The Wine Curmudgeon talks a good game when it comes to cheap wine, but does he follow through? This question, always important, is even more critical with the upcoming publication of The Cheap Wine Book (just a couple of weeks away). Hypocrisy has no place in what I’m trying to do.
Hence The Five Days of $3 Wine Challenge, which starts tonight and runs through this week. Each night, I’ll drink a $3 wine with dinner and attempt to answer the question: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Are the claims made by producers like Fred Franzia and the various anti-critics true, that most of us can’t tell the difference and that it doesn’t matter if we can?
No one supports cheap wine more than I do. But being cheap isn’t enough – quality matters, and my experience over the past decade of drinking very cheap wine is that the quality of these wines is often lacking. So we’ll put that to the test this week with these five wines, all chardonnays and all purchased in Dallas:
• Two-buck Chuck ($2.99), the Trader Joe’s private label that was the first and remains the most famous of the very cheap wines. It’s a California wine from the 2012 vintage.
• Three Wishes ($2.99), the Whole Foods private label. It carries an American appellation, which means it’s non-vintage and at least three-quarters of the grapes used to make it were grown in the U.S.
• Winking Owl ($2.89) from Aldi but that may be available elsewhere. Also American and non-vintage.
• Cul-de-Sac ($2.96), a private label for Central Market, the high-end chain owned by Texas’ H-E-B, one of the largest privately held companies in the country. Also American and non-vintage.
• Oak Leaf ($2.97), the Walmart private label. Also American and non-vintage.
Why chardonnay? To give the wines the benefit of the doubt, since chardonnay is the easiest cheap wine to make well. And I won’t pair the wines with anything that would show them up – no cream sauces or haute French cuisine.
Each wine uses the same kind of bottle – light and without a punt (the hollow in the bottle’s bottom). And all but the Two-buck Chuck have the same foil and foil design, which isn’t surprising since each is apparently made by The Wine Group, one of the Big Six and whose brands include Cupcake.