Speaking of competitions, this absurd and alarming story will be generating waves throughout the wine world.
Two-Buck Chuck, aka Charles Shaw, Chardonnay—famous for being one of the cheapest wines in the world—won the gold medal for best Chardonnay at the State Commercial Wine Competition in Sacramento. It was voted in a blind competition by a panel of wine industry professionals.
I haven't tasted the current vintage of the Chardonnay, but this victory for the wine is, to my mind, indicative of a couple of things. First there's a general confusion in this country as to what constitutes a good Chardonnay. The Charles Shaw Chardonnays that I've tasted in the past have been innocuous and simple. They've had enough fruit and chard character to be identifiable as Chardonnay, a little wood flavoring to suggest a hint of vanilla sweetness and no particular hallmark of style or intent. These qualities lead into the second lesson we can take from this: Large panel ratings are relatively worthless and tend to favor the lowest common denominator.
The Charles Shaw is no doubt a competently constructed wine, free of obvious flaws. If that's what wins competitions these days, so be it. But that's hardly the kind of recommendation that will get me to buy a wine, even if it only costs $2.