This morning, my girlfriend and I walked down to her favourite fruit stand to buy and subsequently crush a box of raspberries.  That wasn’t exactly the plan; when we discovered that I’d accidentally mashed them, she was as emotionally crushed as the berries were physically, though I was sort of excited that I’d learned how to make jam. But I’m the optimist. When life hands you crushed raspberries, make raspberry lemonade, I always say.

Anyhow, while we were down there, we decided to pop into the LCBO to get a bottle of wine. For the benefit of non-Ontarians, the LCBO — pronounced “Lick-bo” — is a government-run store where we have to go to buy wine and liquor. For beer, we go to The Beer Store; this used to be called Brewers Retail until the government evidently decided that beer drinkers were much less intellectual and needed a much more literal name to avoid any confusion. It seems a little like calling a supermarket The Food Store, but it appears to have worked out fine. Meanwhile, more highbrow wine drinkers have made do with their more inscrutably named establishment.

Not that we were going in for a bottle of anything hoity-toity, mind you. We were looking for a bottle of Fuzion, an Argentinean wine that we’d heard about on the CBC. (This is what my girlfriend has done to me: She has me doing things like drinking wine and listening to CBC Radio and eating fruits and vegetables.) Despite the obvious spelling mistake on its label, Fuzion is apparently flying off shelves due to its seven-dollar price point and not-horrible taste. Of course, we’re usually box wine drinkers, but Fuzion is decent for what it is; put to the Pepsi Challenge in blind taste tests, it frequently edges out more upscale wines among even confirmed wine snobs and blows Pepsi right out of the water.

We walked in and then stopped to scan the shelves. “Where would the Argentinean wines be?” I wondered.

“Over here,” piped up a bottle of Argentinean wine from a couple of aisles over — or so it appeared. We walked over to discover a shortish LCBO employee bent over, stocking shelves. “Which kind are you looking for?” he asked. I said we were looking for Fuzion.

Oh,” he sneered. “We have that plonk over here.” He held up his hand by the side of his mouth somewhat conspiratorially, evidently so the wine wouldn’t hear that it was being insulted.

Now, despite having dated the daughter of one of Canada’s leading vintners for a while, I’m no wine expert. I’m not even British or Australian. But I do know that “plonk” is an insult in those countries, having recently learned what it meant from my friend Malcolm, whom I call Frasier Crane because he drinks wine and puts phlegm into his pronunciation of the surname of the painter Vincent Van Gogh. (From what Malcolm says, if he’d pronounced it as “Van Go” in his household while growing up, his father would have horsewhipped him or maybe even chopped his ear off.)

Before Malcolm explained it to me, I thought “plonk” was just onomatopoeic Usenet jargon describing the sound of a troll being dropped into a kill file. But it’s also a term for low-quality wine. Yet, while Malcolm may agree that Fuzion is plonk, he doesn’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Who can afford the good stuff all the time, after all? As both an experienced wine drinker and a struggling writer, Malcolm finds Fuzion to be an acceptable compromise between price and quality, and as a neophyte wine drinker and a struggling writer, I bow to his superior judgment.

But to our LCBO employee, plonk like Fuzion is very much indeed a bad thing and not fit for an Argentinean pig to drink, let alone human consumption. He barely even drinks the beloved vintage wines that he collects, preferring to shelve them and practice his pronunciation of “Côte du Rhône”. So he would definitely not drink any plonk. In fact, he hadn’t actually tried the Fuzion, but that didn’t stop him from launching into a raving jeremiad about how terrible it must be.

How could a seven-dollar bottle of wine be any good? He’d even heard of people having the nerve to show up at dinner parties with seven-dollar bottles of Fuzion! “If someone gave me a seven-dollar bottle of wine, I’d throw it back in his face!” he declared. I thought that was a little extreme, but I do agree that if someone were to throw wine at me, I’d at least want it thrown near the general vicinity of my mouth.

Now, it’s important to understand that he wasn’t insulting us — just the wine. I was a little surprised that he’d insult his own stock like that, since it doesn’t seem like good salesmanship, but he is a government employee after all. It’s not like he really cares about the LCBO’s profits, but my lord, did he care about the quality of wine. His tirade became so impassioned that he was literally foaming at the mouth. I mean that — a large fleck of spittle gathered at the corner of his mouth. We couldn’t take our eyes off it, wondering if he’d notice and wipe it away, which he never did.

“Well,” I finally said, “We think it’s an acceptable compromise between price and quality. After all, who can afford the good stuff all the time?”

“Oh!” he said, rushing off to answer the telephone, which had begun to ring. “You’re my favorite customers — drunkards!”

Frankly, this isn’t even the closest LCBO location to us anymore since we moved, but we have to go back, just to see how wound up we can get this guy. For one thing, I wish I’d mentioned that we’d heard on CBC Radio that Fuzion was good, just to see what kind of cognitive dissonance that might cause him as both a wine snob and a cultural snob.

