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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Absinthe Frappé

DSC_6761.jpgThis here is the fiftieth drink to join our digital cabinet of liquors! And a mighty fine addition it is too. If I were asked elect an emblematic spirit for each Pynchon book, some choices would be easy. White corn whiskey would represent Mason & Dixon. Lot 49 might be kirsch. And Against the Day would be absinthe.

The denizens of AtD take their absinthe in diverse preparations over the course of the book’s pages—soaked into cigarettes, louched with Champagne, cocktailed with rum and brandy. On this occasion, we find it in a frappé. Reef has wound up gallivanting around with Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin and her crew under the assumed identify of Thrapston Cheesely III, but that whole arrangement’s about to go south. Page 368:

They finally parted company in New Orleans after a confused and repetitive headache of a night that began at the establishment of Monsieur Peychaud, where the Sazeracs, though said to’ve been invented there, were not a patch, it seemed to Reef, on those available at Bob Stockton’s bar in Denver, though those Absinthe Frappés were another matter.

dsc_6755Pynchon doesn’t quite get his Sazerac history right here. According to the (admittedly somewhat mythologising) Sazerac Rye website, Monsieur Peychaud was indeed the inventor of the bitters that go in a Sazerac, but this was in the 1830s/40s,  before Reef was born, and Peychaud didn’t have a bar—he was an apothecary serving it for friends after hours in his pharmacy. The Sazerac became established more widely primarily thanks to the Sazerac Coffee House, and that’s likely where Reef gets his sub-par version. Anyway, let’s save the Sazerac for another time. Reef much preferred the frappé, and I’m happy to take his recommendation.

Here be the contents of my Absinthe Frappé, mostly following this recipe:

  • 1.5 shots of Pernod Absinthe
  • 1.5 shots of soda water
  • However much sugar seems necessary
  • A few mint leaves
  • A bunch of ice

All blended up together and garnished with some more mint. They taste summery and sophisticated, bright and refreshing. They look cool. Good tip all round from Reef.

Here’s to the next fifty drinks! Thanks for joining me!

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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.

Absinthe with water

From Hemingway’s Papa Doble, on to another drink with a great literary/artistic pedigree: absinthe. We’re all familiar with its green fairy aura of inspired madness and creative self-annihilation. The stuff’s been put away by Baudelaire, Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Modigliani, etc etc etc. Even more impressively, it gets mentioned in both V. and Gravity’s Rainbow. In V., a not exactly gallant sounding bloke called Ferrante is described as “a drinker of absinthe and destroyer of virginity,” and Signor Mantissa remembers a “blond seamstress in Lyons” who “would drink absinthe at night and torture herself for it in the afternoons.” 

Absinthe Pynchon Gravity's Rainbow

Well and then in GR absinthe gets some even better peripheral press, aboard the fun-filled Anubis

Slothrop looks around and finds Miklos Thanatz, full beard, eyebrows feathering out like trailing edges of hawks’ wings, drinking absinthe out of a souvenir stein on which, in colors made ghastly by the carnivals lights on deck, bony and giggling Death is about the surprise the two lovers in bed. 

And what a Gravity’s Rainbow sentence is that. Crazy looking dude with a whole stein of absinthe, reflecting the wider scene in the lights of the boat while also telling a (highly relevant) inset narrative of Death gleefully interrupting love. Plus then one stein of 70% alcohol isn’t enough:

Thanatz is holding out his stein for a refill. The waiter, deadpan, dribbles water down a spoon to turn the absinthe milky green while Thanatz caresses his buttocks, then moves away.

