Cheap Wine, Priceless Friendship

As great as wine is on its own, sharing it in good company makes it that much better. This is true even when the bottle is never opened.


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“We were in the city today and we found this rare cheese,” said Klaus, unwrapping a waxy-looking, caramel-brown block. We and our guests gamely nibbled the strange stuff. “It’s from Norway. You know it’s really cold there and they don’t have a lot of cows, but they do have all those fjords. It’s Norwegian whale cheese.” We blinked at him. “They have specially trained divers there who milk the whales to make this cheese,” he continued, smiling. Light dawned.

Everyone ought to have a friend like Klaus. It was not long into our friendship with Klaus and his wife Sabine that we invited them over for a casual bring-your-own wine tasting. Klaus presented us with a bottle wrapped in an ostentatious silver-lamé sheath. “This,” he announced, “is a special wine for a special occasion. This is a benchmark wine.” With unwitting anticipation we extracted this enological wonder—to reveal the plastic-coated, fruit-bedecked bottle of Yago Sant’Gria inside. “I didn’t,” observed our guest, “say which benchmark it was going to be.”

A word about Yago Sant’Gria: it’s a light, sweetened, fruit-flavored red wine from Spain that retails at our local wine shop for $4.49 a bottle. Far be it from me to malign other people’s tastes: de gustibus non est disputandum. But this bottling was not the voluptuous Rioja or Ribera del Duero that this crowd was looking for, and we all had a good chuckle as we proceeded to uncork the “real” wines we’d be drinking that night.

The next time we visited our friends at their house, the mister and I, having saved the Sant’Gria, simply rewrapped the bottle and presented it to our hosts, declaring it a homing wine returning to roost. Thus began a tradition that stretches nearly into a decade, with bottles of Yago being exchanged in increasingly sneaky and elaborate ruses.

One time, Klaus induced a sommelier to bring the wine to our table in a restaurant. In turn, we saved a Dom Perignon gift box and relabeled the Yago to read: This Ain’t No Dom. Bottles of Yago turn up in blind tastings and homemade gift baskets; they have sprouted in the garden like tulips (Yagonensis Primavera) and dangled from a carefully balanced mobile consisting of plastic wine glasses and artificial fruit.

I am the proud owner of a customized license-plate frame that reads Ask Me About Yago, while Klaus and Sabine treasure a bottle of Yago dressed in a plastic banana skirt and lemon bra that commemorates a visit to a Josephine Baker review. When we unleashed an entire case of the stuff in their backyard, they retaliated with a giant pyramid sculpture of Yago bottles anchored to a 50-pound piece of granite for the entire neighborhood to admire while we were away for a weekend.

The mister and I, we love wine. We think it’s the juice of life. We wait patiently for our California Cabernets to mature. We savor a crisp-cold Alsatian Riesling on a steamy summer evening. We swoon over a rich Amarone. But ask us, “What’s your favorite wine of all time?”—and we’d probably have to answer, Yago Sant’Gria. Because as great as wine tastes all on its own, it’s the conviviality that makes it taste that much better.

How much more delicious is a great wine with a helping of laughter on the side? And, hey, Klaus and Sabi: just you wait ’til you see what we’ve got planned.

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