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Wine Tip of the Week: Finding the World's Worst Wine

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from author John Hailman’s book ‘The Search for Good Wine’ which will be available for purchase October 2014 from the University of Mississippi Press. This particular chapter was written on October 18, 1987.
Wine writers spend most of their time looking for good wines, especially good bargain wines. Like sports writers, we seek out superlative performances, or at least superlative efforts. But there is another side to all this. Just as football as its Bottom Ten each week in USA Today, the words teams of the week, so does the World of Wine.
We just don’t talk about it or try it. After all, the last time I saw a veiled reference to it in print was in an old New Yorker cartoon, in which two bums were leaning up against the wall in an alley. One handed the other a screw-top bottle in a brown bag and remarked: “Not a great wine, but a good wine.”
How to judge the worst wine of the vintage? By the time-honored vinous tradition, the blind tasting. My initial plan was to invite some friends and make it an occasion, but people kept declining. My wife and daughters refused to even watch. Undaunted, I proceed alone. After intending to taste 10 wines, a good round number, my courage failed when I really thought about it, and I bought only seven. The whole lot came in at under $25.
badwineBy wine-tasting tradition, whites precede reds, so I began with the famed Thunderbird. Remarkable, I had never noticed before whether Thunderbird was a red or a white. Being an avid label collector, I first studied the handsome Indian-looking bird and its noble motto “The American Classic.” In appearance, Thunderbird looks rather good, the color of a slightly overripe Chablis in fact. The aroma of Thunderbird, since it was no doubt to young to have a bouquet, was not all that bad. The taste, however, was another story and the aftertaste was a vivid reminder of how Thunderbird got its name. It went down like feathered thunder soaked in generic cough syrup. Later, I had to boil the glass to get the aroma out.
To cleanse my palate, I picked up what I had hoped would be the least offensive wine of the lot, called Yosemite Road Jug, a blush wine cooler in a sort of miniature Snuffy Smith swilling bottle. Like most coolers, it tasted like it was made from partially dissolved dry Koolaid mix, but it was drinkable, and better than many coolers.
Next came Easy Nights from TJ Swann. I went all the way with TJ, and to my surprise, it tasted very similar to the cooler, both resembling carbonated beach soda, but not as good. All those debutantes and polo players who drink coolers and look down at TJ are being fooled. They are drinking essentially the same stuff.

Wild Irish Rose comes in a red and a white variety... we're unsure if that's good or bad.
Wild Irish Rose comes in a red and a white variety… we’re unsure if that’s good or bad.

Then came a kind of Murderer’s Row of bad wines: Mad Dog 20-20, Wild Irish Rose, Red Rooster, and Night Train Limited. Wild Irish Rose weighed in at 20 percent alcohol, just like vintage port, but the resemblance stopped there. The wine was thick and sort of oozed down the side of the glass. The aroma was pure Eau de New York Subway. I got the stuff in my mouth, but could not bring myself to swallow.
But there was worse to come. The very idea of tasting Mad Dog, the Numero Uno of bad-wine jokes, had almost caused me to cancel the whole idea. But the motto on the old locker room door urged me on: “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. Tightening my palate, i strapped on the Mad Dog, whose label bills itself Wine of the Century. Its aroma? Essence of coal oil. Unwell. Taste this? I did, and it resembled what I always thought spoiled broccoli juice must be like. A potential captain of the all-loser team.
Just two more to go. Red Rooster, which one-upped Mad Dog as Wine of the Twenty-First Century, was so thick it looked like it would turn to gelatin if chilled too much. The aroma was suspiciously like moonshine and not half bad. The taste of this “red grape wine” was another matter. I could barely stand having it in my mouth, but, again, drew the line at swallowing it. It’s professional to spit, after all.
Last came the Night Train Express Limited – in more ways than one. Its aroma was like an open manhole in Cairo, and as it lay there in the glass it looked like it had been out in the weather too long. But it was the taste that won it for Night Train. Terrible. Its thundering wheels ran over my helpless palate like a speeding freight. Without doubt that is the most unforgettably awful wine I ever tasted.
maddogMad Dog, eat your heart out. That moaning sound you hear is not only my palate in pain. It is the south of the Night Train’s whistle as it pulls out, leaving you in second place.
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JOHN-HAILMAN-PHOTO-2-150x150John Hailman of Oxford is a regular contributor to HottyToddy.com on two subjects: Law and Wine. Now retired from both his “day job” as a federal prosecutor in Oxford after 33 years and his “night job” of 25 years as a nationally syndicated daily columnist in more than 100 daily papers on wine, food and travel for Gannett News Service and the Washington Post, Hailman will cover both topics under the titles of The Legal Eagle and Wine Tips of the Week. HottyToddy.com will also run periodic excerpts from Hailman’s upcoming book of humorous legal stories, From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories From A Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi. Hailman now teaches Federal Trial Practice and Law and Literature at the University of Mississippi.
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'The Search for Good Wine' by John Hailman will be available October 2014 /Copyright 2014, University of Mississippi Press

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