One of my strongest memories of wine consumption began with naivety and ended with a life lesson: just because a wine comes from France, does not mean it’s any good.
It was my junior year of college and Sideways had just come out and, like any other American who saw the film, I thought I knew everything about wine: don’t order Merlot. This comment has been made ad nauseam, but it seemed very prophetic at the time.
Anyhow, the year is 2004, I’m 21, and it’s a slow summer night in Atlanta. Two friends and I are at a local liquor store, surveying our options of alcohol, when I notice a discounted wine bin. In it contains many corny labels and screw tops. I spot one bottle, though, with French written all over it — and an actual vintage date (that must mean it’s amazing and aged!). I have no idea what any of the scribble on the label means, but the price is easily decipherable: a sticker that reads $5. $5! For French wine! The contents of the bottle also appear to be red, which must be a good start. I easily convince my friends that we must buy this bottle simply by pointing at the French writing on the label.
I mean, how could the French go wrong? There’s no way they would export bad wine to America . . . even if it’s sitting in a discount bin at the package store by the highway.
Flash forward twenty minutes: my two friends and I are sitting on a swing set in the playground of the high school next door to my rented college house. Drinking straight from the bottle, we reminisce about our past semester of college. We pass around the French delicacy, slowly getting drunk. Soon the bottle is done, and our immature palates are thoroughly satisfied and proud of our choice of booze. We head back to my home, and decide to watch a stupid comedy on DVD. The film starts off coherently enough, but reality surrounding the television quickly devolves. I try not to blink, but with each eye shutter the whole world feels like it has turned upside down . . . and then right side up . . . and then upside down. Rinse and repeat. Even as I am writing about this occasion, I feel like my laptop is spinning while I type it out. Wondering if I am the only one feeling this blender-like motion, I glance at over at my friends, and no sooner does one of them run into the bathroom to expunge the recently consumed French delicacy.
The rest of the night is a wash at best. The next thing I know there is daylight streaming through my bedroom window. I have no idea what time it is; I have no idea how I got to my bed; I have no idea if my friends are still in my house; and, most importantly, I have no idea how my head can be throbbing so much.
Seriously, what the hell? I’d consumed half a bottle of wine . . . French wine at that! My head has never hurt so much in my life. The afternoon consists of as little movement as possible. When I finally am able to snail my way from the bedroom to the living room I see that my two friends are watching television on the couch. Neither of them looks much better than me, and, after much discussion, we come to the conclusion that the entire contents of the $5 wine has been transferred from our stomachs to the toilet.
By the next morning the pain had finally subsided. I never experienced a hangover quite like it, and I can still only think of one or two instances since that come close to that spin cycle of an evening. Once I was finally able to think clearly — and move my head around without little explosions going off in my cranium — I began to process the notion that just because a wine label is indecipherably scrawled out in the language of love does not mean it is the nectar of the Gods. Well, I guess at least it wasn’t Merlot. High five, Paul Giamatti!
Ethan Segal is a video editor that lives in Brooklyn, New York. He has been drinking wine out of pleasure and thirst for many years now. He knows very little about the wine he consumes but pretends he’s an expert.