So the Côtes du Rhône is still here, although things have moved on in the last fortnight. First, I have managed to offload a bit by covertly dishing it up to people seated at our kitchen table (we don't have guests like PK, just people who turn up and consume; the last one stayed eight hours, polishing off a full lunch and a light supper) and feigning ignorance when they notice how horrible their wine is.
Secondly, readers of Sediment have pitched in with advice as to how to get through the stuff unharmed. Aodan Peacock recalled his grandfather - in South Australia, some decades ago - blending 'Various varieties for better balance. Sweet Syrah is cheap and can "fix" thin Pinot. Bitter tannins can be eased with Merlot.' While admitting that 'It's not always succesful', at least 'We've had some acceptable outcomes.' I tucked this behind my ear for later, at the same time concurring with Anonymous who reminded me that 'Mulled wine tastes filthy, so it doesn't matter what you make it with', while respectfully noting the opinion of another Anonymous, whose father had a penchant for what he called 'Tank car wine', and whose trick with this terrible grog was to 'Dilute with water or ginger ale and drink with food.' Simon Tanner thought that I was being excessively faint-hearted about the Crème de Cassis and reckoned I should 'Chuck it in ANYWAY... you'd be hard pushed to make the stuff worse than it already is, but you might just end up with something that tastes like a slightly sweet version of a New World cabernet blend.' Deborah (no surname) pointed out that I should 'Take a bottle each time you go to a party or larger gathering where it can get lost among the other wines and nobody knows who brought it', which is of course one of most practical solutions; while LondonPerson went off at a tangent over the Egyptian whisky, revealing, frighteningly, that 'Knockoffs and Zibib liquors can be made by mixing cheap sugars, corn or pomace with yeast, extracting the alcohol with a little pressure cooker, and then filtering it through a T-shirt or cloth.' And a mate of mine rang up even more tangentially to suggest that I should try mixing port and Guinness as a kind of all-purpose wholly corrupted alcoholic drink which will serve in any situation.
If there was a theme emerging, it involved admixture. As chance would have it, I was admixing only the other weekend at a birthday party. It was late and - speaking candidly - we were all slightly the worse for wear, when someone said, Let's put the Sauternes in the Champagne and see what happens. So we did, about half and half, drank it and, so relaxed were we, we pronounced it good. Sweet, effervescent, an aesthete's version of Red Bull. In retrospect it was disgusting, but at the time the mood carried us over. At any rate, mixing was on my mind.
To warm up, I actually did the port and Guinness thing: not as bad as I'd feared, a bit like an old-fashioned porter rather than an extra stout, and with a delightful pinkish blush on the head. On the other hand, it wasn't so nice that I'd ever want to drink it again, so I moved on to the CDR. PK's argument was that, since the CDR was probably Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre in some combination, + or - and/or, I should get a reasonable bottle of one of these and chuck it in to improve the blend. Ten minutes of deliberation at Waitrose saw me emerge with a Grenache costing almost three times as much as the original CDR, and wondering, actually, shouldn't I have got a Syrah (there was no Mourvèdre on its own) given that the CDR was probably quite Grenache-packed already, and I might just be compounding the felony? Or better yet, a quite unrelated wine, a Merlot, maybe, just for the taste, and forget about following the recipe?
Too late. I mixed the CDR in with the allegedly decent Grenache, a ratio of about two to one. Took a swig. The same chemical haze, finish a bit like barbecue lighter fluid, slightly less psychotic in the middle, but not really an improvement. I tried the Grenache on its own, just to make sure: started well, spicy, hint of chocolate, followed by a so-so middle and an industrial conclusion. Then I went back to the CDR: still appalling. Months of trial and error would probably have yielded a better result, but as a one-off experiment, it was inconclusive; added to which, jumbling up Guinness, port and bargain Côtes du Rhône, is, frankly, a hangover in a bucket, and not a good idea.
It was only later, mildly detoxed, when I discovered a bottle of The Wine Society's White Burgundy, and absently took a sip, that I realised how Fate operates: disillusioned by my experiments in blending and depressed by my immovable CDR, I'd resigned myself once again to life as a third-rate wine drinker - only to find that my glass contained something fragrant, buttery, shapely, really delicious. There was drinkable wine in the world, and I had some. I practically cried with gratitude.