Mavrodaphne

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One spring late in Against the Day, Auberon Halfcourt and Umeki Tsurigane find Yashmeen, Reef, and baby Ljubica on the Greek island of Corfu. They dine “in a taverna down by the harbour in Garitsa.” Page 975:

They sat at a long table and ate tsingarelli and polenta and yaprakia and a chicken stoufado with fennel and quince and pancetta in it that Nikos the owner and cook said was an ancient Venetian recipe from back in the centuries when the island had belonged to Venice, and Reef snuck his baby daughter tiny sips of Mavrodaphne, which did not put her to sleep but made her quite rowdy as a matter of fact, pulling the tail of Hrisoula, the ordinarily imperturbable taverna cat, until she actually meowed in protest.

That food all sounded too beautiful for me to leave on the page. Happily, Google dropped what appears to be the exact recipe Pynchon refers to right into my digital lap. A “stoufado” seems to be Pynchon’s spelling of “stifado,” a Greek stew. On page 136 of Aglaia Kremezi’s The Foods of the Greek Islands: Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean there lies a chicken and fennel stew with quince and pancetta. Kremezi even provides that backstory that Pynchon has Nikos pass on:

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From what I’ve been able to gather, the Ninetta Laskari book referred to is a history written in the local Corfu dialect called Corfu: a Glance through Time. Barring the not totally far fetched possibility that Pynchon reads Corfiot, I must conclude that the above Kremezi cookbook is Pynchon’s source here! (Feel free to lift that when you get onto An Against the Day Companion, Stephen Weisenburger.) You can see how he was unable to resist a story like this one, especially in Against the Day—East and West layered throughout history into a hearty family meal.

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So anyway, equipped with a recipe straight out of Against the Day, I’ve ventured beyond the liquor cabinet and into Tom Pynchon’s Kitchen. The venture has been rewarding. This was some mighty delicious Greek grandmother Sunday lunch goodness. It was chicken, fennel, quince, and pancetta stewed for ~1.5 hours in a mixture of sweet Mavrodaphe wine and whatever dryer red was sitting on my counter, and was the yummiest thing I’ve made in ages. I highly recommend hitting up the google book above for the recipe–especially if you have any of this Mavrodaphne easily accessible. I didn’t manage to recreate all the side dishes that Reef et al enjoy (couldn’t even figure out what “tsingarelli” was), but I did follow Nikos in serving it with polenta.

dsc_7483Half the bottle of Mavrodaphne went into the food, and I can’t say I’ve mourned the loss. It did wonderful work in the stew, but it’s not the greatest drinking. It smells very fortified and not very welcoming, although it’s only 15%. The taste is sweet and round and quite like a Marsala cooking wine. It’s drinkable, but not exactly thrilling. It may have made baby Ljubica rowdy with all that sugar, but I’m more likely to be put into a happy well-fed sleep.

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Mâconnais

dsc_6922“It’s like licking a bloody piece of slate tile” quoth my father post-quaff of this Mâconnais. He seemed to intend this as a compliment.

dsc_6913The Mâconnais is a Southern chunk of the Burgundy wine region, known for producing value-for-money Chardonnay. This bottle (Louis Latour Les Deux Moulins Saint-Véran) did indeed seem reasonably cheap for fancy-sounding Burgundy under a a classy-looking label. Whether it constituted value or not I am ill-equipped to judge.The shop claimed it was “rich and powerful” with “toasty brioche aromas,” as if it were some kind of boulangerie magnate / French mafia boss. I remarked at first that it was one of the blandest wines I’d ever tasted. But I remain something of a philistine regarding  white wine—it may have been just too subtle and elegant for me.

In Against the Day, Yashmeen’s posse of Lorelei, Noellyn, and Faun draw a bottle of Mâconnais while convincing her to dump Cyprian. Page 494:

“But he makes me laugh.”

“Yes they are good for that,” conceded serious Noellyn, “though one does hear, more often than one would care to, this ‘he makes me laugh’ defense. There being laughter, this is, and laughter.”

“And if laughing’s what you fancy…” Lorelei held out one of the bottles of Mâconnais they had brought.

I personally didn’t find anything very humorous about the Mâconnais. It struck me instead as rather serious. But Yashmeen is a woman of unusual tastes I suppose. And perhaps I just didn’t get through enough bottles for the funny side to reveal itself.

