Two Buck Gold

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More than 350 chardonnays competed at the recent California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

The winnner?  Trader Joe's "Two-Buck Chuck," which isn't under two bucks anymore, but is still pretty darned cheap.  No wine over $50 medaled.

I'm sure there's some point out to be made here about the free market and the masses, but I'll let someone else make it.  I just like seeing wine snobs bollixed.  

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  1. i’ve judged at a few of these competitions. don’t take it too seriously. and don’t think that the two buck chuck you pick up this evening for dinner is the same stuff the judges had.

  2. Every half-assed vineyard I’ve ever toured has a wall full medals their particular brand of piss-water “won”.

    As for Two Buck Chuck, I wouldn’t pay more than three and a quarter for it.

  3. Did the Boone’s Farm place?

  4. I myself enjoy Maddog 20/20. It is the finest sugar based wine I have ever tasted.

  5. For some reason I doubt wine snobs will really be bothered by this turn of events, just like fans of real music didn’t bat an eyelid when Milli Vanilli won a grammy.

  6. …and Kelly Clarkson won two Grammys, but somehow I don’t think John Zorn is worried.

  7. Chardonnay, and whites in general, only get so good. The distance between an average one and a great one is a lot smaller than between an average, say, merlot and a great merlot. I don’t know what kind of fool would pay $50 for a white wine.

    edna,

    What do you mean about Not “the same stuff?”

  8. I’m sure there’s some point out to be made here about the free market and the masses, but I’ll let someone else make it. I just like seeing wine snobs bollixed.

    Well, obviously what this proves is that popularity contests do not value something as well as the free market does, because the ones that the free market values are the more expensive ones.

    DEMAND KURVE!!!

    😉

  9. …and Kelly Clarkson won two Grammys…

    Since You Been Gone was actually a killer song, I must sheepishly admit.

    Why is it that I’ve never watched a single episode of American Idol, but I can probably name a dozen contestents?

  10. Good pop song, but it’s “Since U Been Gone.” And yes, Prince is the only person who can get away with those kiddie spellings, unless you include Sk8ter Boi.

  11. Paging TWC… paging TWC…

  12. Joe you obviously have drank a little wine becuase you are exactly right. Moreover, American Chardonneys have a terrible reputation. I think this says more about the quality of American Chardonneys than it does about two buck chuck. Two buck chuck is drinkable and great to keep around for when heavy drinking friends show up. You can feed them one good bottle of wine and two buck chuck after that.

  13. I myself enjoy Maddog 20/20.

    It’s like grape juice with Bactine added.

  14. Milli Vanilli won a grammy!!!

    Why wasn’t I told, I’ve wasted my time & money on talent.

  15. Chardonnay, and whites in general, only get so good. The distance between an average one and a great one is a lot smaller than between an average, say, merlot and a great merlot. I don’t know what kind of fool would pay $50 for a white wine.

    Anything over about $40 (maybe it’s more now?), you’re paying for rarity, snob appeal, debt service on the owner’s vanity vineyard note, etc… David Coffaro has a great take on how much of the cost of a bottle of wine is due to the components and how much to other factors here.

    I will disagree with you joe about white wines only getting so good. A lot of it is due to personal preference, but I would call the wines of d’Yquem, Salon, Reinhold Haart, Stony Hill and Willi Schaefer, great by any standard, and noticeably head and shoulders ahead of good white wine.

    I too agree with Warren that many two-bit wineries wallpaper their tasting rooms with fair ribbons, and consequently I put little stock in Winery X winning 1st prize at the county fair, etc…

    I’d like to hear too, edna, more about your statement that the judges are tasting something different than the wine in the marketplace. Is it similar to winemakers making a “Parker cuvee” and shipping them that?

    As far as two-buck chuck goes, I think I’ve tried it before, and thought it very good for the price, but certainly nothing that I was going to race to Trader Joe’s for. I prefer riesling or sauvignon blanc for an easy drinking white wine, and I miss not being able to order Navarro’s tasty whites, as I live in the distributors’ republic of Texas.

  16. The distance between an average one and a great one is a lot smaller than between an average, say, merlot and a great merlot.

    try a top montrachet and get back to me. i drank an ’83 ramonet monty a couple years ago and i still get dizzy at the memory.

    the producers of two buck chuck (tbc) are not really producers; they’re buyers and blenders of bulk wines. the blends and sources vary depending on bottling demand and logistics. two bottlings of the same labeled wine can occur a month apart, but the wine will be completely different. this is a very, very common business model in the california industry and indeed often the case in most other significant wine-producing countries.

