Fully acknowledging that this may be wine blogger suicide, I am now diving into the wonderful world of Charles Shaw, or “Two Buck Chuck” wine. While the opinions about Charles Shaw range the entire spectrum, I believe they deserve a fair chance at The Oregon Wine Blog. I believe that Charles Shaw gets a bad reputation from people who have never even tried it. Charles Shaw is perhaps one of the most well known labels of “extreme value wine” and many oenophiles form an opinion about Charles Shaw, simply because of the $1.99 price tag. To maintain impartiality throughout this review I am declining to state my personal preference here except to say that I do have my own opinion on Charles Shaw and that was developed after consuming it. With that said, away we go!
Before we get into the wine, let’s talk about the history of the Charles Shaw label. I want to start here because whether or not you are a fan of “Two Buck Chuck” or not, it is important to understand the impact that this wine and other wines produced by the Bronco Wine Company have had on the wine industry. Something I learned in researching for this post was that Charles Shaw is an actual person and did actually produce wines. In the 1970’s, Charles F. Shaw moved to Napa Valley to produce Beaujolais nouveau style wines. At this point Charles Shaw was not trying to produce bargain priced wines and when he sold the name to the Bronco Wine Company in 1991 it carried strong and reliable name recognition. Debuting in 2001, Bronco Wine Company (owned by Fred Franzia) released a new brand of inexpensive wine under the name Charles Shaw. Owner of over 35,000 acres of grapes in Central California, Bronco Wine Company is responsible for over 50 brands of “bargain priced” and “extreme value” wines including Black Mountain, Rutherford Vintners, and Forest Glen, to name a few.
When I committed to doing this review, I ventured into Trader Joe’s, the exclusive retailer for Charles Shaw, and was overwhelmed by the display of the value wine. Intimidating because of the quantity of wine sitting out, not so much by the design or décor of the display, I circled several times before picking the varietals I was going to review. In the end, I settled on a ’08 Merlot, ’09 Cabernet Sauvignon, ’08 Chardonnay, and an ’08 White Zinfandel. Now I know what you’re thinking, “I already don’t like the Two Buck Chuck swill, and now they give me a White Zin, what the hell is next?” Apparently Clive needs to visit California and conquer the White Zinfandel down here as well, now that the evil northwest bosses have been defeated.
As I moved to the Merlot I was quickly able to pick up flavors of plum as the Merlot had more of a distinct flavor than the Cabernet. Unfortunately the distinct flavor became a metallic one as I sipped. As I took another sip the metallic flavor lingered and tainted the rest of the wine, making it very challenging to enjoy. As it relates to the reds, it’s Cabernet-1 – Merlot-0.
Hoping for a better showing from the “whites” I pulled the Chardonnay out of the fridge. Upon pouring I noticed the very light coloring in the Chardonnay. Similar to the Cabernet there was a lack of a distinct flavor profile in this wine. Whereas Chardonnays find themselves on side of either a crisp, fresh body or a fuller, buttery body, the Charles Shaw Chardonnay is refusing to play the game and is sitting squarely in the middle. Of the flavors present there were hints of pear and apple and of the three wines tasted so far was definitely the most palatable. Although I typically won’t cook with wines I won’t drink, I could see this as an acceptable cooking wine.
And now, the best for last, the 2008 White Zinfandel. As I poured the glass I could see the unmistakable pink color glaring at me, as if it knew my buddy Clive was not around to help me battle. As impartial as I have tried to be tasting Charles Shaw and during this post, it is very difficult to hide my feelings for the White Zinfandel. This wine was just bad. It was near impossible to detect the flavors through my gag reflex. So while I can remotely understand why people would purchase and drink the other three, I find it unfathomable that someone would enjoy this wine.
The common thread through most of the wines was that there was a lack of distinct flavor. It is exactly this characteristic that feeds the success for this label. Particularly for new wine drinkers, I can understand why this wine has mass appeal. Without drinking a lot of wine you don’t know what you like and what you don’t like, and it is an expensive journey to find out. Charles Shaw produces a wine that appeals to people without distinct tastes, and for $1.99 they can’t go wrong.