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Cheap Wine & Cheaper Words #3: Crime Wine / Anthony Neil Smith

It's inevitable, I suppose, that we tend to like "things that call attention to what we like without actually being part of that thing." For example, I'm a crime writer, so I like wine that has a "crime" element to it. The hypocrisy of it is that I cringe when writers post photos of bottles of Writer's Tears whiskey as if they're the first people to have ever discovered it, or, knowing they're not, think it's still funny/cool to do so anyway.

So of course I used to buy Big House wine boxes, which then sat on my makeshift bar cart for months as I slowly swilled away at it, giggling every time I unleashed another glass from the spout. Look at those tough gangsters! Taste the wrongdoing!

Of course, those gangsters probably drank Italian wine.

I often paired these with goldfish crackers sprinkled with Tony Chachere cajun seasoning.

Then this other brand came along, hailing from Australia - the land of criminals! It was called 19 Crimes and features a olde-fashioned mugshot on every bottle. And it was relatively cheap.

When 19 Crimes went on sale this past week at my local booze shop for eight bucks a bottle, I decided to pick one up. It had been a long time since I'd had one. And the one I chose was this shiraz.

A few words about shiraz: it was my gateway wine. I didn't start drinking any alcohol until grad school mainly due to earlier religious animosity towards the stuff, and a stint of about seven years living with an alcoholic step-dad who did not make drunkenness look glam at all. One night he even pissed in my parrot's bird cage, blackout drunk or he just didn't like my parrot. Whatever. Mom divorced him and we all moved on.

But I finally decided to try some beer myself at the "after workshop" dinners our group would have at the (appropriately named) Purple Parrot, or that one I can't remember, or that other one I can't remember, or (when my pal Victor and I got our way) Bubba's. I think we were the only two who liked Bubba's. So I developed a taste for beer.

But then that same pal said I should try some shiraz. I really hadn't had any wine before, except sips from the communion cup when I visited my grandma's Episcopal church, or when my parents let me try some (awful) white zinfandel at the Tiki steakhouse. So I tried it and liked it. And for several years, that was pretty much my exclusive wine. Lindemann's, Penfold's, Yellow Tail (before they became the crazy massive company it is today). Loved me some shiraz. It was sweet and sharp, and very good with the creole classics I had to learn to cook if I wanted any once I moved a thousand plus miles away from the South - jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, etc.

Then South Park made fun of it.

Goddamn it.

I drifted away from Australian shiraz into merlot, red zin, and a lot of dirt cheap red blends - Red Truck especially. It took longer to find my new all-time fave, the mighty cabernet sauvignon from California, but it all started with bottom-row shiraz I could buy at the grocery store.

So back to 19 Crimes (I don't know why I'm italicizing it, but too lazy to go undo it now). It had criminals on it. It was cheapish and then just got cheaper. And this particular bottle...was fine. It didn't do much for me at all, but was drinkable. The test for most glasses of wine is the next glass. Some are middle-of-the-road at first before mellowing into something inoffensive to help pass the evening. Or, more likely, afternoon. Some make your face pucker until the refill, then mellow into "Must...reach...comfortably numb!"

And some I just sip a few times, go, "Nope" and pour right the fuck down the drain. Bye bye, ten bucks.

I've poured enough malbecs down the drain to finally realize all malbecs suck.

I guess I'm passed the "crime wines must be good because I like crime fiction and movies" phase of life. I've even branched away from only buying wines with cool labels. I mean, labels are in the eye of the beholder, and I have discovered my tastes towards what a "cool" label is change when promised a better tasting plonk.

But if you are drinking crime wines and want something to eat and read with them, I'd suggest crab dip from CostCo (and believe me, I'll do one of these on Kirkland wines in the new year. I just discovered those and WOW) along with Ritz crackers.

For pages, I'm on a David Goodis kick right now, catching up on some of his I haven't read. Goodis is the king of depressing noir, "loser" noir, what have you. His losers are some grand cru losers, I'll tell you that for sure. Goodis was a loser himself, in a way. He had a talent that everyone recognized as major major American literary icon level talent. Seriously. Dark Passage, y'all.

Then Hollywood came calling and ruined his life.

So Goodis went back to Philly, wrote some of the finest pulp noir hack novels of all time, and was hardly ever recognized for it in his lifetime.

Oh, yeah, you can probably see how Goodis is a personal hero of mine, then. A role model, if you will.

Drink up, snack up, read some Cassidy's Girl followed by watching Bad Santa. I know I will.

And stay off Twitter drunk. That's some Proverbs-level advice right there, my friends.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and keep it cheap.


ANTHONY NEIL SMITH is a mystery/crime fiction writer who has had a great number of his short stories published in literary magazines and crime writing zines, and has also published numerous novels. His work ha appeared in Best American Mystery & Suspense 2023. He is co-creator of the well-received online noir journal Plots with Guns. He was also an associate editor with the highly regarded literary magazine Mississippi Review, having put together several special issues featuring crime fiction for the online edition. He currently edits Revolution John and is a Professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, MN.

1 Comment

Mark Rogers
Mark Rogers
Dec 22, 2023

I've read Cassidy's Girl twice - my favorite Goodis. Time for read three.

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