Drinking the Bottom Shelf »

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.

Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Carlo Rossi Burgundy

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[Photo: Will Gordon]

Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily and I drank seltzer at the outdoor ballet last night, even though there was a perfectly good Red Sox game on TV and an even better bottle of rum in the cereal-and-rum cabinet. We did this strange thing for several reasons.

The seltzer part was because I forgot that the "no drinking in the park" rule is suspended whenever a critical mass of white people gets together to eat hummus on blankets adjacent to Culture. The watching ballet part was because it was free and because it's the sort of routine relationship maintenance one ought to perform from time to time lest he wants his partner to start coordinating another man's research on the side. Emily really likes ballet and I kinda do, which was reason enough to bike the couple miles to the Hatch Shell on a perfect summer night. So we did and I loved it and that means I AM NOT A MEATHEAD DAMMIT.

Or I'm not entirely a meathead, at least.

Despite the impression I may give here on the Bottom Shelf and also in 99 percent of my real life, my interests and activities aren't exclusively scummy. Did you know, for instance, that on Tuesday night I made a salad with two different kinds of lettuce, if spinach counts as lettuce, and why wouldn't it? I have a library card. And there are currently flowers sitting atop the Sox-watching box in the living room. Granted, I didn't buy the flowers, but I think that's all the more testament to my undercover refinement: The person who knows me better than anyone knew the second-best way* to cheer me up after a rough day at the nonoffice would be with the grocery store's finest bouquet of nature's inedible bounty.

*She also brought home beer, because a distinguished gentleman like myself doesn't date dummies.

Sorry to lecture you all about this, but the events of last weekend have me feeling a bit defensive. Emily and I went to a wedding. It was a lovely affair and a casual one. We showed up a few minutes before the justice of the peace was scheduled to ramble a few things whilst old people cried and took pictures, and as we were saying our hellos and our where's the liquors, an allegedly well-meaning friend said, "Hey, man, there's PBR in the cooler," so I did the only reasonable thing and chugged one (long car ride) and started sipping the other on my way out to the makeshift porch-church where vows were exchanged and wine was drunk.

Yes, wine. I was the only slob there chewing on a can of Pabst while everyone else was all fancy and perfect with their wine and their graduate degrees and their tucked-in shirts. But it wasn't my fault! All I did was drink what I'd been offered. And obviously no one was paying any attention to me and I need to get over myself and all that. Yes. But still, I was pissed that the enemy who'd planted the PBR on me had undermined my recent resolution to start cutting a less offensive swath through town.

I'd resolved to clean things up two weeks before, when my birthday once again found me working at a not-quite-dive bar in Central Square. I hadn't worked there in a couple years, because I'd been out of town on relatively legitimate business. I spent a year copyediting crappy magazines in New York, then I spent a year holding down Emily's couch while she finished school in western Massachusetts.

But I didn't want to get into all that when my old friend Cheese saw me at the bar and said, "Where you been, baby?" so I just mumbled something vague about how, you know, you come and go, here and there, etc., and he nodded and gave me a knowing look and said, "Well, what's past is past, glad you back, baby, good for you," and it took me 10 happy seconds of feeling welcomed and wanted to realize that he was congratulating me on getting out of jail.

So clearly I'm creating a false impression of depravity, and I need to stop blaming the PBR-pushers and take matters into my own hands, which is why I've decided to become a wino. We've talked "wine" here a time or two, but never real fermented grape juice free of artificial colorings, neutral sprited fortification, or intentional misspellings. It feels a little strange, but the time has come to class up the Bottom Shelf with a review of the 3-liter jug of Carlo Rossi Burgundy.

I'll start from the end and declare that I love this wine and consider it among the best $9.99 I've spent all year. I'm near to certain that no Pinot Noir was harmed in the making of this stuff, and it's Californian rather than French, but I'm going to defend its right to call itself burgundy on account of the color; if you're a wine-origin purist, you can call it Hearty Cordovan. It's fine wine all the same: simple and clean, and maybe off-off-dry, but not at all sweet. It starts with a pronounced and somewhat mysterious vanilla taste—no way this spent more than 10 minutes next to an oak barrel, yet there it is. And who knows where the secondary wave of cherry comes from either, but I like it. This works out to $2.50 per 750mL bottle, and you've absolutely had inferior wine for double that price, and maybe even triple if you're a sucker for Australia or funny names.

Preliminary research indicates this wine goes great with overcooked pasta, canned tomatoes, and too much garlic (again!); it's also nice by itself or with three ice cubes and four ounces of Trader Joe's orange cream soda. I've just begun my testing, but I think the lower portion of the sky is the limit for Carlo Rossi Burgundy, or, as I've taken to calling it, The Jug of Dignity.

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