What Are Your 99 Wines? (Part 5)

Date:

“I was fairly poor but most of my money went for wine and classical music. I loved to mix the two together.”

― Charles Bukowski,
The Last Night of the Earth Poems

While writing this series of articles, I realized that much of what I have come to know about wines is from the friends I have met. I often recall an experience I had with a particular wine or region as it is associated with a particular person.  

17. Tej, a delightful honey wine.

Ethiopia is one of my favorite countries in the world. 

I love everything about it, from its ancient history to its beautiful women. Taci and I met in the late 1970s. Taci had immigrated to the United States about 10 years earlier from Addis Ababa.  

I had lived in Western Africa as a boy, and I had traveled to Northern Africa, but I had never been to Eastern Africa at that time. Taci loved to cook, and her apartment was a hub for Ethiopian ex-pats. The smell of Ethiopian food would waft from her apartment, and some stranger was always sleeping on her floor or sofa.  

Taci would make her own injera from scratch. 

Ethiopian Dinner with Injera

Injera is a sponge-like bread on which succulent stewed meats, such as beef and lamb, curried lentils, and vegetables are placed. You typically eat with your hands and use extra injera to pick up the meats and vegetables. My favorite part is the finale when you eat the injera on which the food has been placed. 

The injera has soaked up all the stewed juices from the food on it by the end of the meal.  

ET_Amhara_asv2018-02_img077_Lake_Tana_at_Bahir_Dar
Ethiopian Wine, Tej

The Ethiopian national wine is Tej (often also spelled T’ej or Tejj). It is one of the world’s most ancient fermented drinks. It is even mentioned in ancient texts and scriptures. It is said that Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, brought Tej from Ethiopia and served it to King Solomon. Tej is a honey wine similar to mead. It can be low or high in alcohol, depending on who makes it. Tej is sometimes a homebrew. The one thing all Tej has in common is that it sneaks up on you. Taci would always serve Tej to me whenever she made Ethiopian food. I find it strange if I eat Ethiopian food now and don’t have Tej to accompany it.

Taci was originally from northern Ethiopia which became the independent country of Eritrea in 1991. She moved back to Eritrea or Ethiopia, and I never saw her again. I was in Addis Ababa in 2015. I gorged myself on the wonderful food, and of course, I had Tej with it. I thought of Taci and wondered what had become of her. I found myself constantly looking toward the door when someone came in.

Cross

I found myself gazing around the various tables at restaurants where I ate, wondering what I would do if I saw her.

Of course, I never did.

I bought my daughter an Ethiopian Coptic cross, which she wears. My daughter has been asked many times if she is Ethiopian (she is not), especially when people see her cross. Ethiopians have been known to come up to her and speak to her in Amharic. Taci would be proud of my daughter. She would want to teach her to cook Ethiopian food and would say, “You must toast with Tej.”

18. Robert Foley Merlot – A gathering of dear friends.

Merlot Grapes and Leaf

Vickey and Gae are two of the loveliest women I know, physically and spiritually. They befriended me in school, and I have always adored them. Vickey and Gae are very discerning when it comes to wine. 

Gae and her husband Perry have a wonderful cellar, and it prominently features wines from California, where they travel several times a year on wine excursions. Their cellar is amazing. The star is a Screaming Eagle from the 1990s.  

I had not seen Gae for many years, so Vickey arranged for the three of us to have lunch at the Veranda at the Four Seasons. 

Gae does not trust anyone’s wine list, and she travels with her wine bag. For example, in 2018, before the quarantine, Gae, Vickey, and I attended our high school reunion—I believe it was our 20th high school reunion.  

I went to the bar and bought us glasses of wine. Gae said, “Are you really going to drink that?”  

“Well, not now,” I replied.  

Gae’s motto is, “Life is too short to drink bad wine!” She is so right.

I began our lunch with a chilled cantaloupe soup. 

Gae, Andras, Vickey, and Robert Foley Merlot!

The soup was outstanding. The chef graciously gave me the recipe, and I still use it to this day. Gae reached into her magic bag, and out popped a Robert Foley Merlot. I had not had any of Robert Foley’s wines at that time. This Merlot belies its moderately modest price, as it was glorious. I do not know why I appreciated this Merlot as much as I did. I have had many Merlots from different parts of the world, but this one was extra special. This wine was a true expression of what a Napa Valley Merlot can be. It had a beautiful deep red color with all the hallmarks of a California Merlot I love on the palate: cherries, plums, chocolate, dried herbs, and vanilla. 

