“What is boxed wine?” my friend asks. I looked at her like she had just landed in the coffee shop in a spaceship.

I absolutley love cheap wine, and the boxed variety is a staple in the world of budget hooch. We started talking and it turned out that my friend had obviously been sheltered by her life of privilege. She had never had Two Buck Chuck Trader Joe’s infamous Charles Shaw wine (nicknamed “Two Buck Chuck” thanks to its $2.00 price tag in many locations). Actually she didn’t seem to register recognition for ANY wine under $20. I could barely believe it – surely she had been on a date with a man who was NOT rich? Surely at some point in her life she had thrown a dinner party on a tight budget?

I suppose the cause of my surprise comes from a simple difference in our economic situations. Her world of never looking at a price tag is certainly as foreign to me as raspberry mango flavored chardonnay is to her. She has never been forced to choose between buying 3 bottles of 7 dollar wine or splitting one bottle with 5 people when she throws a birthday party. She’s never heard of cheap wine because she’s never had to seek out an alternative to her expensive wine. While having a friend with such tastes is certainly educational to me – and I absolutely think a refined palate is a useful thing to cultivate – a taste for expensive wines is definitely not a preference I want to develop in myself too strongly. I simply can’t afford it.

To many of us used to being on a budget from college onward, budget wine is less cause for a wrinkled nose and disgusted look, and more a matter of doing the best we can with the little we have. People just beginning their careers and starting to socialize in a semi-adult way want to have parties too, after all. Fresh out of college, if your desired form of celebrating is somewhere in between keg parties and kir royales a few bottles of cheap red and white is just the trick. Maybe we can’t spend a hundred dollars for our friends who no longer like beer. We can at least try to accomodate their drink preference without spending our rent money.

Not that you have to be a young twenty-something to prefer something from the bottom shelf. I think the recession is helping with the stigma of cheap wine. I used to feel a bit self-conscious about serving friends obviously cheap wine with unimpressive names like Cupcake or Barefoot. Now most people I know prefer to pay their electric bill to impressing people with their wine snobbery. With going out more expensive than ever, hanging at home with a few friends and 20 dollars worth of wine is just about the perfect price range for a lot of us in this economy.

I’ve also noticed that the same way young hipsters appropriated Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, many are enhancing their irony status with the super cheap type of wine that more closely resembles battery acid than fermented grapes. In the spirit of my wine equality policy I am all for giving something that claims to be a peach wine a try (at least once). But if you keep bringing over something that tastes like Listerine and telling me it’s “what homeless people drink”…well, for your own good, I probably won’t let your bring your own beverages again. I can forgive oxfords, huge plastic eyeglass frames, and having 7 women in my house with the same thick bangs. And I am no longer ashamed to serve Two Buck Chuck without pouring it into a decanter first. I just have to draw the line at them serving each other Cisco Red.

I’ll have stop meeting this friend out, and force her to drink in my living room sometime. The last time we spoke, she still hadn’t tried boxed wine. I’m hoping she will get curious enough to go find some. I think she would be pleasantly surprised.