Welcome friends to Wino Wednesdays; a place where the tasty and the tipsy meet! Every Wednesday (so long as I am sober enough) I will review the previous week's noteworthy alcohol consumptions-namely: wines, beers, and cocktails that stood out (for better or worse) and deserve some literary attention. I will include, whenever possible, photos and/or videos of relevant "nectars of the gods," and sincerely hope that you may find yourself enjoyably lightheaded and dizzy after this segment. So kick back, crack open, pour, sip, shoot, or chug, but always do so responsibly!
Monday (May 9):
This past week saw me consume my fair share of delicious adult drinks, which before, and especially after bombing the GRE, were much needed. While I prefer wine over all alcoholic beverages, I can always appreciate a well made (and strong) cocktail and a refreshing beer, cerveza-Spanish, cervesa-Catalan, or olut-Finnish.
Now then, I began last Monday in a rather nervy mood, as the forecoming Graduate Record Examination dominated my thoughts. To calm the sweat-inducing pre-exam jitters, I decided to indulge that night in the archetypal Brazilian cocktail. What do I refer to my readers?-but the magical Caipirinha (pronounced "kai-pi'rinyah"). According to my good friend Wikipedia, the name Caipirinha:
is "the diminutive version of the word caipira, which refers to someone from the countryside, being an almost exact equivalent of the American English hillbilly."
Given the remarkable strength of the unassuming cocktail and the stereotypes of hillbillies as drunkards, I suppose the association has merit. Yet, who knew that drinking a "hillbilly" could be so delicious and powerful? My introduction to the exquisitely lime-tinged, cloud-splitting cooler, which should possess just a hint of natural sugar-cane sweetness, occurred during my time south of the equator, in, you guessed it, Latin America.
Having spent several years in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts, two cities known for their Brazilian populations, I was nominally familiar with the cocktail, but had not, until May 2009 sampled it. While living in the northern Chilean port city of Antofagasta, I had the pleasure of downing a fine introductory Caipirinha at a Brazilian restaurant along with some feijouada, a hearty stew of beans, sausage, pork, and beef. What in appearance resembled a cheap knockoff of the classic Mojito, was literally and figuratively a knockout. Caipirinhas are often deceptively strong alcoholic beverages, that depending on the vendor, can sneak right up on you like this.
Once consumed only in Brazil, Caipirinha is now an international cocktail that I've ordered with varying results in Spain, Argentina, Chile, the United States, Uruguay, and Portugal. Its ingredients consist of: Cachaça (Brazilian clear rum), several slices of muddled limes, coarse natural sugar cane, and plenty of ice.
Not wanting to drink alone, I decided to make two-one for me, and one for my eager roommate. Needless to say, I like my drinks strong, and one Caipirinha sufficed. To make each one, I used:
-1 Old Fashioned glass
-1 lime: washed, with some of its rind, and its entire pith removed, cut into 8 small slices, placed in the bottom of the glass, then muddled with...
-3 teaspoons of course natural cane sugar-sprinkled on top,
-Crushed ice filling the remaining space in the glass,
-2 shots of Cachaça 51-Brazil's most popular Cachaça (1 litre costs $19.99@ my local liquor store) poured nearly to the brim
-All stirred together with a friendly straw (preferably a "bendy" one).
The result looked like this...
Pretty isn't it? If concocting my own, I usually consume a Caipirinha during warmer weather as an aperitif (that's pre-dinner drink for the non-french conscious) or during a night out (be conscious of the "latinness" of the establishment you order from as a general indicator of its quality/strength), but you should feel free to indulge anytime you need to cool down. It may take 10 minutes or so to create, but when done correctly, it is all you need for a pleasant end to an evening. One of these suckers nearly put me out of commission before 21:00, aka old people bedtime hour.
Saturday (May 14):I love Trader Joes. I will be the first one to admit it. I love their delicious salty and/or sweet snacks, their dried fruits, their surprisingly tasty frozen and packaged meals, their (relatively) cheap prices, and yes my friends, their wine section. Unfortunately, not every Trader Joes on the east coast, or maybe just in Puritan Massachusetts, sells wine and beer, but the old store on Memorial Drive in Cambridge does. The Memorial Drive TJ's has long been a staple of Cambridgeport families and Cambridge/Brookline yuppies looking for affordable goods, quick meals, and a decently priced wine or beer fix. Not that one shops at Trader Joes for fine wine, but their selection and variety always pleasantly surprises.
I found myself wandering around Memorial Drive away from Harvard Square one frustratingly grey, chilly spring Saturday afternoon being magically pulled downstream toward a certain grocery store. Waltzing through the automatic doors, I grabbed a plastic red basket and proceeded to amass my usual TJ's staples: dried mango, turkey jerkey, Fage yogurt, cumin-spiced chickpeas, bananas, amongst others. Thankfully the wine and beer section is at the far end of the store (otherwise I'd load up on wine and forget the rest of my groceries :) When it comes to purchasing wine, I have high standards. I usually buy one bottle a week, spend between $8 and $17 dollars (unless it's a special occasion) and go for bottles from regions that I've heard of or know by taste. I also enjoy alternating between white and red wines depending on the forthcoming meal, but tend to stick to reds in the fall/winter, and whites in the spring/summer.
