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Two-Buck Chuck Not as Crappy as You Thought

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Turns out that cheap buzz you've been getting from Trader Joe's staple swill might actually be a legitimate wine tasting experience: Charles Shaw Chardonnay has won the top prize at this year's California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. This is great news for those of us who buy the stuff by the case - and although we may fondly recall many nights (and days) (and, um, softball games) spent chugging wine from a box, it's good to know that we can now be classy and cheap at the same time.

But before you run out and buy out the store in order to impress your snotty wine aficionado friends, keep in mind that each batch of Chardonnay will be different - probably due to vintner Fred Franzia's* practice of mixing up different grape varietals from all over California and then packaging the whole brew as one specific type of "Napa" wine. This article from the SF Weekly explains just how Franzia can sell reasonable-tasting wine for such unreasonably inexpensive prices.

With few exceptions, the grapes used to make the wine in those bottles have no connection to Napa Valley's heralded grape-growing soil. Yet Bronco's decidedly less expensive wines are imbued with the coveted Napa cachet -- unfairly so, many of the region's vintners say. That's because its bottles are either stamped with one of several Napa Valley-associated labels that Bronco [the parent company of Charles Shaw] has managed to acquire from distressed wineries over the years, or, at the very least, because the plant's carefully chosen location makes it possible for the labels to proclaim that the wine is "bottled" in Napa.
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Frankly, we don't care how or where or why the guy makes it: we just like to drink it.

*He is sadly unrelated to the infamous boxed wine people.