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Gewurztraminer

DSC_6702.jpgWe’ve just about hit 50 Empty Bottles here at Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet, but this post marks our first occasion revisiting a passage to pull out a second drink. November last year, Against the Day led me to some apricot brandy abandoned in a safe-house cupboard. (I remarked at the time that it was a bit rough, and I can now confirm that it has been pretty much abandoned in my cupboard too). That brandy wasn’t the only booze left behind there though. Here’s the passage again (p. 718):

By the unwritten rules of these transitory dwellings, the cupboards yielded a sketchy culinary history of those who had passed through—bottles of Szekszárdi Vörös, Gewürtztraminer and apricot brandy, chocolates, coffee, biscuits, tinned sausages, wine, boxes of dried noodles of various shapes and sizes, a white cloth bag of tarhonya from the previous century.

As I remarked in the apricot brandy post, most of that stuff is pretty (and, in context, suspiciously) Hungarian. Gewurtztraminer, though, is mostly French. It’s mainly associated with the Alsace region near Germany (which explains that name). The Hungarians might not be totally off the hook however: Wikipedia does say some of these grapes grow there too, known locally as Tramini. Complicating that further is Pynchon’s use of the German spelling with the umlaut, which the French omit… Anyway, I’ve gone with an Alsace version. DSC_6677.jpg

Gewurtztraminer is supposedly characterised by a “flamboyant bouquet of lychees” and maybe I’m just suggestive but I’m finding that a pretty convincing description not just of the aroma, but also the taste and even the mouthfeel. It’s reasonably sweet, and that residual sugar, combined with a lack of acidity, gives it a distinctively lychee-esque full fleshy texture. This particular one was Dopff au Moulin 2013.

Were I abandoning a safe-house, I might try not to leave this drop behind. It’s not particularly fancy, but pleasant and interesting enough that one shouldn’t have to search too hard for an occasion to polish it off. Plus internet wine people advise that Gewurtztraminer is suitable for ageing “only a very few years” if at all, so you couldn’t expect to go back and find it later in much of a condition…

Veuve Clicquot Brut

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Season two of the Pynchon in Public podcast‘s trek through Gravity’s Rainbow is a wrap! Watch your iTunes feeds. I popped some Champagne on the air this morning in celebration.

You may notice the Champagne is pictured above in a beer mug. In this, as in the choice of the specific Champagne house, I follow the good example of Lt Tyrone Slothrop. He gets Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck and a casino-full of possible conspirators sloshed on the stuff during a drinking game of grand proportions. Page 252:

‘Garçon.’ Drinks here are always on the house for Slothrop — They are springing for it, he imagines. ‘Some of that champagne! Wantcha to just keep it coming, and any time we run out, go get more, comprendez?’ Any number of slack-jawed subalterns, hearing the magic word, drift over and take seats while Slothrop explains the rules.

“I’m not sure –” Dodson-Truck begins.

“Baloney. Come on, do you good to get outa that chess rut.”

“Right, right,” agree the others.

Dodson-Truck stays in his seat, a bit tense.

“Bigger glasses,” Slothrop hollers at the waiter. “How about those beer mugs over there! Yeah! They’d be just fine.” The waiter unblasts a Jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot Brut, and fills everybody up.

DSC_5837 (1).jpgMany bottles later, the waiters switch to sweet Taittinger, among other cheaper options, corks growing “straighter, less mushroomy” once everyone’s too far gone to care. I’m in no hurry to move on. It’s mid afternoon here now, and I’ve been idly sipping on Veuve Clicquot since sometime this morning. (Just one beer mug’s worth–I’m not knocking them back like the patrons of the Casino Hermann Goering). It’s fresh and zippy and very enjoyable. Just like the Pynchon in Public podcast. Sort of. The podcast’s got more shit and death than the Champagne. But otherwise. Just like it.

The drunken party ends up opening a chink in the armour of Their machine for Slothrop, with Dodson-Truck confessing his part in the plot and his knowledge of Slothrop’s conditioning. It sets rolling the boulder that gets our Tyrone the hell outta the Riviera, out of the sights of the White Visitation and co, and off into his Rocket-hunt through Europe. Drinking games are serious business, folks.

