The money is all gone. The new economy has left me behind, a gelatinous sea creature drying at the high water mark as the tide recedes. Rent, tuition, big-point Aussie shiraz, food, Hummel figurines, it's just all hemorrhaged out, the death of a thousand ducks, or cut to death by pecking, or something equally addled and dire.

It has come to this: night after night I crouch in my tenement garret, eating generic-brand peanut butter crackers and keeping warm by the piecemeal burning of Lisa's Anthony Trollope library. My only solace is my Kate Bush collection. I sit long into the night plugged into my antiquated computer, listening to The Ninth Wave over and over. It takes me somewhere far far from here and now... somewhere better... deeper... wealthier.... I begin to obsess: ELEVEN YEARS we've been waiting, still no new album?! Oh god oh god oh god....

No. No. Dangerous. Must drink more cheap crap, make the bad feelings go away, prepare for the return.


Babich Sauvignon Blanc Spy Valley 2003 ($8): Yup, it's kiwi sauvignon all right: green chiles, white grapefruit & lemon, a three-note wine. Crisp and brightly flavored, there's a concocted quality to the tritonal flavors (Fresca, anyone?), but it's lean and tangy and has a decent grapefruit-buzz finish. Not bad. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes.]

Cairnbrae Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 'The Stones' 2003 ($10). Lots of grapefruity citrosity in the nose, white grapefruit and lime rind with a touch of peachiness. Bracingly crisp and spry, a friendly wines with bright, Crayola-colored flavors. Nothing subtle here, just a happy shiny kiwi-style sauvignon that gives a lot of bang for the buck. Fun. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Yes yes.]

Brampton Sauvignon Blanc South Africa 2003 ($9). Light but pleasant aromatics--green chile peppers, touch of lilikoi to soften the nose. Middling acidity but nicely tart fruit, tastes a bit diffuse, light grapefruit and honeydew flavors. Very decent, if a bit on the soft side. [Buy again? Er...maybe.]

Avelada Casal Garcia Vinho Verde NV ($6). Pale, almost colorless. Lightly fizzy, bit of yeast on the nose, along with light lemon-lime hints, bit of quinine, rather gin n'tonicky. Think, crisp and twotone, puckery-tart and bright, but also rather flavorless, all structure. Neutral, but I really need some kind of flavor here, guys, you gotta give me something. [Buy again? No.]

Arca Nova Vinho Verde 2003 ($7). Pale, almost colorless. Just a hint of prickliness here, fuller than the Avelada, more rounded. Tastes lightly lemony, with green apple crispness and a touch of creaminess in the midpalate. Loosely knit, simple and friendly little wine. {Buy again? Yup.]

Rene Barbier 'Mediterranean White' Catal... Catalayu... Catayul... Catalsomething NV ($3). This may in fact be the cheapest wine I have ever bought (marked down from $3.99). I wasn't expecting much, but this is a pleasant surprise. Crisp, limey-citric with green apple overtones, like a decent cheap kiwi sauvignon, touch of yeastiness. Fairly neutral and lightly fizzified, just slightly off-dry and a little dilute in the middle, but still decently crisp and drinkable, a definite QPR champ. [Buy again? Three for $10? Absofrickinlutely.]

Baron Knyphausen Riesling Rheingau 2001 ($9). Bit of vinyl, bit of lemon, bit of yellow apple. Touch of sugar, zippy-crisp acidity, a little dilute in the middle but tart and decent. Nice cheap generic German riesling. [Buy again? I guess, sure, why not.]

Lindeman's Riesling South Eastern Australia Bin 75 2002 ($6). Very pale straw color. Light, easy nose, bit of vinyl, bit of lemon, bit of yellow apple. Tastes similarly light and easygoing, touch of sweetness, medium acidity, slippery-glossy mouthfeel, stop-dead finish. Vague and short, but also light and rather refreshing, with at least a vague sense of varietal character. I find myself enjoying it more than I expected or wanted to. Look, I didn't come into this expecting this kind of thing--it just... happened. You won't tell the other geeks, will you? [Buy more? Shhh, yes, yes.]

