“So how bad can it be?” Paula asked, holding up a bottle of wine with a handsome stag on the label.
“Hey, if we don’t like it we can always cook with it.”
This exchange took place a couple of years ago when Paula and I had been shopping at Lee’s Discount Liquors. There, just in front of the check-out counter, was a large barrel of wine marked $1.99.
There were two different wines, but nothing either of us had heard of. There was the elegant stag; surely that would be good wine. The other had bold printing which certainly denoted a no-nonsense, hearty Cabernet, right?
It turned out that we got sucked in by pretty labels and a cheap price. But hey, at the time we thought for a mere $1.99 we’d both get some. Why not give it a try?
We both reached for the bottles with the handsome stag. I’ve since learned that people tend to buy wines that have animals on the label. They’re actually referred to as “critter labels.” Once I heard that, I was somewhat chagrined to realize my own wine buying might be influenced by a rooster or dog. I mean look at Yellow Tail – probably the best known Australian wine in the U.S. One of my favorite whites is Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The label is a monkey swinging from an invisible vine.
And hey — I just recently bought some chocolate wine. What — you didn’t know? Absolutely! Chocolate wine. It’s really more of a liqueur but if they want to call it wine, that’s fine with me. There were several to choose from, and I did recognize the one with the windmill — Dutch chocolate, I think — but which one did I reach for? The bottle with a smiling cow stomping in a vat of grapes.
Other critter labels that quickly leap to mind: Frog’s Leap, Dancing Bull, Goats do Roam, Smoking Loon, Rex Goliath and a real winner from Ecluse Winery in Paso Robles: Blind Dog.
One of the appeals of the critter label — at least for me — is that they tend to be decent everyday wines and reasonably priced (oh, why not just say “cheap”?). Usually around $10. I can get behind that. After all, if I don’t like it I can cook with it. However, cooking with bad wine truly is a fallacy. If you don’t want to drink it, you SURE don’t want to ruin good food by pouring this dreck on it. And that’s what the Bulgarian wine turned out to be: Dreck.
That evening I called Paula: “Have you tried it?”
“Yeah, I opened the Cabernet.”
“Well, I’m not sure what to do with it. Even Dean didn’t like it.” And if you don’t know Paula’s husband Dean, it’s pretty fair to say he never met a wine he didn’t like, as long as it’s not white.
“I opened the one with the stag. Same thing,” I told her.
In the end, we both poured our bargain wines down the drain. At least it wasn’t an expensive lesson although we had each bought several bottles to get the additional discount.
So when my friend Jean goes to Bulgaria next year to work at the American Consulate there, I’ll have to warn her: stick to drinking water.