Tasting Cabs in Carpinteria – It Doesn’t Get Better

Aha! We are vindicated – at least, Anne is. We’ve said for a long time that Charles Shaw wines (the infamous Two Buck Chuck) aren’t so bad. And this weekend, we saw proof that what Anne has been saying for years – namely, that if you didn’t know you were drinking Trader Joe’s ultra-low cost wine, you wouldn’t think it was so awful, and might even like it.

What happened? We attended a special annual event through our home winemaking club, Cellarmasters in Los Angeles. Every year, our friends Fred Shaw and Lisa Guravitz put on a spectacular tasting at their place in Carpinteria, California, which usually includes about 18 wines bound together by a theme and a potluck dinner with some insanely good tri-tip beef.

This year’s theme was cabernets, and we will post tasting notes on some of the stand-outs at a later date. But the best part of an event like this is that it’s a really fun way to get to know a lot of wines. And it’s not that hard to do.
Fred and Lisa pick up interesting wines from all over the place over a course of months. They have tables set up with three glasses per place, a dump bucket (way necessary), bread to cleanse your palate and water. The placemats usually have circles to match the glass bottoms and numbers on them so that you can keep your wines straight.

This is because what they do is called a blind tasting – the bottles are placed in paper bags, so you can’t see the labels or other identifiers. We have no clue what wine it is we’re drinking. Heck, one year, they didn’t even tell us the variety. They bought the whole range of wines and made us guess which one was which.

As noted above, we had cabs this year, and we were invited to guess which one was the Australian and which one was… Two Buck Chuck.
Charles Shaw Wines are made by Bronco, the company behind the generally awful Franzia boxed wines. That, and the fact that Trader Joe’s generally sells them for $2 a bottle ($3 a bottle in some parts of the country), have had wine snobs sneering down their long bony noses for years, never mind that the chardonnay has won multiple competitions, including a double gold at the California State Fair a few years ago.

Nobody is saying these are fine wines. A lot of the varieties can be wildly inconsistent, ranging from fairly tasty to completely undrinkable. But the two most consistent have been the chardonnay and the cabernet sauvignon, and they are a pretty decent everyday table wine.

Let’s be real. Most of us can’t afford a $10 bottle of wine with dinner every night. And if you’re new to wine, spending that much can be a little intimidating. Plus the softer profile of the Charles Shaw cab, in particular, can be an excellent way to ease into the glory of a good red wine.

We had 20 people in that room and only about six of us picked out the Two Buck from the panel of 18 different wines. At least three of us (possibly four) drink the stuff regularly.

I don’t know how many folks said they liked the Two Buck – it probably wasn’t the favorite. But we will say this, there was an $80 Silver Oak hidden in that group and most of us were not wowed by it.

We do lead wine tastings, ourselves, if you’d like to hire us for your party. Or we can consult. Or you can have fun figuring it out yourself. Either way, it’s a lot of fun to pull together some good friends, several bottles of wine in paper bags and have at it.

Please tell us what you think.

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