Bonny Doon Vineyard Pacific Rim Dry Riesling 2002 ($10). Pale straw-lemon color. Lightly aromatic, vinyl and gardenia over yellow apple. Decent heft, tastes slick and shiny, a little bit plasticky on the finish, but nice crispness with spry acidity and decent balance. Not a stunner, but you could do a lot worse for ten bucks. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Maybe.]

Bonny Doon Vineyard Ca' del Solo Big House White California 2002 ($8). Bright tropical nose, pineapple juice in spades, along with peachy hints, yellow flowers, touch of Saran Wrap. Crisp, slick-feeling and pleasantly floral, a pleasant little white unmarred by wood or oddball manipulations. There's that same plasticky/glyceriney thing on the finish. Pretty decent. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Sure.]

Alice White Muscat of Alexandria 'Lexia' South Eastern Australia 2003 ($7). Bit of lychee in the nose, apple pie and lemon. Pleasant, simple muscatty flavors, decent balance, maybe just a touch off-dry. Simple, inoffensive and flowery-fruity, actually rather fun. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Maybe.]

Mayne Sansac Bordeaux (Blanc) 2002 ($6). Smells... watery. Light ginger-cream water, touch of lemon. Tastes a bit better than than, light and lemony and medium-crisp, a simple, watery wine with lemon-creamy flavors and not much going for it, but drinkable in a pinch if you're not looking for character or anything else good. [Buy again? No.]

One small but rather thilling thing about cheap wines is that they seem to be moving surprisingly quickly towards TCA-free closures, something I take into account when buying, as it's a hassle to have to go across town to return a six-dollar wine. Usually we just wait until we've got a few tainted bottles accumulated and do 'em all at once, but then valuable fridge space is taken up with corked wine. (I'm not really sure why I feel obliged to refrigerate corked bottles while they're waiting to go back, but for some reason I always do. This can lead to trouble, as I'll sometimes hear BLEAAArrrrrrGGGHHH from the kitchen as Lisa pours herself a glass and finds a booby trap.)

Hogue Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2001 ($8). Smells very mellony, like honeydew juice. Tastes surprisingly broad, a hefty green apple/melon juice mouthful. Maybe just a touch off-dry, there's some snappy acidity that supports the simple, friendly flavors. No delicacy or subtlety here, just a fresh-fruity quaffer that's quite drinkable. It does come apart rather quickly though, showing some heat and baked-apple lifelessness in the middle after a night in the fridge. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Probably not.]

Beringer Chenin Blanc California 2002 ($6). Smells similarly mellony, honeydew, maybe a touch of canteloupe. Soft, fruity and vaguely plastic, it's lightly sweet wine in the jug mold. Painless enough. [Buy again? Er, probably not, no.]

Barton & Gustier Vouvray 2002 ($7). Quiet lemon-tea aromatics, touch of peach, light chalkiness. Medium bodied and loosely knit, not much focus, but the flavorous elements are there. Just a hint of sugar, sec-tendre, almost-decent acidity, bit of quince in the middle, trace of almond on the finish. Yes, it's bland industrial Vouvray, but it's recognizable as Vouvray, and it's only seven bucks, so I think I could do a lot worse. Even boring Vouvray is still better than most other cheap crap by a good measure. [Buy again? Ummmm... nah, probably not.]

Falesco Umbria Bianco 'Vitiano' 2003 ($8). Pale straw-lemon color. Quiet nose, minerals and light lemon-chalk, along with a high, almost medicinal note that is familiar but I can't really pin down. I bring the glass over to Lisa, who takes a sniff and says "Chorine; it smells like a swimming pool." Yup, that's it all right, it's rather pleasant if a bit odd. The wine tastes crisp and the fruit is bright, with lemon-peel acidity and a brief stony finish. Pretty decent, with a tart aggressiveness that gives it food friendliness and a bit of character. [Buy again? Yes, I think so.]

A to Z Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2002 ($10). Soft lemonflowery aromatics. A lightly plush wine with a sense of inconsequentiality about it, it's nevertheless smooth and soft and flavorful enough not to be boring. Uninteresting yes, boring no. Even for pinot gris it's pretty vague, although there's a likeability to its nondescriptitude. I'm ambivalent. Or maybe I'm not. No, I'm indecisive, that's it. Or maybe.... [Buy again? Probably not.]

