people, or both, high quality, expensive wine will never disappear.

  40. Jorge Avatar

    I presume the purpose of this weblog was to share ideas about extremely affordable wines and educate/inform readers, so wish to say the colorful blog trail that precedes has certainly accomplished that. Contrary to several critical remarks, I found Daniel’s contribution to be particularly informative.

    2$Chuck is certainly the ‘Yugo’ of American wines that might also be best categorized as ‘chemical wines’, usually without vintage and often barely meeting their required predominant varietal composition but if Dave wants to give it a 10/10 rating, it’s his prerogative. If not detected by one’s palate while being consumed, such chemical wines can often leave a brutal reminder hangover the following morning (like poor champagne).

    We too have found bottles of the identical product from different stores or purchase timeframes to taste completely differently, perhaps because of age, batch storage or shipping differences (heat exposure can damage these chemical wines alot quicker than more traditionally aged blends), so the ONLY way to consume this Cab is with spicy foods or cheese.

    My enophile friends and I have often interrogated winemakers/chemists from places like Barefoot Cellars, and discovered that as much as they try to maintain consistency over time, successive batches are often ‘mixed’ differently (and even repaired or salvaged with unconventional mixology). Sometimes you get what you pay for.

    2$chuck tasted acceptable the first time I tried it, then tasted really bad another time. If bargain dry reds are what you seek, I’d also recommend trying Jacob’s Creek Aussie Shiraz, Egri Bikaver Hungarian Bulls Blood, Rene Barbier Catalunya Red or PKNT Chilean Cabs. All are mass-produced traditionally so should be available at TJ’s and other major liquor store chains across the country for between ?($2 & $6).

    For a few bucks more, it’s hard to go wrong with Bogle’s Petite Syrah the past two years, or any of the others listed as ‘Bargains’ by Wine Spectator or Enthusiast magazines from time to time.

    Wine pricing is mostly a game of supply&demand and often based upon location and trendiness, so Cabernet Sauvignon varietals are usually pricier than Shiraz or Zins and Pinot Noir prices have dramatically risen since the movie “Sideways” became popular 2 years ago.

    Something else most wine thrifty drinkers probably don’t realize is that the least expensive wines aren’t by any means the poorest tasting. If a restaurant wine smells and tastes like vinegar, you have every right to ‘return’ it. Too many people have drank overly-aged swill for fear of appearing rude… and if you don’t particularly like the wine selection or 100%+ mark-ups at many restaurants, most states allow you bring your chosen bottle(s) along for a modest ‘corkage fee’!
    I haven’t bought a restaurant wine in years, but have sure saved a bundle by bringing my own.

    I think it’s important to keep making new discoveries, enjoying yourself in a relaxed environment and not getting ripped off by phonies as you drink the fruits of the vine. Unless you’re overly concerned about ‘image’, it’s OK to quaff cheap wines, because thousands of tastings have proven that everyone’s palate tends to be dynamically different.

    Besides there’s an old Latin phrase from millenia ago that roughly translates “In matters of taste, there is no dispute.”

