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Monday, March 2, 2009

Two Buck Chuck

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Great moments in cinema, Bull Durham edition: Crash Davis gives Nuke LaLoosh advice about how to handle "The Show." "Practice your clichés," Crash says. Same thing applies if you ever decide to write a column about inexpensive wine. Have your responses down as you're making your pitch for fame and fortune.

When you get "What's your favorite wine?" Answer: "Whatever's open."

When you get "How many bottles do you have open at a time?" Answer: "Enough."

When you get "Sir, what do you think you're doing?" Answer: You're usually pouring glasses for yourself at a wine tasting, which is unfortunately considered poor form. Simply apologize. Then point across the room, exclaim, "Is that Robert Parker over there?" and snag the bottle when no one's looking.

However, "So, what do you know about that 'Two Buck Chuck' stuff?" was a question I couldn't answer. So, I'll take one for the team…

"Two Buck Chuck" is the nickname for Charles Shaw wines. These wines are exclusively distributed at Trader Joe's markets. In California, where Shaw wines produced, you can buy them for $1.99 a bottle. Elsewhere, depending on taxes, you'll likely find three-or-four buck Chuck.

So, how's it taste? Shaw wines have won major awards in national competitions, but I suppose I'm not enough of a connoisseur to understand why. I will say that they're generally solid, uncomplicated wines you can drink easily enough with food, but often have enough flavor to drink on their own. In other words, for a sluggable, you're talking about a decent bottle that's cheaper than either Boone's Farm or Night Train.

Charles Shaw 2007 Chardonnay – Charles Shaw's '05 chard won "Best in Class" and "Best in California" awards, but the '07 probably won't follow in its footsteps. That certainly doesn't mean that this is a poor wine. Although it's a California chard, it's not at all buttery, and only slightly oaky. The nose is light with some interesting peach scents. It's got a crisp taste with some mineral flavor and is a little peachy with some flavors of bubblegum in there somewhere. A very decent, straight-up, inoffensive chardonnay for drinking alone or with picnic food, baked fish, or chicken dishes.

Charles Shaw 2006 Merlot – Trader Joe's patrons either skipped Sideways a few years ago or knew better than to pay attention to the "f'n merlot" rant. The Charles Shaw merlot is their top seller. If you try to drink this right after popping the cork, you're going to get hit with a snootful of alcohol fumes. However, after a chance to sit for a bit, it turns into a decent quaff. The nose has a plum scent, and the body is relatively light for a merlot. It's easy to drink, with some dark berry flavor. The finish starts fruity, but then tannin kicks in and dries it out. With usual merlot foods like pork or grilled veggies, it would likely be very decent.

Charles Shaw 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – Again, another wine that you're going to need to decant before you drink. Straight out of the bottle, lighter fluid and berries. After breathing for a good long while, it edges towards something a little more interesting. This may be the least dry Cab I've ever tasted. There's a lot of fruit but almost no tannin to speak of until the finish. I'd recommend this as a wine to have sitting around during a barbecue, or perhaps as your third or fourth bottle of the evening. If the latter is reality, stock up on B-12, ibuprofen, Gatorade, and ginger ale.

Charles Shaw 2007 Sauvignon Blanc – The big surprise of the bunch. In my experience, most "super-value" Sauvignon Blancs are either weak little wines or acidic enough to melt the bottle, your tongue, and the underside of your jaw. The Shaw is neither. The nose is fruity and approachable. The taste is a blend of honey and grapefruit. The finish isn't as crisp as a lot of SB's, although there's enough residual acidity to make it refreshing. A rock-solid pool wine, although I'd probably look elsewhere for food pairings, since there are so many good food-friendly Sauvignon Blancs at only a dollar or two more.

Remember to temper your expectations. If you're going to pick up wine this inexpensive, don't think. You can only hurt the ballclub.