Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Should Cheap Wines Win Medals?

Two weeks ago, wines from Charles Shaw won three gold medals at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition in Orange County, California. The winners were 2011 Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Charles Shaw Merlot, and 2012 Charles Shaw White Zinfandel. The wines retail from $2.49 to $3.79 around the country and are sold at Trader Joe’s, a specialty chain of grocery stores.

Charles Shaw wines have been nicknamed “Two Buck Chuck” because when first released the wine sold for $1.99 a bottle. Prices have increased but the moniker remains. The Charles Shaw line of wines is produced by Bronco Wine Company, which is owned by the Franzia Family, who has been in the wine business for over 100 years.

And these awards are nothing new. In 2007, Shaw’s Chardonnay won at the same competition, scoring a double gold, Best Chardonnay from California, and Best of Class recognition.

In 2004, Shaw’s 2002 Shiraz received a double gold medal, which means that all of the judges at the table gave the wine a gold medal. Pretty impressive for a wine that retails for $1.99 a bottle – And fairly sobering for wineries releasing Shiraz of similar character with a price point 10 times that or more.

But the three medals made news in the wine world and there are some who dislike awarding these medals to a “cheap” wine brand. Why the sour grapes?
A variety of reasons – There are some who believe that a wine that sells for under $10, or is it $20, can’t possible be as good as one with a higher price point. Interesting concept, but as someone very familiar with wine and wineries, thefinal selling point for most consumers is the bottom line; and that translates into what the market will bear.

Most regular wine drinkers are looking for the everyday, "have a glass with dinner" wine. A 2008 study showed that most people couldn’t tell the difference between a cheap wine and an expensive one.  Umm..maybe, but that also depends on your definition of cheap and expensive, and possibly how extensive your wine training is.

David & Goliath
If the wine medal critics were concerned about Two Buck Chuck winning awards as an under $3 wine because of the damage that price point could do to small wineries trying to survive in the retail market – that I could understand.(But that's another post...)

The Orange County Fair Wine Competition is the largest wine competition held for California-only wines, so there is prestige in winning these medals. The wines were judged for appearance, aroma, balance, varietal character, and finish in blind conditions, meaning the judges did not see the bottle or the label – they did not know who crafted the wine. 

So, if Two Buck Chuck won three gold medals maybe it’s because the wines were judged for what they were at the time of the judging, and that means they were good! The awards don't mean that they're cellar-worthy wines, they simply mean that the wines are good now. So go out, buy a case, and enjoy.

In the end, you should drink what YOU like, regardless of the hype, the awards, or the reviews. And if it happens to be a bargain brand, or some small, unknown winery, so what?  You’ll have a wine you enjoy, and more money in your pocket. Now that's something to say "Cheers" about!

~ Joy