One of the more popular posts on this site historically has been a three-way blind tasting involving Charles Shaw and two $10-$15 Cabernets. The goal was to assess whether we might be wasting $10 a night when drinking wines we thought were better than Charles Shaw but in reality weren’t because we’d built up a bias against Charles Shaw because it’s so affordable.
This piece originally appeared on the now-retired RJ’s Wine Blog. I wanted to republish it here so that folks wouldn’t get a dead link as they tried to navigate to his site after reading his post on my site. RJ is still around thankfully but tonight we’ll tip a 1.5L of CdP in memory of RJ’s Wine Blog.
Non-related I’ve heard Charles Shaw is now over $3 in Massachusetts? I haven’t been to Trader Joe’s lately – can anyone confirm? I’ll have to get over there soon and perhaps do a rematch blind tasting to commemorate the upcoming 4 year anniversary of this tasting.
At any rate, I hope you enjoy this blast from the past. Fresh content coming up soon I promise…Can you tell the difference between $2 Charles Shaw and a $10-$15 Cab? If not, you may be wasting $10 every time you crack open a bottle of wine. Can *I* tell the difference? After RJ posted his thoughts on the Charles Shaw lineup, we got to talking about how it would be an interesting exercise to do a blind tasting that included Charles Shaw alongside a couple of $10-$15 Cabernets. Could we tell the difference when tasting blind? Or would the Two Buck Chuck trick us?
How We Tasted
I had my wife pour 3 glasses and randomly order them. The wines were open about 20 minutes before I gave them a try. I smelled and tasted each of them, took notes along the way, and assigned a numerical rating on a 100-point scale.
Wine #1: On the nose: Young. Floral perfume. Dusty. A light colored in the glass. Slight veggies. In the mouth: A little bright. Not my favorite wine. Overall: Fruity, drinkable and so-so. Rating: 84
Wine#2: Nose: Rich. Caramel. Smells like a California Cab. Big, dark fruit. Mouth: By far my favorite. Full, soft, dense, ripe. Excellent. Non-harsh tannins. Luscious. Overall: This wine was by far my favorite of the three. Rating: 91
Wine #3: Nose: Bad, perhaps off. A little magic marker/plastic. Flat. Pretty bad. Awful. Mouth: Better on the palate than on the nose. A slight pucker on the finish. Overall: Downright awful on the nose, but I wouldn’t pick it as being the Charles Shaw. It was bad in a different way than Charles Shaw is typically bad. The Shaw’s fault tends to be that it’s thin. This wine was *not* thin. The tannins are too noticable to be the Shaw. Rating: 78
OK, are you ready for the reveal?
- Wine #1: 2006 Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (84)
- Wine #2: 2006 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon (91)
- Wine #3: 2006 Louis M. Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon (78)
I was really surprised how much the Columbia Crest from Washington tasted like a warmer climate/California wine. As I was tasting the wines, I was biased to think that the wine from Sonoma would show richer, warmer characteristics. Not so. The Charles Shaw showed quite admirably for a $2/$3 wine. As always, drinkable and enjoyable. I am a fan of the Charles Shaw and I think they deliver “good” value.
In terms of professional ratings of these wines, and relative value:
- Columbia Crest: 89 Wine Spectator/$11 equals a wwpQPR of 1.44 (Above avg)
- Louis Martini: 87 Wine Spectator/$15 equals a wwpQPR of 0.67 (Below avg)
- Charles Shaw (2003 vintage rated): 82 Wine Spectator/$2.99 equals a wwpQPR of 1.05 (Above avg) -or- at $2 a wwpQPR of 1.57 (Good)
What is this wwpQPR I’m talking about? I’m glad you asked. It’s a formula I’ve devised (along with a calculator) that assesses relative value of wines depending on rating, price, and peer group. If value wines are something that interests you, I hope you’ll check it out here.
To read RJ’s take on these same 3 wines tasted on the other side of the country check out this post. The results might surprise you!
Here you find the ratings of the 2007 Sauternes and Barsac wines from Robert Parker, Decanter and Wine Spectator:
|Sauternes & Barsac||Decanter||Wine Advocate||WineSpectator||Price|
|Chateau d’Yquem||***** 19||96 – 98||97 – 100|
|Chateau Guiraud||**** 17,5||92 – 94||91 – 94|
|Chateau La Tour Blanche||**** 18||86 – 88||90 – 93|
|Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey||**** 18||91 – 93||91 – 94|
|Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau||***** 19||91 – 93||92 – 95|
|Chateau Sigalas Rabaud||**** 17,5||91 – 93||93 – 96|
|Chateau Rabaud-Promis||**** 17||88 – 90||87 – 90|
|Clos Haut-Peyraguey||**** 17,75||92 – 94||91 – 94|
|Chateau Coutet||**** 17||93 – 95||91 – 94|
|Chateau Climens||***** 19,5||98 – 100|
|Chateau Suduiraut||***** 19||91 – 93||92 – 95|
|Chateau Rieussec||***** 19||92 – 94||93 – 96|
|Chateau d’Arche||*** 16,25||87 – 89||86 – 89|
|Chateau Broustet||*** 15,75|
|Chateau Caillou||**** 17||87 – 89||87 – 90|
|Chateau Doisy-DaÃ«ne||**** 17,5||94 – 96||90 – 93|
|Chateau Doisy-DaÃ«ne l’Extravagant|
|Chateau Doisy-Vedrines||**** 17||94 – 96||89 – 92|
|Chateau Filhot||**** 17,75||85 – 87||87 – 90|
|Chateau Lamothe||*** 15,75||86 – 88||88 – 91|
|Chateau de Malle||89 – 91||88 – 91|
|Chateau de Myrat||92 – 94||92 – 95|
|Chateau Nairac||**** 16,5||94 – 96||90 – 93|
|Chateau Romer||87 – 90|
|Chateau Suau||*** 16|
This may sound odd, but there is a link between packaging innovation and the increasing focus on biodynamics and ‘natural wine’, it just isn’t a simple one.
