What’s better than a tacky wine tasting party of drug store vintages? (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Drugstore Vintages: A tasting of memorable corner shop wines

Yes, okay? I buy tacky wine.

I used to be classy. On any given Friday, I’d slip out my Inner Sunset apartment in head-to-toe sequins, holding a chilled wine bottle adorned with an ornate label, and make my way to the latest house party. After appropriate “oohs” and “ahs” over my outfit, I’d explain the bottle I brought could only be purchased from a special wine castle in Calistoga— and how I went there last Sunday on a third date with a very handsome, emotionally available, and totally made up Jewish doctor.

But nowadays — pre-quarantine, that is — I’ve been spraying a fresh coat of Febreze on my Pac Man suit and hurrying out the door with exactly nothing in hand or worse: a re-gift of wine brought into my home. My friend caught on to my most reliable habit and called me out in event invites, “Perhaps Saul will grace us with a bottle from his Drugstore Wine collection.”

I feel that comment requires no explanation. Yes, okay? I buy tacky wine. Just before shelter-in-place happened, we all thought it might be fun to rate the stuff and had a small party. Don’t worry: we kept appropriate social distance. Friends brought toilet paper rolls as gifts. My ex-boyfriend hugged me goodbye, and I immediately doused myself in sanitizer from head to toe while he stood there.

The following is a selection of bottles, miniature bottles, and box wine from local drugstores, Trader Joe’s, and my personal favorite: the Castro 7-Eleven (3998 18th St.) with an almost full wall section of rosé wine, and over-priced, sold out Andre bubbly. Friend’s reviews below by first name only:

Barefoot Bubbly Brut Rose in a mini bottle

Consensus: 2 out of 5 stars

Lee: “It’s vile and cloyingly sweet, with really strong notes of aspartame.”

Topher: “My first sip nearly came out my nose. I had to sit down, but not in a good way.”

Writer’s note: My last name is Sugarman. It’s probably in my genes to like sweet things. I hate how tacky the Barefoot label looks and would never bring it as a party gift. Having said that, I didn’t hate this one, and I always thought mini bottles would be great for—ahem—more serious drinkers to store in their desks at work.

The ex, Jonathan, had a few unpopular opinions at this party. On this wine, he said, “I don’t think it’s that bad but I don’t think it’s great.”

Crane Lake. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Crane Lake Cabernet Sauvignon

Consensus: 4 out of 5 stars

Topher: “Drinkable.”

Bryan: “It tastes just like a drugstore wine, in an, ‘I’m trying to be fancy, but I come from the drugstore,’ sort of way.”

Jonathan: “A little too sweet. Kind of reminded me of sewage.”

Naked Grape. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Naked Grape Cabernet Sauvignon in a box

Consensus: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Jhia: “When I watch The Bachelor with my girl friends, we drink red wine out of a Black Box— it’s a thing. I thought this Naked Grape would also be okay, but I actually had to pour it down the drain, and I am never that bitch.”

John (a different ex-boyfriend than Jonathan): “Honestly, it’s better than I thought it would be.”

Bryan: “Is it thick?”

John: “Yeah, thick.”

Bryan later, not tasting the alcohol: “Who brought the grape juice?”

Jonathan: “When I poured it, it sprayed all over the place. It kind of reminds me of a mulled wine a little bit.”

Topher: “It’s not entirely unlike red wine.”

Yes Way Rose. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Yes Way Rosé

Consensus: 1 out of 5 stars

Marcus: “Oh, God. It smells like someone farted. This one’s metallic and bites back. The aftertaste isn’t the aftertaste— it’s just the taste, and it stays with you. Someone left that bottle out and just said, ‘f—k it, I’ll drink it tomorrow.”

Jhia: “It tastes like 2019.”

Bryan: “It tastes like stainless steel— clearly, it wasn’t aged in cedar or oak. It’d probably make a great disinfectant.”

Bandit Chardonnay in a box

Consensus: 1 out of 5 stars

Lee: “It tastes like ball bearings.”

Jonathan: “This is undrinkable— too metallic. I can’t finish it.”

Apothic Rose. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Apothic Rosé

Consensus: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Marcus: “It has no legs, but it doesn’t seem to bite back. It’s not metallic. It’s smooth and a bit bright. The aftertaste is really dry.”

Bryan: “This is 10 times better than the Yes Way Rosé. Now that I’ve tasted the good stuff, I can’t think of a positive thing to say for the other one. It’s buttery.”

Jonathan: “This is too sweet. I like the Yes Way Rosé better.”

Firesteed Pinot Noir. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Firesteed Pinot Noir

Consensus: 1 out of 5 stars

Bryan: “In my childhood, all we had on television was two channels: PAX TV, which played ‘Touched by an Angel,’ and Fox News. Paid programming was on PAX after 9 pm, and one of the infomercials was for bass fishing pro shop bait. This wine tastes like the rubber from that bait.”

Topher: “I can’t. I just can’t.”

Marcus: “I’d rather chew on a tire.”

We had a couple other bottles and boxes, but admittedly after a certain point, the party became less of a tasting and more of a bunch of people stumbling around on cheap wine. I will give an honorable mention, however, to the non-alcoholic beverage I found in Bryan’s refrigerator. It’s good for any occasion, and at least a couple people had never tried it.

Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider

Consensus: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Jhia: “Hands down, the best. We drank only Martinelli’s instead of champagne on New Years. And I love champagne.”

Bryan: “I actually enjoy it, it would go great with salami.”

Marcus: “Actually, it’s not bad. It’s tingly on the top, but it’s really not bad.” (He rated it the best of all that we drank that night.)

Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer and apparel designer. Last Call with Saul appears every other Sunday in the Examiner. He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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