Domaine du Prieuré d'Amilhac Pinot-Chardonnay Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue 2001 ($7). Smells of light caramel, vanilla extract and lemon-pear. Tastes crisp and underripe, but wan and oaky as well. Inoffensive in its dilution, probably could be worse, especially if woody chardonnay is your thing, but nothing even remotely interesting going on. Competent at best, this coats de tongue with wood chips and watery yellowfruit. Drinkable, just barely. [Buy again? Nosirree-bob.]

Matua Valley Chardonnay Gisborne 2002 ($10). I bought this by accident, as a bottle of the chardonnay somehow snuck into the sauvignon shelf. Smells of ripe pear and apple pie, with light vanilla-caramel hints. Medium-light bodied, at least there's a bit of structure, but there's no focus and the wine is wan and oaky, perfectly nondescript. Drinkable, but only just. [Buy again? No.]


I can't wait for autumn: the smell of smoking Victorian literature is ugly and pervasive. When the credit card bills arrive, I tuck them behind the catbox, hoping they'll go away for awhile. The GOOD STUFF, the Huet and Ollivier, the Turley, Raffault and Yquem, is all tucked safely away in the storage unit, not to be touched except on state events: the reappearance of Jason Brandt Lewis and his bionic knees, the Second Coming of Yaniger. The midlevel stuff is gone by now, long gone. Only the cheap crap remains.

I shop for wine with nickel-stuffed sweat socks and rolls of pennies. The wines I used to buy cheap have been ruined by the rotten dollar. Old staples like Clos Roche Blanche Cocirc;t, which used to be $10, are now $18. Gamay is going for forty dollars a bottle on Winebid. The old paradijums no longer apply, the world is going to hell, no wonder she doesn't return. We're not ready, not yet.


Château de la Presle Gamay Touraine 2001 ($10). Medium-light garnet. Smells perfumed, cherry pits and strawberry juice with a light underlying earthiness. Tastes insubstantial but charming, tart fruitiness, reticent but spry acidity. A pleasant little gamay, on the thin side but straightforward and unassuming. No Clos Roche Blanche, but then again who is? [Buy again? No.]

J.P. Brun Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes l'Ancien 2002 ($10). Pure strawberry-cherry fruit, light-bodied and lacy, lean and focused and rather tight at the moment. Very special, very pretty, very ageworthy. God bless M. Brun for making the best ten dollar wine in the world, even at full Manhattan retail. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Lots, lots, lots.]

André Iché Les Hérétiques Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 2002 ($7). Calm plummy-blackberry nose, hints of shoe polish. Tastes smooth and juicy, with some cheerfully rough edges. Loose, short and unfocused, but simple and straightforward and easily ripe without being blowsy. Good cheap wine, a perfect house red. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes, yes, yes.]

Domaine de Chanteleuserie Bourgueil Cuvée Alouettes 2000 ($12). Medium-light garnet, semi-translucent. Smells of cranberry sauce and forest floor, underbrush and rocks. Tastes tartly cran-cherried, a bit thin and light, but pleasantly focused and pure. Inconsequential Bourgueil for cafe quaffing. [Buy again? Nah.]

La Loma Winery Pinot Noir California 'Wyatt' 2001 ($10). Cranberry-plum aromatics lightly laced with clove. Tastes lightly spicy, easygoing plum-cherry fruit flows into a dusty-plummy finish. The acidity is a little disjointed and the wine doesn't hang together as well as I'd want, but all in all a decent simple quaffer. [Buy again? Probably not.]

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir California 2000 ($7). Smells of simple strawberry-blackberry fruit with a dusting of clove. Tastes smooth, soft & bland, a small two-dimensional wine, pinot Velveeta. Inoffensive, with suggestions of varietal character. Palatable, I guess. [Buy again? No.]

Lindeman's Pinot Noir Southeastern Australia Bin 99 2002 ($6). Quiet, vague aromatics, hints of plum-cherry and cola. Tastes light and vague, simple plum-cherry flavors and little else, a watery little wine that has some pinot character. Inoffensive, at best. Nothing to really complain about, but not much to cheer either. Simple and nondescript, but there's decent structure and the wine is pleasantly dull, straightforward. Drinkable in a pinch, has one or two notes of pinot character and little overt sense of manipulation about it. It's funny, the bottle claims that the wine is "consistent from one year to the next," as if being a factory product is a good thing. I see what they mean, though; the flavors are simple and surely easily repeatable. Strangely, the retailer claims that all 40,000 cases of their store's allocation sold out after some nut on the internet raved about it. Very odd. [Buy again? No, probably not.]

