Okay so those of you that have been reading this silly blog for any length of time are fully aware of my somewhat odd aversion to almost everything sweet. I drown my fruit in lemon juice and salt, I avoid dessert and dessert wines like I owe them money and I am one of those freaks that has absolutely zero love for chocolate. Earlier this year I was kind of challenged by a friend’s wife when I mentioned that I hated chocolate. She seemed perplexed and even more so when I mentioned that maybe once or twice a year I would get a craving for peanut butter and chocolate ice cream….something I threw out in order to keep from looking like a total freak. “But chocolate tastes its best at palate temperature. When it melts in your mouth” she explained and as I sat there trying not to look like an ass I thought, “Exactly. It gets more intense, creamier and in my opinion more flaccid when it’s warm which is why the only way I can and do crave it is in its chilled and rigid form” it’s not that I don’t get it, I just don’t like it…flaccid and palate coating sweetness just doesn’t do for me.
I prefer Madeira to port and cream sherry, finding that bit of savory almost beef broth like and citrus thing in a Bual Madeira far more enticing and craveable than berries, cassis and caramel. I will happily trade you my dessert for your cheese plate, I find many new world wines a little too sweet upfront (Charlie, I said many and that in no way implies all) and the only cookie I really dug as a kid was Gingersnaps…but with a little pile of sharp cheddar cheese to wash down each bite. Just a freaky quirk I’ve had for I don’t know….the past thirty something years. That being said I am a wine buyer and wine specialist so there are times when I do have to suck up my preferences, like when I was taken to Spain with a group to learn about and taste (like a million) Sherries and where each estate fed us not one but two desserts at each meal….dude, you would think I was working the New York Stock Exchange with the amount of trading I did there. But like I said, I have to forget for a moment what I like personally to taste things I’m either presented to bring in the shop or to educate myself on the things we already have. Part of the job and it’s not like I have to drink them.
New Years Eve, the final hoorah of the holiday season. The flow in the shop was steady, everyone in a fantastic mood, (which by the way was most of the season…that was truly awesome) and with each hour that ticked away the light at the end of the very long tunnel was getting brighter and just that much closer. Randy had been in a long and somewhat nostalgic conversation with one of our favorite customers; a lovely French woman that comes to us for Pastis, Chablis and a few other things she misses from home and can’t find most anywhere else. They had been talking dessert wines but somewhere in the conversation they had moved on to spirits and were lovingly pointing to and chatting about this liqueur and that.
Randy had been telling her about two very rare items that we have in stock; a prune brandy and a chestnut liqueur by Louis Roque. As he was describing them to her he would call out to any of the staff that happened to be near looking for confirmation and or our opinions on the stuff….that was when he discovered that none of us had tasted either of them. As the night wound down, customers gone and staff gathering and purchasing bottles for our end of the year celebrations I saw Randy grabbing a rack of glass and walking off into the tasting room, knowing him as I do I knew there was going to be a little staff training as we closed up the shop for the last time in 2010. If Randy is anything he is a very passionate teacher, he thrives on showing people new things and seems to love doing so with his staff just as much as with customers….guess that makes him a passionate teacher and smart as hell.
I was counting out one of the registers when I saw a few staff members streaming out of the tasting room, this was my time to strike. So here’s another quirk of mine, I find it damn near impossible to not show on my face what I think of something I’m putting in my mouth. It’s a terrible habit, one that my beloved Ron Washam aka The HoseMaster of Wine can attest to….poor bastard drove me around Sonoma where I tasted a bunch of Zinfandel, my least favorite of all wine varieties, and he experienced firsthand the Sam, “No sir, don’t like it” face. Okay being fully aware of my facial issues I thought the best time for me to try a prune brandy and chestnut liqueur and NOT wear my face on my sleeve was doing so after the others had left the tasting room.
I slipped in the tasting room trying not to attract too much attention, pulled a glass from the rack and started with the Louis Roque La Vieille Prune ($45.99) the prune brandy. Something made me think that I might have at least smelled it before and my memory was that it was kind of rugged, thought it best to start there after all the “sweet” comments I heard about the chestnut stuff. My first sniff was blemished by a big ass blast of heat, habit had me spinning the hell out of the stuff in one of our big glasses which really just inflamed the alcohol, but once settled down I took another sniff and got a very unique, almost floral burst that was quickly followed by a plumy, distinct prune aroma. Pretty, the aromas were delicate and pretty so I took a sip….this is where I should tell you that I’m not a lover of brandy. The flavors mirrored the aromas but there was a very powerful and chest warming….very brandy like aggression on the finish. I can see why people love the stuff but much like warm chocolate, not my thing.
I moved on to the Louis Roque Liqueur de Chataigne ($23.99) and my “face” started as the thick, uber thick liqueur lumbered into the glass, slowly falling upon its big bodied self with the consistency of motor oil, yeah insert “face”. Spun the chunky golden liquid in the glass, tapped my foot while I waited for mass of liqueur to move and took my first sniff, my “face” was instantly replaced with a raised eyebrow. There was something so alluring about the aromas, sure there was clearly a nutty thing but it wasn’t the dominate aroma. The nose was loaded with wild honey, cinnamon, clove and allspice, reminded me of the incense my stoner friends would burn as to not alert their parents they were smoking pot…wicked smart those stoners. I took the glass to my lips and again found myself a little impatient with the speed at which the thickish stuff moved up the glass and into my mouth but fuck, once it got there all was forgiven. No doubt the stuff is sweet but just for a brief second really as all that clove, sandalwood, cinnamon and allspice, this massive middle of warm cooking spices becomes not only the middle of the liqueur but the center of attention, you can feel it coating the inside of your mouth and creeping up into the nasal passages. Never had a wine or spirit do that, not so intensely anyway and to call the finish haunting is an almost criminal understatement. As unique, alluring and sexy liqueur as I have ever had the pleasure to taste. Before I knew it my tasting pour had been drained and I was wishing I had bought a bottle to take home.
Was back in the shop on Monday for inventory and when I was finished I hunted down the sexy elixir to see if it was just a post holiday euphoria that had me thinking about, dreaming about this sweet but not too sweet spirit…wasn’t and before I clock out tonight I will be buying a bottle to take home with me where it will tease and taunt me until I give….have a glass or two. I give it two weeks, tops. Damn…..wild stuff but it sure as hell found my sweet spot.