Thursday 17 October 2013

If at first you don't succeed... Coogee Bay

Why do they put the cheapest wine on the bottom shelf? There you are, crouched among the spillages, with people tripping over you, cramping your muscles and getting dizzy when you stand up. It’s as if they want you to look undignified, shuffling along on your haunches, advertising your poverty, while the wealthy buggers stand upright and gaze languidly at the upper shelves. 

But we persevere, because we are impecunious. And because Mrs K is away at an Important Event, which puts me back in the lazy land of the ready meal for one. With, therefore, no justification either culinary or marital for my opening a decent bottle; but with a yearning for a wine that’s big and comforting, like a fluffy Shiraz with a high tog rating.

And way down there, at linoleum level, I spot this £5.99 Coogee Bay Shiraz/Cabernet, with its label in reassuringly bland magnolia, like wallpaper for a made-for-rental flat. 

On closer examination, it seems the label artwork is an “aboriginal rock art scene” of the ocean swell. It’s rare to see an Australian wine promoting an Aboriginal connection. I am reminded of the Australian writer who was once accused of being persistently critical of his home country. Far from it, he said (as indeed he was, being in England at the time). 

I love the Australian people, he said. They’re smart, generous and creative. It’s just the white people I can’t stand.

However, I did a little research, which I believe is now the acceptable euphemism for Googling. And it revealed that Coogee Bay does have a genuine Aborigine connection; it takes its name from the local Aboriginal word koojah meaning ‘smelly place’. This was because of the stench of decaying seaweed on the local beach. Strangely, this aromatic aspect of their “rugged coastline” is not mentioned on the label.

It does, however, offer a pronunciation guide to the name. I’m not sure at which point, between shelf and check-out, I would need to voice the name of the wine in my basket. I am not known for wandering the aisles, muttering the names of wines. Yet.

And it’s pronounced “could-gee bay”, which is not altogether surprising. I mean, I could see the need for help, the room for confusion, if Coogee Bay was pronounced, say, “Sellotape”. 

But sadly I now realise it is probably meant for the staff on the till. So that they can ask, “Did you really mean to buy Coogee Bay?”

The wine itself is surprisingly thin for something purporting to be Shiraz/Cabernet. It’s surprisingly thin for something purporting to be 13.5% alcohol. It’s surprisingly thin for wine.

It’s also horrible. An insipid, flat kind of taste on a petroleum base, like a fruit-flavoured Vaseline. But with an aggressively acrid alcohol around the edges, a sort of chemical element which shrivels the insides of your cheeks like salt on a slug. 

Yet I kept going back, like the dog that returneth to its vomit, only to an arguably worse flavour. Part of me wondered just how bad it would get, as the hints of fruit evaporated to leave only the nasty bitterness. Until, of course, I reached a tipping point. And no, that’s not the point at which I tip it in the sink.

In the same way that the dentist’s anaesthetic numbs the pain of its own injection, so the alcohol begins to kick in and blur the unpleasantness of the taste. Inebriation will conquer disgust – it’s the same principle upon which late-night kebab vans thrive.

And I wonder if that principle lies behind much of the cheap wine inflicted upon us? That at such a price, the producers assume we are not anticipating some sensual treat, but simply to be “charioted by Bacchus”, as Keats would have it, to that point at which taste is irrelevant?

Which makes budget wine drinking into an exercise in determination. Determined not to spend more than you have to. Determined enough to suffer the indignity of squatting on a supermarket floor. Determined enough to suffer the taste until the alcohol suppresses it. Determined to drink what you've bought.

But if you want to tell people of one to determinedly avoid, remember it’s pronounced “could-gee bay”.



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