Dão wine

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Fleetwood Vibe, most mysterious son of that sinister household, recalls on page 168 his travels in Mozambique—then a colony of Portugal:

Debarking at Lourenço Marques, he spent a week in various local cantinhas, gathering information, as he liked to think of it. This required a tidy lakeful of Portuguese colonial-market wine, the rotgut rejectamenta of Bucelas and Dão, among puzzled looks from the locals who by tradition were its devotees. 

The only information he really seems to be gathering is on the limits of his own intoxicatibility. Somehow though, the lakeful of wine does lend him the inspiration to head to Johannesburg and make himself a fortune. Later, fortune made, he returns to Portuguese Mozambique, “turning up one day back at the old local saloon, standing rounds till closing time,” (p. 169).

DSC_5170.jpgProbably not the most expensive rounds to stand, given that the house specialty is “rotgut rejectamenta.”

The particular regions credited with producing the rotgut, Bucelas and Dão, are DOC-protected regions in Portugal. Dão, Wikipedia states, is one of the longest-established wine regions in the country. Being rejectamenta, I guess we shouldn’t expect Fleetwood’s rotgut Dão to reflect the finer possibilities of the terroir.

I wouldn’t classify the bottle of Dão wine in front of me quite as rotgut (how will I ever convince a wine store to sponsor this blog using language like that?). It was pretty cheap though. The shop had a pricier Dão that I faithfully eschewed. Rather than particularly corrosive, this just tastes a bit thin and bland. Enjoyable enough with food, but not very exciting. Insubstantial—almost like ghostly Fleetwood himself, detectable “only in the way some can detect ghosts…”

Merry Christmas! (Pink Champagne)

A very merry Christmas to Pynchonites and friends the world over. I hear it’s a warm one for you Northern Hemisphere folks. Down here in Australia, we’ve enjoyed a relatively cool 33 °C (91 of your funny Fahrenheit degrees). Admittedly not eggnog weather. But this pink Champagne went down a treat.

DSC_4670 (1).jpgIt’s Moutard Père et Fils Rosé Champagne. The presentable bubbles come to us courtesy of Gravity’s Rainbow, where they show up in a merry, if not actually Christmassy, context. From page 213:

VULGAR SONG

Last night I poked the Queen of Transylvan-ia,
Tonight I’ll poke the Queen of Burgundee–
I’m bordering on the State of Schizophren-ia,
But Queenie is so very nice to me….
It’s pink champagne and caviar for break-fast,
A spot of Chateaubriand wiv me tea–
Ten-shilling panatelas now are all that I can smoke,
I laugh so much you’d think the world was just a silly joke,
So call me what you will, m’ lads, but make way for the bloke
That’s poked the love-ly little Queen of Transyl-vaayn-yaa!

Beautiful sentiments for the holidays. We did indeed polish off our pink Champagne for breakfast here, if sans caviar.  Anyway get back to your families! Merry Christmas! I hope everyone appreciates the Pynchon books you gave them!

Montepulciano

Drunk Pynchonette and I ordered a couple of (enormous) glasses of this last night then only realised halfway through ’em that the name’s familiar ring owed itself not to my comprehensive knowledge of Italian viticulture but to Pynchon’s most alcoholic of opuses, Against the Day. So it was camera out, non-Instgramming restraint and decency away, and time for a spontaneous addition to the Pynchonian wine cellar.

Pynchon MontepulcianoThe Montepulciano makes its appearance late in Against the Day in the wistful hands of Prince Spongiatosta. He’s talking to Cyprian (p. 873):

“You will come out to the island next week for our annual ball?”

“I’ve nothing to wear.”

He smiled, allowing Cyprian to think it was nostalgia. “The Principessa will find something for you.”

“She has exquisite judgement.”

The Prince squinted at the sky through his glass of Montepulciano. “In some things, most likely.”

Montepulciano is a grape commonly planted across Italy, used in numerous different protected styles. Ours was a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Tenuta Ulisse. I had a couple of pints post-Montepulciano, and I’m struggling to remember now quite what the stuff tasted like. I know I did most enjoy it. A bit spicy, with some sweet liquorice flavours, Drunk Pynchonette is reminding me. Pretty dark for staring at the sky through, though perhaps that explains the squinting.