  41. Daniel Clayton Avatar

    I go a bit too in depth on my first online blog review, and look at the response.
    I get people calling me pious, pompous, quaint & self-aggrandizing. Someone thinks Nibblers is expensive, or even snobby. I get email looking for recommendations for cheap wine, thanking me for standing up against a wine they don’t like or asking me where to get a copy of my dad’s dissertation.
    Unfortunately, I guess I have a little more to say.
    I am a wine snob, but I’m not a wine snob.
    Wine is the only alcoholic beverage I regularly consume, and just in the course of business, I taste between 20 & 30 wines each week. My wine bar offers around 50 wines by the glass & the selection changes constantly, so I’m always on the lookout for good wines at good prices. I don’t sell any wine for less than $5.75 a glass, and I don’t sell any wine for more than $13.25 a glass(excluding dessert wines). In this area, in a fine dining restaurant context, that puts me right in the middle ground. A similar nearby restaurant has $30 glass offerings, and they sell a good number, but they are courting a different clientele. Come in to eat and/or drink, and then tell me Nibblers is snobby or expensive.
    I don’t think wine needs to be expensive. Bonny Doon is one of my favorite CA wineries, and the offer a number of wines at very affordable prices, in addition to importing a number of obscure Italian wines at great pricing. It’s no mistake that I’m currently carrying six of their wines. Jon Dreyer of Dreyer Sonoma Winery produces excellent varietally distinct wines from Sonoma & Mendocino at very advantageous pricing; and my sales rep had to apologize last week that the price had risen $6/case on the new vintage. It’s still a bargain.
    My original review was just to give a bit of perspective. Good wine is wine which tastes good to the person drinking it. But a 10/10 wine should taste at least good to most tasters. And the commentary on this blog should at least confirm that a good number of people do not appreciate the Charles Shaw Cab.
    I know theis site’s called “”, but if price is the only factor, why drink wine? For the alcoholic content, you’d be better with malt liquour. For flavor, check out Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew. TJ’s sells it for about $4 a four pack, and I bet it would be the perfect chaser for a bottle of One Buck Chuck! It’d really clear out the palate.
    Wine drinkers looking for good priced high quality wines shouldn’t miss the offerings from Sobon Estate & Shenandoah Vineyards in Amador County. The Sobon family produces a great quantity of very good wine all from organically grown grapes from their own estate. And the prices, especially on the Shenandoah wines, are excellent.
    I’d hope that responders are at least concerned about what I’ve written, and less inclined to make personal attacks.

  42. Wavydavey Avatar

    Two Buck Chuck – Sucks. I am not a long time wine drinker, but not a newbie either. If you are going for a “Cheap” wine then I suggest an inexpensive wine, but it is not a “Cheap” wine. For $6.99 at Sam’s club you can get a wonderful Cab – Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon. This has been my staple wine now for about 3.5 years and I have never been let down yet. I had heard all the hype about the whole “Two-buck-chuck” thing and had to try some out. As I was pouring the glass, I knew something was wrong. There was a horrible stench coming from the glass. I trudged forward..I had to try it. I took one sip and almost gagged. I thought to myself…you have to go forward as so many people have said that this was good stuff. So I took a second drink, and could not take the bottle fast enough to the sink to pour it out. I will NOT be buying any more Two-buck-chuck ever.

    PS, I actually want to thank Daniel Clayton. I had actually bought a bottle of the Forest Glen wine from my grocery store, and it too was swill. I am glad to know that it was from Bronco. I will purposely stay away from their wines. No sense in pouring wine down the drain.

  43. Wavydavey Avatar

    Oops, I did not read Daniel Clayton’s last post and would like to add a comment to his reference to Sobon Family Wines. Both wineries are a treat to visit and buy wines from. I was just there last weekend, and I am still itching to get back there.

  44. Ed Avatar

    Fred Franzia, President
    Annual US Sales: 20,000,000 cases
    (Wine Business Monthly est)

    Fred Franzia
    Bronco Wine Company makes wines under the ForestVille, Estrella, Charles Shaw, Montpellier, Grand Cru, Silver Ridge, Rutherford Vintners, Hacienda, FoxHollow and Napa Ridge brands, among many others. With thousands of acres of vineyard holdings, this is a bulk wine producer with serious bulk capacity. Bronco makes wine in Ceres, California and in Napa, California under contract to Barrel Ten Quarter, which it owns. In 2003, Bronco purchased a production facility in Escalon, California from Constellation Brands.

    Bronco is best known as the company behind Charles Shaw, nicknamed “Two-Buck Chuck.” Bronco created a stir in the wine industry in early 2003 by selling its Charles Shaw brand for $1.99 in Trader Joe’s Company locations and has sold more than 10 million cases during the last two years.

    Bronco controls 30,000 acres of California vineyards, processed roughly 300,000 tons of grapes last year and thus produces roughly 20 million cases of wine, though much of it is sold in bulk to other wine companies. Bronco is led by Fred Franzia, a nephew of Ernest Gallo, and Franzia is one of the most successful individuals in the wine business. The Franzia family, which has no relationship to Franzia brand boxed wine, has made wine in California for over 100 years.

    “We see continuing emphasis on the value side of the quality: value relationship, with consumers recognizing that very good wine does not have to be expensive,” Franzia told Wine Business Monthly. “There are plenty of grapes to continue excellent values all along the price niches, and there continues to be plenty of wine all over the globe. Some people said that the ‘super value’ category would not last through this year, but we see it going on well into the future. We have the grapes.”

