As life ceases or goes dormant each year we celebrate, rather than mourn forthe new life that is being created in either the tank, the cask or the bottle that will grow with each passing day, and with it, a story (although told by peoplewho were probably drinking a lot of wine at the time). What has gone into the “tough love” that the vine goes through to get to this point is sheer prose. The decisions of when to pick, the crush, the great care to allow just enough of everything to create the perfect must, and the pressure to get all right at the right time for fermentation.
This year’s Fall harvest is near completion, All Hallows Eve has come and gone and American Horror Story Hotel has turned every fear driven theme into a hot mess. It’s not necessarily a bad thing being a hot mess (speaking as one.) With so many intertwined storylines “borrowed” from others in this season’s AHS, The Shining, Interview with the Vampire, Night of the Living Dead and Cask of the Amontillado, to name a few, we are continuing the tradition of the story behind the story, the monsters under the bed and the bodies entombed behind the walls.
Does art imitate wine, or does wine imitate art, or are they one and the same? I love wine, but even more, I love the stories and passion that go into each bottle of strife and struggle and success. What better time than to recount these tales of truth and horror than the truly scariest time of year…family holidays!
Yes, you may be visited by your crazy, Austrian Uncle Gruner Veltliner who is really a “foodie” that’s fun and easygoing though underappreciated for years due to that antifreeze scandal of 1985. But that was just because he was misunderstood and wanted you to think he was sweeter. He meant no harm and now that he knows and plays by the rules, he is once again invited to the Thanksgiving table. In fact, he really should be the star attraction due to his compatibility with turkey, peas, artichoke and asparagus. He’s a bit of an acid head, but hang out with Uncle Gruner and you’ll soon fall back in love with him.
Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner straight outta Kamptal is a golden Margarita with hints of white pepper and lime, tangerine and grapefruit. Although not related, he’s similar to Sauvignon Blanc but so much more interesting. For less than $15 a bottle, you can’t help take a chance and welcome Uncle Gruner back into the fold.
Then there’s your French Aunt Viognier. Wow she sure wears a lot of perfume and she can be big and loud. When she hugged you and planted a fat kiss on your lips you’d run to wash it away. We only put up with her because she was so rich. But ever since she’s been traveling, she’s mellowed. I think all that California sunshine has turned her into a real peach…with hints of apricot, candied ginger and violets. Thanks to her American friends Joseph Phelps, Josh Jensen of Calera and Morgan Clendenen of Le Bon Climat Cold Heaven, she is invited back to the table.
Tablas Creek is on the forefront of Viognier but Cold Heaven will win your heart. Both are about $20 and an absolute delight to drink before or after your family meal. No family holiday horror story would be complete without the invitation of your Spanish Great Aunt Sherry.
“I drink to the dead who lie sleeping around us.” “And I, Fortunato I drink to your long life.” “…But what of the Amontillado?”
Edgar Allan Poe penned “The Cask of Amontillado” for a small publication in 1846. It is the tale, as we all remember from English Lit class, of revenge and someone getting sealed up in a tomb because of obsession, which was one of Poe’s signature themes at that time. And what of this elusive elixir that would lead one to travel deep into the catacombs past the bones of the dead to the cask of this very rare Amontillado Sherry? Have we sealed Sherry up in a niche in the wall and forgotten her alluring spell? If so, it’s time to let her out. Sherry is back, and this is not your grandma’s sherry.
Sherry is one of those forgotten, and much misunderstood wines that are being brought back from the dead. So utterly unique and fascinatingly diverse, you might just find yourself craving this mysterious liquid like Montresor, our oenophile victim, who traveled to his death for just a taste of that bruised, golden, offdry chameleon.
Dios Baco Amontillado is the best way to a place called “Hey, I like sherry”. Priced at about $25, it’s a perfect food wine during harvest, with wild roasted mushrooms, glazed quail, even roasted oysters. It’s nutty with honey and caramel and saline and wet rock, not unlike the niche in which poor Montresor was sealed into his fate.
Dios Baco Fino Sherry is not for the faint of heart. A dry, palestraw sherry that is aromatic and mineral driven with an umami soy/ginger savory flavor that cuts through that jambon charcuterie board. And although this should have been at the top of the sherry tasting list, it’s definitely a little scary to the novice. But be brave, it’s about $25 a bottle to be forever transformed.
Valdespino Solera 1842 Oloroso Sherry is from small barriques that are stacked so that one barrique leads to the one below it and the barriques on the top level are added to with the new potion. The result is a mixture of every sherry that has passed through those casks since 1842. A sweet delicacy full of marmalade, candied walnuts, cinnamon and nutmeg. Perhaps this sherry is from the very same cask of the original Amontillado. A half bottle will run you about $25/$35 and is a small price to pay for a taste of a masterpiece. Think of how many lives tended to those casks since 1842. Perhaps their spirits still tend to the Cask of the Amontillado.
Fernando de Castilla Antique Pedro Ximenez, or just PX, is the topping to your harvest sweets. Dark raisins, orange peel and eucalyptus honey mixed with brown sugar and molasses are just a few of the flavors you will experience from grapes that were dried in the sun and locked away for 30 years in sherry casks. Drizzle over vanilla ice cream or sip on its own. At about $30 a bottle you can release this liquid from captivity.
If sipping fortified wine is not your thing, perhaps try it in a classic cocktail like The Butchertown Cocktail created by Jon Santer, co-owner of Prizefighter in Emeryville, California is a twist on the traditional Manhattan cocktail using amontillado sherry. Craft bartenders are creating new concoctions using all types of sherry, like The Bloody Sherry, which combines blood orange and lemon oleo with gin and oloroso sherry garnished with a sprig of rosemary. Yes, sherry is back from the dead and with a vengeance. So don’t forget to brush up on the Cliff’s Notes, or better yet, read all seven pages of The Cask of Amontillado to get into the holiday mood. It beats reading A Christmas Carol and is a heck of a lot shorter. Because wine does imitate art — and art imitates wine.