Your wine questions answered

What are the best deals on restaurant wine lists? What's the deal with Two Buck Chuck? We're answering 'em all

My friends swear by Two Buck Chuck, but I bought 
a case once, and it was disappointing ― even at 
that price. Why?

More a phenomenon than a wine, Two Buck Chuck (aka the Charles Shaw label) is an invention of the controversial wine producer Fred Franzia. The truth is, no TBC wine is the same from year to year, or even season to season. The label, sold only at Trader Joe's, is a gigantic Western version of a négociant wine in France ― large lots of bulk wine that a merchant has bought, blended, and bottled. On a good day, you might get your full $2 worth.

The trick is to buy one bottle of your favorite kind (Cabernet, Chardonnay, whatever). Pop the cork ASAP and see 
if you like it. Thumbs up? Race back 
and buy a case. We just tried this tactic, and, well, we'd go back for the Two Buck Sauvignon Blanc and the Chardonnay ― in a pinch.

I'm looking for a wine 
I'll always be able to find at the supermarket and trust that it'll taste good. Any suggestions?

A two-case tasting of our old standbys (BV "Coastal Estates" and Beringer "Founders' Estate") let us down: Many of those earlier budget players seem to have 
lost the quality edge to newer labels. Here are some affordable, large-production names to remember now.

Clos du Bois Okay, it's not exactly new, but if you're fond of generous oak in your Chardonnay, this Sonoma giant turns out a gazillion excellent cases for you.
Columbia Crest "Grand Estates" The Cabernets and Merlots from this Washington label always taste like they should cost more than they do.
Geyser Peak We've kept the Sauvignon Blanc from this label 
in our cellar for a long time; now we've added the Merlot.
Hess "Appellation" series The value-priced lineup from the Hess Collection, on Napa's Mt. Veeder, gets a quality boost from estate fruit that didn't make it into the label's upper-tier bottles.

More:  Wine pairing 101



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