I'll go ahead and say it. Congratulations, Charles Shaw Winery on your three gold medals at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition. I commend the judges for not being influenced by the label and I commend the winery for (mass) producing a drinkable $2.49 wine. I don't see why so many people in the twitterverse and blogosphere have decided that this is the worst thing since socks with sandals. But if you do wear socks with sandals, please stop!
Sure, wine competitions aren't the best arbiter of wine quality, but neither are Robert Parker, James Laube or Steve Whatshisname. I've had 100-pt Parker wines that tasted like dilly dishwater. I've had wines from Iowa that were pretty damn good. All competitions do is give feedback to a select set of wineries about how their wine fared against a few other wines on a given day as decreed by people that think they know a lot about wine, but don't know as much as they think they do. Yes, I count myself as a member of the illustrious club.
I think a lot of the angst has do do with the obnoxious "triple gold" headlines. It is a bit misleading. All that happened was three Charles Shaw wines earned gold medals. None were chosen as Best in Category or even 4-star gold medals (whatever the hell that means). 70% of the wines entered in this competition received a medal (1765/2521). Only 15.8% of the entries earned gold or better. Not bad for a sub $3 bottle of wine. But no wine competition is as influential as the major publications, and few consumers know what competition medals mean (if they mean anything at all). So lay off the criticism, people.
Now I won't make any claims to the quality of any Two Buck Chuck (as Charles Shaw is affectionately called). The last time I tried one, probably 4 years ago, it didn't impress me, but it wasn't the "beyond dreadful" or the "watery, alcoholic null set" that two respectable personalities claimed on Twitter. If I remember correctly, the glass I had was simplistic and uninteresting, but varietally correct and not flawed. I wonder when the last time any of the naysayers on the Internet actually tasted a bottle of Charles Shaw.
What should be praised, but is overlooked is the fact that this blind tasting showed that a wine can be judged by what's in bottle and not what's on the label. Preconceived notions should not influence what a judge thinks about a wine. Too often in the world of wine criticism, writers judge a wine by the label and not the wine. None of the judges that reviewed these wines knew what they were tasting. It's not like they lined up the wines themselves, put them in bags, moved them around their desk and magically forgot the identities of the bottles. Had the judges known they were tasting Two Buck Chuck, I'd bet gold medals would not have been awarded. But that is the beauty if blind tasting. A $3 wine can stand on equal footing with a $30 wine.
So, I say lets celebrate the idea of a quality cheap wine. It's not like Charles Shaw is going to raise its prices to $850 a bottle because of these accolades. This competition isn't the most important source of consumer information and in fact is open only to "wine produced from grapes grown in California and commercially available for sale in Orange County." Charles Shaw will still be loved by its fans and loathed by most wine snobs...