Cheap thrills

wild hare dead bodyWine snobbery goes both ways.

There’s the rich, insufferable oenophile with his own temperature-controlled cellar and stemware with bowls that could accommodate the baptism of a large baby. They have bottles of Burgundy that cost more than your first VW and won’t drink anything rated below 96 points.

At the other end of the chart is the die-hard bargain hunter. They, too, are snobs, sharing the rich man’s penchant for ritual and his impatience with the uncommitted. Then the similarities end. Bargain hunters don’t fuss about vintages, good years or bad years. If you tell them a wine needs to breathe, they will think you have lost your mind. Same reaction if you were to swirl the wine in your glass or say something about the mid-palate. They have neither vanity nor money. But they like their wine.

Dad was like that.

A survivor (barely) of the Great Depression, Dad worked two jobs through the ’40s and ’50s to manage a rung or two up the ladder of solvency. But even then he was a regular patron of the day-old bread store. He collected 25-cents-off store coupons the way some people collect stamps. Cheap wine in ample quantities was his Holy Grail. On Sundays, he crisscrossed the byways of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties in search of the off-brand vineyards with Italian names whose jugs of purple Chianti slackened the undiscriminating thirst as they stained the teeth.

But he was a funny cheapskate. He probably spent $20,000 on gasoline as he roamed the low hills looking for $5 gallons of vino. And, being a good-hearted fellow, he bought extra for his children. All six of them. Clearly, the hunt was as important as the find. He was the embodiment of Robert Louis Stevenson’s belief that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”

Nor was bloodcurdlingly inexpensive wine his sole beneficence. Ever on the lookout for the marked-down steal, he regularly gifted us with a pig’s worth of bacon, bales of bay leaves and, once, a discontinued line of cutting boards the size of doors.

As time went by, his children made choices that disappointed — but mostly baffled — the old man. In our own case, we married a heathen despite the fact that “there are perfectly nice girls in the parish.” Then we moved to the East Coast which, not being California, struck him as incomprehensible. But in one department we kept faith with the old guy. Be it in a box, a jug, a screw top or a can, each week we honor his sacred quest for dirt cheap plonk.

Our most recent successes, pictured here, set us back $5 and $3.76, respectively. Wild Hare (Friends & Family Market, $5) is the deal of a lifetime. It’s a Sonoma County Cab with notes of raspberry and chocolate — dry and delightful. The sale sign on the display says “$4 off.” But even at the full $9 it would be a find.

Deadbolt 2012 Winemaker’s Blend from California’s Central Coast was a find in more ways than one. We found it in the discontinued products bin at Hannaford located halfway between the service desk and the beauty products. It’s a first-rate blend built on a base of Zinfandel. Dark, mocha accents, velvety smooth and sufficiently enchanting to make you forget the dumb name. Deadbolt? Really?

Either of these fine wines goes well with barbecued burgers or steak and most any kind of pasta dish. Being extra, extra cheap, they’re also excellent for certain, person-specific toasts, as in: “Here’s to you, Dad.”




Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]
Stephen Fay

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