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Second annual five-day $3 wine challenge: The results

$3 wine challenge
$3 wine

“The horror, the horror. …”

In one respect, this year’s five-day, $3 wine challenge was no different than last year’s: I made it through unscathed. But the results were also depressing in a way they weren’t last year.

I wanted to find a wine among the six — five $3 merlots and a $4 red blend — that I could enjoy without reservation and use as another example in my campaign to help wine drinkers understand that price is not the most important thing about wine quality. One was OK, one was undrinkable, and the rest were as brainless as bottled ice tea. With so much quality cheap wine in the world, and sometimes for just a dollar or two more, why do so many people buy these, often making a special trip to do so?

When that analysis comes from someone who has spent 20 years trying to say nice things about cheap wine, it means there’s very little reason to drink them. The sad details are after the jump:

Second annual five-day, $3 wine challenge

wineadvice
$3 wine challenge

You won’t need a pile of money to buy these wines.

In which the Wine Curmudgeon puts his money where his mouth is. Each night next week, 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?

Last year, when I did five $3 chardonnays, the results were mixed — mostly OK, but we expect more than OK from our cheap wine. This year, I’ll drink six merlots (yes, I know that’s one more than the days, but I’ll figure out the logistics). First, to do a red wine, and second, because merlot is the easiest red wine to make. It has fewer problems with tannins, and there shouldn’t be a problem finding quality fruit. All six wines were purchased in Dallas:

Two-buck Chuck ($2.99, 12.5%), 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, 12.5%), 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, 12.5%) from Aldi but may be available elsewhere. Also American and non-vintage.

• Yosemite Road ($3.99, 12%), a private label for 7-Eleven. The label says red blend, and is probably close to merlot. Yes, it’s $1 more, but I haven’t reviewed a Yosemite Road in five years, and this seemed like a good time. Also American and non-vintage.

Oak Leaf ($2.97, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Also American and non-vintage.

Southern Point ($2.39, 12.5%), the Walgreen’s private label, because I always tick off someone when I do a drug store wine. Also American and non-vintage.

I’m not doing HEB’s Cul-de-Sac this year, since it’s only available in Texas. I’ll post the results of the challenge on Oct. 6, but you can keep up with the day-to-day action by following me on Twitter or checking out the Wine Curmudgeon Facebook page.

Again this year, all the wines but the Two-buck Chuck are made by The Wine Group, one of the Big Six and whose brands include Cupcake. And none of them have a screwcap, which I can’t even begin to understand. Why would anyone want to pay more for the tool that opens the wine than the wine itself?

The Five Day, $3 Wine Challenge: The results

$3 wineThe good news is that the five $3 wines that I drank with dinner last week were mostly OK, and the horror stories that I heard proved to be – for me, anyway – unfounded.

Which is also the bad news. Most wine, even $10 wine, is going to taste reasonably consistent from vintage to vintage. Yes, these wines were OK – and a couple were more than that – but that’s no guarantee they’ll taste that way again if I do this again next year. And, unfortunately, none of them made me jump in the air and fall back down with excitement, ready to re-do the $10 Hall of Fame. Dull is probably a better adjective.

More details on the challenge, as well as my analysis and a few suggestions for the retailers who sell these wines are after the jump:

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