"Two-Buck Chuck" is used to beating competitors in price, but now it appears it has beaten rivals in taste, winning bragging rights to best California chardonnay at the state fair's commercial wine competition.
While full results from this year's competition aren't available yet, wine industry sources confirm the 2005 Charles Shaw vintage was the highest-scoring chardonnay in a blind tasting by judges who reviewed wines without regard to price.
Although Two-Buck Chuck varietals are derided by wine devotees as barely acceptable for use in cooking, they have gained widespread acclaim from consumers who want basic table wine like those found in Italy or France.
"Everybody disses it but they drink it," Terri Cook of Guerneville said just before buying about a half-dozen bottles of chardonnay for a weekend get-together. "It's a very drinkable chardonnay."
Cook and a friend, Randall Jahn of Santa Rosa, said they have held brown-bag tastings at dinner parties and Charles Shaw chardonnay does well against wines priced at $50-$100 a bottle.
"It's a mental thing," Jahn said.
Jacek Zurawski of Rohnert Park agreed.
He buys the Charles Shaw chardonnay at the express wish of his wife.
"Taste is actually more important for normal users than price," he said. "Price is associated with name recognition, that is all."
Charles Shaw wines are produced by the Bronco Wine Co., based in Ceres near Modesto, and are almost exclusively found at Trader Joe's. Like most of the Charles Shaw varietals, the double-gold-medal-rated 2005 chardonnay sells for $1.99.
Wine industry leaders said news of this high rating on a low-priced wine is certain to prompt a consumer rush to Trader Joe's to snap up cases before official announcement of results July 12. Bronco Wine produced about 100,000 cases of the 2005 chardonnay.
"This kind of news will spur a wine that is already a great success story," said Jon Fred-rikson, a Bay Area-based wine industry consultant. "The fact that they can create that kind of quality at this price point is certainly an astonishing feat."