Our lunch was wonderful. The food was outstanding, and the Robert Foley Merlot graces my cellar today. It was my friends Gae and Vickey that somehow made this Merlot different. 

Sometimes, it is not just the wine that makes it memorable, but the people you share it with.  

19.  Amarone – A stunning Italian.

Italians just have more savoir-faire than other Europeans (please forgive my mixed geographic and linguistic metaphors). It does not matter if it is their design of cars, their clothes, their films, or their food. Italians just love what they do, and it shows. I have always loved Italian wines. I love Italian table wines. I love Brunello di Montalcino, and Nebbiolo, especially from Barbaresco or Barolo. I have mad love for the Super Tuscans. Perhaps, it is my love of Italy. But for me, when I think of Italian wines, it is Amarone

Grapes allowed to air dry, but traditionally on straw mats to make Amarone wine.

The first time I had an Amarone wasn’t with an Italian. My friend, Maureen, is from Uganda. She came to Boston for university and became a banker in the US. 

2009 Bertani Amarone

Maureen loves all things Italian, from its food to its people, but especially Italian wines. We were having dinner one evening, and she suggested an Amarone. I was unfamiliar with it at the time, but Maureen had never let me down. I later learned that Amarone is from the Veneto, which includes Venice, where my godparents had lived.

 The wine was splendid, and it paired gracefully with our meal. A good Amarone Riserva caresses the mouth, filling it with cherry-filled chocolate truffles, figs, and mocha flavors. It may be the time-consuming, labor-intensive way it is made, the extra-long time the grapes linger on the vine, or the excessive time it takes to age the wine in the barrel. Irrespective, the result is an opulent wine that’s higher in alcohol, powerful enough to pair with grilled meats, yet can stand up to cheeses, which many red wines do not.   

 I cannot help but think of my friend Maureen whenever I have an Amarone. I know my godparents would look down on me, smile and say, “Cin-cin.”  

20.  Mollydooker – A right-handed compliment to a left-handed wine.

Andras and Luke Marquis

My mom is one of the most remarkable women I have ever known. In truth, she is my former mother-in-law, but she will always be my mom. She is a woman who has, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, in his poem, If, has met with, “… triumph and disaster, and treats those two imposters both the same.”

Mom and I went to a wine dinner at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute around 2006. 

The dinner featured wines from the Australian winery Mollydooker, located in the iconic McLaren Vale. Mollydooker is Aussie slang, meaning left-hander. This is fitting since the winery’s co-founders, Sparky, and Sarah Marquis, are both mollydookers. The winery’s name is appropriate in keeping with their slightly irreverent approach to making serious wines. The labels and the wines’ names, Gigglepot, The Boxer, Two Left Feet, Blue-eyed Boy, Miss Molly, Summer of ’69, Carnival of Love, and Velvet Glove, are a conscious part of this out-of-the-mainstream approach. 

 I was unfamiliar with Mollydooker at the time. Sarah and Sparky were then a husband-and-wife duo. Sarah and Sparky have since divorced, and Sarah was awarded sole custody of the winery in 2015. She now serves as owner and chief winemaker. Sarah and Sparky’s son, Luke Marquis, the original blue-eyed boy, now works for Mollydooker as Global Sales Manager. I have had the chance to meet Luke on several occasions, and I shared the story of how I first met his parents.

MollyDooker Carnival of Love

Mom and I always have a good time whenever we are together, and this evening was no exception. Sarah and Sparky gave the usual speeches about their winery and winemaking techniques before they shared their wines and the first course. They had brought a representative of their lineup of wines.  

Most Mollydooker wines are Shiraz-based, and they have a high alcohol content, typical for Aussie wines. Forgive the pun, but may I say that each course and the selected wines fit together like a hand and Velvet Glove. In fact, our favorite wine was the Wine Advocate awarded 99-point Velvet Glove. 

We did not know what to expect, but what we enjoyed that evening was certainly not irreverent. These were serious wines, especially Carnival of Love and Velvet Glove.

Mom and I went home and had no trouble sleeping, considering Velvet Glove’s 16.00% ABV. Velvet Glove remains one of my favorite Aussie wines. Mom and I still talk about that evening and the wines we shared.  

Mollydooker Velvet Glove

I had Velvet Glove with a friend last week. She had not had it before, and I had not had it in a long time. The wine is still stunning, and we could not stop talking about it. At one point, I drifted off in reverie. I was remembering that first time I had Mollydooker at dinner with Mom.

Cheers! 

 

Andras B.
Andras B.
Andras is a retired attorney, a passionate wine aficionado, and sommelier. He is an experienced and seasoned world traveler with a gourmet palate.

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