Taste Testing Trader Joe's Three Buck Chuck

Orlando got our first Trader Joe's last year. As a fan of many of their products, I was excited about the opening and braved the crowds to do some shopping. And do you know what I saw? People stocking up on bottles (and in many instances cases) of Charles Shaw Wine. Previously known as 2-buck chuck, the price had gone up a whole dollar per bottle. But people were ravenous, the 50% increase did nothing to slow the fervor.

To be completely honest, I had my doubts. While I knew people who drank these wines, my "wine" friends certainly didn't. It's definitely not a brand you bring up or brag about at your local wine bar. "Oh yes, you had a bottle of Insignia last night, well let me tell you about my bottle of Charles Shaw White Zinfandel."

But dismissing the brand outright because it is popular and cheap seemed both snobby and pretentious. I hadn't ever tried any of these wines, so I definitely couldn't judge them. I made up my mind I needed to try them and I bought 1 of every variety my local Trader Joe's carried and figured I'd sit down over a few days and taste them.

My husband, who by no means is the wine geek I am, actually refused to taste the wine outright. He found my idea to be a fool's errand.

Before I discuss the wines, I must start with a huge disclaimer. I firmly believe that it does not matter if you like cheap or expensive wine, Old World or New World, small producers or large - the best wine for you is the wine you enjoy the most. I certainly loved bottles in the past that I find undrinkable now, and I certainly remember hating bottles in the past that I've tasted recently and thought, "What was I thinking? This is great."

This is represented most accurately in my collegiate years. I've never been a big fan of beer, so at college parties I drank liquor or *gasp* wine coolers. I remember specifically my first experience with "fine" wine. One of my Professors (a Frenchman, of course) had invited all the members of my Senior Seminar group to his home for dinner to celebrate our upcoming graduation. He pulled out a fancy French bottle to share with us. I have no clue what the wine was - my only guess now is that is was Bordeaux or Burgundy from the esteem and pride with which he presented the bottle. Another of my classmates mentioned to me how the wine was more than $200 a bottle and I was impressed and eager to try it.

I remember being both giddy and excited. I was going to drink fancy expensive wine, like a real grown-up. Of course it would be the nectar of the Gods and I would love it because I have amazing taste. Then I was handed my glass and my wine was poured. I took a sniff, and, um, I didn't understand. There had to be something wrong. It certainly didn't smell like anything I had been used to drinking from a box in the fridge. And when I tasted it, I remember the disappointment I had and the distinct aftertaste that only reminded me of licking an old baseball glove. To be polite, I drank my glass, suffering in silence and steeped in confusion. If this is good wine, then I guess wine wasn't for me. It was a few years before I had wine again.

Circle back to the future as I poured my first glass of Charles Shaw wines. I went left to right, whites, rose then red. And I had a parallel experience to the past with my Professor. Each wine I poured seemed and smelled unfamiliar, and the tastes coming up at me were not what I was used to or found enjoyable. Right off the bat, when it comes to Three Buck Chuck, sweetness is a dominating factor. Cloying sweetness, alcohol, and in many cases, an odd, slightly chemical smell. I did not finish any of my pours out of politeness, there was no one to offend.

All-in-all, I can't say I liked a single bottle. This is definitely not the wine for me, but at the same time, I can only imagine my former self would have probably enjoyed these wines, the way my current self wishes I remembered what bottle my Professor had served me more than a decade ago, and wonders if I would love it if I tried it today.

That's the thing about taste, there's no accounting for it. Tastes are subjective because they are so based on familiarity, knowledge and expectation. And at the end of the day, some of the bottles didn't go to waste. Mix a little Three Buck Chuck with sparkling water (or club soda), fruit and juice and you can make a pretty tasty Sangria. Or give it to a college kid. 22 year old me would probably thank you for it!

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