Monday, March 15, 2010

Would you like a straw with your wine?

My taste buds awoke to the many wonders of wine after a long weekend in Sonoma, California, almost a decade ago. I still remember my first vineyard, Kunde. It was horrible and almost as bad as Long Island wines. My friends and I more than made up for our unpalatable beginning and discovered the amazing Rafanelli (they offer dark chocolate with their tasting), the delicious Acorn, the classic Simi (my dad's favorite), and a few others I can't recall. After my awakening, I started paying attention to the wine I bought or ordered. I also decided that spending $15 - $35 on one bottle was OK, depending on the occasion. In New York City and Brooklyn it's very common to go to your local friendly wine store and ask for recommendations. I grew to love and most importantly trust UVA Wines. So far I have not been able to find anything like it in Zürich. Tips are very much appreciated.

COOP, a supermarket chain, is good because they do have descriptions of types of food their wines complement. They also carry excellent bottles in the medium range of 15 CHF - 20 CHF. I haven't tried their expensive varieties yet, but did stumble across a small Tetra Pak of French Cabernet Sauvignon. At 1.90 CHF for 25 dl, it's not a bargain, but it comes with a straw so Fabian and I had to try it. The container has French instructions which loosely translate to: "This Cabernet Sauvignon, an intense and fruity wine of a sustained color is ideal for picnics and parties among friends. Serve at 8 degrees Celcius." I could not find a date anywhere but there is a seal proclaiming it to be a "Fine Wine from the South of France". I can imagine U.S. authorities freaking out about presenting alcohol in a package typically used for school lunch box fruit juices.

We decided to do a blind taste test and compare the Tetra Pak with a 7.99 CHF bottle of Spanish red table wine. I wanted to go for the full experience so I first drank the wine with the straw, from the original container. I was impressed to find 4 holes around the tip of the straw. This must help the wine breathe as you drink. Unfortunately the texture of the straw is not user friendly (it hurt my lips and tongue) and interferes with the act of sipping. The taste of the wine was not as awful as I expected. It was harsh and probably very young, but drinkable. Next, I poured the Tetra Pak wine in two glasses and the blind taste test began. We also had a couple of glasses of the Spanish red. Fabian went first and upon sniffing what was the Tetra Pak said "Oh yeah, this is how it smells". He thought it resembles airport wine and tastes better than it smells. After trying the Spanish wine, Fabian declared that it wasn't really good either. Now it was my turn. The first glass I picked smelled like a toilet in NYC. After tasting the second glass, I correctly identified the Tetra Pak. It's clear why you should only drink it out of its container. It stinks with the harshness of nail polish remover and the aroma of a slightly dirty, wet, mangy dog. Throughout dinner we sipped from both wines. With each mouthful, the Tetra wine became worse. I had to hold my breath when drinking it and finally gave up for fear of developing an aversion to all red wine. In conclusion, there is no reason to ever buy the Tetra Pak wine. Ever.


  1. I love this story. It's moving, it's funny, and your tenacity to drink something so godawful is beyond brave--it's miraculous. You are artists.

  2. Love this story. So funny how you would not give up. The smell of NYC toilet would have stopped me dead on from taking another sip. Love the COOP. I remember it from our trip to the south of France long long time ago - before kids. We went there almost daily after discovering it.

  3. I wonder if parents in France send their kids off to school with a baguette, some brie and a Tetra Pak of wine, while the uncultured American kids get the lowly PB&J and a Capri Sun. I've had champagne in small pink cans from the Coppola winery here in California. I did not like it at all. Blech. And of course we have the box o' wine here but that's not quite the same as a Tetra Pak!

  4. Fabian:
    Side Story - also happened in said Coop, Wine Deptartment:
    A small group of travelers from India were looking at the 3dl (small) wine bottles, airplane type of wines. I told them that these wines were overpriced and bad. Well, they were looking for Whisky, and were not familiar at all with wines in general. The wanted to buy the Wisky as a gift, and didn't want to pay too much for it. The shelf with Wishky is hard to find at the Coop for some reason...

  5. Good to know!

    I'm not a big wine drinker, nor am I very knowledgeable, but I know when a wine sucks ;-) I think it comes with the Italian genes, and the fact that I have been tasting wine since I was little. When it's good you can tell. When it's bad, man, you can tell even faster.