1. 2000 Egri Bikaver "Bull's Blood of Eger". This is a three dollar bottle of nastiness from Trader Joe's. I remember buying this for the first (and previously only) time about ten years ago, wowing myself with my Big Splurge (I still remember when spending anything over $40 at the store in one go was a severe drain on my finances). I hated it then. Now that I've got about five good years' wine tasting experience under my belt, I thought it might be amusing to revisit my vinuous past, if only briefly.
Guess what? It still sucks. It's not obviously flawed or anything, just kind of sweet and bland without much going on in the flavor profile. In short, I don't think it's changed much in, oh, about forever. Guess it sells just fine without being particularly good - it's still on the shelves at TJ's, and still somewhat known as a typically Hungarian wine. Of course, Tokay is still fantastic, and I hear a fürmint can be pretty good, but I'd give this a miss.
2. 2001 Charles Shaw merlot, $2. There's selling this by the case at TJ's - that's right, $24, or roughly double the price of a case of Gerolsteiner mineral water. This is in actual glass bottles with real corks, even if the label kind of looks like something someone printed up at Kinko's. Brought to you by Bronco, perhaps the sleaziest wine company in the business, this is a direct result of massive overplanting of vineyards + a nasty economic recession. California now has its very own wine lake! Thing is, though, it's largely somewhat competent wine, and the market for cheap brandy isn't as big as in Europe, so it would appear they're trying to drain it by shoving it in bottles and selling it cheaply. This was... okay, but I didn't really want to finish my glass. It tasted almost like Merlot, and there was some subtle oak in there that was okay, but on the whole the bizarrely garish color (very Barbie's Napa Cottage pink) combined with a fair amount of residual sugar grossed me out completely. I believe Dan went on to finish the bottle, though; then again, he's got more of a sweet tooth than I. For $2, it's really pretty good, but I'd rather spend the $8 on a bottle of Bonny Doon Big House Red and actually enjoy myself.
3. 1993 Cockburns Late Bottled Vintage port. This is from a series of about six bottles downstairs that constitute another chapter in my somewhat screwy wine drinking history. Back in the heyday of the dot com bubble, there were two wine sites that seemed to be engaged in a battle royale of sorts, a Journey to the Bottom of the Red Sea of Ink. Wine.com and eVineyard.com were running ridiculous promotions in a quixotic campaign to get lots of "market share", whereby such fuddy-duddy concepts as "profitability" and "sustainability" were roundly ignored. As a result, I bought about ten cases of stuff at $7 a bottle (much of which was very good, some of which I hung on to too long and which now is kind of sucky). Towards the end of the madness (I think this must have been late 2000), eVineyard started a "refer new customers" thingy whereby they sold you bottles of pretty good stuff at about half the wholesale cost (which I had always assumed was illegal in California, but they were based out of Portland, so what the fuck). True to form, I got various friends and colleagues to "order" wine for "themselves", which really meant that I gave them cash to place these orders, which I then collected. With no sales tax or shipping charges, this was a Very Good Deal; I saved a few hundred bucks this way, easily.
Now, me being me, I asked Dan what he liked to drink. This was before either of us had a really firm idea about that, so he basically said Gundlach Bundschu anything and/or port. This meant that I got about six bottles of the 1997 Gun Bun cabernet as well as about six bottles of various port. Thinking that all port just gets better with age at the time, I squirrelled them away and promptly forgot about them. Looking back at them this winter, I realized that they're five bottles of LBV and one California port. I now know that LBV isn't really supposed to be aged any further; it's just supposed to be good then.
So. The Cockburns was OK, but nothing spectacular. It seemed like it was starting to get that "old" note, flavor-wise (I'm now starting to understand what that tastes like, especially in sparkling wines), but on the whole it was pretty fruity and sweet, which aren't my favorite flavours in ports. I was also kind of amused to note that one small glass of the stuff got me somewhat drunk - damn, there's a lot of alcohol in port! (Well, duh.) On the whole, OK, but not as fun as the Penfolds Magill Bluestone Tawny. Ah well.
More frustratingly, the 1997 Gun Bun cabernet has turned out to be a severe disappointment. Dan once belonged to their "wine of the moment" club, but once we started tasting our way through a few more things, it soon became apparent that most of their stuff isn't very good, and all of it is vastly overpriced. That's a shame, because the folks there are so friendly.