Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Chardonnay

Charles Shaw Chardonnay

I probably should’ve written this review years ago, but it always seemed like I was going to get to “tomorrow”, but that tomorrow finally came when I picked up a bottle of Charles Shaw 2015 Chardonnay. This wine is more widely known as “Two Buck Chuck” for the stupid cheap price of $2.99 at one time. If you can get Two Buck Chuck in your neck of the woods, it’s likely at a higher price. Here in Washington State, it’s a astronomical $3.99 a bottle.

A little background on me, I worked (no longer, but you never forget) in the wine industry for 17 years and have tasted just about every type of wine from $10,000 bottles of 200 year old Madeira to cheapest box wine from Safeway. So, I know a little about wine. Now, you might say, he’s a wine snob… but that’s far from the truth. It’s true I like a really nice bottle of wine and they can get quite expensive. Our weeknight bottle of white wine is usually around – so it’s not too far off from Charles Shaw wines.

Who makes Charles Shaw? That would be the Bronco Wine Company which is owned by the Franzia wine family, famous makers of Franzia wine in a box. They are a mega wine producer in California’s Central Valley that literally makes millions of cases of wine, under dozens of different names. Most it either super cheap or box wines. I’m not sure how much property Bronco owns and grows grapes on, but the only way to keep prices down is to grow in the very fertile valley where crops can get huge and quality suffers.

What makes Charles Shaw so popular? We two things… 1) It’s super cheap! Let just be clear about this. At $2.99 it’s some of the cheapest wine  you can buy in a bottle. In fact, I suspect that the bottle, label, cork and capsule cost more than the actual wine in the bottle. 2) It kind of tastes OK (more on this). It kind of tastes like wine so what’s not to like?

So, when we evaluate wine, we look at things like color, clarity, aroma and taste. When you pour the wine into a glass you can see that it’s got a pale yellow color and is crystal clear. Just from looking at it you couldn’t tell it from any other Chardonnay, except that it’s a bit on the lighter color for a California style Chardonnay. But this isn’t a California style Chardonnay which is usually pretty big and bold, dominated by vanilla flavors from oak aging. The oak also lends a deeper yellow color to the wine.

The aroma has a bit of vanilla, from oak probably. Then a bit of citrus. But is very muted. Seeing that these grapes are probably grown in the Central Valley in California, which is known for huge crops thereby diluting flavors. But this isn’t a fine wine so lets not kid ourselves. Tasting it I am immediately struck by a bit of oak, some citrus and the fact that it’s slightly sweet. But clean flavors with nothing off. It’s too sweet for me personally, but not a bad wine at all!

Ok, it’s kind of tricky to give this a rating. On one hand at $2.99, it’s a great deal on a bottle of wine and at that price it’s almost a 10. But if you don’t take price into consideration, bit’s more like a 5. So… I’ll split the difference at rate it 7 Bells. If you don’t want a lot of complexity in your wine and something cold to drink, you can’t beat the price!


  1. Just for clarification, the Franzia boxed wine (of Wine Group) hasn’t had a connection to the Franzia family in nearly 45 years. Yes, at one time the Franzia and Gallo family owned the Franzia boxed wines, but at this time Bronco wine and the Franzia family has zero stake in the company.

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