    The Franzia family has always been for “a bottle of wine on every American table,” said Franzia. “This year we challenged the restaurant industry to try to put a bottle on every restaurant table [see WBM June, 2004]. We’ve gotten considerable support from wine publications and restaurant patrons, but we’ve only heard of a couple of restaurants that will put a bottle on their list for under $10. I hope 2005 will see some positive developments there.”
    WBM’s Top 30 US Wine Companies of 2004

  45. Ed Avatar

    My comments above seem to belie the accusations made that Bronco simply buys cheap grapes from anywhere they can.
    As to wine in Europe, including France, you can buy good wine and bad wine there, also. California has the most consistent growing conditions, normally, so California has better grapes, ergo better wine, more often than anywhere else…except that there a regions in Spain that share the wonderful wine grape growing climates and consistency. Try Spanish wine..try a nice bottle of Rioja once in awhile, you may enjoy it.

  46. T.Ferg Avatar

    I love reading comments from wine snobs. I never tire of laughing at their pompus “I am better than you” attitude.

    Wine is only good wine if the taster thinks it is. If someone tastes a $50.00 bottle of wine and think it’s crap, guess what, it’s crap. If someone tastes a $2.00 bottle of wine and thinks it’s heaven, guess what, it’s heaven.

    We live in a world where the “common man” controls the market because what the common man can afford is what sells. Us common folk (in another time and place we may have been called peasants) tend to like “Two Buck Chuck” so I suppose it’s here to stay.

    Sorry snobs. Suck it up.

  47. J. Stengel Avatar
    J. Stengel

    What a bunch of sour grapes! You big bucks-complexity snobs are missing a key point here. Nowhere did anyone promoting their favorite cheap wines address the “Headache-In- A-Bottle” phenomenon. Yes there are more complex flavors to be had at low prices (not $2/bottle low), but how will you feel in the AM? Certainly a big part of Charles Shaw’s popularity comes from how well it treats its consumers. Somehow Shaw pulls it off and so why can’t the others? I’ve poured many of them down the sink. Sure I’ll explore complexities and spend the big bucks for special occasions, but really appreciate having such a pleasant and affordable (for a retiree) daily drink. If that makes me a shallow person or a peasant, so be it. Thanks T.J.

  48. Danny Avatar

    Well, I go to law school in Upstate NY, and would like to think that I am lucky enough to go to some of America’s best wineries on the East Coast. I’ve come to like quite a few expensive bottles of wine, and some of the Crane Lakes and other bottles for everyday drinking. I’ve had some of 2BC, and its certainly not the best, but its not the worst I’ve had either. For 40 dollars a case in Ohio, you cannot pass up the deal. I agree though, with the majority of the other postings on this site, that drink what you want, let people tell you what they think. For the “common man”, this is a decent wine for the price you are paying.

  49. Chuck Avatar

    I’m likening all this complaining about Chuck’s wine being swell to those folks that flash their expensive diamonds, enjoying the status it brings them. The price of diamonds is horribly inflated. Without the suppliers keeping a strangle hold on supply, diamonds would be good-and-cheap. Chuck’s wine is cheap, so people complain because is makes them feel threatened having just spent $40 dollars on a bottle of wine – when they could have had a case of Chuck.

    I bet if a $30 brand of toilet paper hit the market, we’d suddenly have crap-paper aficionados staring down their noses at the simple mindedness of uneducated cheap-paper using defectors.

  50. Phillip Avatar

    Are you kidding me? The wine is nicknamed “Two-Buck-Chuck,” not “Top-Shelf-Imposter.” Its a good cheap wine. Period. I recommend it to people who are throwing a party ( if you’re bringning ONE bottle TO a party, bump up a few notches ) and would like to have a few cases on hand. If I’ve got a tight budget, I’ll gladly buy a case of 2BC Cabernet instead of buying 3 glasses of a bottle that is slightly better.

    Take the article in CONTEXT, for a $2 bottle of wine, its damn good – and still better than MALT LIQUOR, which is a preposterous comparison.

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