Three quid. That's what it cost. For a complete, 75cl bottle, entirely filled with red wine. Three quid. It spoke to me at ASDA, not a place I normally find myself in, but I had to get some really cheap pillows and I saw this stuff and the wino in me couldn't take his eyes off it, so I grabbed two bottles, tucked the pillows under my oxter and lumbered off to the check-out looking (quite plainly) as if I were off in search of a park bench, a rain-free day and a homeless friend.
Then I had qualms once I got home with my pauper's treasure. Three quid is not much for anything. The price of a Saturday Guardian is starting to nudge that; likewise a chocolate brownie at a motorway services; a packet of shoe insoles is probably a bit more, a discount CD bought on impulse during a visit to a rotting British seaside resort, maybe a bit less... I mean, three quid is next to nothing. Did I really want to drink this stuff? Anyway, I brooded on it for a bit until I remembered a discussion I'd had with PK.
The gist of which was that he couldn't understand why anyone would dishonour a good wine by serving it in a cheap wine glass; whereas I didn't much care either way, the old Paris goblet having numerous virtues, including near-unbreakability, a comforting fit in the hand, good mouthful-to-contents ratio. But he went on about a good big glass being necessary to let the grog breathe and warm up and open out and tell its story to the drinker. So I invoked a reverse rationale: arguing to myself that a dodgy wine, if served in a decent glass, will be framed so effectively by its container that it'll taste like the Ribena of the gods.
Do we have any of those human-head-sized wineglasses with foot-long stems that smart people drink from nowadays? Of course not. If we ever did have them, they got broken long ago, trashed in the dishwasher or snapped carelessly in two by my delinquent fingers. But I poked around in a forgotten kitchen cupboard and what did I find but some pleasingly weighty Edwardian-looking things in cut glass or crystal, which I can only assume were given to us by someone because we quite obviously neither could nor would buy objects such as these, not in this lifetime.
So I poured ASDA into one of these Mrs. Keppel glasses, while using a regulation Utility goblet as a control (see illustration), let it settle/breathe/decompose for a few minutes, and took a swig.
My standards (see previous posts, and indeed this post) are lamentably low, but I have to say that even served in gleaming cut glass in a well-lit and temperate room, ASDA's Carricci was pretty challenging. Once I'd uncrossed my eyes and taken a reference sip from the Paris goblet - just in case the fancy glass had recently been washed in bleach or had a dead spider in the bottom - I decided that it tasted, essentially, of suede. It was disappointing. It was disappointing because I'd convinced myself that a £3 bottle was the answer to a vulgar prayer; and that even if it wasn't, I could re-invent the stuff, Pygmalion-style by dressing it up and endowing it with a phoney accent. A shabby new world would then be mine for the asking.
But it wasn't. The wine tasted of suede all the way down to the bottom, whichever glass I drank it from. And I'd bought two bottles! Luckily, I palmed at least half of the second bottle off onto No.1 son (who either didn't notice or couldn't be arsed to complain) and that dealt with the problem, such as it was. And the thing is, although this experiment was a bust, I still feel moved to try and find ways to deceive the senses by re-contextualising the drink. Already I am planning to decant the cheapest of beverages into baronial containers, consume it blindfolded, smoke while drinking, eat cheese before during and after, glug straight from the bottle and out of unfamiliar receptacles (tea cups; ink bottles; Tupperware). The mind/body nexus is mutable and capable of being tricked. I will not let this one go.