We see that Charles Shaw Chardonnay, otherwise known as the Two Buck Chuck, captured a double-gold medal at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, marking it California’s best chardonnay with Best of California and Best of Class laurels to boot. The Two Buck Chuck is sold exclusively through Trader Joe’s, a delicious little value gourmet grocer that has yet to crack the Texas market (must they pass through an H.E. Butt?).
So why did this Chuck win? There’s a tremendous glut of California chardonnay grapes due to exuberant planting over the years, which means good grapes can be had at basement prices. This, while by-the-glass tastes have shifted to cleaner pinot grigios, sauvignon blancs and even Rieslings. Secondly, the toasty oak buttery flavor that made California wines the toasting rage a decade or so ago have has grown intolerably flabby to many palates. Plus those gobs of butter are a terrible accompaniment to most food.
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And so, bring on the Kiwis.
New Zealand’s 2006 Kim Crawford Marlborough Unoaked Chardonnay is a puckering sip, with lots of mouthwatering acids framing loads of ripe tropical fruit. There’s even a scant mineral layer lurking on the finish. It’s not two bucks ($17, actually), but it will make your food taste better.
P.S. The Two Buck Chuck is made by the Bronco Wine Company, the fourth-largest wine producer in the United States. Bronco President Fred Franzia has long ridiculed restaurant operators for their obscene wine list prices, which in Dallas can mount markups of three even four times wholesale. As former Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (turned urban resort formerly known as Joule) wine director Drew Hendricks says: “The huge markups have got to go; the huge markups have got to go; the huge markups have got to go.” So go then. --Mark Stuertz