Recently a friend told me an origin myth about Charles Shaw, the cult favorite extra-cheap Trader Joe’s wine known as Two-Buck Chuck. It was founded, he’d heard, by a California woman who, after being taken for everything in a divorce settlement with a pretentious wine snob named Charles Shaw, set out to make her ex-husband’s name synonymous with “cheap.” The story, like most origin myths, is not not true, but it is revealing. We want to believe that the things we purchase, even the cheap ones, come from a real place with a real name. And beyond that, we want to show those overpriced wines who’s boss. There are now wines called “Bitch” and “Arrogant Bastard,” and the guy who started that accessible video wine blog is being lauded everywhere as a new-media pioneer. Which is just fine; there are plenty of overpriced bad wines out there that deserve to be skewered. But the same is true of under-priced wines. In this week’s The New Yorker, there’s a profile of Fred Franzia, the man behind Two-Buck Chuck. And yes, Fred is related to the “Franzia” who makes the wine-in-a-box you remember from college. The only difference between Franzia and Chuck is that Chuck comes in a real wine bottle with a real wine cork for an astonishingly low $1.99–new wine in an old bottle, if you will. (There was actually a real Charles Shaw, a 1980s financier who went bust and sold off his vineyard, but there’s no word of an angry ex-wife.)
The New Yorker doesn’t emphasize just how nasty the wine is, but Dana Goodyear does go out of his way to make its creator seem as tasteless as possible–abusing his staff, appearing callous about the death of a crop worker on his fields, referring to his young daughter’s “titties.” Don’t buy wine from this man. Maybe it’s the Mythographer’s aforementioned obsession with authenticity, or the fact that I live half a block away from one of the best and cheapest wine stores in New York (and they do mail order), but there’s no reason to buy a Two-Buck Chuck when you can buy a five-dollar Rioja that doesn’t taste like vinegar mixed with cough medicine.
And if that doesn’t sell you, turn to the New Testament. When Jesus casually turned 6 jugs of water into wine at a wedding in Galilee, the wine was so good that the surprised guests berate their host for holding out on them, since everyone knows you’re supposed to drink the good wine first, and save the inferior wine for after everyone’s had a few. I’m not saying you have to hold out for a miracle worker, just don’t settle for Fred Franzia.