  17. Cheers, John.

  18. edna, Gray Ghost,

    OK, fancy rarities aside, the vast majority of white varietals – chardonnay, fume blac, sauvingnon blanc, chablis, German whites – only gets so good. Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice chardonnay on a hot day. Plop a couple of ice cubes in that baby and you’re good to go!

  19. if you’re invoking sturgeon’s rule, why ceertainly, it is as inescapable as the second law of thermodynamics. it’s also true of that sea of anonymous overoaked low acid high alcohol red swill that has drowned the market in recent years. sticking to my own state, for every top producer who makes terrific well-priced wines with lots of personality (e.g., navarro) there are a bazillion makers of completely generic red wine, distinguishable only by which variety of oak chips they were treated with.

  20. …and what gerund-animal name they can come up with.

  21. I don’t understand white wine at all. It’s reds with savory and iced tea with light seafood for me. Even if you feel the need to have something at a lower temp, a fun pitcher of sangria is better than most whites.

  22. Plop a couple of ice cubes in that baby and you’re good to go!

    Eewwwwwww!!!

  23. I’m a mid-brow wine snob, edna.

    I didn’t even know there were laws.

  24. So joe,

    Do you defile your single malts with ice too?

  25. I haven’t had a malted in years.

    Seriously, jes’ joshin’ about the ice in the chardonnay.

  26. …and what gerund-animal name they can come up with.

    Leapin’ Lizards!

  27. Chardonnay, and whites in general, only get so good.

    Hmm, you may be rigth. I’ve only tried the red Two-Buck Chuck — what godawful swill. Perhaps the white is palatable.

  28. Chardonnay is the only wine I’m not embarrassed to buy in a 1.5L bottle.

  29. I guess it’s ’cause I’m a girl, both in the literal and figurative sense, but it’s reds I don’t get (sorry, TWC). They all taste the same to me: like blood, with the exception of a nice rioja I had once. Wish I could remember the name. Every white tastes unique to me, for good or bad (cat pee aroma = not good). Oh, and I find chardonnay totally boring. My faves are Alsatian wines, like Hugel and Trimbach, that are fruity but not too sweet.

    Any reds recommendations for people who don’t like reds?

  30. Edna’s right, Sturgeon’s Law is damn near inescapable for everything. Wine isn’t an exception. Many inexpensive yet creative producers do exist, however, and a good wine shop will be happy to steer you to some of them. The ‘good wine shop’ is key. Unless you’re a geek, or want to be one, why not pick the brain of someone who’s already done the sorting and let them help you out?

    I’ve mentioned Navarro already (with a second from edna). Other good inexpensive white wine producers include most any New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Weingut Darting for riesling and other varieties, Domaine Baumard for chenin blanc (not really inexpensive anymore, unfortunately). I’m sure edna can come up with a few zillion Rhone whites to try.

    Of course, if you don’t like white wine, and you’re happy with that, then don’t feel you have to try and like it. “If you like it, then it’s good for you”, should be emblazoned on every guide to wine appreciation, along with “but keep an open mind.” I’ve done the ice cube thing with a tumbler of moscato d’asti; it works really well.

    To go along with edna’s remembrance of the Ramonet Montrachet, there’s a (no doubt apocryphal) story of someone giving a wine tasting class for the wives of some Dallas doctors, lawyers or Indian chiefs, while the husbands were away doing something else. They’d had a few glasses of wine by that point, nevertheless the guy finishes off the class by pouring some DRC Montrachet.

    Anyways, he pours, hands out the glasses, and asks one of the women at random what she was tasting, what it felt like. She blurts out that, “It tasted like a Texan came in my mouth!” I guess that’s supposed to be a compliment…

  31. Most wine competitions don’t have a single gold medal winner, there might have been 50 gold medals awarded that day, 75 silvers, and 100 bronzes.

  32. My faves are Alsatian wines, like Hugel and Trimbach, that are fruity but not too sweet.

    Any reds recommendations for people who don’t like reds?

    Beaujolais? Not the nouveau stuff, but a decent village beaujolais. Shouldn’t be more than $10, $15 if you want something really spendy, and should have be fairly red fruity tasting w/o being sweet.

