Since I started writing this column, I’ve been told that no wine is too cheap for me to drink. Invariably, this comment is punctuated with theatrically rolling eyeballs. This makes me blue. Until the other week, I generally answered the jab with something along the lines of, “Well. Now, you really can’t judge a wine by its price.” Or, depending how much tasting there was of said Bacchus, “You probably haven’t bought as much sophistication as you think you have with that over-priced Pinot, you half-wit.”
Wine sales in super-markets has increased wine distribution in Tennessee, which has brought on a sudden availability of really cheap wine — vino at bottled-water prices, and not the reverse-osmosis stuff with electrolytes either. There was a certain profane integrity with the old Night Train and Thunderbird rotgut; you knew what they were for. These nouveau-cheaps, are masquerading as something else, altogether.
Yet, I’m a professional, so I felt compelled to dive in. If we don’t learn from our experiences, what good are they? What I’ve learned recently is that there is an end to exactly how deep I’ll go down the cheap-wine rabbit hole. Evidently my breaking point is somewhere above $2.99, which even a cheap bastard like myself have to admit is a comically low price point. I won’t mention where I got it, because the retailer didn’t make the stuff, so it isn’t their fault. Not entirely, at any rate. The RICO statutes of this country make it clear that anyone taking part in any element of a crime is potentially guilty of the entire crime. Whatever it is that Burlwood Cellars is churning out is something of a crime.
This wine did to my soul what the villainous Le Chiffre did to James Bond in that infamous cane-chair-and-knotted-rope scene. You know what I mean — right in the pills! According to the label, it was a Pinot Noir, and I doubt they were technically lying. It is perfectly legal to call a wine a single varietal, even if it’s only 75 percent of said variety. Still, my sophisticated wine-writer palette also detected hints of Jungle Juice, unwashed hair, and shame. The only terroir — earth — I could detect was Tom Lee asphalt after Musicfest.
When I was in the Middle East, I once drank bootleg whiskey that had been smuggled into the country in a heavy plastic IV bags. The plastic did exactly what you expect it to do to the bourbon. I’ve had brandy made in Serbia and moonshine made in Union County, Mississippi. This was worse.
Standard wine-speak simply fails to convey a complete picture, because to say that “it lacked subtlety” isn’t quite right. There was a very vague feeling that some hag from an early Disney movie had just given me some draught to make me sleep for 100 years, or possibly turn me into a fearsome goat-man. So, in that regard, I suppose we could call it “enchanting.”
The vintners recommend pairing this enchanting number with a “spicy meat dish,” and this is good advice. The operative word here, though, is spicy, not meat. I’d recommend a spoonful of that Sambol Oelek Chili Paste or some other condiment that the Vietnamese invented to stick it to the French colonists.
Still, I try to find the silver lining in these things. If you have children in the house and you’d like to throw them off the road to under-age drinking, stock the liquor cabinet with Burlwood — at this price get as many bottles as you need! When the little knee-biters inevitably raid the cellar to experiment, they’ll probably develop a lifelong fear of booze. Either that or they’ll turn to the harder stuff. You never can tell with children.