"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."
Judging of 3,029 California wines from 640 wineries was conducted two weekends ago in Sacramento by a gathering of 64 judges, said G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski, chief judge and director of the competition.
Wineries that received awards are being notified this week, he said.
The wine used for judging was selected by the Bronco Wine Co. and submitted to the competition. Fred Franzia, Bronco's president, said the State Fair award will give the company's Charles Shaw brand a boost in efforts to gain wider distribution.
"I just wish some other retailers and restaurateurs had the courage and good sense to make these super-value wines available to more American wine consumers," Franzia said.
The California State Fair competition is dismissed by some critics as representing broad-based consumer tastes rather than the palates of true wine connoisseurs. But Pucilowski, who has organized the competition for more than two decades, said he draws judges from a number of professions, including winemakers and restaurant owners.
Charles Shaw's 2005 chardonnay bested 350 other chardonnays in the competition, Pucilowski said.
The only other double gold winner among chardonnays was Wente Winery of Livermore.
George Rose, a vice president at the Santa Rosa-based Kendall Jackson wine company, which produces a best-selling chardonnay, said its Grand Reserve Chardonnay won a silver medal in the competition.