Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I traveled 50 miles just to find them.

Well, to be entirely honest, I was also up in Napa for the opening of the new Gamling and McDuck tasting room. 

But there's a Walmart nearby and the grocery chain had promised that its new Winemakers Selection offers (mostly) $11 wines that taste like $40 wines.

The Napa Walmart didn't have any. Indeed, I couldn't find a Walmart that did. So I was sent five of them from HQ to taste.

When it comes to evaluating a wine, I'm not a sipper. In my occasional Alcohol By Volume series, I try and live with a wine by drinking (sharing, you understand) at least a bottle. 

I know the professionals sip and spit.

I'm a mere human who likes some wines and doesn't like others. I think there are more of me than there are professionals and my sort of people find some wine experts pretentious and spiteful.

We, on the other hand, prefer to drink more than a spitful.

Walmart sent me five of the reds, so I randomly chose the Italian Red Blend as my first victim.

This is, allegedly, "a blend of red from across the most important Italian wine regions (and grapes): Puglia (primitivo), Abruzzo (montepulciano), Sicily (nero d'Avola) and Veneto (merlot)."

It's also among the best $10.96 wines I've ever tasted.

You expect cheap wine to veer toward a liquid bucket of fruit infused with vast levels of alcohol or a watery swill that tastes like it was made from cherries found by a roadside after they'd been squashed by a group of wanton wild turkeys.

This Red Blend had a remarkable depth of texture. It was like meeting a crass Wall Street banker and hearing him talk intelligently about global warming. Or at least the collected works of Britney Spears.

The Chianti Riserva, however, didn't incite me to hitting it one more time. It was the only bottle of the five that sat on my kitchen counter for days, partially drunk and unloved.

Which is how I know one or two people sometimes end their Friday nights.

It veered far too directly toward water and acid -- rarely a good blend -- rather than entice with uplifting flavor. Perhaps that's why, on its website, Walmart seems to talk more about the design of the label than the actual wine.

Oddly, this is the only wine of the five I tried that isn't $10.96. It's $15.96.

Price is rarely an indicator of pleasure.

The Chianti Classico, on the other hand, entered my mouth and said: "Look, that Riserva's been out on the town a little too much. It's often the worse for wear. I, on the other hand, look around Italy, see how everything is crumbling around me, yet maintain my poise with my chin-chin held high."

This, again, had a remarkable amount of subtle body for a cheap fling. By this stage, I was becoming suspicious that Walmart's marketing people hadn't been exaggerating for once. 

These wines were more than decent and, if I hadn't know they had the Walmart label attached, I'd find them certainly worth more than twice their price. 

In California, it's rare to find any decent red wine for less than $25, unless it's in a box.

Newly emboldened, I was on to the Sangiovese.  The label carries a logo that looks, for all the world, like some sort of secret society symbol. It's a blend of a Z and a 4

The Z-4. The club that three of the G-7 just can't get into. (And you know which three.)

Upon further review, this strange sign is actually the symbol for Jupiter, as Sangiovese -- Sanguis Jovis -- is the blood of Jupiter.

This wine certainly didn't taste as if it came from Planet Walmart. 

It stayed on the right side of the spice spectrum -- so Ginger Spice, rather than Mel B -- and was a perfect complement to a less than perfect dish from Blue Apron. (I'm sure it was my execution, rather than Blue Apron's recipe.)

By now, you might imagine that Walmart has a peculiar fixation with Italian wines.

This collection, in fact, enjoys some French and even a little Californian.

Fortunately, my final wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles.

Should you have never ventured to those parts, Paso is still a relatively undiscovered joy, around three hours south of San Francisco.

It's home to the astonishingly civilized Adelaida Winery, as well as many others that enjoy their own peculiar, joyful characteristics.

I am, however, a little biased when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon.

As a Wine Ambassador for Honig Winery in Napa, well-known for its Cabs, I occasionally venture across California to see how others are making theirs.

Yet this was the first $10.96 Cab I'd (knowingly) tasted. 

This one drifted past my teeth to the back of my mouth, as if it had known me for a while.

It made itself at home without being loud, overbearing or full of itself. 

Instead, it was impeccably behaved and made extremely polite and even insightful conversation with a chicken and couscous dish. 

Oh, I'm not supposed to pair a Cab with chicken? I'm a disgrace to all around me.

Soon, there was nothing left of the Cab. All that remained was the Chiani Riserva, pleading that no, no, it had never had any dealings with Silvio Berlusconi.

Who knows why Walmart has suddenly risen to these wines? Perhaps it would like to win wine awards, as have its rivals such as Aldi.

To my life-addled palate, however, the wines I tasted were almost all remarkably civilized and surprisingly balanced in taste.

That's a rarity in cheap wine, just as it is in people these days.

Published on: Jul 15, 2018