October 13, 2006
"Five-Buck Fred" Falters

RB Fred Franzia.JPG
Wine enthusiasts who plan to search for bargains this weekend might want to include in their itinerary a stop at one of the local branches of the Trader Joe's chain of grocery stores. Fred Franzia, responsible for bringing a whole new group of customers to Trader Joe's with his line of $2 wines under the Charles Shaw label - aka "Two Buck Chuck" - is back with a group of releases under his new Napa River brand.

They're a bit pricier than the Charles Shaw wines - $4.99 - but they're cheaper than most wines with "Napa Valley" or "Napa County" on the label, meaning they are made mostly or solely with grapes grown in that prestigious appellation.

Three vintage-dated varietals are available, with the merlot looking to be the most impressive buy, according to the tasting panel of Wines & Vines magazine. The panel blind tasted the Napa River wines against more expensive Napa Valley varietals as well as comparably priced Gallo wines with a "California" appellation. Each flight consisted of just four wines, with the Napa River merlot finishing second in its group, the cabernet sauvignon third and the chardonnay last. Complete results are here.

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