Best inexpensive wines for summer

Reviews of chardonnays and sweet reds

Consumer Reports magazine: July 2013

Trackers Crossing 365, Bogle, and Charles Shaw chardonnays.

If you like to boast about scoring a bargain, feel free to give Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw chardonnay a place of honor on your dinner—or picnic—table. In blind taste tests, our wine experts deemed this $3 wine very good—and better than a bottle costing $34. The rest of you can hide “Three-Buck Chuck” in a decanter. (Our testers also reviewed sweet reds.)

In all, our experts tasted 19 chardonnays. They found seven that are very good, including five CR Best Buys, and three that are good: generally less balanced, less complex, or less intense than the others, with generic fruit flavors. All of those are in our chardonnay Ratings.

The nine wines not good enough to make the cut included two that cost more than $20: Mer Soleil and Newton. Others were Alamos, Catena, Chamisal, Kirkland Signature California—not to be confused with the very good Kirkland Signature Sonoma—Louis Jadot, and Novellum Rosemount Diamond Label.

Bottom line. Use the Ratings comments to choose among worthy wines. Most of them are fine whether you drink them soon or wait a couple of years, but Kirkland Signature, Casillero del Diablo, and Jacob’s Creek should be consumed soon.

Chardonnays are delicious on their own but can be hard to pair with food. In general, as richness increases in the wine, it should increase in the accompanying food. Simple, tart, fruity chardonnays go well with sushi, finger foods, or simply prepared seafood. Woody, buttery chardonnays are best with rich, creamy, smoky, or spicy dishes.

Yellow Tail Sweet Red Roo has tons of intense red and black fruit with black-pepper notes.

Sweet reds miss the mark

Retail sales of sweet red wines were up 58 percent during the year ending Jan. 5, most likely goosed by beginner drinkers accustomed to quaffing soda. Our taste tests found that none is very good. Three from big names are just fair: Cupcake Red Velvet, $11, has a heavy, burnt-oak taste that overpowers lighter fruit notes and leaves a flavor of cream soda concentrate; Barefoot, $6, has a cloying sweetness reminiscent of confectioner’s sugar; Woodbridge, $6, is simple, with generic fruit and some odd flavors.

If you still want to try a sweet red wine, choose from five that rated Good overall (see our Ratings of sweet reds). Yellow Tail Sweet Red Roo has loads of intense red and black fruit with black-pepper notes that add a bit of complexity. Sutter Home has an assortment of intense berry fruit with interesting vegetal and coconut notes. Gallo Family Vineyards is lighter and fruity, with some acidity. All three cost $5 or $6. Other good choices are Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, $11, and Sweet Bliss, $9.

Less tannic and astringent than other reds, these go with lots of foods, including chips, wings, pizza, deli meats and cheeses, cookout foods like burgers and grilled vegetables, pasta with sauce, and chocolate desserts.

Editor's Note:

A version of this article appeared in the July 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Tasty Chardonnays for as Little as $3 a Bottle."

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Health News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more