Dan Dawson Reviews Charles Shaw Wine
Is Charles Shaw Wine Good?

Originally published in The Napa Valley Register on Friday, March 3, 2023.

Charles Shaw Wine: what to drink, what to avoid

In February 2020, just before The Great Shutdown, I wrote a column for The Napa Valley Register where I reviewed seven wines from bargain wine leader Charles Shaw, the Trader Joe’s market exclusive. That column was a big hit…perhaps my tops for reader feedback. Three years later now, here’s my sequel – Charles Shaw II, The Legacy Continues.

The Legacy is Fred Franzia, owner of Charles Shaw and its umbrella company Bronco Wine. He dies last fall, leaving behind 20 years and over 50 million cases of “Two Buck Chuck” wine sold, let alone the 125 additional Bronco brands. As the company settles into its next era, we don’t know what paths, old and new, it will walk. In the meantime, Charles Shaw maintains its impressive footprint at Trader Joe’s in Napa’s Bel Aire Plaza. I have in front of me eight Charles Shaw wines, now sold for $3.49 a bottle. (Where have you gone Two Buck Chuck. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.)


So is Charles Shaw wine good? Let’s see.

On a gloomy winter afternoon in Napa Valley, I have my eight Charles Shaw wines in front of me. I’ll be tasting, reviewing and writing as I go. Since I’m now Dan the FOOD and Wine Man, I’ll include a few Trader Joe’s signature food pairing suggestions. Before I begin, understand that my opinions of the wines in no way undermines my respect for the empire built by Fred Franzia and his colleagues, or the millions who enjoy Charles Shaw wine. Maybe I’m preparing myself to not like the wines…we shall soon see. Bought & tasted on Monday, February 27, 2023.


Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio, California 2021 vintage. Fill up your Yeti cup with this and take it on a walk on the beach on a warm sunny afternoon. Name any type of citrus, tropical or orchard fruit flavor and you can convince yourself it’s in there. There’s a banana chew candy smell I don’t like other than that the sweetness, tang, fruit and slight spritz are pleasant. B+
Eat with it: Trader Joe’s Sesame Crunch Chopped Salad Kit.


Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc, California 2021.  More golden than it should be, tired, and lacking fruit. Leaves me with a memory of cheap vodka and some tannins. Avoid it. D-


Charles Shaw Chardonnay, California 2021. Checks all the boxes for good California Chardonnay. Oak, butter, pineapple, Golden Delicious apple, nutmeg. Finishes dry. If drinking Chardonnay every night is your jam, for $3.49/bottle, why not? Charles Shaw has got their Chardonnay recipe down. I give it an A!
Eat with it: Trader Ming’s Shu Mai.


Charles Shaw White Zinfandel, California 2019. Bright cherry color. Boy, is this sweet. It’s like a cherry soda, so much so I wonder if there’s some cherry flavoring in here. No offensive flavors in it so I can’t knock it too much. I can imagine it with a hot dog and a bag of chips…over ice with a twist. C
Eat with it: if not a hot dog, the Trader Joe’s Pastry Pups.


Charles Shaw Merlot, California 2021. You know when you check out a popular show and hate it and think about why so many people like it? That’s me and the Charles Shaw Merlot. Except I don’t hate…I just don’t want to taste it again. To its credit, the fresh berry cherry smell is nice. But there’s almost no flavor. I guess if tannic dry-mouth, unimpeded by flavor, is what you like, this is for you. C-


Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, California 2018. Sweep your notions of what makes a benchmark Cabernet under the rug. Napa Cabernet this is not. Light color, light body. The flavor doesn’t scream out, but it’s there. Pretty good berry flavor with some toasty/peppery stuff too. Sharpie out Cabernet Sauvignon from the label and just drink it. B
Eat with it: Trader Joe’s Palak Paneer.


Charles Shaw Shiraz, California 2018. Now on red wine number three, I’m sensing a trend: friendly berry/cherry fruit, modest flavors and firm slap of tannins. That’s the case with this Shiraz with maybe a little more fruit than the last two and then a bitter olive finish which I really don’t like. This is a big Snoopy “bleh.” D+


Charles Shaw Red Blend, California 2018. No idea what the blend is. It’s on the same Spotify playlist as the last three: primary fruits and tannins. A little bit jammy, actually. Tannins are strong and they kind of work with the jamminess. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. C+
Eat with it: Anything topped with the Chili Onion Crunch.


Charles Shaw wine recap

Overall I’m quite impressed by this group of $3.49 wines. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio get my thumbs-up. The White Zin, Merlot and Red Blend receive qualified recommendations. Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz make my AVOID list. Now I’ll see if my neighbors want some barely-touched bottles of Charles Shaw as I’m staying away from alcohol for Lent (sip & spit).


Dan Dawson has been a wine and food professional in Napa Valley since 1992. You can find him at Outer Space Wines, a wine shop, wine bar and event space at 974 Franklin Street in Downtown Napa. The wines in Outer Space are more than $3.49/bottle, but there are plenty of values to be had. Come visit – no gravity boots required.