We had just finished a really nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc together, seated on the couch talking, the kids already in bed, and I asked Sonja if she’d like another glass of wine:
“Red or white?”
“Ok,” I told her. “I just got some Merlot in the mail a few days ago that I’m supposed to review. It seems promising. How about that?”
“Sounds good,” she told me, already disinterested in the conversation and wondering why I hadn’t yet gotten up to retrieve more wine.
I got up and headed toward the kitchen, snagging a bottle of the Merlot on my way, but then I saw it. A few months ago, Sonja had gone for groceries while we were on a road trip, and she returned with a bottle of gas station wine, a Tisdale “California Shiraz.” The label alone annoyed me, as there was no vintage on the wine, no lot number, and they used the Australian word for Syrah which felt like trying too hard. We had never gotten around to drinking it, and I had it sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be cooked with. Then I got an idea.
Snagging a decanter, I put the Merlot back, opened the “Shiraz” and took a whiff of it. Not tainted at least — and no chance of TCA given the stubby synthetic cork. I gave the open bottle a 180-degree turn, pointing the neck down into a decanter, and letting air fight like hell to replace the wine in the bottle as it sloshed and splashed downward at the will of gravity. Not yet satisfied, I gave it a good swirl or two, then grabbed two glasses and brought the decanter and stemware back to my wife, leaving the bottle behind.
I wasn’t trying to trick Sonja. I was just genuinely curious about the wine. We sat down and I poured, and we continued our conversation for a long while. The “Shiraz” was dark and brooding, and very simple upon the palate, flimsy with no tannins, but with reasonable fruit flavors that made it smooth and easy to imbibe if far from interesting. It wasn’t bad at all. At one point I asked Sonja:
“What do you think of the wine?”
“Eh, it’s okay,” she told me.
“Was that ‘eh’ or ‘meh’?” I asked her.
“E-H,” she responded. “It’s not bad. I definitely get some vanilla on it.”
I smiled and we continued talking. At a pause in the conversation, I asked if she’d like to know what the wine was. She said sure. I went into the kitchen, grabbed the bottle, and positioned it behind my back, holding it by the neck, as if it were a bouquet of flowers. I returned shortly thereafter to the living room, probably looking a little smug.
I pulled the bottle from behind my back. “No way!” She responded, eyebrows lifted, and laughed one of those rare, belly laughs I love so much. I had done as one should always do, treating this $4 gas station bottle of wine as if it were a bottle of Chateau Petrus. It got a hearty decant, crystal stemware, and most importantly, the benefit of the doubt. The results were, well, that a wine I might otherwise turn my nose up toward became a serviceable second bottle. It was good for a laugh, but honestly, we won’t hesitate to drink this stuff again. Especially if you’re on a tight budget, this might be something to look into. Just treat it well.
We whiled away the rest of the evening on the couch, discussing our kids, our careers, and our impending spring break plans. All of it lubricated by this super cheap bottle, we didn’t even care. Wine doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be worth drinking. This one sure didn’t cost much, and we drank it just fine. I’m glad I didn’t cook with it after all. This was far more fun.
Cheers to good surprises,