Coopers Creek Winery 'Glamour Puss' Pinot Noir East Coast (NZ) 2003 ($9). Medium-light garnet color. Smells soft and lightly of cassis, blackberry and cloves. Tastes vague and smooth, loose and supple and generally inoffensive. Is there a touch of sugar here, or am I responding to the kids' cerealbox-style label? Quite tanninless, this vanishes almost as soon as it's sipped. A good airline wine, remarkably inoffensive yet still has some decent simple flavorosity.

Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2002 ($13). Smells like simple ripe pinot, cherry and cola, lots of cola. Very agreeable cherry-cola flavors. Lots of cola. Middling in weight and fairly simple, there's a brightness and a vivacity here that the other cheap pinots don't have. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Yeah, probably.]

Prosper Mafoux Givry Bois Gautier 1999 ($14). Smells of cherries and talc, light truffley-earthy streak underneath. A sip, and there's some sour-cherry fruit right at first, but the center dissolves into weak-kneed fruit and spiky acidity. The fruit rallies marginally as it heads into the finish, acquiring a cherry-rhubarb tartness as the acidity is herded back into the fold. Strange, disjointed Givry. [Buy again? No.]

Of necessity I've discovered the joys of shopping in backwoods Jersey. Wines that didn't quite make it in New York, New York are remaindered there for less than they ought to be, dealt out to little seedy Turnpike towns to sit alongside the jugs of Carlo Rossi and the inevitable dusty solo bottle of Dom Perignon. For example: the Clavel le Mas 2000 cost me $10 in Manhattan, but once I got out to Hoboken it was $8, and by the time I reached Elizabeth it was on sale for $6. Same with the Vinum Petite Sirah--in Manhattan it was $17, it was $14 in Bayonne, out in West Orange it was $11. The New Math: distance from the city=cheapness.

Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2002 ($6). Hm, almost no aromatics at all, seems to be stripped, touch of light raspberry and earth, that's about it. In the mouth it's decent and mediocre, a bit watery, a bit dull, but inoffensive and at least it tastes like wine, albeit boring industrial wine. [Buy again? Mmmm... nah.]

Quinta do Penassais Garrafeira Dão 1995 ($10). Interesting nose, blackberry-cherry with mushroom and tea hints, as well as a dark tarry-licorice streak down deep. Tastes very straightforward, medium crisp but rather loosely knit, a light wine with a pleasant rusticity, nicely coarse around the edges, it has the feel of something meant to drink round the campfire. I like this very much. [Buy again? Oh, yes, yes.]

Vinhos Sogrape Vinha do Monte Vinho Regional Alentejano 2001 ($7). Medium-dark garnet color. Dark blackberry-raspberry fruit with minerally undertones, a touch of coconut and a subtle African-violet hint. Medium bodied, ripe but fairly restrained, lightly candied fruit has just a hint of spoofulation, nothing too overt. Some surprising acidity wells up in the middle, bringing with it a hint of talc, interesting, not a great deal of complexity but smooth and dark and well built: a lot of wine for seven bucks. [Buy again? Definitely.]

Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon 'Viña Alarba' Calatayud 2002 ($5). Very little in the way of aromatics, shy generic redfruit, touch of shoe polish. Tastes generic, ripe cherry juiciness, has a strange flabby quality along with some unintegrated spiky acidity. Round, ripe, loosely-wrapped and simple, okay in a pinch but vague and characterless.

Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel California 'Dancing Bull' 2001 ($8). Shy aromatics, some swirling brings out black cherry-plummy hints, light traces of black pepper. Medium acidity, rather slick mouthfeel, like it's been polished. Still, it's clearly zin, there's some friendly red raspberry/black cherry fruit that is cheerful and broad. Decent, if somewhat sterile, cheap zinfandel. [Buy again? Maybe, if I'm racing to a barbeque and there's no good wine shops around, and I don't think I'll ever see the hosts again.]

Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc 'Le Mas' 2001 ($6). Gentle, soft nose, plaster, rosemary and muted redfruit. Tastes loose and rather fleshy, much like the '00 version, crushed brick and shy raspberry fruit. Fairly low acidity and rather dilute in the middle, but some interesting complexity and a lip-smacking leathery-licorice finish. No aspirations to be anything other than honest wine right now, I find the earthy-herby-juiciness very appealing. Good stuff. [Buy again? Many bottles.]

Mas des Capitelles Faugères 1999 ($10). This smells strongly of curry powder. I don't think I've ever smelled curry in a wine before, and I don't like it very much. There's also a weird raspberry-cat-litter streak; this smells like one of Lisa's chemistry class experiments gone wrong. Tastes a bit better than it smells: loose, glyceriney and a bit fat, but I can't get past the nose. Plus, the finish is short and sour. Actually, this is a pretty unpleasant freaky little wine, perhaps the third bottle in five years that I've actually poured down the drain. Big pass. [Buy again? Not even under threat of torture.]

Jean Claude Mas Coteaux du Languedoc 'Les Faisses' 2001 ($10). Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells of leathery plum, blackberry and anise, with a light high lavender note. Rich and imposing, this tastes dense, almost reduced, yet has a firm spine and a certain gracefulness. Lots of smoky/tarry/licorice darkness emerges as the wine heads into the finish, but a dark blackberry hum runs alongside and fades only slightly earlier, leaving just a moment of astringency at the end. The suspicious concentration gives one the sense that there's some monkey business going on here, but frankly it's a lot of wine for ten bucks and it has the oomph to stand up to my steak au poivre. Robust, interesting wine that may have a bit too much makeup on but is fine if you don't look too closely. [Buy again? Yes.]

Château Haut-Naudeau Bordeaux Superieur 2000 ($10). This is a wine that can satisfy Lisa's Bordeaux cravings. There's not a whole lot of character, but what's there is well made and pleasantly straightforward. Smells a bit like Bordeaux, bit of cedar, touch of graphite, calm black- and redfruit, medium bodied, loose and decent. [Buy again? Yes, several.]

Mayne Sansac Bordeaux (Rouge) 2000 ($6). Having had decent luck with ten-buck Bordeaux, I decided to raise (lower?) the bar even further with a six-buck Bordeaux. Mistake. Smells of light cherry laced with a slight bretty stinkiness and burnt aromas. Thin, reedy wine without anything to give. Bland cough syrup flavors, thin, with an astringent finish, cherry and wood-chip flavored rubbing alcohol. Blech. Stew material, if you're cooking for hillbillies. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? When hell freezes over.]

Château du Grand Mouëys Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux 2000 ($10). Okay, the six-buck Bordeaux didn't work out, let's move back up the price ladder. Smells pleasant but rather wan, light blackberry-cassis, hints of tar and cedar. Medium bodied, loosely-knit and lightly blackfruity at first, soft and low-acid, lacks mouthgrab. The midpalate juiciness fades quickly, bit of sourness on the finish. Not bad, I guess, at least drinkable in a pinch. Certainly better than the Mayne Sansac, although not the equal of the Haut-Naudeau. [Buy again? Don't think so.]


So I finally get to this 'Trader Joe's' place. Cheap crap city! Let's pick some up for an impromptu crapoff. Get the Riedel Sommelier Series Crap Glasses honey, we're goin' to town!

Medrano Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 'La Boca' 2002 ($3). Quiet, neutral aromatics. Some swirling brings out a touch of muted redfruit, a flicker of graphite, a suggestion of oregano. A sip, and it's not much more memorable to taste. Flat and wan and watery: the wine that wasn't there. [Buy again? No.]

San Andrés Cabernet Sauvignon Lontué Valley (Chile) 2003 ($3). Fruit-punchy cherry-berry aromas, hey it's cabernet nouveau! Tastes like it smells, with maybe a hint of oregano herbiness and some traces of cedar & graphite. Light, watery and slightly candied: cabernet fruit punch. Not entirely disagreeable, I guess, if that's what you're looking for. But why? [Buy again? No.]

Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon California 2000 ($3). Smells markedly woodchippier than the other two, darker and less fruit-punchy and noticeably larger. Simple cassis-cherry laced with smoky woodiness, a smallscale approximation of the ever-popular fruit-and-wood bomb that the kids go crazy for. Yes, I can see why this was a success: it's like a little girl wearing Mom's fancy gown and jewelry, but it pushes the buttons that pointy people like to have pushed. Drinkable, but simple, bland and concocted-tasting, Velveetaª wine. [Buy again? No.]

Brook Hollow Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($3). Okay, we're back to the Kool-Ade theme. Smells like cherry fruit punch with a hint of cotton candy and cinnamon tossed in for good measure. Clean, crisp, and utterly devoid of character, it gives the impression of having had everything interesting filtered out of it. Gives insipid factory wine a bad name, the worst of the lot. [Buy again? No.]

Three-dollar cabernet sauvignon: don't say I didn't warn you.


Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah Clarksburg 'Pets' 2002 ($11). Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells blackberryish, high minty note, dark tarry undertones. Broad and rich, lightly candied coating over a roughish core. Not the greatest focus, but honest and straightforwardly robust. Big and broad and darkly ripe, a wine for steak or big meat. FAKE CORK! DOG ON THE LABEL! [Buy again? In bulk.]

D'Arenberg Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre McLaren Vale 'The Stump Jump' 2002 ($10). Medium-dark garnet. Smells confected, dark berry laced with cinnamon and pink cotton candy. Woosh, a wave of ripe redness passes over my palate and vanishes entirely. Medium bodied, gladhandedly friendly, but fakey-candied and hollow as a Jack o'lantern. Weird wine beverage product. [Buy again? Nope.]

Alice White Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2001 ($6). Light plum, shoe polish and burnt-toast hints, touch of acetone volatility. Soft, ripe and squishy, yet rather diffuse as well, like an overripe C™tes du Rh™ne. Not painful, per se, but not interesting, just slightly plump spineless burger wine. Drinkable in a pinch. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No, unless I'm on a plane or something.]

Bonny Doon Vineyard 'Domaine des Blagueurs' Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc 2002 ($10). Light whiff of gaminess right up front, underneath there's blackberry-grape and peppery hints. Recognizably syrah at least, but tastes like overcropped and indistinct syrah. Not bad, I guess, but a little watery and loose, with a hint of prune on the abrupt finish. Stick with the Big House Red. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Nah.]

Bonny Doon Vineyard Ca del Solo Charbono California La Farfalla 2001 ($13). Medium-dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Brambly blackberry/plum/tar aromatics. Tastes darkly grapey and rough-edged, rather monolithically blackberry-grapey. Medium acidity, enough structure to get by, some quiet glossy tannins. The overall effect is of generic rusticity, but the wine certainly packs a lot of flavor in. I don't know, maybe I'd buy it again. You could do worse. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Er... maybe.]

Domaine des Relagnes Côte du Rhône Vieilles Vignes 2001 ($10). Ripe and dark, loose and berry-tarry, simple fleshy black cherry flavors laced with smokiness. Very credible two-tone Côte du Rhône, gives you all you could ask for in a quaffing wine. [Buy again? Yes.]

Laurel Glen 'Reds' California 2001 ($9). Tastes like the Marietta Old Vine Red that's been dunked in oak chips. Okay, that's an overstatement, but there is an unintegrated smoky-toasty component that I don't find particularly agreeable. Ripe and berryfruity with a dark grapey streak, it's a low-acid, fleshy style of juicy California wine whose niche has been pretty well filled already at my table. Still, very decent kind of barbeque wine. [Buy again? No.]

Jo‘l Gott Cabernet Sauvignon California 2001 ($14). Ripe, vanilla-cassis-smoke nose, smells straightforwardly Californian. This is cabernet sauvignon all right, lots of monolithic cassis fruit, compact and warmly velvety. The wooding is more overt than in the past few vintages and is slightly distracting, but all in all a pleasant, uncomplicatedly rich wine. [Buy again? Uh... erm... not sure... it's a bit pricey...]

