When the subject of wine values comes up in conversation, more often than not the name Charles Shaw, as in “2-buck Chuck”, is mentioned. I’ve had every flavor of Charles Shaw over the years, and outside of the Chardonnay and sometimes Shiraz, there is nothing to recommend, even at $2-3 a bottle. Sure, they are drinkable, but I’d rather have a bottle of cheap Spanish red any day over the well known Trader Joe’s phenomenon.
The Charles Shaw brand is made by the Bronco Wine Company who’s leader, Fred Franzia, is quite a character. In fact, he has been quoted as saying that no wine is worth, “more than $10 a bottle.” While I disagree with that assertion, Mr. Franzia has created somewhat of a “Walmart for wine” figuring out how to cut costs and make low cost wines that are generally decent and often times good values. Bronco makes many other brands including ForestVille Vineyard, Montpellier Vineyard, Hacienda Wine Cellars, Napa Ridge, Forest Glen, Estrella, Napa Ridge, Sea Ridge, Coastal Ridge, Silver Ridge and Crane Lake. Since Trader Joe’s market has the exclusive for Charles Shaw, Bronco created the Crane Lake brand to market similar wines sold in independent wine stores. I’ve had several of these wines, and most are indistinguishable from Charles Shaw, except in the price department being somewhere between $3 to $5 a bottle. So it was interesting to see this Petite Sirah on the shelf; one that does not appear in the Shaw lineup. Given that this grape is somewhat under the radar to most consumers I reasoned that it might be a reasonable value. If not, I had some cooking wine.
Crane Lake, Petite Sirah, California 2003 ($5) – Inky, almost black, purple in color with aromas of blackberry jam. In the mouth, the wine is soft and very fruity with blueberry pie filling flavors a bit of white pepper and no tannins to speak of. Some might consider this to be too simple and slightly flabby, but I think it’s varietally correct and a stunning value. It also turns your tongue black 😉
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Wow, I can’t believe a) you drank/reviewed this brand and b) they make Petite Sirah. A local store sells this brand (but not that varietal) and I immediately assumed it was their answer to Two-Buck Chuck. Ironic that it’s from the same company.
Sorry for the plug, but re: the comment about no wine being worth more than $10 a bottle, my long-winded response may be found here:
I have been debating reviewing a wine brand like this one myself, if for no other reason than to explain what made it “cheap” compared to other wines, even priced at under $10/bottle. Thanks for stepping up. 🙂
hi again Tim–
American Airlines served Montpellier Vineyards on my flight (Biz class! used up my miles)
th Cab was a litle flabby, nice minty nose & ‘forepalate’ however. Th Chardonnay was pretty good– very balanced, some light oak underlining slightly smoky citrus flavors– interesting!
I try to cover all sides here, even with some of the sub-$5 stuff. I chose to post this review because I think this is a very nice wine for the money. It will also counterbalance my review of Paloma Merlot 😉
Thanks for the notes on the Montpellier… I’ll watch out for it.
Peter the Wine says
I recently tried some Crane Lake Cabernet Sauvignon (2002). For $3.99 I expected something undrinkable. I was surprised to find it rather decent. I am no wine expert and usually choose from my local Safeway selection (but I did go on a wine tour once:) Compared with something like Cavit Pino Noir the Crane taste a bit sweeter with very little if any bitter taste. Perhaps those who really know wine might find it lacking the intricate character of more expensive wines. Do they make it sweeter to cover up a low quality wine? I don’t know but I think it is much better than other cheap brands like Concha Y Toro, Gallo and that stuff that comes in a box.
Now I get headaches from red wine rather easily if I have more than a few glasses. The cheaper the wine the worse the headache. I did not get a headache from this.
I’d reccommend this for a newbie red wine drinker who can’t handle the dry, supposedly sophisticated merlots and other reds with “robust” aftertastes.
Glad you liked the Cab, Peter. I found it just about the same as Two-buck Chuck, but certainly quaffable.
Your headaches are caused by the sulfites in the wine and other components from the skins. All wines will give you this if you drink too much of it, but the one’s with a higher sulfite level will do this faster. These tend to be on the low end of the price scale so watch out 😉
I have fallen in Love with Crane Lake Wines and can’t imagine a good dinner with out one! But for the life of me, I can not seem to find a way to get ahold of the winery? Aside from a regular mail address, do you know of any website for them? The White Zinfandel is my favorite (2006) and find it almost too easy to have that one glass after a long day of work! 😉
Constance Kelly says
Recently tried, Crane Lake, Petite Sirah 2003, after having returned from Switzerland. I am very pleased with the subtle flavor. I found this wine comparable to local Swiss wines.
oops! I wasn’t suppose to open/drink the 2004 Crane Lake Merlot. Any ideas where I can get another bottle? Help!
Jenny: I’d just look at any well stocked wine store in your area or check out WineZap. Seems very available here in the U.S.
Crane Lake, 2005 Merlot is more than welcome at my Speak Easy. Cheers!
