Now you can pull off the road, pop into 7-Eleven and grab a chardonnay with stone fruit tones or a plum-like cabernet sauvignon, both of which pair perfectly with Go-Go Taquitos or a 1/4-pound Big Bite.
7-Eleven's new brand of house wines, Yosemite Roads, is cheaper than a 6-pack, too—$3.99 a bottle. The convenience store chain best known for Big Gulps and Slim Jims is following in the footsteps of Wal-Mart, Costco, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's with their new branded wines. You can get a bottle at any 7-Eleven, as well as Denny's, Shell Garden grocery stores, and some retail outlets in Japan.
But is it any good? Tune in tomorrow for a special Fast Company taste test (drop us a line if you find the vino in your local 7-Eleven, we couldn't). Until then, we already know most people will be pretty happy about paying a few bucks for a bottle of vino without being subject to a quiz by stuffy wine snob: "What kinds of grapes do you like? Have you tried the 2008 vintage of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild?"
Some people don't agree. Eric Asimov compared the difference between $50 Burgundy and Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck to the difference between Shakespeare and a truckload of comic books. Junk or not, the phenomenon of house-branded wines has been around as long as the wine trade itself, says Jamal Rayyis, wine critic and author of seven editions of Food & Wine magazine's "Wine Guide." Shopkeepers used to buy barrels of wine and bottle it themselves, or let you bring your own containers to fill 'er up.
Where do all these cheap wines come from? Large wineries. Trader Joe pays cash upfront, a pretty good incentive for a producer who wants to deal with fixed costs immediately. Two Buck Chuck, also known as the Charles Shaw label, is owned by Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Company in California. The name alone should tell you a little about what happens when volume meets grapes.
Most of the wine producing in the world takes place in large wineries and co-ops, says Rayyis. And they make enormous quantities of wine. "You'd swear, looking around, that you were in a petroleum factory. That whole romance of barrels and old men going into cellars with candles is bullshit. Wine is a bulk commodity," he says. But the big box retailers have figured out the value to it: "If you're going to brand something, you've got to make sure the wine's consistent year after year. And only large wineries can create blends that are similar year to year."
Which brings us back to ... is it good, or will it give you a headache? Rayyis points out that at least 75% of people consume wine within 48 hours of buying it. That means wine drinking has filtered down to the masses, no longer the realm of the elite. As for quality, well, Rayyis says a few varieties are good for sangria. And as for all those taste tests vowing that experts can't tell the difference between cheap and expensive wines, "If experts can't tell the difference, they're not experts." (We'll see tomorrow, in our "expert panel" taste test.) But most people are not experts, admits Rayyis; they're just thinking, "What the hell do I care?"
People who buy high-volume wine for a certain price are under the delusion that it has not been manipulated, notes Rayyis. (Certain strains of yeast impart a particular flavor, and other things control against oxidation and provide color stabilization.) As for whether he'd cook with a cheap wine, "Two Buck Chuck? If you're mixing it with a bunch of shit, yeah, why not?"