We imagined all kinds of things we could say to provoke him. “You know what’s good?” my girlfriend imagined saying. “French Cross wine from the box!” (That’s actually true. It’s our usual plonk.)

Or I might argue that Fuzion is actually better than vintage wine. “You don’t have to stick it in some cellar and wait for it to become good,” I’d say. “You can just unscrew the cap and drink it right away!”

Or I might engage him in a discussion of how one can make one’s own wine. “What they do in prison is put some fruit and some moldy bread in a sock. Then you put that in a plastic bag, and you leave it in your toilet for about a month,” I’d explain. “You have to pee in somebody else’s cell until it’s ready, but then you’ve got prison wine. Or, you can leave out the sock and make prison sangria.” (I might even actually try this. I’ve got a bunch of crushed raspberries, after all. When life gives you crushed raspberries, make prison wine, I always say.)

Or I might just walk in with a big jug of Allen’s white vinegar and ask, “Is this a good wine?” There’s really a lot of ways we could go about this.

The point is to get him worked into such a lathery fit of spittle-spraying invective that he goes into some kind of epic harangue about how it’s because of ignorant, uncultured philistines like us dumbing down the wine trade that the LCBO is eventually going to have to do what Brewer’s Retail did and cave in and rename itself The Liquor Store. And frankly, isn’t it time someone raised that idea?

8 Responses to “Plonk!”

  1. 1 jtl

    You could say something like, “Oh, well, I don’t know about your fancy-pants expensive stuff, but Fuzion tastes just as good straight from the bottle as it does from a glass.”

  2. 2 Adrienne

    Please mention that you like to use a swirly straw — you know, when you want to be all fancy. Then take a dump in the New World Wine aisle.

  3. 3 Gloria

    Before you make prison wine, you’ll want to read The Sneeze’s experiment with it — much wisdom contained within.

  4. 4 Keith

    Not the Liquor Store. The Booze Store.

  5. 5 KD

    I didn’t check, but I hope that’s white wine, Candace. The carpets!! For pity’s sake, don’t forget the carpets!!

  6. Love your writing, but I have to side with the pretentious wine weenie (winee?)
    on this one. Once you start drinking good wine( anything VQA from Niagara is a good place to start), the Plonk will make you hurl.
    While the Lickbo employee was desperate to impress himself and hoping you would feel inferior to his oeneophile magnificence, he did have a point about the wine, unfortunately it was over shadowed by his arseholiness.
    Most LCBO’s have a Vintages section. Look for wines that are labeled by a single year and vineyard. Soon you will become the winee that will be the pompous bore at every party, looking down your talented nose at those who would drink Fuzion.

    Come and visit me @ for more astute observations.

  7. The LCBO is also called THE LIQUOR BARN. So named by comedian Ron James.

  8. 8 Peter Lynn

    @klaatu: I do love being a pompous bore, but let me quote Malcolm on this matter:

    “There are two types of wine people: those who know wine, and those who understand wine. There are more snobs in the first category, but more appreciators in the second. This is because real appreciators know that 90 percent of the world’s wine ranges from paint thinner to very decent vin ordinaire, aka table wine, aka plonk. The remaining 10 percent ranges from excellent to amazing–and, occasionally, sublime. People who know wine will usually take a “once you’ve had the best …” attitude; the appreciators simply know better, and they enjoy wine for what it is: the perfect drink when eating.

    People buy Fuzion because it’s good value. There is no other reason to buy it. What your rabid wine snob doesn’t realize is that wine-making technology is so good these days that a very decent table wine like Fuzion is easy and inexpensive to manufacture. For example, the Spanish just invented a full-bodied red with half the alcohol content (the principle factor in a wine’s body), just to drink with lunch. The Argentines have done the opposite, jacking up the alcohol in some whites to 16%–sheer madness, but a technological innovation nonetheless.

    What Foaming Snob means to say is that Fuzion is not a superb wine, which is true. My bike isn’t amazing either, but it’s fast and gets me around. For that matter Foaming Snob’s palette isn’t all that great either–and he is obviously above a wine that sells for under $10. Maybe $15. His loss.

    Just btw, wine people in Ontario tend to have a very warped way of thinking about wine because i) the price-to-quality ratio is skewed by outrageous taxes (Fuzion would probably sell for $2 in Argentina), ii) limited supply (why can’t I buy Cahors on a regular basis?) and iii) the LCBO’s buying power (they buy more alcohol products by volume than any other purchaser on the planet) means they control, to a great degree, wine reviews.

    If you’re interested in this stuff, I highly recommend the documentary Mondo Vino. It tells it like it is.

    Here endeth the lesson.”

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