  33. A red wine for someone who doesn’t like red wines?

    How about a red prosecco? Like a mellow champagne, but with red-wine tanginess.

  34. A red wine for someone who doesn’t like red wines?

    Pinot Noir?

  35. Good wines are what you like; bad wines are ones you don’t.

    I liked John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused as it encouraged developing a vocabulary of the things you like in a wine so you can better describe what you’re looking for to a knowledgeable wine seller.

    For most people, there’s little difference between a $10 wine and a $40 wine. There’s so much good wine at low prices I have a hard time justifying more than $20/bottle.

  36. My favorites these days are Viogniers and Malbecs. Both varieties are very resonably priced and very good. Very undervalued I think. I would much rather have a good $12 california voignier than a more expensive charonney.

  37. I don’t care for wine, and yet I read every single post in this thread. I’ve no idea why.

    Maybe I thought that by reading, something would click in my brain and I’d finally “get” why people like wine so much. Maybe Sturgeon’s Law is the problem; I tend to have bad luck that way.

  38. Thanks for the tips so far, all. And how could I never have heard of Wine for the Confused? I’ll have to check that out, too.

    I also confess to disliking most champagne (too dry) although maybe it’s just a taste that’s been too expensive to acquire thus far.

  39. Ooh, good answer, John. Argentinian malbecs are teh yummies.

    I kcan has Malbec?

    poco,

    You’d love prosecco, then. Like a sweeter, more mellow champagne.

  40. My preferences — I definitely lean towards the old world.

    Many good wines available for under $20:

    German — Riesling
    New Zeland — Sauvignon Blanc
    Italy — Chianti Classico

    Many good wines availble for about $50:

    Left Bank Red Bordeaux
    Brunello di Montelcino
    Barolo

    Left Bank

  41. oops on the extraneous left bank

  42. How odd. I had my first malbec (from Argentina) about six months ago, and I ask for it everywhere now.

  43. Chardonnay, and whites in general, only get so good. The distance between an average one and a great one is a lot smaller than between an average, say, merlot and a great merlot. I don’t know what kind of fool would pay $50 for a white wine.

    I’ve found that to be the case with almost any “lighter” alcohol, such as vodka or pilsner beers.

  44. Leapin’ Lizards!

    no joke, i’ve supplied stuff to that brand. also burrowing owl, smoking loon, farting mexican, and a new kosher wine, bargaining jew.

    rhone whites, ahhhhh. my faves would be pichon’s condrieu, white st-josephs from monteillet and gaillard, gaillard’s clos de cuminaille, the vin de pays viognier from stephane ogier, and stephane robert’s st-peray.

    for mid-brow snobs like joe, seek out anything you can find with a louis-dressner import label. michel brun’s chardonnays from beaujolais are relatively inexpensive and revelations about how good a cheap chardonnay can be. dressner brings in some pretty damn fine loire whites, too.

  45. edna,

    I just haven’t been able to find a European label that gives you real value. Sure, at the top of the market, you’ll find some terriffic wines from Europe.

    But whatever I can find in a $20 German Rhone, I can find in a $14 wine from Washington, or Oregon, or Australia.

  46. try a few of the ones i suggested, especially the brun. these are not high dollar wines- the brun (i meant to say jean paul, not michel, sorry) beaujolais blanc runs about $12-14.

  47. White beaujolais?

    No kidding.

  48. Am kicking myself for not thinking of Dressner as an importer to seek out, given you’re on the East coast, joe. I don’t recall seeing his wines here in Texas. We have to make do with Terry Theise and the odd Kermit Lynch that makes it our way…

    I think I’ve mentioned it already, but the way to go is to find a wine shop with a low snob/enthusiast ratio and ask one of the clerks/managers for recommendations, given your taste preferences, wines you’ve had before and price points. Most staffers will be thrilled to educate you as much as you want to learn. If they aren’t helpful, find another store that is. The most knowledgeable people I’ve met in the wine business are invariably the most humble and gracious in answering questions.

    Another good place to go for information are some of the wine sites on the web, such as Robin Garr’s Wine Lovers’ Page or Brad Harrington’s West Coast Wine Page.

