The 2004 Merlot was fine, and while I liked it lots when I did a standard critic's sniff-and-spit, thinking it solidly made and well concentrated, later, when I actually drank a glass I got the kind of headache I associate with winemaking shortcuts used to get oak flavoring into wine, so now I don't trust the stuff. My favorite of the Three-Buck Chucks I tried was the 2004 Chardonnay, a gloriously oak-free, crisp, clean, tart, zingy little number. It's a perfect summer easy drinker. I also recommend the Charles Shaw 2005 Sauvignon Blanc, which is, again, a crisp, straightforward, clean, and, in this case, nicely floral drink. I'll probably buy a case of one of the whites before summer gets going—either is as good a wine as you'll find under $10.
Which means you'll see it at every barbecue you go to this summer. So, for your small-talk pleasure, I offer a few chatty tidbits to get you going. Did you know that Three-Buck Chuck is made by the Bronco Wine Company—and that Bronco is short for "brothers and cousin," and refers to feisty maverick troublemaker Fred Franzia, his brother Joseph, and cousin John Jr.? But no! They're not those Franzias. In fact, the box-wine Franzias are relatives who are competitors. Meanwhile, Ernest Gallo, of Ernest and Julio Gallo fame, is an uncle to the Bronco brothers. Small world? Yes!
Furthermore, Fred Franzia is a convicted felon, relating to a guilty plea he entered for using non-Zinfandel grapes to make White Zinfandel. It was alleged he sprinkled Zinfandel grape leaves on top of bins holding Colombard and Grenache grapes. Scandal! Also, did you know that Charles Shaw, the trademarked wine name, was lost by Charles Shaw, the man, after a nasty divorce and bankruptcy proceeding? Take that to your next barbecue: Never have a nasty divorce, lest your entire identity be repurposed. Of course, that's a very Minnesotan lesson to take from the opening of a new little gourmet grocery, but here we are. Right here. And nowhere else.
My other particularly Minnesotan thought on it all is: Trader Joe's is actually not as much like one of the local co-ops, or like Byerly's, Lunds, or Kowalski's, as it is like...SuperAmerica. A really upscale SuperAmerica. Which I suppose hearkens back to Trader Joe's origins as a convenience store. In fact, once upon a time, in college, I had a summer roommate who ended most of his days with a frozen pizza and 12-pack of 3.2 from SA. It occurred to me that said ex-roommate could now get 10 times better quality, at the exact same price, from Trader Joe's.
Do you remember being a certain age, 10 years old or so, when it seemed that a store like SuperAmerica held every possible worldly and decadent treat you could desire? Cokes, novelty bubble gum, Mad magazine, the works. Trader Joe's is kind of just like that, for adults. Which is to say the coffee-plucking songbirds in their hemp suit coats are safe, for now, but the after-bar fridge-raiding just got a whole lot more interesting.