The Reverse Wine Snob—Recommend!

My Fellow Inebriates,

Occasionally I am too drunk to write much, so here’s a shout-out to The Reverse Wine Snob.

If you ever find yourself with less than $20 in your pocket (or g-string, if you’ve had to sell your clothes), and you want some wine, Jon Thorsen is your guy. Thumbing his nose at bottles over $20, the Reverse Wine Snob has garnered a lot of attention lately with his spot-on wine recommendations for those who are rightfully unwilling to pony up more than 20 bucks for a bottle.

Thorsen has a great palate, and wine producers have realized this. Despite his avowal to focus on sub-$20 wines, wineries continue to send him unsolicited samples of $20-plus wines, so he’s had to create a “Saturday Splurge” feature so he can review those too (as opposed to turning them down and recommending they be sent to Liquorstore Bear…but I digress, wishfully).

I totally admire the Reverse Wine Snob. If I weren’t drunk all the time, I’d still only be maybe be one-tenth as coherent and informative. In fact, if I ever review a wine and you think I meandered a bit or didn’t quite get around to what it actually tasted like, it’d be worth your while to look the wine up on the Reverse Wine Snob.

If I were to make only one small criticism, it’s that he never features the People of Walmart.

WISER’S SPECIAL BLEND—Making Johnnie Walker its bitch

My Fellow Inebriates,

As exhilaratingly nasty as our last whisky tasting was, LBHQ isn’t big enough for a substance as raunchy as JOHNNIE WALKER RED LABEL. Our tastebuds aren’t sure whether to bother growing back until the bottle’s finished, but kudos to my dad for bringing home such a coarse, discordant palate-abuser.

The hell, you say. There’s no reason to laud such a purchase, is there?

Well, first of all, buying JOHNNIE WALKER RED isn’t the worst choice my dad’s ever made. Just last weekend, for example, he locked his car keys in the trunk of the car. Ka-ching, $60, and roadside assistance popped the mechanism (I had a vision of FOUR mickeys of crappy whisky floating away, all for naught).

Second, products like JOHNNIE WALKER RED serve admirably as tastebud resetters. By burning all your tastebuds off, they destroy the memory of what a good whisky tastes like, zeroing out your expectations (and in fact, my second glass of JOHNNIE WALKER RED was considerably more tolerable than the first). Effectively you get re-accustomed to cheap crap, which is good for your budget.

Third—and I could be totally wrong about this, so perhaps some neo-Darwinians out there will correct me—only the toughest tastebuds survive the bad-whisky assault, and after repeated assaults these hardy little meat-pixels dominate your tongue’s surface, where they not only welcome solvent-like booze but ask for more. Not only is this good for your budget; it also tricks you into thinking you’re enjoying your cheap crap.


The only downside about JOHNNIE WALKER RED is that it’s not as cheap as it could be. About $16 buys you 375 mL, but for $11.87 you could have WISER’S SPECIAL BLEND.

But wait, you say, I only just survived JOHNNIE WALKER RED. Surely WISER’S SPECIAL BLEND, at three-quarters its price, will be paint thinner itself.

Surprisingly not. Deep amber-gold, WISER’S SPECIAL BLEND opens up gently with a light grain aroma that develops quickly—wood, vanilla, and a hint of caramel. It spreads over the tongue with a warming, smooth oaky-caramel release, lingering with polite heat and a slight medicinal hint.

For a cheap whisky, WISER’S SPECIAL BLEND has a lot going on. Whereas many of its fellow Canadian whiskies fall short on character, WISER’S offers plenty of depth and layering, and enough balance to hit a wide range of whisky-drinking tastes. With its unexpected subtlety, and for the most reasonable dough possible, it makes JOHNNIE WALKER RED LABEL its bitch.

For sure, there are more complex whiskies out there, but you won’t find them in big-ass 1.75-L bottles with a mere $56 price tag. Which is about the cost of unlocking your trunk to retrieve your car keys. 😦

SHOOFLY SHIRAZ (2010)—Call that koala off!

My Fellow Inebriates,

Today the whole family’s out looking at our new headquarters, so naturally I’m wondering what I can get up to.

But without thumbs it’s hard to get up to much.

My fur hurts.

And then there’s this raging, fur-blasting headache. Did my parents offer me a painkiller for it before they left? Noooo. They helped themselves to 400mg ibuprofen each, then stowed the bearproof container on an upper shelf.

So why do we all (minus the kiddies) have this thwacking great headache? Reluctant as I am to blame SHOOFLY SHIRAZ (2010), the evidence is pretty solid. Two glasses of red wine shouldn’t do such a number on the old brain pan.

Red wine, along with Scotch, bourbon and anything dark, is famous for causing headaches. But the evidence tends to be anecdotal and fraught with variables. How many drinks? At what level of hydration? With or without carbonation? Consumed exclusively or mixed with different alcohol types?

It’s red wine that gets the worst rap. Why do some wines inflict more next-day head pain that others?

Nobody really knows.

According to Winegeeks, from which I swiped much of my information, the cause of red-wine headaches hasn’t been precisely determined. But here are some suspects:

  • Sulfites—natural byproducts of yeast added to ensure clean fermentation. But white wine typically contains more sulfites than red.
  • Histamines—plant and animal substances that spur allergic reactions. While they are more common in red wine than white, the data are inconclusive. For one thing, histamine occurrences are very low. For another, a study from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed no difference between the side effects suffered by drinkers of low- and high-histamine wines.
  • Tannins—substances that give plants a bitter taste and produce that saliva-drying sensation you get from dry wine, tea, coffee, and nuts. They have healthful antioxidants but (one theory goes) may bind to starches, preventing their uptake and use in the brain’s manufacture of serotonin. Serotonin deficiency, in turn, causes vasoconstriction, which leads to migraines.
  • Congeners—chemicals produced during fermentation that contribute to the flavor of non-distilled drinks. These include acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, glycols (the list goes on), none of which sound too brain-friendly, although one congener in particular, fusel oil, contributes to red wine’s complexity. Dark drinks are generally more congener-rich than clear drinks. In a bourbon-vs-vodka study, subjects who drank bourbon suffered disturbed sleep and diminished performance compared to subjects who consumed vodka.

It’s all you. Or is it?

Individual susceptibility is also a factor. We all know people who avoid red wine because of headaches; likewise, plenty of people/bears enjoy a glass or three without ill effect. Our little tasting crew falls into this latter category, so when we find ourselves reeling around gripping our heads the morning after splitting one 750mL bottle of SHOOFLY between us, something’s up with that wine.

What about that SHOOFLY?

The 2010 vintage may be a little young. Even after we let it breathe a good 45 minutes, it exuded fresh yeast along with a rush of ripe berries and black fruit. Vinified from super-ripe grapes harvested from old vines around Adelaide, SHOOFLY is fruit-lush yet parchingly tannic—not massive but large and reasonably well structured. The finish is perhaps a little clipped.

Like many an Aussie Shiraz it packs a 14.5% wallop. It’s less a symphony than a kick-ass rock concert. Damn, I liked it last night. It even made my parents’ conversation about moving and finance a bit less boring.

Still, SHOOFLY isn’t tame. Maybe a year in the bottle would help it—but will the headache genie still come out with it? It’s a wild animal all right. I woke up with it clawing my melon from the inside like some scrofulous koala yammering sweet nothings at my two brain cells. I barely got through today.

What’s important, though, is that SHOOFLY is yummy booze for $18. And if someone will just open the Advil bottle for me, I’ll forgive it anything. Hell, if we had a second bottle I’d drink it right now. But I’d need help opening it.