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Nov 20, 2009 09:40 AM

Why is Two Buck Chuck so revered?

I did a blind tasting for friends of 7-Eleven's "Yosemite Road" table wine ($3.99 a bottle) vs. Trader Joe's "Charles Shaw" table wine ($2.00 a bottle) and then wrote the synopsis up (

The gist of it was that there is plenty of decent wine under $10, but of the two, 7-Eleven's was actually better. I said at one point that TJ's 2BC Cabernet was undrinkable, because... well... it was. Simultaneously sweet and bitterly tannic, it was so bad that I debated if I'd got a corked bottle (I hadn't).

Well, judging from the e-mail I got, you'd have thought it was a sacred cow.

I don't expect ultra-budget wine to be good, but there's a difference between low-grade wine and the stuff that came out of the 2BC Cab bottle. So now I'm wondering... why is it that people love this wine? Is it just because of the price? Am I missing something here?

If this has been done to death, my apologies... I'm honestly now curious why such a reaction from the readers.

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  1. I've heard from more than one source that "Two Buck Chuck" is not one wine, but that TJ's buys various lots of whatever they can find cheaply enough and puts it all into the same bottles. So occasionally a batch turns up that is truly a spectacular value, while often it's just semi- to un- drinkable plonk.

    4 Replies
    1. re: BobB


      I think that what you heard (but was not made clear), is that Bronco buys grapes from many sources and bottles the wine (may buy bulk wines too) as Charles Shaw. Unlike a good n├ęgociant, who sources from excellent vineyards, or winemakers, there is little quality control. It is just about the $'s. Some argue that there are great instances of TBC. Could be. Yet, I have not encountered any. I feel that all, that I have tasted, have been plonk.

      I believe that you need to step back, one step above TJ's, and look to Bronco.


      1. re: BobB

        Bob, Bill is correct.

        Bronco Wine Co., aka the Franzia family (John, Fred, and Joe) makes ALL Charles Shaw. Every drop. Much of the wine is actually crushed and fermented by Charles Shaw; a sizable portion is purchased on the bulk market.

        Trader Joe's has NOTHING to do with the production of "2BC."


        1. re: zin1953


          Hello. You've been absent even more than I have lately. Hope all is well.


          1. re: zin1953

            I'm sure you're correct, I know nothing (other than what I read here) about who actually makes the wine that goes into 2BC bottles. My main point was that, regardless of who's putting it into the bottles, the grapes come from many different places and can differ from batch to batch. Which we all seem to agree on.

        2. Anything that has sales that big (last time I heard TJs sold 15 million cases a year and The New Yorker said sales have now reached 400 million bottles) has to have its fans.

          The one thing you quickly learn in retail wine sales is that people have a wide range of taste preference, wine education and palate sensitivity. It's not unusual for a $5 bottle to outscore a $20 bottle in blind tastings, and that is not always the result of the relative 'quality' of the wine. AT $2 a bottle, people tend not to get too picky either. Under $4 a bottle there may also not be much difference in one vs. the other anyway........ factoring in the huge palate variables, your reaction becomes more understandable.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Midlife

            "It's not unusual for a $5 bottle to outscore a $20 bottle in blind tastings, and that is not always the result of the relative 'quality' of the wine. AT $2 a bottle, people tend not to get too picky either. Under $4 a bottle there may also not be much difference in one vs. the other anyway."

            One thing to add to the mix, regarding the lower end wines and their costs, is that some have major ad campaigns, and these cost $. They can move the cost/bottle up significantly. Take two US$2 bottles of wine, where one has a consumer ad campaign, and it might cost US$5 per bottle. Same US$2 bottles, but someone is banking that the ad campaign will net them more, though they have to charge more than 2x the price as the other. Sometimes this works, and pays dividends. Sometimes it fails and you do not see the ads, or the wine next season.

            With Charles Shaw, TJ's has done most of the advertising with featurettes on the local (and national) news, of seniors loading 5+ cases into their cars. The announcer will ask, "do you really love this wine that much?" To which the senior usually replies, "at $2 per bottle, it's wine." Well, to me, that might be stretching the point, though I guess that the lab at UC Davis, after running gas spectrometer tests, would say that yes, it is wine.

