Results: The third $3 wine challenge

$3 wine
No need to do a $3 wine challenge again, given how awful these five wines were

The best news about this year’s $3 wine challenge? The wine was so awful I’ll never have to do one of these again. What’s the point? Only one of the five white wines was anywhere close to what it should be, and it wasn’t all that close. One was a sweet wine masquerading as pinot grigio, and the rest were an insult to anyone who drinks wine. That was the worst performance in the three years I’ve done this, and the wines have gotten worse each year.

I can’t decide what makes me angrier: Is it the arrogance of the retailers who sold these because they assumed that no one would care? Or because they assumed we would be too stupid to know the difference? We do and we aren’t, even if we barely drink wine. These wines were the equivalent of the dollar bin at a discount store, where you know the crap you’re buying isn’t very good but you don’t care because it costs a dollar. But these wines didn’t cost a dollar.

I have championed the cause of cheap wine for more than two decades, and often in the face of loud and obnoxious opposition. That’s because I truly believe that cheap wine can offer quality and value, and that well-made cheap wine is the first step in getting Americans to embrace wine the way so many in the rest of the world have. But given cheap wine as lousy as this, do I have any chance of convincing anyone to enjoy wine? They’ll just spit it out and give it the greatest insult possible: “It tastes like wine.”

The $3 wine challenge

I drank a $3 wine with dinner each night last week to attempt to answer the question: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Or are the ultra-cheap wines just cheap, without any redeeming enological value? There were two sauvignon blancs, a pinot grigio, and two pinot grigio-colombard blends. I wanted to do all sauvignon blancs, but several retailers stopped carrying sauvignon blanc, so I made do just like an ordinary consumer. Each of the wines was purchased, and all but two were American and non-vintage.

•The Two-buck Chuck sauvignon blanc 2015 ($2.99, 12.5%) from California was one of the worst wines I’ve tasted in some 20 years of professional wine drinking, even allowing for its notorious inconsistency. The Trader Joe’s private label tasted like acidic gasoline and bore no resemblance whatever to wine. It was an embarrassment to a retailer that prides itself on value, as well as to producer Bronco Wine, which claims to make great cheap wine.

Three Wishes pinot grigio-colombard ($2.99, 12.5%), the Whole Foods private label. It smelled skunky, and not in a good way. The wine was watery and tasteless without any semblance of fruit, and what passed for flavor was a decidedly unpleasant bitterness. How Whole Foods can claim to sell “real food” and sell this junk is beyond me.

Winking Owl California non-vintage pinot grigio ($2.89, 11.5%) from Aldi (but may be available elsewhere). This had the Italian pinot grigio tonic water aroma and OK lemon fruit, but the dollop of what tasted like white grape juice gave it an off-putting sweetness. Either sell it as sweet wine or sell it as pinot grigio, but don’t do both.

Oak Leaf sauvignon blanc ($2.97, 12.5%), the Walmart private label, was the only one of the five that came anywhere close to tasting like it should, with some California grassiness and a little citrus. But being bland and inoffensive does not mean it was worth drinking.

• The Bay Bridge pinot grigio-colombard ($2.99, 12.5%), the Kroger private label. This wasn’t as hideous as the Two-buck Chuck, but that’s small consolation for a wine that tasted like cheap cough syrup without any sugar to cover up the medicinal flavor.

Image courtesy of WikiHow, using a Creative Commons license

More on the $3 wine challenge:
Results: The second $3 wine challenge 2014
Results: The first $3 wine challenge 2013

7 thoughts on “Results: The third $3 wine challenge

  • By Marcy Spencer -

    I’d concur with your “never again” vis a vis the annual $3 Wine assessment were I not standing in my shoes as a 70-year-old retiree, living on Social Security! Relative to your recent white wine critique: After three years flat i.e. no increase, we’ve finally received an increase in annual benefits this year entirely offset, dollar-for-dollar, by an increase in Medicare. So see: In the real world, your ‘$3 critique’ actually does matter to folks like me! Please, don’t throw in the towel just yet. BTW, you’re right: The Oak Leaf Sauvignon Blanc may best be described as “bland” but it still beats my previously opted Winking Owl Pinot Grigio! Thanks for your guidance (greatly appreciated) and please – don’t bail on us yet! Those of us on fixed incomes appreciate you. There’s no one else in our corner!

  • By Heather -

    That price point would barely cover the cost of the empty bottles, shipping, and taxes. If anyone wants to know why vineyard workers are underpaid immigrants working in grueling conditions, look no further than this arbitrary, ludicrously low price. How about focusing on quality first, price second, and finding a happy balance? Or you could assign some value to producers who treat their workers fairly and pay a decent wage. Would that be worth a few extra dollars? 750ml of wine should not cost less than a happy hour beer.

    • By Jesse -

      Lmao Heather you are assuming everyone even uses human workers. An increasing number of vineyards use machines. Especially useful if you’re going to be selling your wine cheaply.

  • By Kerry -

    Thank you for your article. I like to drink wine every day but with my limited income i can’t afford to spend much more than $3 per diem.
    I was just comparing Three Wishes and Winking Owl and like the latter better. You’re right it is sweeter than a Pinot Grigio should be. So next time I make a wine-run I am stopping at Wal-mart! I didn’t know they had an affordable house brand! Thanks again!

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      My pleasure. That’s why I’m here.

  • By Ellen Duffield -

    I hate to tell you, but Oak Leaf and Bay Bridge are the same wine.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Yes, made by the same company, The Wine Group, but sold as different wines in two different retailers. And they don’t taste the same, either.

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