Cheap wine is all the rage in the wine business, and it’s not just because of the recession. National and regional retailers, as well as the biggest wine producers in the country, have been pumping out wine that costs $5 or less a bottle for almost a decade, trying to duplicate the success of Two Buck Chuck.Two Buck Chuck is the nickname for the Charles Shaw wines that sell at California-based Trader Joe’s for $1.99 to $3.49 a bottle, depending on store location. Trader Joe’s has sold more than 400 million cases of Two Buck Chuck, which accounts for all the competition it’s facing these days.

There are no Trader Joe’s here, but there are plenty of what the industry calls “extreme value” or “super value” wines. And there will be more, when discount grocer Aldi, well-known for its $5 wines, opens stores in the neighborhoods where we publish magazines.

Do these wines offer value? Or are they just cheap? To that end, I did a tasting panel of six ordinary wine-drinking consumers — no wine geeks here, but people who actually taste wine before they judge it — to decide if wine that costs less than $5 a bottle is worth it. The results? Mostly yes, though two wines scored perfect zeros with the panels. The best-liked wines were:

• Southern Point Chardonnay, sold at Walgreen’s ($2.99).
This California chardonnay was the surprise of the tasting. The panel gave it high marks (“I’m a red wine drinker, but I like this,” said one), and I thought it approached the quality of some of my favorite $10 chardonnays, like Bogle.

• Target Cube Pinot Grigio, sold at Target ($9.99 for a 1.5-liter box/about $5 a bottle).
The panel liked this wine better than I did, noting its lemony flavor. And, as one noted, “You shouldn’t discount this just because it comes in a box.” I thought it was a little thin, though acceptable.

Glen Ellen
Old Vine Zinfandel ($9.99 for a 1.5-liter bottle/about $5 bottle). This was the best-rated red wine, “good aroma and well-rounded flavors.” I liked it, too, even if it was a little softer than most zinfandels. —Jeff  Siegel


Ask the Wine Guy

Q. What is a boxed wine?
A. There are two kinds of wine in a box. The first comes in the same packaging as juice boxes; once you open the wine, it’s just like opening a bottle and the wine will oxidize. The second comes in larger sizes – the equivalent of two and four bottles. It has a spigot, and the wine is stored in a plastic bladder inside the box. These wines can stay fresh for as long as a month.


Cordon Bleu stuffed chicken

This recipe was created by Dallas Cordon Bleu chef Nikki Boddamer for a recent cookoff at the culinary school (where I was lucky enough to be on Boddamer’s team). We didn’t win the competition, but we should have. Serve this with a chardonnay, which you can also use to cook with.

Serves four, about 30 minutes
4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on
4 ounces best-quality goat cheese
1/3 c chopped, toasted pecans
2 Tbsp chopped shallots
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
¼ c white wine
olive oil

1. Use a knife and carefully make a pouch in the breast, starting at the big end. You don’t want to cut through the breast, but to make a hole to stuff with the cheese mixture.

2. Sauté the garlic and shallots in the olive oil for a couple of minutes, until the shallots are soft. Add the white wine, bring to a boil and reduce the wine until it’s almost gone.

3. In a bowl, crumble the goat cheese and add the pecans, shallot mixture and salt and pepper. Mix well. Carefully, stuff the cheese filling into the chicken breasts.

4. In an overproof skillet, brown the breasts in olive oil on each side until they’re golden, which should take a couple of minutes on each side. Then put the breasts in a preheated 400-degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until they’re cooked.

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