I couldn’t have been more wrong. A few Sundays ago, my wife and I were finishing up dinner at around 9:30 p.m. An admittedly late hour for a last meal on a school night, but we had been running around all day.
“You want wine tonight?” Natali asked.
“Sure,” I said, “Let me run out now to get it before the store closes.”
I hopped over to my trusty standby wine shop on York that I know is always open late on Sundays. This weekend, for whatever reason, it wasn’t. I stood, staring at the darkened interior, as if my intense glare would somehow magically raise the metal gate.
I texted her, asking if she’d rather have beer.
“:(” was her response.
Off I went to three more stores, all closed. Finally, I realized there was only one last alternative—something I had been meaning to try for a long time anyway, and now was the perfect chance to investigate and taste.
I arrived home with a green plastic sack. The kind one gets from a bodega. I pulled out two bottles and sat them in front of Natali at eye level.
“Oh dear,” she said.
“Hey, maybe I can write an article about it!”
The mysterious bottled liquid that we New Yorkers see every day in our bodegas and supermarkets comes from a handful of producers. It all looks like wine. None of it is. I am, of course, referring to the “wine product” (their terminology, not mine), or “bodega wine,” that has an alcohol content of 6 percent or lower, to conform to the ridiculous liquor laws of New York State that prevent the sale of real wine or alcohol under the same roof as food.
I grabbed the two most popular brands. The first being, of course, Chateau Diane Chardonnay. With an alcohol content of 6 percent, I expected this to taste like nothing. I should have been so lucky. It tasted like a whole lot. I can only describe the smell as a sort of cross between grape juice and men’s locker room. The first sip of this nasty liquid was also our last. It smacked of grass clippings, damp particle board and urine. This was one of the worst beverages I have ever tasted in my entire life.
“It can’t get much worse than that,” I coughed as I screwed open the next selection.
A red this time…in fact Big Red Cabernet Sauvignon. After pouring a slightly more modest portion for the two of us this time, I was immediately relived when I smelled it. It actually smelled okay. A lot like grapes, actually. After taking a couple sips of the Big Red, we looked at each other and shrugged.
“Grape juice,” Natali said.
She was right. There was absolutely nothing to it other than the two dimensional, easy drinking flavor of Welch’s grape juice. We sipped on it for a minute or two, then Natali pushed her glass away.
“It’s not bad, really,” I said.
“It’s not good, either.”
I started to realize what the real problem with this “wine product” was. It wasn’t an “adult beverage.” I’ve drunk my fair share of bad wines and criticized them all thoroughly. But one thing that you could never fault them for was making something that had, at it’s very base, a modicum of complexity. Wine, by it’s very nature, good or bad, is complex. It is a beverage that has gone through an intricate series of changes to turn it from a simple, sugary juice into something refined and adult. The same holds true with beer. Even bad beer has gone through specific, difficult to master changes to produce the end result. This glass of juice had no complexity. No dimension. No soul. It was not an adult beverage. It wasn’t ready to eat at the big people’s table yet.
As I poured the remainder of our experiment down the sink, Natali patted me on the shoulder, warmly consoling me for my valiant effort.
“Next time,” she said, softly, “I’ll just have ginger ale.”
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