            Some folk will brag about how cheaply they bought wines, while others will brag about how much they paid for their wines. Me, I'm in the middle. I do look at prices, but these are relative to the price of the same bottle at other locations. So long as I receive the satisfaction from the bottle of wine, I usually do not pay close attention to whether it was a US$15 bottle of Zin, or a US$250 bottle of Bordeaux. My scale is did I enjoy it, first, and did it give me enough satisfaction to pay that price, second. For me, it's about the wine, and I do not care if it's the cheaper Zin, or the much more expensive Bdx. If it does not please me, it is not worth any $'s. The Charles Shaw is that way. It is not worth my $'s, regardless of how few I have to shell out.

            As promised, I finally did a recent taste test. I had planned on buying all varietals, and sitting down in a rather formal examination. I did not have to. We attended an event, where the Charles Shaw Cab, Merlot and Chardonnay were being served at a hosted bar. I got a glass of each, for my wife, and for me. I knew the origin, but she did not. [I always ask who the producer is, for any event wine, unless I am on that committee.] I tasted each, as did my wife. We compared notes. Now, remember that I knew the origin, so I was biased against these wines. My wife was unknowing. We tasted, in general event wine glasses, which were marginally OK, but were not likely to enhance any of the wines, nor point one's nose, or palate, directly at the faults. My wife panned each wine, stating that she would not want to drink any of them, ever again. Remember, she had no idea where the Chard was Shafer Red Shoulders Ranch, a Le Montrachet, or a Kendall-Jackson. Same for the Merlot, and for the Cab. She just knew that she did not enjoy even one. I felt the same way, though I had pre-conceived notions, so my tasting was anything but blind.

            Now, I get handed a lot of different wines, especially if I have talked to the purveyor. Many want to change my mind. Very few have been able to do so, and for most of these, I have not paid - they have been given to me, to convert me to, say Chilean wines. Very few success stories here.

            Now, I have had really good US$12 wines, that presented themselves better than some US30 wines have. I do not have a thing against inexpensive wines, but the wine needs to do something for me, and too many just do not. OTOH, I've had US200 wines, that offered me no more than some of those US$12 bottles did.

            Just some personal observations,


          2. I wold rather drink giardia infected ground water.

            9 Replies
            1. re: pikawicca

              That may be the reaction of many people, but the fact that I had to look up the word 'giardia' might tend to place you in a range of people who would be more likely to agree with you.

              I don't personally like 2BC at all, and I haven't even tried it since right after it first appeared on TJs shelves, but I can't totally dismiss anything that has that big a customer base.

              1. re: Midlife

                KFC has a big "customer base." So what?

                1. re: pikawicca

                  All I'm sayin' is that anything that sells 400 million units in something like 5-7 years can't be dismissed simply as worse that 'giardia infected ground water'. From another perspective, at least all those people aren't drinking cheap beer. A certain % of them will develop a greater sensitivity and graduate to better wine if they can afford it.

                  1. re: Midlife

                    And as I said above - it's not all the same stuff. Any wine produced in that volume is going to vary. It's not like beer or hard liquor where you can get near-infinite amounts of raw materials and control every aspect of production. This is wine, there are only a certain amount of grapes available from any given vineyard, and no amount of blending can produce a consistent product in that quantity.

                    My guess is, a few batches really have been incredible (for the price) and most people who buy it can't tell the difference anyway.

                    1. re: BobB

                      <<"and most people who buy it can't tell the difference anyway.">>

                      THERE you go! That's really all that's needed to be said. And I don't mean that completely negatively.

                      Some of it was much better back at the beginning but now it's really more about meeting a basic need for a price. I think, too, that there's something going on in this where wine has such an upside of quality and social prestige that people need to convince themselves that they're OK at a level where they're comfortable (or they might be judged?). It's the other side to the 'at least they're drinking wine' point. BECAUSE they're drinking wine there's more of a need for justification than with beer or fast food.

                      But the real bottom line is still that they're happy with 2BC and, from a purely sensitivity capability, many really CAN'T tell the difference, while many don't feel the need to.

              2. re: pikawicca

                No you wouldn't....hangover's worse...

                1. re: WCchopper

                  Hangover's worse, but at least the initial taste is of clean, cold mountain spring water, not bad fermented grape juice.

                2. re: pikawicca

                  Giardia is found in surface water, not ground water.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    Well, I might not have stated it that well, but I believe that we're close. At least for the giardia infectation, there is always Flagyl. I have yet to find a treatment for 2BC.


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