This is the first installment of Indefensible Food - a series in which our intrepid team will sample products we all see on the grocery and liquor shelves, yet never quite have the moxie to try.
Don't ever buy a bottle of anything called "wine product." It tastes like sugar juice haunted by grapes. And don't cook with it.
It's illegal to sell wine in grocery stores in New York City. It has something to do with local wine and liquor stores and laws that have helped them stay competitive. I didn't know this. I just grabbed a bottle of something called "Chateau Diana California Merlot" at the grocery.
You see, I was on a mission to make dinner for my girlfriend. I decided to bust it fancy and make her a "Coq au Vin." Which in English, means chicken and wine. In my experience, chicken and anything is a great culinary bet. Chicken and waffles. Chicken and dumplings. Chicken and ice cream (that last one was something I invented with my friends Ben, Jerry and the Colonel.)
Everything was going well. Browned the bacon. Removed the bacon. Browned chicken thighs and legs in bacon fat. Threw in diced onions, carrots and garlic. Added chicken stock, a bunch of fresh herbs, salt, pepper and wine product. Then cook until you have a pot of fowl slow cooked in glorified Capri Sun.
My ladypal was very sweet. She ate a bowl of the resulting mess. For a brief moment, I thought she actually liked it and cheerfully said "Seconds?" She winced. Now, "wine product" isn't actually wine. It's cheap table wine diluted with water, sugar, juice concentrate and desperation.
My Coq au Vin was supposed to be a hearty red color. But it turned out a purplish gray, like a dead Barney the Dinosaur. It was bruise soup. It tasted ... bland. The sting of sugar was more present than any tang of wine. That she ate any of it is a testament to either her feelings for me or her excellent upbringing.
That's how I learned a valuable lesson: Always read the label.