Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Olde Savannah Sweet Tea Wine

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

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


I like my new apartment very much, specifically the kitchen. There are many novel-to-me luxuries, such as a garbage disposal and a dishwasher and a patch of counter positioned such that a left-handed person can chop his broccoli in peace. What there is not, however, is a refrigerator befitting a home of such grandeur. I mean, in addition to the disposal and the dishwasher, we have a 25-square-foot balcony, and separate rooms for the bed and the couch! Emily and I even have separate closets, much like I imagine Barack and Michelle might, and also William and Kate, if closets work the same way in England.

Our kitchen, which is big enough for two people to turn around in simultaneously, has so many cabinets that one of them contains nothing but canned fish and dried fruit, and there is another one dedicated solely to coffee mugs and stolen hot sauces. (Our household policy is that if you're not responsible enough to carefully guard your practically full bottle of Cholula, you can't be trusted with such a nice thing.) And yet we must make do with an undersized fridge that has its capacity further reduced by the two-inch sheet of ice that covers all surfaces when the temperature is set low enough to keep beer from evaporating in the can. It's like having a Rolls-Royce without air conditioning. Or maybe like having a perfectly adequate Volkswagen with crappy air conditioning. Either way, it's tough to keep things cold around here.

I used to work for a cooking magazine that ran a curiously popular feature in which readers would submit convoluted solutions to kitchen problems that either didn't really exist or already had tidy and well-known remedies. "Ever need to shred a dozen heads of cabbage in the dark using only your wits and a well-worn blue toothbrush?" No. "Don't you hate it when your produce is dirty?" Yes, so I wash it. Many of them reminded me of the late-night infomercial pitches that leave you thinking, "Holy heck, I must admit that none of my current scissors can cut through a penny. I should buy these...the next time I find myself in need of a cut penny."

One of the most prominent subsets of these kitchen tips dealt with methods of cooling soup. It seems that the American people are both very concerned with lowering their soup temperatures faster than allowed by the naked environment and—phew!—also full of great ideas for how to do so. I recall one rather elegant proposal based on stirring your soup with a bottle of frozen water. I believe ceiling fans came up more than once. And when pressed to be more engaged with the editorial mission, I myself submitted a plan for organizing a soup-cooling block party at which your neighbors would all blow on your soup for you.

Oh, how I used to mock the soup-coolers back in the golden era when I had an efficient refrigerator. But this past Sunday I ran into my first-ever soup temperature conundrum. I had just finished making a pot of (as it happens) not-very-good black bean soup for dinner when The Kenji announced that he and Meredith were drinking dinner down the street and in the sun, so naturally Emily and I rushed to join them. This means I had to postpone my soup. In the past, I would have just shoved it in the fridge and turned the temperature down a click to protect the yogurt stash from the new soup heat, but that simply isn't an option with this mess of a slushbox. That's right, things are so dire that I'm forced to contemplate stirring my soup with a frigging bottle of ice so I can go out for a couple beers with a long-lost friend.

What does all of this have to do with Olde Savannah Sweet Tea Wine? Not much. But here goes: Olde Savannah was the first Bottom Shelf subject I've ever dumped straight down the drain. I've tried plenty of ghastly potions for this column, but I always put them back into proper storage after the taste test, and they always manage to get disappeared the proper way in due time. For all my complaining about Canadian Club last month, that bottle's long gone, and I thank it for the memories. But with fridge space at a premium these days, I just couldn't justify wasting any cold on this terrible, terrible stuff.

I'm not a hardcore, down-home sweet tea constructionist, so I didn't have any preconceived notion of what this had to taste like—I didn't need it to evoke the South or help my grandma rise again—but I like sweet things and tea things well enough that I'm capable of enjoying them combined in wine form. I was a tiny bit skeptical of real grape wine (with colors and flavors, but still: actual wine) that sells for $1.99 a bottle at my liquor store, but the Bottom Shelf's been pretty lucky lately, and Olde Savannah Sweet Tea seems to retail for a more respectable $7ish a bottle most times and places. Maybe it's just on super-sale because it's so awesome the store manager considers it his civic duty to make it available to even the least-washed masses?

It took me a couple sips to decide I hate it, because the flavor is so weird and I am so optimistic when it comes to $2 wine. I am tempted to call it "complex," but that has a vaguely positive connotation, so let's go with "complicated." There's a lot going on here, and most of it is bad. No one will ever know what grapes are used, but based on taste (rather than pricing logic) I'd guess this is the world's worst Gewürztraminer. It tastes like burned lychee syrup, with notes of canned pineapple juice that has been left open in the fridge for way too long next to leftover Chinese takeout. And lemon. It also tastes like lemon, and not really like tea. It scalds your tongue at a rate that suggests at least triple its 10% ABV. The best thing that can be said about the flavor is that it doesn't last long. There's virtually no aftertaste, thank god, which is why it takes a couple of sips to realize how awful it is. At first you're thinking, "Wait. That was strange. What the hell was that? And where did it go? Did I like it?"

No, you didn't.