Sunday, June 27, 2010

An Honest Review of "Two Buck Chuck"


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 d├ęcor 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.

Going against convention, I started with the Cabernet Sauvignon followed by the Merlot. The nose on the Cab was very strong but left just as quickly and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a sign of the wine. Enjoying deep and robust red wines, I was disappointed to taste how fruity the Cabernet was on my first sip and much like the nose, the flavors hopped in their getaway car and sped off, leaving me with only the memory of the tasting. This quick exit was a tell-tale sign that the grapes were not from Sonoma or Napa which typically produce full-bodied and long-lasting wines.
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.

For better or for worse, the Bronco Wine Company, particularly the labels of Franzia boxed wine and Charles Shaw has introduced wine to a whole new and younger generation of wine drinkers. And while some will progress and transition into more refined tastes, others will be forced to “slap the bladder” for life. Love it or hate it, at least try it before making a judgment on any of their wines. The price shouldn’t dictate your opinion on these wines, as we have all had those $30 or $40 bottles that we also have not enjoyed. So while the wines did not fair so well today in my review, I can understand the type of wine drinker that may enjoy a glass of "Two Buck Chuck."


  1. Jesse you are a braver man than I. You couldn't get me to try this stuff. But, good on ya. Also, this piece is very well written by the way.

  2. Ha, thanks Clive. I am hoping people will consider my sacrifice and not count this post against me :)

  3. Katie (Mrs. California Correspondent)June 29, 2010 at 10:12 PM

    The first time I snuck alcohol from my parents I was in high school and my poison of choice was chardonnay from the Franzia box in the fridge (they'd never know!). Thankfully, I have progressed beyond "slapping the bladder" and hope many other wine drinkers (and deviant teens) will too!

    Great analysis, Jesse! Though, I'm really not sad I missed this tasting.

  4. There is now a Cabernet and a Shiraz from Australia in the "2 Buck Chuck" line. Haven't tried them yet, but I will soon. Perhaps they are different from the California versions.

  5. I read that the grapes are mechanically picked and pickings are not sorted. Ergo, rotten grapes, twigs, leaves, bugs, mice, etc.all go in the mix and chemicals are used to fix the taste later. Yuck!

  6. WE'RE Sooooo GLAD ....IT'S Finally here in Boca Raton, Florida @ TRADER JOE'S! @ $2.99 each we'll rename it Three BUCK CHUCK! !!! Still a GREAT VAKUE!

  7. So is this coming from animal blood ?? No one seems to answer that question...

  8. Christ, you're such a snob. Reading this is unbearable.

  9. Actually Franzia boxed wines are not produced by Fred Franzia and the Bronco Wine Company. They are produced by The Wine Group and the two companies are unrelated.