A decent $2 bottle of wine? In 2009?
It's called Two Buck Chuck, it's available at Trader Joe's, and it is a game changer.
Produced by California label Charles Shaw (hence the "Chuck" name), these flavorful bottles of wine actually go for $1.99 to $3.49 depending on the store's region. It is reportedly "the brainchild of a publicity-shy Napa Valley winemaker named Fred Franzia, who shrewdly decided to cash in on California's current grape glut by going downmarket."
(In case you're wondering, there are actually fan blogs that sing the praises of Franzia and his Two-Buck Chuck.)
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The economics of frugal flavor
Trader Joe's provides some interesting background info on Two-Buck Chuck: "If there’s been one constant in our wine selection lately, it’s got to be Charles Shaw. Lovingly nicknamed 'Two-Buck Chuck' by a member of the wine press, these California wines have become something of a phenomenon in the wine world, and in our stores. Contrary to many an urban legend, these super-value wines began as the result of an oversupply of wine and a great relationship with a valued supplier."
The tasty $2 wine is sold exclusively at Trader Joe's locations throughout the U.S. (and some locations have it priced closer to $3 than $2). To find a store near you, check out their full list of locations here.
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The great American public likes it
Wine snobs with seven-digit bank accounts may or may not be Two-Buck Chuck regulars, but middle-class Americans seem to dig the wine -- the vast majority of amateur reviews online seem to be positive. One user posted this fairly representative comment on review site Viewpoints.com: "The Charles Shaw Merlot is a rich red California wine that still manages to be smooth despite the low price point."
"Those in our group who drink Merlot regularly have no issues with drinking a bottle of the so-called 'Three-Buck Chuck'. They happily imbibe it in the same manner that they would if they were drinking a $30+ bottle of red wine," she adds.
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Cheap Red Wine
For those ready to go (slightly) higher-end, there is a label of wine literally called "Cheap Red Wine." It is sold at many liquor stores, and also online at Hops & Grapes for $5.98 per bottle.
The wine describes itself thusly: "Our red table wine is a premium blend of varietal grapes. It is an honest, well made wine. We recommend it as an excellent everyday wine...that can also rise to the occasion."
I've actually had a bottle of Cheap Red Wine before (it was a gift) and was not terribly impressed. If you're going to drop $6 on wine, you might as well spend a little bit more (around 99 cents more) and invest in a fruity, delicious Yellowtail Shiraz. The Australian Yellowtail brand has its own fiercely loyal group of frugal drinkers.
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This value-conscious winemaker sources its wine from vineyards in South Eastern Australia. According to the company, its wines have "incredible freshness and character year after year."
I have had Yellowtail many a time and can attest to the solid flavor... plus the company uses rubber corks, instead of actual corks. May not sound sexy, but rubber corks reduce the odds of getting a "bad bottle" to virtually zero.
What do other drinkers think? According to Viewpoints.com, "Yellow Tail Shiraz 2006 is liked for its fruit, spice, and vanilla flavors and reviewers also like its affordability and drinkability. Yellow Tail Shiraz 2006 is a 'Full Bodied and Really Well- Balanced Wine' and is 'Very Easy on the Palate.'" It can be had for around $6.99 per bottle in wine stores.
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Steel Reserve is a decidedly low-brow alcoholic beverage that describes itself as the "high gravity" malt drink... yeah, we have no idea what that means either, but it will get you drink. Drunk, I mean.
What do booze aficionados think of this one? Out of 338 reviews on BeerAdvocate, it gets an overall rating of D+ or "avoid." So maybe you should stick with Two-Buck Chuck. A 12-pack of Steel Reserve (monstrous 24 ounce cans) starts at $14.73.
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Olde English is an ultra low budget "forty ounce" malt liquor beverage. It is made by Miller Brewing Company.
The brand is enjoyed by under-age drinkers (so we hear) and by college students at raucous parties... even though it is dirt cheap and has a questionable flavor profile, it knows no economic boundaries: Harvard trust funders and G.E.D. pharmacy store night-shifters are equally likely to enjoy an Olde English-fueled game of "beer pong" into the wee hours of the morning. Drinking it is something of a rite of passage.
An amateur reviewer wrote: "Made me puke on first sip. [...] This was absolutely vile." But still, for $1.75, you can't expect too much.
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If you're looking to seriously cut down on your booze spending, consider learning how to make your own. Check out our recent article on DIY booze.
Finally, a do it yourself project I can really get behind.
(By the way, if we have left out your favorite frugal booze, let us know about it in the comments section!)
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