The Wine Idiot Reviews: ALL the Charles Shaw Wines ($2.49 in CA, $2.99 elsewhere)
Somebody had to do it. That's what I kept telling myself, anyway, as I loaded seven bottles of questionable wine into my cart. And I am nothing if not a hero.
I first heard about Two-Buck Chuck back when it actually was only $2 for a bottle. At the time, I wasn't much of a wine-drinker, and all I remember of the conversation was "they're not bad! I mean...for $2." Then I started drinking wine--not frequently, mind you, so when I did drink wine, I wanted it to be good. And Two-Buck Chuck is not "good" wine.
But then...I started drinking more frequently. And started paying a little more attention to my dwindling bank account. UNRELATED.
Two-Buck Chuck started looking more appealing. And it wasn't bad to have a couple bottles on hand for those dinner parties where you all want the night to keep going but you've run out of the good stuff.
So I decided to revisit the Charles Shaw lineup--with a more critical eye. Unfortunately, the one Charles Shaw wine I remember actually liking is the "Nouveau" Red Table Wine, and that's the one they did not have at my TJ's. Perhaps it's a seasonal thing? So that one didn't make it here--it will have to get its own review.
But I valiantly made my way through all seven, with my trusty tasting partner--my mother. Did we end up getting wasted and blurting out everything we REALLY thought about each other during my teenage years??? Sadly...no. Because neither of us wanted to choke down a full glass of ANY of these wines. Sorry to tip my hand here, but really--these are not good. But if you're a glutton for punishment, read on to find out what specifically I hated about each one!
What the bottle says: Pinot Grigio, 2015 (none of these bottles have descriptions, btw)
What the Wine Idiot says: This was the first one we broke open. It smells like pear candy, and it tastes VERY sweet. It's smooth, with a tiny tang when you swallow. I got a lot of pear and pineapple flavors. My mom actually liked it! She said it's light and sweet, "with no bitterness, none of that stuff other people like in wine, right?" We both agreed it was super easy to drink, but we hoped the other bottles would be better.
Who's responsible for this? I don't know. Trader Joe. (I forgot to take pics of the back of the labels for this info. Sorry. But come on, it's not like the name of the warehouse where they made this swill is gonna help you decide whether to pick up a bottle.)
Do I need a corkscrew? Yup. Unless you know how to do that thing where you get a cork out using only your shoe and physics?
What do smarter people say about it? Paste Magazine also tasted all the Two-Buck Chucks and ranked this one number 4: "This Pinot Grigio is the best choice for relaxing outdoors. It screams, “Drink me on a warm summer day!” and, “Please, mix me up in some Sangria!” It’s light, refreshing, and definitely drinkable. This is a good wine for complaining with your co-workers after a long day at work, for lounging on your patio reading a book, for celebrating being done with weeding your garden. While it tastes a little bit like Welch’s white grape juice, there are enough floral notes to keep it from being too one note."
Should I bring it to a friend's house? I mean...if you're really cheap, it's a huge BBQ, and you were tasked with bringing wine for the punch bowl?
What the bottle says: Sauvignon Blanc, 2014
What the Wine Idiot says: It has no smell at all. Seriously. The first thing I wrote in my notes: "It's not...bad??? I mean, in terms of Wine, it's probably terrible." What I mean by that is, by any conventional wisdom, this is probably objectively awful wine. It has a long finish that isn't tasty, exactly...kinda sour. It tastes, weirdly, much like the Pinot Grigio but without the sweetness? I searched my palate for any of the grassy/herby/mineral-y notes I usually taste in sauvignon blanc, and came up empty. I also wrote in my notes, "I hope the chard is better."
Who's responsible for this? Again, sorry.
Do I need a corkscrew? Yes.
What do smarter people say about it? Serious Eats ALSO compared all the Two-Buck Chucks, and had this to say about the sauvignon blanc vs. the pinot grigio: "Most of us at SEHQ would be more likely to reach for a Sauvignon Blanc than a Pinot Grigio, given the choice. We usually like the bright acidity of Sauvignon Blanc, and sometimes find Pinot Grigio bland. But when it comes to Two Buck Chuck, lighter flavor is better, and the Pinot Grigio is far less offensive."
Should I bring it to a friend's house? God no.
What the bottle says: Chardonnay, 2014
What the Wine Idiot says: Sigh. I really wanted to like this one. It was around this bottle that I started wondering if this project was going to be entirely depressing. It's probably not the WORST chardonnay I've ever had....but it's close. It smells like cookies or caramel, and then it takes you on quite the flavor journey. First, you taste light fruit--kinda boring, but fine. As you swallow, it starts to turn, and the finish is just awful. My mom said "dishwater," and it reminded me of a cheap chardonnay I had once that tasted exactly like soap. At the very very tail end of the finish, it redeems itself with a teensy-weensy little bit of toasty brown-sugar flavor. But it's totally not worth going through the dishwater phase to get to the brown sugar phase.
Who's responsible for this? Your guess is as good as mine.
Do I need a corkscrew? Yessir.
