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Charles F. Shaw Winery, Chardonnay 2006

Charles F. Shaw Winery, Chardonnay 2006

by Tim Elliott on April 1, 2007

There are many stories in the history of Napa Valley that capture our imagination but the tale of Charles Shaw is one of urban legend. Shaw, a dentist from Chicago, started his eponymous winery in 1974 and produced some good quality wines from Valdiguie, Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir. In those days these grapes where blended and sold as either Gamay Beaujolais or Napa Gamay to suggest the wines of Burgundy’s Beaujolais area. From accounts at the time, the Charles Shaw Gamay Beaujolais was one of the better versions most likely because the wine contained the true Gamay Noir of Beaujolais. These grapes are now used in Andrew Lane’s Gamay Noir reviewed on Winecast 70.

Years past and Shaw struggled to make a profit as more well known varieties emerged from Napa Valley such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. After a divorce in 1991, Shaw sold the winery assets and vineyards to Charles Krug and the brand name to Bronco Wine Company. That would have been the end of the story if Bronco’s Fred Franzia hadn’t pulled the brand from mothballs in 2002 to make the wildly successful “Two-buck Chuck” available at Trader Joe’s markets across the U.S. These wines, made from Central Valley grapes, are bottled at Bronco’s Napa, California factory to provide the word “Napa” on the label. Many consumers have been unfortunately misled by this and assumed the wines are actually from the prestigious Napa Valley AVA and are unbelievably good values. Out of curiosity, I have tried many of these wines and found them to range from simple but drinkable (Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet) to strange (Sauvignon Blanc) to flabby and thin (Chardonnay). But for $2 a bottle, I guess you get what you pay for.

I wouldn’t be writing this review if for not a chance encounter with Dr. Shaw while in Napa this week. It seems he is not very happy with all the success around the wines that bear his name so he’s out to prove that world class wine can bear a Charles Shaw label. His trademark lawyers have even found a loophole that allows him to use his name and not go the way others have after selling their brand name. It seems that Bronco only had a 15 year exclusive on the name and Dr. Shaw is wisely making some subtle changes to the winery name and label art to help consumers distinguish the new wines.

Made from grapes grown in Napa Valley these wines are made in very small quantities and are only available to the discerning few on a mailing list. From the four barrels of Chardonnay I sampled this week, I expect these wines to attract a significant cult following. Also produced are a Carneros Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir from Napa’s Oakville district.

Charles F. Shaw Winery, Chardonnay, “Old Vines”, Wild Horse Valley, Napa Valley 2006 (Barrel sample) – Pale straw color with floral pineapple, flint and toasty oak aromas. On the palate there are complex layers of butterscotch, fig, apricot and pear flavors that are very well balanced. A truly magnificent Chardonnay that will surely reclaim the Shaw name in the wine world. No word on the release price but I expect it to among the highest in Napa.

12.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 92-94

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  • Interesting. I must admit when I first saw your title I thought you were going to review a bottle of $2 Chuck. Though I doubt any of the consumers of the new Charles Shaw wines will confuse it with a bottle of the $2 kind….the price alone should be enough!

  • Tim


    Happy April 😉

    I took the seeds of truth and took it into absurd but still somewhat believable territory for my April Fools joke. Not too many people got it, however. Oh well, there’s always next year.

    The best wine blogger April Fools post was from Alder, as usual…

  • Ah, missed the joke. A little slow on the uptake first thing in the morning!

  • Tim

    Not to worry, nearly everyone else thought this was legit, as well.

    In retrospect, I could have just written a straight post about Alder joining the Wine Spectator but he posted while I was in the middle of cooking up my false tasting note… I’ll try harder next year 😉

  • Tim,

    You might actually try the 2006 Two-Buck-Chuck Chard and see how close to the 92-94 point score you come.

  • Tom

    Charles Shaw wine has become an institution in Arizona and California. Not just because of the low price, but because of the pleasing taste and aroma of pepper and berries. It has become very popular with the older adults who like to have parties. No one seems to turn down a glass of Charles Shaw. Some don’t even know what the label is and they always ask for more!

  • Htelucia

    I have no idea who Tim Elliott is, but have just read his 2007 post on Charles F. Shaw. Where he get his misinformation is beyond me but after reading this I would never put an iota of credibility in any of his writings. Just to start, my former husband was not from Chicago, was never a dentist nor any kind of doctor.  We did not sell the winery property to Charles Krug and I could go on and on with the absurd fabrications this Tim Elliott has dreamed up.  What a nutcase.  Lucy Clark Shaw  (former wife of Charles F. Shaw)

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