I guess I’ll admit, right out of the blocks, that actually, I’ve always drunk junk wine. So I guess that’s reason #1. But back in my lushess days -when I could have purchased any wine (within reason, of course) that tickled me, my junk wines tended to be a notch or two higher than nowadays – however, I don’t know that for sure, given that this subject is so, well, subjective. Is a junk wine in a good market, say like 20 years ago, the same as a junk wine in a really bad wine market, like today? Maybe another subjective question, but I tend to think the answer is No.
I will tell you this – in the old, flush and lush days, I did not intentionally drink junk wines – but I attended far too many “budget stocked” hospitality suites not to have frequent reminders. I’ve also been treated to more than my share of business dinners where I was not making the wine choice – seldom did we drink anything but from the bottom tier. And then there were my friends – Yup, my friends, many of whom never even drank wine, but somehow, when they had guests over for dinner, wine was always on the table – almost always something I’d never buy for myself, but which I, of course, drank enthusiastically. OK, I hear your thoughts – this guy just didn’t hang around with the right kind! And maybe you’re right – my business was always “non-profit”, never a monied segment – and my friends tended to be those who loved their work, but they made little more than enough to squeak by weekly.
Even so, … I always loved wine, and drank the best I could put my hands on whenever I could.
But even if all the above were not true, I still would have always have drunk more than my share of junk wines – why? Because I have spent my life honing the skills for smelling out bargains, and profiting from that ability whenever possible. Some folks never do this – and they have their reasons – I salute them, mostly for all they do for our economy. And then, some folks get so “infected” by the disease, that they become literal robots who only know how to find the lowest price and that’s what they buy – often at great loss and eventual pain. But the lesson is beyond learning for them – they only know one way. No, there is a fine balance at work here – where the quest becomes finding the highest quality at the best price – but the price of this quest is time. And many refuse to invest that time – Not me.
Perhaps I should define what I mean by “junk wine”. In the old days, my junk wines would have been any that I could secure for less than, say, $3 a bottle – today, my junk wines are those which cost less than $6 a bottle. Please note that for me, a junk wine is not a “bad” wine, simply a cheap wine – and for me, junk wine is a term of endearment. Yes, many turn out to be truly bad wines -some not even drinkable- but the problem is that you can not know this until you open and sip the wine – and that’s the rub. As they say, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a real prince!”
As I think back on my early wine drinking days, I can easily identify the very moment when my junk wine habit was sealed. It was during a wonderful trip to Europe that we took in the early 70s (we took a three year old Melissa with us! Not a single problem). I remember that for one week, we based ourselves in the Loire wine region, and rented a car to daily visit the various chateau of the area. Each day would begin with a visit to a local delicatessen where we’d put together the makings of our picnic lunch. At the checkout counter were three display cases of pull-tab top bottles of wine -all red- and marked with prominent prices, 1 F/ 2 F / and 3 F. Exchange rate at that time was 4 francs to the US dollar.
At first I thought, “Damn, that must be truly nasty stuff!” – but then I remembered that we were in the land of the world’s greatest wine appreciation, and my curiosity won out. On day one of our Loire adventures, we bought a bottle of 3 franc wine – it was delightful! On day two, we choose the 2 franc variety with continued delight and satisfaction. And, of course, on day three, we could not resist getting a bottle of the 1 franc wine – and could find nothing about it to fault. Is it any wonder that the French are the world’s largest consumers of wine!
Were those junk wines? Yes, I’m sure even the French would admit to that. Were they bad wines? Not in the least. They were everyday wines; utilitarian wines; even unsophisticated wines – but not bad wines. And it was this experience that solidified my lifelong quest to find such everyday drinkable wines at a quite acceptable price. Even when I was flush, I was most happy when I could drink well and pay little.
I find myself today in a quite different financial posture than I once did, and my fine wines are relegated to special occasions. But I still drink plenty of wine – maybe less than I once did, but probably more than I should. However, this may not be true, as medical science is discovering the virtues of moderate wine drinking. And I’m discovering an obvious, but often overlooked, benefit to a junk wine habit; on those special occasions when I do have the opportunity to sample fine wine again, my enjoyment is greater than if my palate were accustomed only to these finer vintages. And herein lies the oh, so obvious, but hidden reason why the happiest souls on earth are the poor.
My friends, let me suggest that we find ourselves today not only in the midst of a world wide economic recession, but a world wide wine glut as well. Not only is it more difficult for wine producers to sell their product, but they have seriously over-planted in the years leading up to this recession – and for the most part, they will have to learn to deal with that. How? The most obvious response is lower prices for wine! Eventually, whole vineyards may be pulled, and replanted to legalized marijuana – at least in California, but before that drastic step, we’ll see wine prices continue to decline.
What does this mean for me and my junk wine habit? It means that my junk wines will keep getting better and better, and my special occasion wines will be truly exquisite experiences. What it also means is that a recession is not all bad – especially if you’re a wine drinker.