  49. no kidding. and terrific wine. it’s a pity that whie beauj isn’t better known- i think that, in many ways, it can be superior to the nearby and better-known chalon and macon. brun’s terres dorees is world-class chardonnay.

  50. gg, garr’s site is superb. robin is an old friend, but somewhere to the left of joe.

  51. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that this crowd isn’t into Blue Nun.

  52. You mean they don’t actually hang people for drinking white wine in Texas?

  53. You mean they don’t actually hang people for drinking white wine in Texas?

    Not in Austin, AKA Berkeley SXSW. Austin is sort of the decompression chamber of Texas, where new immigrants can slowly acclimate to the alien environment exemplifed by TX heat, fire ants and pickup trucks, before being released onto the state proper.

    They do look at you funny for bringing Zinfandel into a BYOB BBQ joint, however. Mmmmm, I do miss the BBQ in and around Austin. Goode company just isn’t the same.

    The totally nude ‘gentlemen’s establishments’ in TX prohibit the sale of alcohol, though BYOB is ok. This led to I remember reading that someone suggested that the next meeting of their tasting group be at one of those clubs. Not sure if it ever came about.

  54. OK, fancy rarities aside, the vast majority of white varietals – chardonnay, fume blac, sauvingnon blanc, chablis, German whites – only gets so good.

    I have pretty shoes…

  55. I’m surprised Stephen Bainbridge hasn’t yet weighed in on this subject.

  56. My policy for wine purchases.

    When any of my local outlets is getting rid of last seasons buys I buy a bottle or two (or three) of each.

    I rarely pay more than $5.00 a bottle. I find Australian, New Zealand, South African, Chilean and Argentinian in my “cellar” at times. Also the occasional French, Spanish and Italian. Sometimes there’s even one or two from California.

    At that price, if I don’t like the first taste the bottle is relegated to use in the marinade for next day’s (or the day after) dinner.

    By being a little selective I rarely get a “bad” one.

  57. Edna, right on about Robin Garr. He is one of the best and also one of the oldest online guys around. He is also slightly to the left of Joe. 🙂

    I’ll not weigh in on the white wine controversy because, as many of you know, Lips That Touch White Wine Shall Never Touch Mine.

    A little useful libertarian trivia for y’all. EDNA will well appreciate this.

    Senor Walter Williams once proclaimed that one cannot go to one’s grave without sampling at least one glass of Montrachet.

    And, unless things have changed out here in the Great State of Californicate I believe that Two Buck Chuck is still two bucks. In many places, Two Buck Chuck was never two bucks.

    One of the most frequent questions I get has to do with the drinkability of 2 Buck Chuck.

    Here is the scoop. It’s better than it has any right to be for the price. It’s still plonkish but better than many bargain rack wines. However, that is changing quickly. There are a whole slew of $5.00-$10.00 wines these days that are quite well made that put Shaw in the dumper. But, Shaw is still $2.00-$3.00.

  58. I just like seeing wine snobs bollixed

    No serious wine snob is going to feel bollixed by the results of a tasting at the California State Fair. They’re wine snobs for Chrysler’s sake. 🙂


  59. Here is the scoop. It’s better than it has any right to be for the price. It’s still plonkish but better than many bargain rack wines. However, that is changing quickly. There are a whole slew of $5.00-$10.00 wines these days that are quite well made that put Shaw in the dumper. But, Shaw is still $2.00-$3.00.

    Well, being a poor full-time graduate student I tend to be a beer drinker. But The Wine Commonsewer?,if you can point me in the right direction and find some affordable (yet good) cheap white or red wines it would be greatly appreciated :).

  60. twc, garr was the first to legitimize the three stooges wine scoring system. that makes me forgive him for a lot.

    cesar, where are you located? that will guide recommendations.

  61. Have other people here noticed a deterioration in the ability to get tasty wines for $10 a bottle? Here in PA, the price of nice red varietals has inched up over the past year or two (decling dollar?)

  62. Cesar, have you considered making your own?

    A hundred dollars worth of equipment plus a fifty dollar wine kit will net you two cases of pretty decent product, which you can tailor to your own taste buds. The equipment is reusable, and you can run several batches in sequence.


  63. cesar, where are you located? that will guide recommendations.

    I’m in Richmond, Virginia.

    Cesar, have you considered making your own?

    A hundred dollars worth of equipment plus a fifty dollar wine kit will net you two cases of pretty decent product, which you can tailor to your own taste buds. The equipment is reusable, and you can run several batches in sequence.

