My friend Chuck and I had a falling out a while back. It wasn’t anything personal; really, we had just grown apart over the years. We used to love spending our evenings together, but over time it became clear that we were no longer on the same page. I mentioned this to a mutual friend the other night, and she became slightly indignant. (She and Chuck are still close.) I felt conflicted. Had I written Chuck off too early? Was he really still a wonderful companion, and I was just too wrapped up in all of my new friends to realize how loyal he had been to me over the years? After some soul searching, I decided tonight to visit Chuck another time, and see if that old spark just might be rekindled.
“Chuck,” of course, is Charles Shaw, or “Two Buck Chuck” as it is commonly referred to. It’s available at Trader Joe’s for the deceptive price of three dollars, and it used to be one of my food groups. However, when I started to expand my horizons and try other wines, I stopped liking it as much. In my opinion, it lacks the complexity and character I came to appreciate in other wines, the hints of oak, the wide array of fruits and spices, and especially the artful balance that so many of my favorite wines possess. The more I came to savor those things, the less Chuck I drank, and after a while I stopped completely. But then, as I mentioned, a friend brought it up the other day, and it made me want to revisit my old friend. The wines I truly love I can’t afford to drink every night, whereas Chuck costs about as much money per ounce as Diet Coke (maybe less). So tonight, I dug into the cellar for what I think was our last bottle of Charles Shaw, the very definition of an impulse buy from a month or so back. I wanted to see if I was wrong, if Chuck was perfectly lovely wine and I had become a label snob. I pulled the cork, poured, and…
I wasn’t totally wrong. The wine certainly won’t stand on it’s own, without some cheese if not a meal, and it’s nothing I’d be proud to serve to a guest. That said, it’s not like drinking vinegar, or even grape juice either. It’s simple wine, yes, but isn’t that the point of table wine? No their Cab won’t stand up to the more complex, full-bodied, fruity-while-tannic Napa and Sonoma Cabs we love, but that’s not their only offering. Tonight I tried the “Nouveau,” a sweet red blend of only Charles knows what, with chicken tikka masala, and the sweeter red wine was fairly well-paired with the spicy Indian food I was eating. It worked fine, especially for a chicken tikka masala straight out of the jar (rather than the homemade tikka masala that Sonja often lovingly labors over), and the entire meal probably cost seven bucks. How else could a meal come with wine for seven bucks?
“Two-buck Chuck” comes in an array of varietals. Some time spend scanning Vivino (an app we’ll write a post about here pretty soon) revealed that recent vintages of common varietals, e.g. Cab, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauv Blanc, rated between two and three stars on Vivino’s five star rating system. Not good, but not terrible. A blog we read ranked the Merlot the highest, and Vivino confirmed that it was as well regarded as any. The Nouveau I drank scored right in the middle, somewhere around a 2.8 depending on the year (with an anomaly rating of 3.8 for the 2011 vintage).
In the end, I stand by my wine-drinking mantra: Good wine is whatever you enjoy that you can afford. Everybody has different tastes and different budgets, and while I don’t personally love Charles Shaw’s wine, I don’t look down on those that do. I won’t hesitate to pair the Nouveau with spicy dishes in the future, especially on a Wednesday night when we’re just reheating leftovers to eat while watching Modern Family and Nashville. That being said, I’m glad that a long time ago I stopped hanging out with Chuck exclusively, and started to befriend so many of the other, lovely companions that have come to spend time with us at our table. One can never have too many friends.