Three Thieves Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2002. ($10/1L). Speaking of Jo‘l Gott, the Liberators of World Class Wine have done it again, this time with a Napa cabernet. Smells grapey and dark, plum-blackberry and shoe polish notes. Tastes like it smells, loosely wrapped, ripe and simple, with just enought acidity to get by and a little roughness on the finish. Not quite the berrylicious bargain that the zinfandel is, but simply fruity and likeable. I can't help liking the jugs, they just tickle me. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Maybe one or two, just to support jug awareness.]

La Loma Winery Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Wyatt' 2001 ($10). Wood. Generic red fruit. More wood. Smells like cedar chips, tastes like oak chips. Oops, there's some fruit too. Blech. Why ruin a cheap wine with all this wood flavoring? What's the point? [Buy again? No, no, no.]

Mas Carlot Syrah-Grenache Vin de Pays d'Oc Cuvée Tradition 1999 ($7). Corked.

Bodegas Norton Malbec Mendoza 1999 ($8). Interesting rootbeer-clove spiciness to the strangely delicate tea-laced darkly fruited aromatics. Whiff of volatility, tree bark-sasparilla hints down deep. Soft and fleshy, it's warm going down and spreads in pleasant matte layers on my tongue. Not bad at all, and surprisingly supple and restrained, not what I expected. Light and easy, medium-short finish, bit of earthy-grapiness and shoe polish, but all in all pretty good. A diffuse, unfocused wine, but a warm and pleasantly unobtrusive one as well. [Buy again? Yes.]



Domaine de Montgilet Coteaux l'Aubance Les Trois Schistes 1997 ($10/.500 ml). Whole bunches of this stuff have turned up lately, heavily discounted. Suspicious, I try one before buying: nope, not cooked at least. What the heck? Great-vintage Loire sweeties for ten bucks? What's the catch? I can't figure it out, whatever, who cares at this point. Anyway, smells exuberantly botrytised, spicy hay and apricot-orange. Ripe and sweet, glyceriney-viscous and plump, with just enough acidity to get by. Spicy caramel-apple flavors well up in the quincey midpalate and are the last solo notes remaining as the finish glides off. [Buy again? As many as I can carry.]

R.L. Buller & Sons Fine Muscat Solera NV ($10/.375 ml). Dark amber-brown color. Smells like caramel laced with light orange rind, maple syrup and toasted marshmallow. Sweet and dark and toasty-caramelly, with ample acidity and a lot of flavor. Very concentrated, rich and sweet and big and dark. Pretty good, pert acidity saves it from being syrupy. [Buy again? Yup.]

Boplaas Late Bottled Vintage Port Calitzdorp 1997 ($13). Medium dark ruby color, browning lightly at the rim. Smells very tobaccoey, dark pipe tobacco hints over a base of plum and tar. Medium-plus sweetness, the tobacco fades in the middle and a strong licorice streak rises up and dominates the finish, almost overpoweringly so by the time it's done. Oddly and distractingly flavorful, too much tobacco right off, then too much licorice. Decent and drinkable, but the two-tone flavors don't help. [Buy again? No.]

Wyndham Estate Old Tawny Port South Eastern Australia NV ($13) Medium caramel-amber color. Smells rich and sweet, caramel, toffee, bit of VA, flecks of orange rind. Medium-plus sweet, but fairly light-bodied and bright, similar in flavor but not as heavy as a liquor muscat. Bit of heat on the finish. [Buy again? Yes.]

Montevina Zinfandel 'Port' Amador County NV ($13). Corked.

Domaine Roullet Coteaux du Layon Cuvée Harmonie 1998 ($8). Okay, eight dollar bad-vintage Layon from a no-name producer that's been sitting on a shelf in New Jersey for a few years, how can you go wrong? Actually, the joy of diminished expectations kicks in, and it's surprisingly palatable. Medium-light lemon-gold color. Light hint of volatility (odd for chenin, although I'm not quite sure why that should be), quince and lemon-tea hints, light apricottiness. The wine is medium-plus sweet and on the lean side, with firm acidity and a decent if not exactly striking follow-through. Really quite drinkable, and the Layon character is there, if perhaps in not entirely presentable shape, fraying at the edges. But really, for eight bucks it's a steal. [Buy more? Yes.]

That's all. There is no more. We wait. She is coming, sometime soon. In the meantime we wait in hope, with glassfuls of cheap crap. They keep the pain at bay, at least for tonight.

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