by Ben Kritikos
Let me start by saying I don’t know much about wine besides that I like drinking it. And I drink a lot of it.
Good. I feel I’ve firmly established myself not as some kind of nag champa-burning, crossed-legged vino guru, dispensing advice through a veil of mystery and facial hair; but simply as a bloke who can tell the difference between a bottle of rotgut motor oil that may take the enamel off your teeth and something worth spending £7 on.
At the age of seven, I started going fishing with my dad down at the local jetty, overlooking the harbour where flocks of Canada geese would congregate to snooze, shit and occasionally pluck a fish from the water. I remember the smell of the tackle boxes (I was lucky enough to have my own, with two or three colourful lures and some sinkers); the wriggly, writhing brown worms with pincers at one end — and my dad’s can of beer.
At some point, probably when the fish weren’t biting, he let me have a sip. It was my first taste of alcohol. I didn’t like it. Looking back, I think the reason I didn’t is because my dad was drinking Budweiser.
At 13, I managed to furtively gulp a few glasses of wine at a dinner party while my parents weren’t looking. It was the first time I got drunk. My face turned red and hot, and when I looked in the mirror all I could do was laugh. The buzz didn’t last too long — I was asleep in less than an hour.
The next morning, I realised that I’d fallen in love — with wine. The wine I’d swilled wasn’t even any good. In fact, it was plonk. But somewhere behind the overtones of car tire and eau de oil refinery I could faintly detect a hint of Something Else. To this day, I find that the various Somethings-Else haunting the shadowy burgundy recesses of a good wine defy description.
At 21, I had the good fortune to work at a very good wine and liquor shop in Boston, where I learned a great deal about booze through the most direct method available: tasting. The shop held weekly wine tastings; and not only were the staff allowed to taste the wines, we were required to.
Rather than feel like an ignoramus because I couldn’t describe “noses” and “bouquets”, I found myself vindicated. The owner, an elderly Jewish man with zero patience for uppitiness, used to wink at me and gesture to a crowd of yuppies huddled in purposefully, visibly solemn appreciation. “While they’re busy describing it,” he’d say, “I’m busy drinking it.”
Taking a leaf from the owner’s book, I drank wine abundantly, using my staff discount to try out things I couldn’t otherwise afford. I came to particularly love Bordeaux, and white wines from the Alto Adige region in Italy. My appreciation of Bordeaux increased when I met my best buddy S, who just so happened to work in a family-owned wine merchant in south County Dublin.
Drinking wine can become an expensive hobby. If you don’t work in a wine merchant where you get a significant discount — or have a mate who does — it can be tricky navigating your way through Vinoland with empty pockets. In fact, it’s almost worse than knowing nothing at all; once you know what good wine tastes like, it makes crappy wine fairly intolerable.
That said, there are very drinkable wines available for not very much money. While I would always prefer to buy a good bottle of wine at around the£10 to £15 mark to guarantee that what I’m getting isn’t some mass-produced bottle of grape Coca Cola made by starving children in a factory full of fire and sulphites, like some beverage-producing inferno — it’s not always possible. Sometimes I’m broke. Chronically broke.
These are my top five cheap wines that you can drink and enjoy without subsequently eating toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of the week. Continue reading