Photos by Conor McDonough
Whether you were throwing a dinner for people you felt compelled to not impress, or just hate paying $2.01 and up for literally anything, at some point you've likely been in a position to load up a shopping cart with a crapload of Two-Buck Chuck, pray nobody from church sees you, and party down.
Here's the thing, though: some of it's actually pretty damn good, and could easily be sold as Nine-to-Eleven-Buck Chuck without anyone being the wiser.
So we brought in two devoted tasters to blindly drink eight different types of Charles Shaw Blend, hit us with detailed notes, and determine 1) which bottles are totally palatable and even enjoyable, and 2) which should be avoided as if they were made by Chuck Woolery, who, it turns out, makes terrible wine.
Taster No. 1: Our resident sommelier for the evening, Sam Lipp is the current general manager of NYC's Union Square Cafe, and the former bar manager of three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, which might not sell a single glass of wine that costs less than what these eight bottles do together.
Taster No. 2: Girlfriend, who previously displayed her capacity for providing next-level tasting notes when I made her and my sister drink 21 extremely strong beers on a brewery crawl. She got confused as to which was wine for a second here.
We had each of them give their impressions of each wine's appearance, smell, and obviously taste, provide a 1-to-10 overall rating (of general drinkability -- nothing's being compared to a Lafite Rothschild here) and then try to blindly guess each varietal.
Let's get down to it.
Sommelier: "It's very pale, going on green color. I get lavender. Like, soapy lavender. It reminds me of my dad's bathtub [EDITOR'S NOTE: Weird]. This is pretty damn palatable. There's acid, there's fruit, and there some semblance of a body to it. There's certainly an element of fake oak, in the best possible way. It's as if somebody took a whole bunch of the wood chips from when playgrounds were badass."
What is it?: "Chardonnay."
Girlfriend: "I know exactly what this smells like. A hippie. Not the kind of hippie that camps out at Phish concerts, the kind who gets acupuncture and wears crystals. Not the patchouli thing. It just smells like nature, I guess. This is the Jessica Simpson of wines. A little trashy, but you wanna like it."
Score: "This is a 7 for me."
What is it?: "Yep, Chardonnay."
Sommelier: "It smells like alcohol and paint thinner, which to me smells like alcohol. This could basically be the sweetest red wine I've ever seen passed off as a table wine. If you left it in a glass overnight it would have sugar crystals in it. If you poured me this wine at the end of a three hour dinner, I'd swear this was totally appropriate."
What is it?: "This is either the Shiraz, or the Cabernet. Or the Merlot. This is the... Shiraz. No. Wait. It's the Cabernet."
Girlfriend: "Can you get high from sniffing too much wine? Just wondering. This tastes like a beet."
Sommelier: "What kind of beet? Red? Chioggia? Some other beet?"
Girlfriend: "I thought I was just doing well saying beet. Also brie cheese. This makes me want to eat brie cheese. This one's good! This is good wine."
What is it?: "Shiraz. Also, I'm 100... no, not 100... 76 percent convinced that Trader Joe makes all his wine from Robitussin. I'm robo-tripping."
Sommelier: "This thing smells like a pie. It's the strawberry patch that nature forgot about, then rained and hailed on. Pure liquefied, alcoholic Jolly Rancher. I'm sorry I can't give you more on that. Yet -- and this is serious -- there's a useful quality to this wine. I would use this in college punches, as a sweetening product, when I didn't need more alcohol."
Score: "A very soft 1."
What is it?: "No wine has ever been more obviously White Zinfandel."
Girlfriend: "It's like vinegar. This is 100% Easter egg dye. It smells like Easter egg dye, it's probably going to taste like Easter egg dye. Or maybe a scratch-and-sniff sticker. I don't want anything to do with this wine. I want out."
Score: "I don't even know that I can give it a 1."
What is it?: "Oh, it's White Zinfandel, 100%."