This time it would be a white. I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and try a less common varietal. Browsing the white wine shelves, I happened upon two potential candidates. The first was a 2009 Anjou (a Chenin Blanc varietal-typically dry, straw-colored, and fuller bodied) for $14.99-a respectable price for an import of its stature, and the other, a 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer (a finicky white wine grape best expressed by wines from its native Alsace region) for $8.99. I decided that I wanted to shop as "locally" as possible. It may be that a flight to France from Boston is of equal duration as one to Washington state, but I reasoned that supporting a domestic producer was more sustainable, besides, I have had Vouvrays before (another Chenin Blanc varietal).
At some point purchasing an untested bottle of wine is guesswork. My palate may not be insured for $1 million dollars a-la Robert Parker, and I do not keep up with vintages, but I am also not an amateur. Often, my final decisions are based on price, but despite never having tried one, I had a good sense about this "Gewürz." I knew the Columbia Valley to be a respectable producer of Rieslings and if nothing else, Gewürztraminer was a German sounding word that I incorrectly assumed to have originated in Germany, so I went with it. *Interesting side note: most Gewürz bottles possess a similar oblong shape to those of the more popular Riesling.
Having played a full 90 minute soccer match earlier, I was physically drained and wanted to enjoy my wine with a simple and delicious dinner. I concocted for my supper a hearty salad (no that's not a contradiction) of arugula, avocado, grape tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, several thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma, capers, and a mild white wine vinaigrette, with a day old baguette on the side.
'White wines, I reasoned, naturally go with cured ham and salads, so this would be perfect.' And perfect it was. The wine itself had a pleasant and subtle effervescence not unlike some young Sauvignon Blancs, and was not overly dry. It had a very vivacious floral nose-reminiscent of chamomile and rose, and upon first taste burst of passion fruit with hints of honey. If the Gewürz began crisply, it ended lusciously, finishing with a soft and inviting tone that immediately coaxed the tongue for another taste Needless to say, it was delicious, of solid value, perfectly toned the saltiness of the prosciutto, and added its own spruce to that evening's gastronomic experience. Two large glasses were suitable to wash down my fibrous, protein packed dinner. I would both highly recommend this wine and definitely buy it again. My unfounded prejudice against Germany and boycott of German sounding products might at one point have prevented me from even considering such a wine, but I'm thankful that on this occasion I overcame these ridiculous ethnocentric tendencies.
Monday (May 16):
Lastly, we come to the beer portion of this lengthy beverage report. I might have a lot of room to increase my wine repertoire and palate, but I definitively know what I like in beers. My go to beer is Leffe Blonde, a caramel colored strong Belgian ale with a zippy, yet subtle toasty malt finish. The Wine and Cheese Cask on Washington Street in Somerville is a frequent stop on my way home from work, and aside from its extensive wine and liquor shelves, houses a very respectable collection of domestic and imported beers. If wine selection takes me between 10 an 15 minutes of browsing, my beer selection usually occupies 7 to 10. My plans for dinner that night included a spicy rice pilaf with beans, tofu, and sauteed vegetables, so I thought that a medium-bodied, flavorful, and crisp beer was in order. In other words, I could turn to a Belgian Blond. Inspired by the success of my Gewürz adventure, though I decided to try a new beer.
Back and forth between the four refrigerated shelves I stuttered, in search of the one solid brew that would stand up, but not overwhelm. It's always comforting when I can narrow down a decision to two choices, which I succeeded in doing within my requisite 7 minutes. On the one hand I sighted a Belgian "Abbey Ale" called Affligem Blond and on the other, a Czech lager called "Czechvar," which, as I later found out, was a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch. My gut instinct said Affligem, but my wild side said Czechvar. In the end, I went with my gut (where excessive beer gets deposited anyway) and was ultimately pleased. The beer, as I suspected, was similar to Leffe, though not quite as arousing. I do not pretend to be a beer connoisseur and have not toured the Trappist abbeys of Belgium, but Leffe for me, is just about the closest beer comes to perfection. Admittedly, the Affligem wasn't bad, it just lacked the final satisfying punch of Leffe. It nevertheless possessed a similar caramel color, offered a subtle maltiness, and finished with ease. All-in all it was a decent purchase (though slightly overpriced at $12.29 per six-pack) and suitably light for my filling rice pilaf.
A final blurb on "Abbey Ales" and "Trappist Beer" learned again from my buddy Wikipedia: Belgium has seven Trappist monasteries that are licensed under European and Belgian laws to produce beers for public consumption. As such, Trappist Beer qualifies as a controlled term of origin (just like Prosciutto di Parma, Chablis wine, and Gouda cheese). Among the most well known are Chimay and Westmalle. Abbey Ales, by contrast, are made by commercial breweries who reap the benefits of associations with Trappist breweries by imitating their styles and names. Both Leffe and Affligem are Abbey Ales. Interesting, no?
Boy do I love Wino Wednesdays! Why? Because I get to talk about delicious alcoholic beverages of course! But also because I can temporarily overuse adjectives and set aside my eternal efforts to pair down my prose. In any case, look out next week for another edition of Wino Wednesdays. And here's to you! Cheers, Chin-Chin, Salud, Salut, Kippis!