I went hunting for some milky green of my own at Canvas in Brisbane (highly recommended, if not quite such a temple of hedonism as the Anubis). They had an absinthe/pastis tasting flight on offer (pastis being an anise liqueur with a similar flavour to absinthe). Thanks to another generous benefactor, I sampled a bit (not quite a stein-full) of each of:

  • Ricard Pastis 45%
  • Henri Bardonuin Pastis 45%
  • Koruna Bohemian Absinth 73%
  • Mansinthe 66.6%

This is admittedly a bit of a weird list for an “absinthe” tasting, not actually including any French absinthe. The pastis are French but wormwoodless. The Koruna is Czech–hence the lack of an “e” on “absinth.” Only the Mansinthe is actually absinthe with an “e”, and it’s made by Marilyn Manson. Which explains the inauspicious 66.6% alcohol concentration. Manson’s stuff does seem to be pretty legit though, distilled from the proper herbs in Switzerland with no added sugar. Anyway, those other three are close enough to count too. The waiter warned me that the last two contained wormwood, but “not the crazy cut-your-ear-off van Gogh kind.”

Gravity's Rainbow Absinthe Pynchon

All four of them were very aniseedy, of course. The Ricard Pastis tasted like sweet liquoriche. All the flavours seemed to be arranged really differently in your mouth compared to other spirits I’m more used to. Watery on the front, then getting all syrupy and rich. The Henri Boudin was less sweet, with stronger herbal notes. The Bohemian absinth really upped the ante, in taste as well as alcohol—a sharp rich spike of peppermint up front, plenty of burn filling it out. Complex and kind of invigorating. The Mansinthe was a bit of a mellower take on the same, with some fruity nutty notes too I thought. But less interesting than the Koruna. 

That’s all before the water. After dripping some water from a pretty little jug into each, their flavours changed pretty dramatically. Most acquired smokier notes; the Czech one even had a dark chocolate thing going on. Mansinthe seemed to get more vegetabley. And of course, just as Pynchon writes, their appearance changes too. Each drop of water sends a little smoky mist spiralling through the liquid, and they do turn totally milky with enough water. I forgot to take a photo–which forgetfulness is by the way about the strongest absinthe symptom I experienced. No hallucinations here. 

That milky mist shows up again late in GR, in the Counterforce, when Roger Mexico (one of my favourite GR characters) makes his glorious statistician’s reappearance, raging into Mossmoon’s office trying to rescue Slothrop from Their machine:  

He’s looking into a room of incandescent lemon-lime subdued drastically, almost to the milky point of absinthe-and-water, a room warmer than this tableful of faces really deserves, but perhaps it’s Roger’s entrance that deepens the color a bit now as he runs and jumps up on the polished table, over the polished head of a director of a steel company, skidding 20 feet down the waxed surface to confront the man at the end, who sits with a debonair (well, snotty) smile on his face. “Mossmoon, I’m on to you.” 

Then he relieves himself, of both urine and rage, all over everything. A good note to end on. 

Brandy

Seeing as our friend Tyrone Slothrop’s Pilsner Urquell was such a good idea, we’d better see what else he can recommend us. Or actually–he gets through some classy girlfriends, some of them must have pretty good taste. Let’s try Katje. Mysterious Katje. Near the start of the second part of Gravity’s Rainbow (“Un Perm’ au Casino Hermann Goering”), after a convenient seaside octopus fight, Slothrop winds up (as They intended) in her hotel room (“Welcome Mister Slothrop Welcome To Our Structure We Hope You Will Enjoy Your Visit Here”). Enter the brandy: “…inside, a single scented candle burns, and the suite is washed in moonlight. She pours brandy in old flint snifters, and as he reaches, their fingers touch.” Wonder where that’s leading…

I unfortunately have no old flint snifters, or actually any snifters at all. Gotta invest in some Pynchonian stemware one of these days. So my brandy’s in a big old wine glass. The brandy itself, I suspect, may also fall short of the quality of Katje’s product. She does, after all, have Their backing. Mine was the cheapest in the shop.

Bardinet Pynchon

But let’s assume brandy’s brandy. What’s it like? The smell at first was way more bourboney than I’d expected. But if one gets a little closer and breathes a little deeper, raisins come to the fore. Something a bit herbal too. The taste is relatively delicate–I’m getting raisins and chocolate–then there’s quite a burn at the finish. Not much spice, a little sweetness. And, surprise surprise, that sweetness just gets nicer the more of it you have. I must add though, my Katje stand-in (don’t read too much into that) was not a fan; too much alcohol burn for too little flavour in her books.

