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Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Liquid Love: Cheap Chardonnay

This can’t be alcohol, I thought. It tastes good.
When I was 23, I smoked Parliaments, drank bourbon neat with a High Life back, and played pool. When it came to wine, I exclusively drank red. Based on what I had seen on television, white wine was for Real Housewives who didn’t know who they were or what they wanted out of life.

In other words, I thought I was a badass. The operative word being thought, as I had no idea what I was doing. I drank what I drank to be cool. I realized this one fateful happy hour where I found one of my guy friends sipping on a $3 glass of chardonnay.

“What the hell is that?” I could not believe this giant bouncer of a man, complete with shaved head and devilish goatee, was sipping what looked like a thimble of sparkling cider clutched in his giant bear claws.

“It’s the house chardonnay, and it’s fantastic. It’s super buttery, so it must be oak-aged.”

I would not be seduced by the allure of his cold glass sweating in the summer sun, reflecting gorgeous golden hues. But he was paying, so I followed suit.

This can’t be alcohol, I thought. It tastes good. Like juice without the stuff I hate about juice (too sugary and doesn’t get you drunk).

All this time I had been making fun of the winos and girly girls drinking white wine, when they were actually geniuses. They were enjoying their drinks – albeit perhaps in a ditch somewhere –but nonetheless, they liked what they were paying/panhandling good money to drink. It was sort of brilliant; at 12-13 percent alcohol per volume, one drink could get you the buzz of nearly three High Lifes.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, there is a difference between a $30 bottle of Chardonnay and a $6 one. The primary distinction relates to complexity and depth of flavor. For example, citrus and fruity notes last longer with the more expensive wines; also, pricier bottles taste smoother and more full bodied on your palate.

But wines under $15 can be just as satisfying in other arenas. The aforementioned chardonnay is from Woodbridge, and you can find it at Old Bag of Nails today – still for $3 during happy hour from 2-7 pm and $5 all other times. A bottle at the grocery store will cost between $8 and $10.

My friend was right: the best way to describe it is buttery, which usually does mean it has been aged in a barrel that imparts an oak flavor. It’s smooth and what beer aficionados call “sessionable,” and wine drinkers call, “dangerous” or “f*cking awesome.”

One of my favorite cheap chardonnays is Pine & Post Chardonnay from Washington. For only $7 bucks a bottle, the complexity of this wine always surprises me: its spiciness is balanced with vibrant apple and apricot flavors. It’s been featured in Food & Wine several times for its depth of flavor despite its low price. Plus, it makes me feel like a sexy MMA fighter when I drink it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The years teach me much the days never knew.” That must mean my years were drunk on cheap Chardonnay waxing philosophy, while my days were choking back dark liquors unhappily trying to be cool.

If that’s the case, I’m glad those days are gone. •