The Best Two Buck Chuck (and What To Do With It)

Robyn Lee and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Did you realize there are seven varieties of Two (or Three) Buck Chuck on the shelf at Trader Joe's? Here at Serious Eats, we take that kind of thing as a challenge. So we sent an intern to buy them all (he's of age, we promise) and set about tasting every bottle. Which is the best Two Buck Chuck? What should you do with the bad stuff, besides pouring it down the drain? The answers may surprise you.

Tasting Two Buck Chuck

When you're tasting wine this cheap, you know you're not looking for nuance. This kind of mass-produced plonk isn't going to evolve much in the glass—it's best to serve the whites ice cold and the reds chilled for half an hour or so. What you're looking for: the bottle you can have on backup at a party after your guests have devoured the good stuff. The bottle that's tasty enough as a white wine spritzer that no one on your back patio complains. It can't taste like rubber tires, it can't taste like nail polish remover. You have to be able to drink it without cringing.

This isn't good wine. But we found a red and a white we could swallow. And we've got advice for what to do with the rest of it.

Check out our notes (the decent, the bad, and the ugly) and recommendations in the slideshow »

Note: We bought these wines at our local Trader Joe's. All the wines were the 2009 vintage, except for the Sauvignon Blanc, which was a 2008.

The Best Red: Charles Shaw Blend Cabernet Sauvignon

We expected the Merlot to be softer and gentler than the Cabernet, but we were wrong. Both the Merlot and the Shiraz were harsh, while the Cabernet Sauvignon was drinkable. It's juicy and jammy—you'll have to watch the sweetness if you want to dump this into your spaghetti sauce—but has decent cherry-plum-spice flavors and no hints of green bell peppers or shoe soles. Definitely fine to serve if your party gets out of hand.

The Best White: Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio


Most of us at SEHQ would be more likely to reach for a Sauvignon Blanc than a Pinot Grigio, given the choice. We usually like the bright acidity of Sauvignon Blanc, and sometimes find Pinot Grigio bland. But when it comes to Two Buck Chuck, lighter flavor is better, and the Pinot Grigio is far less offensive. It's clean with hints of Asian pear and kiwi (though some found it faintly tinny.)

And The Pink

If you prefer your wine to remind you of strawberry soda and mango nectar, you could do worse than the Trader Joe's White Zinfandel. There's no acidity to balance the sweetness, and it made rosé-lovers sad, but a few of our tasters said they didn't really mind it.

Cocktails That Make Bad Wine Taste Good


Once we'd set aside the wines we were willing to drink straight (the Pinot Grigio and the Cabernet Sauvignon), we wondered how we could doctor up the rest.

Cooking with bad wine is risky—when the wine reduces in the dish, the unappealing qualities may be emphasized. Instead, we fixed some refreshing wine-based cocktails. With a little ginger ale and a splash of lime, the terrible Sauvignon Blanc was suddenly a tasty thirst-quenching Operator. When blended with frozen raspberries and Cointreau, the awful Shiraz was a downright delicious frozen sangria. We used the White Zinfandel in a Waltzing Matilda; a little tropical spin definitely didn't hurt the wine.

Get the Recipes:

The Operator »
Frozen Sangria »
Waltzing Matilda »

Do you drink Two Buck Chuck? Got any tips for doctoring it up?