I drink crane lake cab regularly. im a college student so funds are sparce, but this is the best i could find on my budget. I pay $3.29 a bottle at Meijer (a midwest grocery and conveinace store). They also carry merlot chard, and wht zin. My sister is having a wedding soon and i think we will choose crane lake for the wine but I would like to know how to get a hold of Crane Lake Cellars. If anyone has info, it would be very helpfull!
There is no Crane Lake Cellers. I searched long and hard and to no avail. I understand its made at Bronco under the guise of Franzia so maybe if you contact them you will get your answer. I search now just for the wine and when I find it I purchase a case until next time. But it is wonderful and very inexpensive.
Good Luck. Sonja
I was in charge of a “Celebration of Life” for one our good friends. I felt I just couldn’t have Charles Shaw as everyone knowa it is 2 bucks. I happened to go with a neighbor to Clark’s Organic supermarket and there was a whole selection of Crane Lake wines at $2.49, champagne at $3.99. I tried some hoping they would be good enough for the “party”. They passed my palette with flying colors as well as 2 neighbors. So I bought a couple of cases of the various varieties and had nothing but raves. No one had heard of the vineyard. One professed wine afficionado from Temecula(An up and coming wine area in So Cal.) asked where I got the chardonnay?. I said tell me the truth . How much do you think it cost? Well he said I usually drink Cakebread and I say about $29, Was hw surprized. I am surprized to see it is also made by Franzia. But for $2.49 it is great. and the champagnme is very good.
While Crane Lake and Charles Shaw can be great values for such events, I suggest checking out some inexpensive wines from Spain and Portugal. There are some astounding values in the $4-6 range now on the market that are much more satisfying than the brands Bronco produces like Crane Lake.
I will do a tasting round-up of some of these wines on a future podcast and post my notes here on the blog.
Steve: Thanks for sharing your experience; I’ll have to try Crane Lake Chardonnay sometime soon.
Stumbled onto Crane Lake accidently and bought the 2003 petite Syrah, after drinking it wished I had bought a case. Went back and of course at $3.00 a bottle was gone. Now to find more if anyone knows and would love to share let me know. Thanks
search for that on e-bay 🙂 They have a few brands.
I think this is the best wine for the price!! Their Malbec is outstanding!!!!!!!!!
you can get this info from Henry’s market. we found it for 2.99 per bottle with a 20% extra discount. we’re having wedding so every funds count.
Here in Nashville all the varieties are generally available and often at 3-for-$10. I found this site, though, by Googling "Cranke Lake headache. I really like these cheap wines for parties, but I have begun to link really bad hangovers and upset stomach with Crane Lake in particular. And it's too bad, because they are really very drinkable at large gatherings or for simple meals where cost is a factor. I may have to experiment with an alternative. Delacato wines are nice, but inexpensive….
I too wish I could find a Crane Lake Winery but I searched and no can find. So I just search stores. Hard to find Petie Sirah 2003 when I did find it in Sonora I did buy a case and it is for special occasions. Any one with information for California I would love to hear. All wines can give you headaches you just need to drink less. A word to the wise. Also no comparison to two buck chuck that is undrinkable.
Crane Lake is available from Wine Legacy, on line.
I'm not sure where you are in California. I live east of Sacramento and we have a very inexpensive grocery chain here called Winco. It is like a warehouse and you bag your own groceries. Cheapest prices I have ever seen. Similiar to Costco or Sam's in smaller rations.
They carry all the Crane Lake wines and run $2.38 a bottle. A case or Sangiovese, which is my favorite, was around $28!!! I don't know if you have a Winco near you, but it would be worth the drive!!
DGC Article says
I follow a group of fabulous Temecula wineries. They include Falkner Winery and Wiens Family Cellars Winery. Even though Temecula wineries are not well known, their Temecula wine is out of this world!!! I find a lot of information at http://Temecula-wineries.net.
Well said about the Temecula wineries.
I took my husband to a fantastic winery that overlooked the hills and a beautiful sunset! Falkner winery, you have to go and try the Amante 2005! To die for. If you can make it, try driving to temecula ca and visit Falkner winery.
Hi all. Well I live on Cape Cod on the East Coast and tried the 2-buck wines long ago and never went back for more. I am a frugal wine buyer and always combing the 2-3-fer bins in any store in my area and my 70 mile commute to Boston as I like to stay under $10 for a bottle. Amazing the values I've found! Find a bottle I really like and go back for a case and get the store discount and add the vineyards coupon and love the savings. I stumbled on Crane Lake wines when we moved 5 years ago and now have them in 2 stores nearby for 4-4.50 a bottle. I drink their reds and have never been disappointed by these. Served them at an 18-person dinner party and all were happy with them, and some even asked about them. The guy who started 'Crooked Putter Wines' (http://www.crookedputter.com/) there also, and he was pleased. I vary my varietals to keep them fresh, but have liked them all with any type of meal. We are big on seafood on the Cape and these are wonderful with all types of fin fish and shell fish dishes, as well as grilled anything…enjoy when you can find them…Duncan