July 12, 2007 — -- The connoisseurs may cringe, the snobs may even sob, but the judges have spoken: California's best chardonnay costs less than $3.
Charles Shaw Chardonnay, better known as "Two Buck Chuck," beat hundreds of other wines and was named the top prize in a prestigious tasting competition in California.
"The characteristics that we look for in our gold medal winner … a nice creamy butter, fruity … it was a delight to taste," said 2007 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition judge Michael Williams.
The affordable wine beat out 350 other California chardonnays to win the double gold. Second place went to an $18 bottle, and the most expensive wines at the event, at the price of $55, didn't even medal.
To find this prize winner, you need not go to a fancy wine shop or elite retailer. Charles Shaw Chardonnay is mass-produced in California and only sold through the quirky Trader Joe's grocery stores.
"We choose to sell good quality wines at $2 a bottle because we think it's a fair price," winemaker Fred Franzia told ABC News' Ryan Owens. "We think the other people are charging too much."
After its big win, ABC News decided to put the cheap stuff to a blind taste test and see if it would repeat the victory. It was disguised and served along with chardonnays of various prices, including a $120 bottle.
In this test, Caroline Styne, co-owner and wine director of two trendy Los Angeles area restaurants, judged the wines -- but to a different outcome. She ranked "Chuck" dead last, but second-to-last was the $120 variety.
No one said this was an exact science. Just ask the chief judge of the competition that gave the gold to a wine that costs less than a latte.
"There's going to be people out ther that don't like the wine and that's OK," said chief judge G. M. "Pooch" Puchlowski. "You know, there are a lot of wines I don't like. … So you drink what you like, don't drink what you don't and you go home a happy camper."