What is plonk, really?
I got to thinking about this while reading the $5 wine thread.
Is plonk BAD wine, i.e., defective, thin, unbalanced? Or is it simply good sound wine that is not particularly distinctive?
I think the $5 Spanish and Portuguese wines I've been buying (for example) are sound and creditable, but not fascinating. Good everyday wine. There's no reason to denigrate such wine. You'd probably be served such wine at an average restaurant in those countries; would you reject it as plonk?
Is life really too short to drink such wine? Hardly, I think.
I'm just trying to get clarity on a definition here.
For the most part I think plonk is a pretty subjective term. There is probably some wine that is just so unsatisfying that nobody can stomach it, but there is likely a pleased customer for just about all of it. My go-to statistic refers to what I'm sure I've read is around 18 million cases of Charles Shaw sold each year by Trader Joe's. If it's plonk, it has a huge following.
First of all, life really is too short for bad wine. That is one of the principles by which I live. The other comes from St. Augustine: "The world is a book. Those who do not travel read only one page."
Plonk is uninteressting wine that is practically tasteless or worse. It is a beverage that does not encourage you to relift your glass. We still have lots of it down here in Roussillon where there still are too many young Carignan vines. Nevertheless I am happy to report after 12 years here that I now have a list of worthy addresses far too long for me to visit even in three afternoons.
"Those who do not travel read only one page."
This affords my corrolary to bclevy's earlier comment on French bistros: no one who visits only Paris will learn much of French food or wine.
Back when he wrote an excellent popular US introductory wine book 50 years ago, Franco-American journalist Blake Ozias mentioned that his usual practice circa Lyon was to order "un petit pichet de Beaujolais" and that this was how much of the basic Beaujolais, including the transient en-primeur and "nouveau" variants, was then consumed -- from bulk. (That was before the French Ag Ministry got behind promoting Beaujolais Nouveau annually to foreigners, many of whom today know Beaujolais wines solely in that offshoot form.)
Plonk is a bit like pornography: No one agrees with exactly what it is, but -- as the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), "I know it when I see it." Or, in this case, taste it.
Plonk is NOT a defective wine. That would, rather, be a defective wine. Or, perhaps, "$#|+."
Plonk is simply an inexpensive, thin, insipid, uninteresting, why-are-we-wasting-our-time-and-money-on-this-boring-stuff wine . . .
It is NOT the same as a disappointing wine -- think high-end wine that doesn't impress (or satisfy). That would be "dreck." Indeed, "disappointing dreck."
There is no doubt that, as has previously been written, life is too short for bad wine. But plonk is something else, and to that, I would say life is too short to drink BORING wines . . .
When I hear "plonk" I think of the time when wine was a mere beverage--sold by degre (11, 12, etc) in "Vins et Charbons" shops run by Auvergnats in Paris and other big towns. I'm old enough to remember seeing them in Paris in the summer of 65. This morphed into the Nicolas and other negociant bottled mass table wines of no major defects, little character, and no specific provenance, perhaps except for Languedoc and maybe Puglia. Wine was like water at a meal, or a petit blanc at a cafe. I do remember, though, how wonderful it was to discover "small" country wines as house wines--a St. Pourcain in Lyon, a Crepy in Grenoble, a fresh Cotes du Rhone by the vrac from a coop in Rochegude. These were not, I think, plonk at all.