Coming of age in the South before the late 1970’s, one didn’t have much use for a corkscrew. Rumored to be the perfect accompaniment to smoking pot, wines were generally of the screw off type, didn’t require a glass, were available at better gas stations almost everywhere, and did seem to go with just about anything you’d eat in your car.
Among our many favorites, all with high alcohol content, artificial coloring and flavors, lots of sugar and priced under a dollar were: Ripple (it is said the Black Jesus turned water into Ripple – aka: the national wine of Watts); Boone’s Farm (20 flavors including Apple, Piña Colada, Melon Ball and Tickle Pink); MD 20/20 (aka: Mad Dog and made by Mogen David); Annie Green Springs; Orange Driver (tastes even worse when puked); Thunderbird; Cisco; Wild Irish Rose; and for fifty-cents more and only for special dates, there was Cold Duck (aka: Cold Turkey, Chicken, Gander or Stork and made from the dregs of wine and champagne).
The flavor of these wines seemed to improve a good bit when mixed with beer – though they ruined the beer. Made famous by the classic 1949 R&B song, “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” by Stick McGhee, these wines were a commercial version of the original street version said to be made from alcohol and found-fruit left to marinate in a trash can for a few days. Which, of course, led us later to the recipe for PJ, but I digress.
Most of these wines were banned in the South as our frontal lobes began to come in and we were forced to switch to more sophisticated wines now only seen on Mad Men. Living in an age before Wine Spectator or the “internets”, yet aspiring to have the public sophistication of James Bond, we were forced to use our instincts. I remember so vividly an occasion in 1971 when I was invited to dinner by a high school friend at Greenville, SC’s exclusive, race and gender controlled, Poinsett Club. Our host was presented a wine list. Unable to recognize a name and unwilling to ask, my friend leaned to the ear of our black waiter and whispered. Turning back to us, he said, “It’s special occasion, so I ordered my favorite wine.” What John Walker couldn’t see from his chair, I did. The waiter went to maître d’, shared a laugh and disappeared for a few moments. Seconds later, wearing an overcoat, he left the restaurant. About 15 minutes had gone by when the waiter reappeared carrying a paper sack with a bottle of Mateus Rose purchased from a neighborhood Handy Mart.
Only a few wines were available in the supermarkets we had way back then – if you can believe it, grocery stores were about the size of a modern library and libraries then were the size of a modern supermarket. Popular wines included Mateus Rose and Lancers (Portugal), Blue Nun (Germany), Italian Swiss Colony (California) and a handful of others.
We were forced to learn to use a cork screw. In subsequent years, I have mastered dozens of types of corkscrews from simple pull and mechanical versions, to those that force air into the bottle, to battery powered versions easier on my arthritis. Never fully escaping my roots, I have feigned the knowledge of the vinophile. Ordered wonderful wines on different continents. Swirled, sniffed, sipped, savoured and swilled away my credit limits and my childrens’ inheritance. Then yesterday, I bought a box wine.
That’s right, a box the size of a dictionary that magically holds four bottles of wine and costs about the same as Two Buck Chuck (current Trader Joe’s price in Atlanta: three bucks, plus tax, but not on Sunday). The wine was for my wife. My otherwise brilliant wife who was faced with her John Walker moment. Struggling with the dotted line and not wishing to admit she had never opened a box of wine, she followed her instincts. Taking a knife to pierce the box… well, you can guess the rest.