Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Oh Yeah, You Found My Sweet Spot

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.


Benito said...

I lost my sweet tooth sometime in my 20s, which can be difficult here in the south where iced tea is often as thick and sugary as pancake syrup. I found myself starting to really crave bitter flavors, which led to exploring heavily hopped beers, citrus zest, and other fun stuff.

It took a long time before I was ready to re-examine liqueurs and dessert wines.

Quick question since you're a fan of pastis: although it's as sweet as Sauternes when it comes to grams/litre, what is it that keeps that from being "sweet" in your mind? Is it the strong anise flavor, thinning out with water, or the overall balance?

Valerie said...

Now that sounds amazing...I didn't even know those things existed before much to drink - I mean learn - so little time. :)

webb said...

I just have to ask, "Have you tried the dark - really dark - chocolates?" My favorites are the ones that are 70% - or more - cocoa. If you still don't like chocolate, then.... more in the world for me.

The chestnut liqueur sounds wonderful. May have to look for it.

Michael Hughes said...

Those two sound very very interesting. I love all that unique stuff. But I have to admit I do like the sweet stuff too. Only when it's supposed to be sweet though. Not "technically dry, blah blah" but tastes sweet.

TWG said...

Benito, I think it's the offputting taste that keeps it from tasting sweet.

Samantha Dugan said...

I always say that I think sweetness is very subjective even though there are many others that will argue. I think it when it comes to Pastis there are a couple of factors; producer, water and the intense anise flavor. I've tasted some Pastis that is way too sweet for my palate Pernod being the first to come to mind...stuff tastes fake, sweet and that color...ugh. So I guess to answer your question love, all of the above.

One of the coolest parts about this business....there is always more to learn, taste and fall for. I didn't know there could be something like this stuff either, I'm hooked. One thing I left out of the post is much like my Gingersnaps, gonna need some cheese, (think St. Agur one of my favorite blues) to balance out my sips....oh how I suffer so.

Yeah, had them all. For years I was the food buyer for the store so I have had every freaking kind of chocolate you can imagine. Plus the second you tell people you don't like chocolate they just have to have you try this or that one. The 70% stuff is slightly more palatable for me, the bitter helps but I still pretty much hate it. It's all your lady, enjoy!

Thought of you when I had this the first time! Just had a feeling you would lose your mind over it. Hate to tell you but I don't know of anyone else in the US that has when you coming to visit?!

Oh quiet you! It's delicious to me but trust me, I get why others don't dig it.

Thomas said...

Nice post, Sam.

Our taste buds seem to align in many ways. When I was a child I sucked lemons rather than eat candy, and when I did eat candy or cookies, I went for the tart ones--but always loved, and still am in love with true ginger snaps, which are hard to find these days as lard is no longer used.

On chocolate, I like it form the freezer, but I also prefer the baker's chocolate--no sugar added--which I buy by the bar and keep in the freezer for a short snack every so often.

Not much of a fan of sweet wine either--with myriad exceptions. Any Madeira will do; one half glass of ice wine will do; no liqueur will ever do, but now that you've got my attention, I might have to seek a certain chestnut liqueur to see if I can be converted too.

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

So I read your post as I'm getting ready to walk out the door and go judge late harvest white and late harvest red wines. AARGH. This is basically my idea of purgatory. It would be purgatory if I were also forced to read WineHarlots while tasting the wines. Wish me luck.

Oh, and I absolutely LOVE your "No Sir, don't like it face." Though I prefer your "Yes Sir, one more time" face.

I love you

Samantha Dugan said...

Yes it appears you and I share similar tastes in many things, our passion for the perfectly fried, (or oh hell they're fried enough) potatoes being the one that first made me see how much so. I retasted the Louis Roque again this evening before leaving work, find it if you can. It's truly insane and as insane as it sounds after seeing the stuff glug-glug-glug into a glass, it's remarkably balanced. I took a sip and washed down all the warm spicy sweetness with a small piece of Petit Basque love, I'm in love.

Ron My Love,
That has got to be some form of punishment somewhere in the guess is a plan to make you do that was hatched at the Wine Bloggers Convention. I blame the Sip With Talentless Harlots or those Corks and Fuzzy Sweaters people. I'm sorry you had to endure that and I only wish I could have seen your "Holy fuck no more!" face. If it helps my skin is salty and someone once told me I was utterly lick-able so should you need....

Sara Louise said...

I'm by far more of a savory girl than sweet but I have had a chataigne liqueur at my in-law's and I really really like it!

Samantha Dugan said...

If you can find the Louis Roque grab it. I'm not sure exactly where it's from but I think it comes from the South West of France so you might actually find it easier than most people here in the states. Truly amazing stuff.

Anonymous said...

I read this, and while intrigued by the chestnut liqueur description (as I am with most of your descriptions!) I really didn't think it would be to my liking.

As I said after you convinced me to try it last week...

Holy hell. That is AMAZING.

Not surprised you sold out of it as quickly as you did. When you reorder, tuck 2 away for me.

Samantha Dugan said...

Another Day of Crazy,
Seriously alluring stuff no? I will hold two for you....two for you and two for me, damn that case aint gonna last.