What do smarter people say about it? Thrillist also did this project (I am not very original), and they had an honest-to-goodness sommelier doing the tasting: "“It’s a very pale, going on green color. I get lavender. Like, soapy lavender. It reminds me of my dad’s bathtub [Editor's Note: Weird]. This is pretty damn palatable. There’s acid, there’s fruit, and there some semblance of a body to it. There’s certainly an element of fake oak, in the best possible way. It’s as if somebody took a whole bunch of the wood chips from when playgrounds were badass.”
Should I bring it to a friend's house? Not my house. Do not fucking show up at my house with this.
What the bottle says: White Zinfandel, 2013
What the Wine Idiot says: It smells straight-up like a Jolly Rancher. Mom says it smells like rotten fruit. It's syrupy, like a cocktail, and I honestly thing it tastes just like a Jolly Rancher, or fruit juice. It's as bland as the pinot grigio--smooth, sweet, and a little richer, but I wouldn't say it's particularly complex. I wrote in my tasting notes, "empty calories."
Who's responsible for this? Dunno.
Do I need a corkscrew? Yessssssss.
What do smarter people say about it? Paste Magazine felt similarly: "White Zinfandel is the nectar of freshman sorority girls, the #1 tip-off to a bartender that someone is using a fake ID. I’m embarrassed to say that I even let this one touch my lips, but alas— the things I will do for the sake of journalism. No one, and I repeat, NO ONE, should be drinking White Zinfandel no matter what the cost. Yes, it tastes like kiwi-strawberry Fruitopia. Yes, it is a pretty pink color. But seriously. You’re already drinking $3 wine. Do you really want to stoop as low as it gets? Think of that sticky, sugar-tinged hangover you’ll have the following day if you finish off a bottle of this by yourself. Excuse me while I go vomit just thinking about it."
Should I bring it to a friend's house? I'm gonna side with Paste on this and say sure, if it's a sorority house.
What the bottle says: Shiraz, 2014
What the Wine Idiot says: So then we switched over to reds, and I thought, "surely these will be better!!" Ha. At first I thought this was fine, but then I tasted something metallic, like biting on a penny, and finally it made my mouth feel icky. It's sour. At first, the fact that there are different flavors bubbling up is a blessed change from the previous wines, and you hope that the cacophony settles into what one might call an "interesting" wine. This goes totally the other way. It's just gross.
Who's responsible for this? Satan.
Do I need a corkscrew? Don't bother.
What do smarter people say about it? Serious Eats actually tasted flavors: "The Shiraz was rough going, with flavors that reminded us of grape gumdrops, bluebery jam, rubber boots, and graphite."
I only tasted sadness. But then, I think they try harder than I do.
Should I bring it to a friend's house? Please don't.
What the bottle says: Merlot, 2013
What the Wine Idiot says: OK I have to admit, at this point, I just got cranky. This smelled appealing, and I thought it was gonna turn things around, but then it didn't. It coated my mouth and made me all puckered up--maybe that's tannins?? Who the hell knows. I didn't enjoy it. It's sticky, and dirty-tasting, a little peppery. I really tried with this one, but it ultimately made my teeth feel like they were going to fall out.
Who's responsible for this? ...
Do I need a corkscrew? I would just leave the cork in. And return it to Trader Joe's.
What do smarter people say about it? The Thrillist writer also had his girlfriend taste it: "Oh, I was thinking like a roasted red pepper. Anndd... hmmm, I had it but I lost it... oh, chocolate-covered cherries! What are those things called? Cherry cordials. It does that thing where your mouth goes dry when you’re done swallowing. It kinda shocks you, then it goes soft, then your mouth goes dry. This is really not bad!”
So apparently some people actually enjoy that mouth-goes-dry thing. I decidedly do NOT. So...maybe this isn't as bad as I think?
Should I bring it to a friend's house? If your friend likes mouth-puckering dry reds, and you don't like your friend very much...sure.
What the bottle says: Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
What the Wine Idiot says: So this one is...drinkable. It's smoother than the others, a little jammy with some subtle spice in there somewhere. I wrote in my notes: "Maybe I'm just sick of tasting Two-Buck Chuck, but I'm not excited about it." It was not so surprisingly good that it redeemed this endeavor, but it wasn't offensively bad. I did not pour myself a glass, however, and I threw away the rest of the bottle.
Who's responsible for this? At this point, I am. I brought this on myself.
Do I need a corkscrew? Yes.
What do smarter people say about it? Hahahahah Serious Eats and I are totally on the same page: "The winner was the Cabernet Sauvignon which was a little overly sweet and juicy, but not too harsh, with pleasant peppery plum notes. We're not saying it was exciting, but it's drinkable."
Should I bring it to a friend's house? If you were asked to bring a wine under $3, yes. Otherwise, spend a couple bucks more and bring a bottle you won't be embarrassed about.
What did I learn? That these wines cost $2.49 for a reason. And that reason is, they're probably made from whatever grapes they swept off the floor after making the $7.99 wine. It's a great deal, but in my humble opinion, drinking ANY of them isn't worth the calories. Stay tuned for the epilogue, wherein I review the Nouveau Red Table Wine when I can find it...