I am not suggesting that natural wine producers are better served choosing tetrapacks, paper bottles or aluminium cans for their wines (although they might), but sometimes the simplest way to define what you ARE about is to explain what you are NOT, after all:
- a desert is that area where rain doesn’t fall
- land is all that planet surface not covered by water
- silence is the absence of sound
The wine trade expends a lot of effort arguing over differences between organic, biodynamic and natural wines for example, but almost none trying to find a way to differentiate between the real extremes of the wine market, namely between all of the above ‘artisan’ wines and those wines made to be sold in vast volumes through mass distribution channels such as supermarkets. In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking that the wine trade pretended that these wines in supermarkets didn’t even exist.
How do you explain to a consumer, in simple terms, what makes a bottle of Gallo Chardonnay different from a Gravner Ribolla Gialla? What ‘category’ of the market do they fall into? How is a consumer to differentiate between them when they both come in 75cl glass bottles, with similar corks and basic paper labels? Â We need to develop a POSITIVE categorisation of these volume wines in order to have a meaningful conversation about the different needs and benefits of each part of the market.
We may not all agree that ‘Natural’ is a fair category name, but we might all basically agree that the Gravner, and thousands of other small producers, are ‘Artisanal’ wines of some sort (read this great post by Robert Joseph on the subject of artist vs artisan).
Defining this is very hard however, so let’s take a “model” Artisan wine and say it probably comes from a small producer with their own vineyards, produced in limited quantities, that is different year on year, that has some taste characteristics that sets it apart from the vast majority of other wines (that not everyone will like) and is linked to the local ‘terroir‘, and that none of these factors are subject to change based on consumer feedback. Essentially, the wine is driven by the producer’s interpretation of what is ‘best’ from their vineyards, take it or leave it. Lots of wines will diverge on some of these points, but the general sense is there.
Artisanal wines are Producer driven (these are sometimes referred to as Terroir wines, but you still need a producer involved!)
The above is obviously not the driving motivation of the wines on offer in multiple grocers around the world.Â So, what do you call the rest?
- Branded? No! Branding is very limited and not exclusive to this area.
- Bulk? No, too negative and not necessarily true
- Commodity? A good option, but it still implies a negative view of the factors.
How about a term like “Convenience Wines”?
The key features of these wines is that they are dependable, consistent,Â easy to drink, not overly challenging and widely available. All of these are driven by consumer demand, not producer preference. In simple terms, then, ‘Artisanal’ wines are wines that are NOT ‘Convenience’ wines.
Wine snobs may sneer at the quality of the “wine” in the bottle, but in fact this is only one aspect of the product that consumers are after. What’s the use of a “great” wine that I can’t afford, can’t find and may not even like? Great for whom?
Convenience wines are Consumer driven (to the extent that wine producers really understand their consumers).
The problem is that convenience wines still LOOK like artisanal wines.
If convenience is the key to this category of wine, then we have a reason to work to increase convenience by looking not just at wine styles, but also at packaging, branding & communication.
For example, glass bottles are great for longer term storage of wine, often benefitting artisanal wines. However, alternative packaging, such as bag-in-box, paper bottles or wine pouches for example, is logical in this context of convenience. It is potentially cheaper, easier to transport, more flexible for different drinking occasions, more flexible for branding and offers more communication opportunities.Â A wholesale move into alternatives would bring down their costs and remove a great deal of cost from the product, potentially meaning higher margins and/or cheaper products.
Alternative packaging has not really taken off in the UK compared to, for example, Scandinavia. One reason is that we treat ALL products of fermented grapes as “wine”, so the same communication rules are applied to all, resulting in an undifferentiated sea of “handmade” wines, from “historic vineyards“, made by “passionate” individuals that match any food you may choose to pair them with – whatever the truth might be.
If we were to find a way to promote the specific attributes of Convenience Wine and differentiate them visually, in terms of branding and communication as well as style, the wine retail market could be made more straightforward for the consumer, to everyone’s benefit. Wine drinkers might no longer be confused about the difference between a simple wine for weeknight supping, and the experience of an artisan wine for special occasions.
Isn’t it in the interests of both ends of the spectrum to come to an arrangement?
Sometimes, the worst of enemies can find common cause, and in this case it is to fight consumer confusion and indifference.
I’ll raise a can of wine to that!
It seems that every year the gift basket business gets bigger and bigger. From corporate gift baskets to those of us who simply don’t know exactly what to buy for our loved one’s…..gift baskets offer a real alternative and the industry is growing as a result.
While I can appreciate that every business (like every consumer) has the ability and certainly the right to make their own decisions about which products to include in their gift baskets, I always wonder when I see exactly the same wines included in gift basket after gift basket. How is that providing value and adding a level of interest for your customers?
I might be biased, but I think we’ve done an outstanding job with our gift baskets at Uncorked Ventures. Yes, we’re at the upper end of the price spectrum, but the quality of products are consistent with that. Personally, I’d rather receive good value while paying a bit more rather than paying less and getting wine and food which is available at my local grocery store.
“Would you buy a product that has not worked? Would you import a wine that has a fault? Would you adopt a strategy that had lead to defeat? This is exactly what is starting to happen with most of the…