Two chuck or not two chuck, that is the question

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For years I have had comments thrown at me about the wines that I purchase and drink along with hearing the proverbial statement that, "Two-Buck Chuck is fine for me."  This statement is then followed by the comment, "...and  Two-Buck Chuck has won awards."  So what is Charles Shaw doing to produce Two-Buck Chuck to such a quality that it wins awards over some very  reputable wineries?  Are these wines that great?  It is a fact that Charles Shaw has won two awards.  The first was in 2002 at the International Eastern Wine Competition with his 2002 Shiraz receiving the double gold medal over 2,300 other wines.  His second award was at the Commercial Wine Competition at the 2007 California Exposition and State Fair with his 2005 California Chardonnay which was judged to be the Best Chardonnay from California.  Were the bottles judged at these two events really Two Buck Chuck?  Was there a problem with the judging staff at this event?  Wine judges are required to pass a rigorous test to prove they can identify several wine varietals, varietal characteristics and faults to be certified.  Judges at the California State Fair were people that are involved in the wine industry and as such considered wine experts. 

Is Two Buck Chuck really not that bad and can go toe to toe with some fairly reputable wineries?  Two Buck Chuck is produced and bottled by Bronco Wine Corp.  Bronco purchases excess grapes from vineyards where supply is exceeding demand at a rock bottom price.  The fact that they are buying cheap grapes from multiple vineyards leads to inconsistency in their wines from bottle to bottle.  We all know that terroir, harvesting and processing of grapes from vineyard to winery has a tremendous effect on a wine.  The grapes purchased by Bronco exclude high quality Napa Valley grapes as the cost per ton would be too high to allow the $2.00 (now $2.49) retail price per bottle to be maintained.  Most of the grapes for Two Buck Chuck are purchased from the California Central Coast where there is an excess of grapes and the cost is reasonably cheap.  Since the grapes are sourced from many different vineyards, the wines are actually a blend of grapes from many different vineyards.  The big problem with producing wines at this volume and price to meet consumer demands is consistency and quality.  Trader Joe Markets sells up to 5 million cases a year of Two Buck Chuck. That's a lot of wine.

So how did Two Buck Chuck win awards over wines that were being meticulously crafted by vintners? 

1. Did the judging system fail?  

2. Did the judges chosen for this wine varietal (Shiraz and Chardonnay) inexperienced with them?  I highly doubt this is the case for a certified judge.

3. Maybe the sample Identification numbers were changed by accident.  This happened to me with a beer that I had entered in competition.  I sent the same beer to two events.  One event said that the beer was contaminated and was judged poorly for clarity, aroma, etc.  The same beer at the other event was awarded second place with high accolades.  Since these beers were from the same batch and judged on the same weekend it amounted to two possibilities:  Either the judges were looking at two different beers or the judging was flawed.

To acquire a better perspective on Two Buck Chuck, I purchased a bottle of 2009 Shiraz and 2009 Chardonnay. Obviously not the same vintages that were judged 2002 and 2005 respectively.  I poured the Shiraz and my wife and I put our glasses up to our noses and just looked at each other.  There was no fruit profile but did have a very funny nose that I really cannot put into words.  Next, we tasted the wine and were met by a tart tangy sensation in our mouths.  It had no mouth feel and was thin almost like a Beaujolais Nouveau.  The flavor disappeared immediately (thank goodness).  Neither of us were capable of providing a clear description of the flavors of this wine.  Common fruit flavors for syrah/shiraz wines such as blueberry, blackberry, plum, peppery, etc. were nonexistent.  The wine lacked structure and balance in our opinions.

So what happened at the competition where these $2.00 wines put on such a great showing?  I guess there will be a few people that will find Two Buck Chuck a great deal based on the price.  For $24 you can buy a case.  To follow up with my discoveries of the Shiraz I opened a bottle of Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay which was deemed the Best Chardonnay from California in 2005. Though it is not the same vintage, it would give us a chance to see what their white wines had to offer.  I actually brown bagged it and poured it for my Grape of the Night group.  Interesting discovery was that the Chardonnay was very drinkable compared to the Shiraz.  

My curiosity still lingers on the question of the awards for the wines from Two Buck Chuck.  I read articles where wine judges and connoisseurs have tried to recreate the test and Two Buck Chuck does not place at the top but rather toward the bottom.  I have my own opinion of Two Buck Chuck and really do respect the opinion of those that enjoy this wine.  That being said, please do not throw the comment at me that it is a great wine based on two awards, which in my opinion are questionable. You know the saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder",  wine is in the taste of the beholder.  As the other saying goes, "Two Buck Chuck is just not my cup of tea".


Rusty Sly