Monday, December 01, 2008

That is Chucked Up!

I really like wine. When I moved to the West Coast and discovered Trader Joe's, my special occasion wine became cheaper than what I marinated with in Arkansas. When I moved from there to Louisville, my wife and I bought several cases of a variety of wines to bring with us. We were bootlegging our way across the USA.

Anybody familiar with Trader Joe's is also familiar with Two Buck Chuck. I am stating the obvious for emphasis. It gets its name because it is $2 per bottle. Actually, it is $1.99 per bottle. Even if it was, say, $2.50 per bottle, its moniker would be relevant. It is not great wine, but it is real wine, not Boone's Farm or Mad Dog 20/20. A Shiraz is a Shiraz, and a Cabernet is a Cabernet. I will not comment on the Chardonnay because my favorite white wine is Corona.

The closest Trader Joe's to Louisville is in Cincinnati. My wife and I noticed that our stash was dangerously close to falling under 20 bottles, so we decided to make a trip north. The store was surprisingly easy to find being only 2 blocks off of the interstate. It was a bitter and wet day, the first bad one of the season for us. On the way we stopped at Skyline for lunch. It was awesome, but more on that later.

We entered the store and were immediately aware that not all was right. The set-up was similar to the new store on the former El Toro MCAS in Irvine. I think it was the general dourness of the patrons that threw us off. It was a chore for them to be there. They were not happy to be buying relatively inexpensive semi exotic items exclusive to Trader Joe's.

We made the usual rounds saving the best for last: the wine. For me it is like childhood when I got to pick out a candy bar at the check out line for being good while mom did the shopping. Not that I was ever good, or ever denied. One thing that I have noticed about non-West Coast Trader Joe's is that the California wines are integrated with the general population and not nearly as abundant and diverse. I observed that because there were a couple of Zinfandels that I was looking for that were not where they should have been, but I digress.

Against the back wall was a large display of the various flavors of 2 buck. Also, there was a sign proclaiming a sale on the house hooch. I thought that was odd, because at $24 per case, they would be losing money just on the cost of the glass bottles and foam 'corks'. It never goes on sale. I then examined the sale price. If a patron bought a case of Two Buck Chuck, they could pay as little as $3.49 per bottle. In a wild stretch of the imagination, a politician could redefine $2.99 as 'Two Buck', but I can not abide by $3.49 as an avatar of 'Two Buck'.

I realized why the patrons of an otherwise happy place were not. They have redefined the new normal. They have taken a term that has a traditional and definable meaning and tailored it to suit their purpose. It is good old Two Buck Chuck even though it is really not. This is kind of a tangential segue to the other post that I have been working on for a couple of days that deals with redefining words with traditional meanings.

8 Comments:

Anonymous jason said...

If you make it back to the candy store here are some of my favorite Trader Joe's Wines to keep in mind for your next visit...

1:38 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Redefining words? Like "queer"? Exciting!

I read somewhere a few months ago that it's now officially "three buck chuck". Inflation sucks, big time.

But seriously, dude, three bucks for a drinkable (if only barely so) bottle of wine is still crazy-cheap.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

The chalk board in the store (they use those because it is a renewable resource) that displayed the sale price called it Two Buck Chuck.

We did buy quite a few bottles including some new stuff, so the trip was not a wash. I have only bought one bottle of ~2 Buck Chuck for personal consumption. I am not being snobby or anything. I have just found that there are many wines that I like for $4.

I think queer means that something is not right or normal, but I can't open another internet window right now to verify it.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

As for my favorite wines, the best white out there is Corona with lime. I am not too keen on whites. One of the better TJ's exclusive brands is their Petit Syrah. We also found a new offering called Pacific Steamer or something like that which is a blend of reds that is both slightly sweet and dry at the same time. I could list all of the favorites, but that would take a while. I have found very few truly bad bottles there.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I like whites, but mostly because a) I prefer my alcohol to be served very cold, and b) reds aren't nearly as good when served cold. Since Mrs. Red Shirt likes Reisling and Chardonnay, that's what we usually have.

Also, several reds (chianti, I'm looking at you) have struck me as having unpleasant undertones, something akin to rotten meat. And it's not a quality-of-wine thing, but a type-of-grape thing. The dryer the better for reds, as far as I'm concerned. I appreciate Paul Giamatti's stance on Merlot from the movie Sideways.

I've complained before about Pennsylvania's liquor laws. This is one of those cases where we would NEVER get a Trader Joe's, because they couldn't sell their cheap wine. Literally, the state government (the Liquor Control Board) sets the price and selection for the entire state. So we get the worst of all worlds: less choice, higher prices! All in the name of public health!

8:41 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

Ben's got it right with the PA Liquor Control Board, a chucked-up thing if there ever was one. I've lived in PA for 20 years and there are many things that I love about this are. But there are also a number of countervailing things. They close to balance out, so that when it comes time to pack up and retire, it could actually be a close call as to whether I stay here. Even when you throw in inertia, familiarity, and all the tangible good things, the bad things bring it close enough to the tipping point that a "small" think like their f-ed up liquor laws could sway me, if I'm in a particular mood, to pack it out.

I lived in the LA area for 7 years in the 80s. For a while, we lived walking distance from one of the older Trader Joe's. God, I miss that place. Ben's right. It could never survive here.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Intra-state taxes creating higher prices makes sense now that I think of it.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Correction to an earlier comment. The new wine we found at TJ's was the Grand Pacific Steamliner Red, 2005. Even after being opened for a week it was still very tasty.

10:04 AM  

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