Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Blend Chardonnay

Charles Shaw WinesPrice: $3
Maker: Charles Shaw Winery, Napa County, California
Varietal: Chardonnay
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 12.5%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Blend Chardonnay (aka Two Buck Chuck) has a nice pear aroma, and flavor notes of pear and oak. It was medium bodied, and had good clarity. We’re not regular Chardonnay tasters, but this one was better than its $3 price tag would suggest.

Based on this wine, along with today’s tasting of the low-priced Golden Gate Pinot Grigio, it seems that it’s easier to turn out a decent cheap white than a good but really cheap red. We haven’t had much luck with low-priced reds from Charles Shaw, Crane Lake, and similar brands. The Charles Shaw Chardonnay, though, could be passed off as a wine that might sell for $5, if not $10. Opinions on this wine vary, but trend to the positive. The Sydey Morning Herald commented, “The cheapie chardonnay (christened early in the tasting as “Two-Buck Chuck”) wasn’t awful. While it didn’t really taste like a chardonnay, it certainly didn’t taste like rocket fuel. ” And Wine Sediments lists some kudos for the Charles Shaw Chardonnay, noting that it outscored far more costly wines in various competitions. Unspun thinks it’s “decent”, noting, “If you’re stuck drinking cheap wines, the nice thing is that it goes down fairly smooth — definitely smoother than a Vendage! — and doesn’t have an aftertaste that lingers beyond what you’d want.”

Golden Gate Chardonnay

Maker: Golden State Vineyards, American Canyon, Napa County, California
Varietal: Chardonnay
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Golden Gate Chardonnay (non-vintage) is an innoffensive little wine that will gain a bit of flavor once the chill is off the bottle. Chilled, we found little aroma and thin flavor. We let the bottle warm a bit, though, and the wine aroma resolved into pear, melon, and oak. The flavor wasn’t quite as lacking, with spicy oak notes a bit stronger than the fruit. This isn’t an awful wine… it might actually be refreshing if gulped with a fruit-heavy brunch on a warm patio. Overall, though, it’s unlikely to make many “big chards” lists.

Meridian Chardonnay 2004

Meridian ChardonnayPrice: $8
Maker: Meridian Vineyards, Santa Barbara County
Varietal: Chardonnay
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.4%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Meridian’s motto is that life can be complicated, and that wine doesn’t have to be. Their Meridian Chardonnay 2004 fits the motto well. It’s nose hints at pear and cantaloupe, and these same notes continue onto the palate, along with a bit of grapefruit. The texture is a bit syrupy, and the finish has a nice twinge of acidity that makes this a refreshing and pleasant wine. Like the slogan, it’s uncomplicated… but it’s also quite good.

The Meridian website suggests pairing it with “a seaside picnic lunch of turkey burgers, a Sunday brunch omelet, or a lazy afternoon sitting on the patio with friend.” We’d forego the turkey burgers (blech!), but the other two suggestions sound fine. This is indeed an accessible and fun wine that would be fine for hot weather entertaining or serving with lighter dishes at any time of the year.

One interesting recipe on the Meridian site is for Chicken Caesar Pizza. (Not to be confused with Little Caesar’s Pizza. ;)) Though devoid of anchovies (we expect anchovies in any recipe claiming to relate to Caesar), the combination of a tangy Caesar sauce and Fontina cheese sounds tasty, and a fine pairing with this Chardonnay. We didn’t try the recipe, but the Meridian Chardonnay worked well with a Chicken Alfredo pizza from a local pizzeria.

July Wine Pairing Dinner

Last night, I was able to attend a wine pairing dinner at my club. It was an interesting evening, and I’ll share the highlights:

Frei Brothers Sonoma County Chardonnay, 2003. This Chardonnay began with aromas of melon and apple. The flavor was smooth, featuring green apple and pear. The finish was crisp and a bit spicy. There was a hint of acidity. Supposedly, Frei has cut back the oak aging from 12 months to just 8 to reduce the oak in this wine. The pairing was with Lobster Risotto in a Cold Gazpacho Sauce. The combination worked well, although this easy to enjoy Chardonnay would pair with many foods and be suitable on its own as well. The best part of this course was the crispy cup molded from slightly browned cheddar cheese.

