As I efficiently slalomed the aisles of Napa’s Trader Joe’s last week, my eyes stopped at the Charles Shaw “wall” in the back-left corner of the store. I noticed a couple of things.
First, the price. For the first time since 2013, the price in California is $1.99. The return of honest-to-goodness “Two Buck Chuck” happened quietly in December. I wonder how long it will last: My money is on it staying at $1.99 for the next two years.
Second, I noticed all the empty shelf space. Not sold out, but seriously depleted. TJ’s restocks throughout the day, so I doubt empty space was due to neglect. It’s because Charles Shaw sells big-time, and the Trader Joe’s crew can barely keep up. More than a billion bottles sold since owner Bronco Wine Company re-launched the brand in 2002. We’re drinking a ton of Two Buck Chuck.
Maybe you’re a Charles Shaw customer, maybe not. Either way, I know you’re interested in wines that are great for the money. While I had not tasted any of the wines in around 4 years, I know through the grapevine that some of the wines, some of the time, can be quite good. But which ones? On that recent Trader Joe’s trip, I decided it’s time for a catch-up.
I bought seven of the eight Charles Shaw wines that were in stock. I share my opinions of them below. Vintages, even bottlings of the same vintage, change quickly, so I can’t tell you the shelf life of my recommendations. That said, the wine manager of Napa Trader Joe’s expects we’ll see these wines on the shelves through the winter at least. Now, regarding my reviews, instead of points or stars I use a hypothetical. I call it “What would I do with it at a wedding?” Here are the wines. Recap of winners and losers at the end.
Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio, California 2018, $1.99
Kind of sweet-smelling like ripe peaches drizzled with honey. Taste is fresh and lively … it has acidity to perk up the fruity flavor and make it not too sweet. What would I do at a wedding? Drink a glass of it then move on to something else.
Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc, California 2018, $1.99
Rough drink all around. Chemical aromas, funky fruit taste, totally flabby, no acid pick-me-up, which is what most of us want in our Sauvignon Blanc. What would I do at a wedding? Feed the flower arrangements … sorry ‘bout that flowers.
Charles Shaw Chardonnay, California 2019, $1.99
Fresh green apple and pineapple, citrus, a pad of butter (as opposed to a stick of butter) on an apple-filled Pop Tart. Light bodied for a California Chardonnay, which is to its benefit. What would I do at a wedding? I’ll drink at least one glass, maybe a second if there’s any more shrimp left.
Charles Shaw Merlot, California 2015, $1.99
This has a funny, hard cherry candy smell that continues on to the taste. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was something good to mask the candy flavor, but there isn’t. Thin and unpleasant. What would I do at a wedding? Get a pint of Pale Ale to wash the taste out.
Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, California 2016, $1.99
While a little green vegi flavor is natural and tasty in a good Cabernet, more than a little is too much. The Charles Shaw is like a bell pepper and green bean salad. Its green-ness is the over-riding theme, start to finish. Has the physique of Barney Fife. What would I do with it at a wedding? Find the nearest sink drain.
Charles Shaw Shiraz, California 2016, $1.99
Smells of red plums and blueberries with some black (not green) pepper dusted over the top. Medium bodied with acidity to “perk up” the wine. Easy drinking and with character. At a wedding? I’d take a little more and pour some for my neighbor, too.
Charles Shaw Red Blend, California 2016, $1.99
The red blend is jammy, soft and fleshy, which is definitely in line with the modern style of California red blends. Gold star for capturing that style. No doubt this wine has a loyal following. For me, the sweetness builds up and gets stronger with each sip. What would I do with it at a wedding? Half a glass, then pass the rest of the bottle on.
Recap — Winners are the Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Shiraz. Avoid the Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet. A qualified thumbs-up to the Red Blend. Three or four recommendations out of 7 wines, all selling for $1.99 is a good showing, don’t you think?
Wine Tip — Like the sands of time, so are the winter crab feeds of Napa Valley. If you are attending a crab feed or two, you might be wondering what wine to bring along. The answer is there is no right answer. If there is ever an occasion to drink what you like, this is it!
What I like to drink, two scenarios: 1) Crab with my sautéed garlic/lemon mayonnaise with a rich, cool-climate Chardonnay with noticeable flavors of buttered toast and lemon custard. 2) Crab with red cocktail sauce—a strong Pinot Noir, from Russian River Valley perhaps. Or Sangiovese…we have more good ones from California than ever before. One piece of advice – don’t bring one of your “really special” wines. There’s too much going on to fully appreciate it. A crab feed is not the time for it.
I’m Dan Dawson, a Napa Valley wine writer, wine consumer advocate and former wine merchant and fancy-pants sommelier. Check out my reviews and wine tasting events at DawsonWineAdvisor.com. When you visit, please check out my membership program. Contact me through my website with questions and comments.
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