    I’ve considered that, but I’m not sure I have enough space (one bedroom apartment).

  64. Cesar, nothing wrong with a good beer. In fact, in a double blind taste test, Bud Lite beat out Draft Heineken, Sammy’s, LaBatt’s Blue, Killian’s Red, Moosehead, Anchor Steam, Arrogant Bastard, and 380 other micro brews, mainstream brews, and plain old 7-11 fare such as Coors, Miller, and Old Milwaukee.

  65. Cesar, last time I was in Virginia I noticed that the wine prices were about 20% more than I was used to paying so keep that in mind when you are looking around.

    If there is a Cost Plus World Market in Richmond, check out the selections. The prices tend to be pretty good.

    One thing I’ve noticed about Trader Joes in So Cal is that the prices for better wines are not that great. If you are looking at a good wine at Trader Joe’s you can probably find it for less elsewhere. OTOH, they have a pretty nice selection of cheaper wines but the other thing is that it’s a crap shoot as to which are drinkable and which you would gladly trade for a suitcase of Bud.

    Here is one recommendation. This wine is about $6.50 in Californicate. It is available at Sams if you have one of those.

    This is a merlot that Miles would drink. It is a Christian Moueix 2003 Merlot (for those of you following along at home, yes, it is THAT Christian Moueix).

    It’s a Frog wine and represents the new marketing strategy of some French growers and vintners, which is to capitalize on the American way of labeling wine. This is a Bordeaux wine and it says so on the label but it happens to be all Merlot. It is earthy, dry, medium bodied and very much a Bordeaux style. It is quite tasty and it beats the crap out of anything Charles Shaw has to offer and it is far better than many wines costing two and three times as much.

  66. virginia? you’re in good shape. lots of good imports are well-distributed there.

    for reds, i’d be looking for chilean carmenere (missiones del rengo is my fave, about $8), beaujolais (the aforementioned brun, michel tete- these are not the horrible deboeuf crap that has ruined the beaujolair brand), or the rhone-area vins de pays (domaine durban’s red is stunning and under $10).

    for whites, think germany. think mosel. think kabinett. superbly food friendly and not yet ridiculously priced.

    it’s summer. it’s hot. it’s humid- you’re in virginia for god’s sake. cough up $15 and get yourself a bottle of bugey cerdon, chill it, and drink it on a picnic with a beautiful girl. renardat-fache, caveau de mont, rondeau, bartucci all make very good ones. i don’t know if bottex is still around. oh yes, bring an extra bottle, it’s hot and she’ll be thirsty.

  67. thedifferentphil,

    Are you sure that it’s not just the good wines you found for under $10 a few years ago that have inched up in price?

    That keeps happening to me. I used to get Rosemount Shiraz for eight or nine bucks – now it’s twelve or even fourteen. It isn’t a secret anymore.

  68. for reds, i’d be looking for chilean carmenere

    mmmmmmmmmm, the lost grape of Bordeaux. Excellent advice ma’am. Think I’ll go get some myself. Well, maybe I should have breakfast first.

  69. oh yes, bring an extra bottle, it’s hot and she’ll be thirsty.

    …..even better advice. 🙂

  70. i always described carmenere as “much like merlot, but interesting.”

  71. much like merlot, but interesting

    nicely said.

  72. TWC is not drinking any fucking merlot!

  73. Thanks for the advice guys!

  74. Cesar, last time I was in Virginia I noticed that the wine prices were about 20% more than I was used to paying so keep that in mind when you are looking around.

    Yeah, the Commonwealth really loves to tax alcohol. I think they do it to make up for our almost non-existent tobacco tax.

  75. Cesar, if you can find a spot that is 2 foot by 2 foot to hold a plastic fermentor or a glass carboy then you have enough room to make wine.

    More important would be temperature control (cooling in the summer in particular). You can ferment at upwards of 80 degrees, but you need low 70’s or better yet in the 60’s for aging.

  76. Joe, it’s a Bordeaux. Nanny.

    I know nobody is coming back but I had a simply fabulous Italian red table wine the other day. Same thing Joe was talking about a few months ago about Italian inroads in new and unexpected ways.

    This baby was 14.00 and was stunning.

    2002 Cantina Zaccagnini Riserva red table wine

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