Honestly, I’m glad I’m not in Slothrop’s position here. If I’d arrived a brandy virgin at a beautiful woman’s Riviera suite and she’d poured me a glass of the stuff, I’d have probably taken a gulp expecting something wine-like and coughed it up all over her. Not “suave, romantic Slothrop.” Of course, our AWOL adventurer is likely no brandy virgin. He’s pretty on top of things here, recognising that the hotel room is “mostly props,” singing a little, and then of course he’s on top of Katje…

Afterwards, Slothrop’s asleep and snoring “like a rocket whose valves, under remote control, open and close at prearranged moments,” snores that “have been known to rattle storm windows.” Katje’s having none of it. She attacks him with a pillow, prompting a pillow fight that escalates until she’s brandishing a Seltzer bottle.

Slothrop keeps trying to grab the bottle. Slippery girl squirms away, gets behind a chair. Slothrop takes the brandy decanter off of the sideboard, unstoppers it, and flings a clear, amber, pseudopodded glob across the room twice in out of moonlight to splash around her neck, between her black-tipped breasts, down her flanks. “Bastard,” hitting him with the Seltzer again.

Too good. But am I neglecting my duty if I don’t test brandy’s use as a weapon? No one around seems too keen to have it thrown at them, even if it is in gorgeous amber pseudopodded globs.

These brandy episodes are from pages 195 and 197 of my edition. The brandy I drank was the Bardinet VSOP. 

Beaujolais

Through some sort of internet miracle, this blog has had more hits today than in its previous six weeks of life combined. Like ten times more. So tonight I’m celebrating–and welcoming new readers!–with a bottle of Beaujolais. Swing by my house and I’ll pour you a glass. Beaujolais

This drop makes its appearance near the beginning of The Crying of Lot 49, and a stylish appearance it is. You’ll forgive me for quoting at length:

That night the lawyer Metzger showed up. He turned out to be so good-looking that Oedipa thought at first They, somebody up there, were putting her on. It had to be an actor. He stood at her door, behind him the oblong pool shimmering silent in a mild diffusion of light from the night-time sky, saying ‘Mrs Maas,’ like a reproach. His enormous eyes, lambent, extravagantly lashed, smiled out at her wickedly; she looked around him for reflectors, microphones, camera cabling, but there was only himself and a debonair bottle of French Beaujolais, which he claimed to’ve smuggled last year into California, this rollicking lawbreaker, past the frontier guards.

Which is for sure the best paragraph of Pynchon I’ve drank through for this blog thus far. I’m wishing I had the resources this evening (pool, really really ridiculously good-looking man) to recreate that snapshot for an actual photo here. But nevermind. Photos of bottles sitting in my kitchen will have to suffice. And I do think I’ve found myself a suitably debonair one! Fit to compete with Metzger’s.

DSC_8432Oh but what is Beaujolais? You’ve gathered so far that it’s wine. My cursory wikipedia research and the bit on the bottle saying “Appellation contrôlée” indicates that it’s specifically wine from the historic Beaujolais province north of Lyon in France (making the ‘French’ in Pynchon’s ‘French Beaujolais’ a bit redundant). Beaujolais winegrowers tend to deal in the Gamay noir grape, which apparently provided relief to village growers after the Black Death by being quick and easy to grow. History, however, was not universally kind to the Gamay grape. In July of 1395, the well-named Phillipe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, banned Gamay as “a very bad and disloyal plant” supplanting the more honourable Pinot Noir grapes. Anyway, I’ll stop transcribing the Wikipedia article. The gamay obviously staged a comeback sometime in the 620 years since, making it into Lot 49 and down my gullet.

It goes down very pleasantly too. Peppery smelling, very light at first and then with all these nice ripe plums and more of that pepper. Nice stuff. And if anyone can tell me how to say smarter things about wine I’ll be most grateful.