So the wife and I spent a very engaging few days in Budapest a couple of weeks ago, and while I was there I drank effectively no Hungarian wines at all, apart from a glass of watery Tourist's Red as an accompaniment to a vast and hissing plate of pork and sauerkraut (which latter made our afternoon trip to the Hungarian National Museum a heart-stopping exercise in the management of explosive gases), but instead got outside a good deal of Bitburger beer, which was delicious, but was not wine, not Bull's Blood or Tokaj or anything else. I was a fool to myself. It preyed on my mind all the way home - regret at a wine opportunity shunned, coupled with a desire to make some kind of reparation once I was back at base.
Not that I went out and got hold of any actual Hungarian wine when the chance arose. No, I bought a bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir from Waitrose, on the basis that Transylvania, now a subsection of latter-day Romania, once formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was therefore close enough. Also, I have to admit, I got something of a frisson from the very idea of a Romanian wine, plus it was on offer at £5.59, and it said on the label According to legend, Dionysus the god of wine was born in what is now Romania, which sealed the deal so far as I was concerned. And no, this wan't just the usual riot of self-delusion: Romanian wines get a fair press these days, with value for money, gluggable and great potential leaping out from the internet like hired assassins, quite enough to suggest that £5.59 was about right. Yes, the Ceaușescu years will take a lot of getting over in all aspects of agriculture and commerce, but there were grounds for cautious optimism.
That said, it turned out to be the most unbelievable wine I think I have ever drunk. Worse even than my doomed no-price CDR. I can't begin to describe it: ink, plastic bags, liquorice, aspirin, brake linings, jelly cubes, halitosis and burning straw were all implicated, but even that list is just the tip of the iceberg. It was a red liquid, yes, I remember that, but so is farmers' diesel. I gave it a day to calm down, and it was still unbelievable, only now with an extra, corrupt, Vampiric, edge, plus a top note of London Underground tunnel smell. It was so unbelievable I had to go and buy a second bottle just to make sure. This second time around I was better prepared: anticipating the unbelievable, I found that actually it was no more than unspeakable, a bit like the Secret Name of Ra. But still.
Two things occur to me. First is that, in an unhappy variation on the conventional folly of drinking at home the drink which tasted so good on holiday - with all the sense of rank failure and disappointment which ensues - I have acquired a drink which I didn't drink on holiday, from a country which I didn't visit, in the hope of re-living a pleasurable experience which I have not actually had. Everything about the transaction is therefore wrong, so what did I expect?
Secondly, I have begun to suspect that I am in a covert war with Waitrose, who continue to sucker me in with their bargain basement wines because they only have to appear to cater for the truly budget shopper. They do not actually intend these wines to be in any way drinkable, instead employing them as a virile inducement not to hang around the £5 mark, but move briskly up to something more Waitrose's style, at £9+. I, of course, will not give in to this arm-twisting, but insist on my right to poison myself as and when I please. This is one battle I have no intention of losing, I say under my breath, leaning heavily against the display cabinet: the truth of the matter being that there is absolutely no prospect of my ever winning it, and that it is, to all intents and purposes, already lost.