Perfectly Decent Wines That Cost Less Than a Fancy Coffee

LeNell Camacho Santa Ana


"Oh, my god! Who brought this? This is less than $3 at Whole Foods!"

We recently brought a cheap, or shall I say euphemistically “inexpensive,” bottle of wine to a dinner party. Watching a guest’s face contort as she picked it up and made a fool of herself in front of everybody was quite entertaining. After enjoying outlandish wine snobbery a few more seconds, I proudly piped in, “We brought it.” She slinked away with her tail between her legs. And she darned sure didn’t get the chance to enjoy the jeroboam of vintage Champagne we popped from our cellar later on.

We’ve got a cellar full of high-dollar bottles; yet, we still enjoy a value brand from time to time. We believe wine should be enjoyed as a part of everyday life, often as a delightful complement to dining. Gone are the days of wine’s image as a high-brow beverage for the wealthy only. More and more bang-for-your-buck brands are appreciated by wine-loving folks on a tight budget.

Before turning up your nose to rock-bottom wine values, give them a try. These five finds for less than five bucks definitely won’t hurt your wallet…or your taste buds.

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TRADER JOE’S Charles Shaw

California wine maker Fred Franzia of Bronco Wine Company turned the wine industry on its ear when he teamed up with Trader Joe’s grocery to introduce his Charles Shaw private label that became known as Two-Buck Chuck.This brand has been the value brand for more than a decade, and the consumer frenzy over it shocked the wine world and inspired many other labels mentioned below. The wine is now priced higher than two bucks, but you can still find them in all the Trader Joe’s stores for under $5.

The red wines available include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and even a Beaujolais Nouveau-style made from Valdiguié grapes. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio make up the white selections. Even though you can find a white Zinfandel, there’s not a red Zin in the mix. None of these wines are gonna blow your mind with depth of flavor, but for the price, they are well worth the money.

Folks have been drinking decent wine on the cheap in Europe for ages, so I tip my hat to Mr. Franzia for bringing surplus wine to us without an inflated price. Unlike many other similarly priced labels bottled by the Franzia empire, you typically find the vintage year on the Two-Buck Chuck wines.

I don’t have a fave. They are all easy drinkin’ selections on the lighter side of complicated.


Priced slightly higher than the Charles Shaw, the Trader Joe’s private label Coastal is made by Castoro Cellars in San Miguel, California. You’ll find the Coastal priced closer to the $5 mark.The Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, and red Zinfandel offer even more bang for your buck than the Two-Buck Chuck.The white wines—Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—are definitely worth every penny, as well.

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WHOLE FOODS Three Wishes

The same company making the Charles Shaw label has provided Whole Foods with its own private label similarly priced. For around $3, you can pick up Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Chardonnay.

Unlike Trader Joe’s, I can’t seem to leave Whole Foods without spending $100; thus, the joke of shopping at “Whole Paycheck.” The Three Wishes wine label is a welcome on-the-cheap option for gourmet grocery shopping. Notice that there are no vintages listed on this label. Dead giveaway someone’s bottling surplus bulk juice.

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You know if there’s money to be made in a cheap trend, Walmart’s gonna get it on it. And you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Franzia folks are bottling for Walmart’s Oak Leaf label so you know to expect similar quality as Three Wishes and Charles Shaw. Like Whole Foods’ Three Wishes, you won’t find a vintage on the Oak Leaf labels. This means the bottler is usually blending up surplus wine from different years.

A whopping 10 labels are available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, white Zinfandel, Moscato, sweet white, sweet red, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz. Of the 10 labels, my crowd pleasin’ picks would be the Sauvignon Blanc for a zingy tartness and the Moscato, which won “Best Bargain Wine” in the 2013 Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi.

ALDI’S Winking Owl

Besides having a cute lil’ flirty creature label, Winking Owl has become my absolute favorite under five bucks choice of all time. Aldi’s is owned by the same parent company as Trader Joe’s, so it’s no shocker to find great quality/price ratio, aka QPR, labels lining the aisles. The reds—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz—have more oompth than the Shaw, Wishes or Leaf labels. The white Zin and Pinot Grigio are hefty enough for the approximately $3 you’ll pay. The Chardonnay is a household staple for me with a pleasant fruitiness that’s not overly sweet or oaky. I use it regularly for roasting chicken and for sipping while I cook, too.

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