So having got through my gutbucket Tesco indulgence (least worst turned out to be the generic Chardonnay, worst by a mile the Spanish red) and not yet having claimed my Brother-in-Law's booze run offerings (this weekend, I'm hoping) I am drifting a bit and therefore naturally prey to the first piece of cheapskate news that comes my way. Which turns out, equally naturally, to come from PK, who draws my attention to this from Majestic Wine: a bid to get properly stuck into the Cadbury's Creme Egg sector of the wine trade, with a choice of price-pointed, fun-loving, cartoon-driven generics, including, worryingly, a Spanish red and a Chardonnay with a picture of two cartoon men wearing comedy fruit headpieces.
Normally, I'd say yes to all this, because, after all, cheap'n'cheerful is exactly what I live for and will, in all probability, die of. There's something melancholy, though, about Majestic being reduced to cartoons of men in fruit costumes or their underpants in order to cop a piece of Tesco's business - because, back in their prime, the point of Majestic was that they found you entertaining, affordable grog which was every bit as entertaining and affordable as I'm sure their new Majestic Loves range will turn out to be; but which looked, and sometimes tasted, as if it had come from somewhere other than a huge industrial zone outside Valencia. I suppose you could say it had, or appeared to have, charm, once.
But this is where we are and I'm sure next time I'm in Majestic I will be drawn ineluctably towards the brightly-coloured junk at one end of the store with a view to wasting £5.99 multiplied by x, where x is > 1 but < 6. But then it occurs to me, not just that Majestic are being forced to try and out-supermarket the supermarkets, but that horrible cheap brazen wine is now so ubiquitous, especially in my world, that I must have evolved some kind of mechanism for choosing between these various rubbishes, something other than the point where cheapjack marketing meets blind chance.
So, after some head-scratching, I come up with three cardinal considerations: colour, bottling, provenance. When going downscale, red is always the first choice. Miraculously, a red can be both disgusting and yet just this side of drinkable. Yes, I've applied this rule too many times not to be caught out by it, but that's where I stand: especially if the alternative is white, which can be okay if you freeze it to the point at which it hurts your hand but which otherwise is nothing more than dirty alcoholic rainwater. Moreso with sparkling whites - something about the bubbles increases the toxicity, hard to escape even if you chill the stuff to a near-solid. And on no account should anyone touch a crap rosé. I don't know what it is about that drink: I've drunk some appalling rosés for which I've paid £7 or more, and the cheap ones are every bit as awful, only with an extra tramp-like hogo coming off them. And don't even mention Zinfandel Blush, the party squeaker of still wines.
Bottling? A nice label is what it's all about. Too spartan and/or gimmicky and it galls you every time you look at it. Too fastidious - drypoint Provençal mas, hand-turned lettering, date - and it acts as a tart reminder of how much distance there is between it and the thing it's a gutter variant of. But (depending on taste) a bit of playfulness can really lift your spirits even as your mouth tells you another story. That Le Réveil Cabernet Sauvignon which goes for around the magic £5.99 is pretty rough, but the label's so cute you can forgive it almost anything.
And the provenance? Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Aldi, they all do perfectly okay trash wines if you stick to £5.99 and not allow yourself to be tempted much lower. Asda and M & S Food, I'm not sure; the Co-op is usually somewhere out in the sticks and therefore too small to have a range. Waitrose, on the other hand, is emphatically a bad place for your garbage drinking needs because they aim their produce at an imaginary clientele which entertains lifestyle choices and confidently splashes £8 + on its everyday wines, with the result that anything off the bottom shelf is beneath its contempt, literally. It is, however, my nearest full-sized supermarket - a two-minute walk from the front door. And it sells Le Réveil. The upshot? I have spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds on my cheap drinking habits in there, over the years: a contradiction which, alone, may account for my current dismal state. I think The Guide may need more work.