As Eric Asimov reported in today's Times, a newfound stinginess on the part of America's wine drinkers has not been kind to the California wine industry—and I'll admit that my recent buying patterns have made me a part of the problem. If you're also more concerned about your own bottom line than that of some grower in Napa (who, let's face it, had it pretty damn good for most of the 2000's), allow me to offer a recommendation: Ravenswood Vintners Blend Merlot. On the face of it, you couldn't dream up a less promising bottle of wine. For one thing, there's the brand itself. Once a cult winery known for its assertive Zins, Ravenswood sold out to a conglomerate in 2001, basically trading its indie cred for a bunch of cash. And, sure enough, for a few years after the deal, its wines seemed to have become the enological equivalent of a Black Eyed Peas record hidden inside a Sonic Youth cover. But then, for reasons unknown—someone maybe decided that making decent wine is actually more fun and more profitable?—the ship righted itself, and a bottle of Ravenswood is again a pretty reliable quaff. Then there's the grape itself: Merlot. Even five years on, the varietal is still recovering from the Sideways effect. But while Paul Giamatti's rantings sent your parents and their friends dashing off to the Pinot aisles, Merlot—the grape of Château Pétrus, mind you—quietly became a dependable bargain. Throw in a financial meltdown, the worst recession in decades, and bam, here we are, talking about $9 bottles of Ravenswood Vintners Blend Merlot.
So…is it good? It's nine dollars. Of course it's not fucking good. What it is, however, is surprisingly, uncomplicatedly drinkable—even "gulpable," as one reviewer recently put it—and, Great Recession or not, a red you can sip without wincing for under $10 is a minor miracle. Plus, as a bonus, it goes great with Rib eye à la Rapoport.