Some months ago, just after I began writing this column, I published a piece that focused on only one wine. It was a Burgundy, and it was, relatively speaking, rather pricey. At more than $40 a bottle, it certainly wasn’t a wine that I was able to drink on a regular basis, but it was so sublime that I felt it warranted its own 700-word love letter. I knew everyone who read it would feel the same way and be inspired to splurge.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Who do you think is going to buy this?” one family member said. “The people reading your column don’t even pay for their newspaper.”
Quite right. I intend to now atone for this miscalculation of my audience’s funds (and willingness to part with them for a bottle of juice). This will be what I’d like to refer to as the “Anti-Burgundy Article.” And it’s about one cheap, crappy wine that I can’t get enough of.
Cuvée Chevalier Clerville Meribeau Red Table Wine. The dubious quality of the wine starts even before the cork is popped. The irony is that the word “cuvee” means vintage, because this wine has no vintage. That’s not to say that non-vintage (or, if you’re trendy, “multi-vintage”) wines are necessarily of poor quality. All entry-level Champagnes, most of which are quite good, are non-vintage. This wine has slightly less pedigree, however, than a bottle of Veuve yellow label.
It is from, as the bottle states, “Vin de Pays d’Oc.” This may sound like a small, selective area of France, but in reality it’s the equivalent of putting “California” on a wine from, well, California. A wine labeled “Vin de Pays d’Oc” basically means it’s from an area in the south of France that is hundreds of square miles in its radius, and can contain virtually any grape that the winemaker cares to put into it.
That’s why, when drinking Meribeau, you have no idea exactly what you’re drinking. Because the area is so large, there is no French wine law iron-fistedly restricting what goes in to the wines produced there. It can literally be whatever is lying around. And probably is.
“Why are you writing about this wine if you clearly think it is an inferior product?” you are probably asking yourself right now.
There are a couple reasons. The first is its size. The Meribeau comes in the unusual one-liter-sized bottle. You all know the feeling. You’re pouring those last couple drops of wine into your glass, thinking, “Damn, I should have gotten a second bottle.” Then, when you get your second bottle, you and your significant other end up only having another small glass, leaving the rest of the wine to sit on your warm kitchen counter to spoil. Not with Meribeau! Those extra 250 milliliters are just enough to satisfy that end of the night “one last sip” craving.
The second reason I love the Meribeau is because I believe in palate humility. Eating “normal” food and drinking “normal” wine actually accentuates those times when one does have the privilege to dine out and experience luxury. Beyond that, I liken drinking Meribeau with listening to a favorite song on a scratchy, old LP instead of the cleaner, more sterile MP3 version. The hisses and scratches are comforting. The imperfections charming. The thinness of the wine even makes me feel better about my own shortcomings. Sometimes I just want to have a little one-on-one with ‘ol Meribeau: “Aw, look at you. You work so hard, but you just aren’t as good as the rest of them, are you? You made it all the way here from the South of France, though! Good for you. You just let Papa Josh take care of you tonight. He cares about you. He’ll drink you…and enjoy you.”
Also, it’s less than $5 a bottle.
While I’ll never forsake the greats, and I continue my quest to find the perfect wine, my wife and I are comfortable with our good friend Meribeau. We’ve been through a lot together. And I know he’ll be there for years to come.
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