Face-Off among three Trader Joe's "Two Buck Chuck" red wines = one BEST VALUE!

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By way of background: Today we've got an exciting low-budget adventure underway.  It's both a "face-off" and a "take one for the team" event! I "take one for the team" when I provide serious review attention to wines that most other writers would scoff at.  And yet, which of us don't sometimes forego the "no cheap wines" maxim by which to live?!  And then second, we sometimes do "face-offs", a series of reviews on wines with some common characteristics, whether, varietal, vintner, region, price-point, etc.  Today, we are combining both sports:  our "take one for the team face-off" consists of an assessment of three red wines which have historically and fondly been known as "Two-Buck Chuck".  The wines hail from Trader Joe's, and the name comes from the "Charles Shaw" winery label on the wines, plus the fact that, once upon a time, they retailed at $1.99 U.S. per bottle retail.  Today, the wines are probably more properly designated "Three-Buck Chucks".  Still in the "practically free" category!  We'll be facing off a cabernet sauvignon, with a merlot and a red blend. The full collection of Trader Joe wine reviews we have performed (at various pricing levels), can be found here.  

Specs: Each of the wines is designated only as coming from California, and each is finished at a very modest 12.5% alcohol.  The red blend is from unspecified grapes.  Both the cabernet sauvignon and the red blend were from the 2017 vintage, with the merlot from a much-more-current 2020 vintage.  All were first sampled in April, 2022.


Inspired by Trader Joe's Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2017: It's a rainy spring morning, and we need to walk a few blocks to the local deli for some provisions.

In the glass: Deep ruby red with just a pinch of orange around the edges. 

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, shows red currant with some elements of humidity or recent rainfall. Minor notes of slightly damp but clean chalk also come through.  

On the palate:   A first bright note on the tongue, blending red currants with some just-ripe red cherries.  The sip curls quickly into your cheeks and waits to slowly settle out.  Bright acids stick with you for the full duration. 

In summary: Overall, rates an easy two stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, with a plus for its multiple elements.  Doesn't hit "best value" status, but for $3, not a scary investment.


Inspired by Trader Joe's Charles Shaw Merlot, California, 2020: Two of us are in the woodshop, doing the finish sanding and polishing on the wood carvings we had ready to give away.

In the glass: Black cherry, but lighter and transparent.

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, brings light but very clean red berries forth, with some purple fruits popping in at the end.

On the palate:  Very sleek on the first sip, showing almost no fruit but plenty of furry waves. Gentle and bright red raspberries peek up from the fur.  The sip fades quickly at first, but light acids build and hang on the middle of your tongue for a leisurely encore. 

In summary: Overall, makes an easy two stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, with a big plus because of its unique clean, sleek, almost wispy nature.  Think the body and style of a lighter pinot.  Not quite, but just shy of a best value at the price point. Keep in mind that this wine is three years younger than the other five-year-olds!


Inspired by Trader Joe's Charles Shaw Red Blend, California, 2017: We had fun getting the campfire started, but now were headed inside for some hot cocoa.

In the glass: Deep black cherry, stays transparent throughout, without going opaque in the center. 

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, brings a bit of black charcoal ash into the equation, mixing with some deep muddled blackberries and elderberries. 

On the palate:  Clean, full and sleek on the entry, but quickly delivers a payload of ripe blackberry and blueberry. The sip grows wider after a few seconds, bringing just a light wash of acid to coat the deeper berry.  Clean finish with no cloyingly sweet elements. 

In summary: Overall, with its sleekness, gentle depth and layers, does touch three stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, making this a bona fide "best value" based on our explicit scale.  Remarkable at the price point. 


Overall, hard to go wrong with any of these three wines at the price points, but the Charles Shaw Red Blend does bring home the gold medal among the three.  An impressive showing for a $3 wine at five years since vintage date!  (And, no, I'm NOT recommending further cellaring!)

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