Bridlewood Estate Winery Viognier, Central Coast, 2004. You won’t find much Viognier on your grocer’s shelf, although over time more vines are being planted around the world. The Bridlewood Viognier seemed a bit like a Chardonnay but tasted of peach and created a pleasing tingle on the tongue. The effect was due to light carbonation – not like a champagne, of course, and no bubbling was evident in the glass. All in all, it was an interesting and fun wine. The Viognier was paired with a Spiced Thai Chicken Roll with Roasted Heirloom Tomato. The slightly bubbly wine worked well with the spicy chicken roll and the sweeter, seasoned roast tomato. (Pairing the Thai chicken roll with a roas tomato was an interesting and unusual choice itself.)

Red Rock Merlot 2004, California. This merlot was the highlight of the evening. A currant aroma led to a mix of berry, oak, chocolate, and spice. This full-bodied wine is one of those less common wines that seems to light up all parts of one’s tongue. There’s a lot going on in that wine, and it’s unfortunate that it currently is being distributed only through the restaurant channel. If you find in on a wine list, it shouldn’t be too expensive – give it a try. The food pairing was equally robust – Veal Osso Bucco and Grilled Jumbo Prawns. The merlot held its own with the meaty gravy, flavorful veal, and smoky grilled prawns. Certainly, this was a fine combination of wine and food.

Bridlewood Estate Winery Syrah 2003, Central Coast. This Syrah was fine, though following the robust Merlot it seemed slightly diminshed. Blackberry, oak, and pepper led to a strong, even more peppery, finish. It was paired with an Organic Martini featuring Fresh Michigan Organic Greens Flavored with Tart Apple. The “martini” was indeed served in a martini glass, but seemed to be a well-chopped mix of slightly bitter salad greens and apple. Rather an odd dish, perhaps, that did little to improve the adequate Syrah.

Nachtgold Eiswien, 2004. This ice wine from Prestige Wine Group offered sweet pear and melon flavors. It has a mere 8.5% alcohol, and its texture is lightly syrupy. Paired with Bananas Foster, the ice wine was sweet enough to maintain its flavor. I don’t drink ice wine often, and the Nachtgold Eiswein reminded me of the simple, sweet pleasure of this kind of dessert wine.

Summary. This was a pleasant evening, with the best wines of the night being the Red Rock Merlot and the Nachtgold Eiswein. I’d encourage readers to look for these events at local fine restaurants, dining and country clubs, etc. While wine tasting events at a local retailer are both fun and a great opportunity to sample a diverse selection of wines, they can’t quite compare to a full set of food pairings in a formal dinner setting. If you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy not only a set of dishes that have been chosen with uncommon care for their unique flavors, but also a set of wines that have been selected by the chef and sommelier to work well together.

Yellow Tail Chardonnay 2004

Price: $8
Maker: Casella Wines
Variety: Chardonnay
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Our Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Yellow Tail ChardonnayMost of our sampling here is in the red wine category, but after experience with a few crowd-pleasing Yellow Tail reds we decided to try Yellow Tail Chardonnay 2004. Like their reds, this Yellow Tail product is an approachable wine. The nose wasn’t particularly strong, but yielded apple and peach. The flavor included peach, apple, melon, and spice, balanced with modest acidity. Perhaps it’s not a transcendent experience, but it’s at least as good as you’d expect for a high volume wine.

Other opinions on this wine run the gamut. LogDriver gave it four stars, noting, “this affordable Chardonnay was buttery and rich. Sweeter than usual, I even got hints of chocolate and caramel if I exhaled deeply.” April said it “exhibits a golden straw colour with ripe peach and melon aromas and sweet oak nuances. The palate is fresh and approachable with balanced acidity and a lingering finish of delicious peach, melon and tropical flavours.” CorkReview was a bit more reserved, noting, “Yellow Tail, the ford or chevy of Australian wines so it is allowed to disappoint once in a while… The nose was rather weak but did display peachy vanilla an coconut aromas, as claimed on the bottle. I just would not use the phrase ‘leaps from the glass.'” April’s experience was closest to mine, though I have to agree with CorkReview on the relatively weak nose not doing much leaping.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay 2002

Price: $9
Maker: Columbia Crest Winery
Variety: Chardonnay
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Washington-based Columbia Crest Winery offers this wine as a slightly upscale offering. Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay 2002 fills the glass with clear, golden light. Its primary note is apple, which suffuses both the aroma and flavor. Though not quite green apple, the flavor is a bit puckery. The flavor is robust and reasonably complex. A hint of melon softens the finish.

I’m not a huge Chardonnay fan, but this is a reasonable choice for a wine a bit more expensive than ultra-budget bottles and with sufficient character to satisfy a reasonably discriminating drinker. Its low sugar level may reduce its appeal to those who prefer a slightly sweeter wine.