April 3, 2008


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The daiquiris of spring
Lime, until the strawberries get here; plus, whites
By Tim Protzman letters@hippopress.com

Right now certain machines are waking up after a long winter nap.

This is good because soon the snow blower, electric snow shovel and the plow will be going to bed. Goodbye, winter! Hello, spring! You couldn’t have gotten here sooner! Gone are the piston-y snow blower roars, the scrape thumps of the snow shovel and the whir click click of cars breaking free of their white cocoons.

Winter, you’re finished. Soon all we’ll hear from you is the steady drip, drip, babble of your rapidly melting mantle scurrying in the downspouts. What will the first sound of spring be? The unwavering pitch of the leaf blower? The chug chug chug of the rototiller? The naw-naw -naw - naaaaw bursts of Mr. Chainsaw getting a start on next year’s firewood?

For me, it’s the whirring, almost turbine-like sound of the blender that heralds the beginning of spring. Because with a blender, it’s hard to make a bad daiquiri.

Daiquiris are simple drinks. And while they probably weren’t on the menu in the old pirate haven of Port Royal, Jamaica, before it was swallowed up by wickedness and the ocean, they aren’t really a modern creation. Daiquiris are rum, ice, lime juice and sugar. Shaken or mixed. They once were the fare of sailors, who got a rum and water ration and if the water was stale or slimy or gross they added lime and sugar. Not too high class. They become a staple in Cuban society where every tavern, from the wall-less shack to the great mahogany hotel bars served rum, sugar and lime juice. In the ornate palaces of Havana electricity brought a new ingredient: ice.

The key to a great daiquiri is balance. Not to sweet, not too sour. With little pieces of ice that give texture and refreshment at the same time.

The good thing about spring is that fresh, local ingredients are available. The first would be maple syrup. Ice, maple syrup and dark rum or bourbon may be a bit sweet, a bit gimmicky, but I’ve seen it on drink menus. Yeah, it’s usually a local small-town New England phenomenon, but I do see it in many big-city taverns. For home consumption add vanilla ice cream and mix it in a blender.

In June, strawberries come in. The easiest way to make a drink is to fill the blender half way with ice and half way with strawberries. Add 3 tablespoons sugar and — this is important — the juice of one lemon or more, preferably half a lemon and half a lime. This give the drink a little zing, a little backbone, and makes it less cloyingly sweet.

This weekend we couldn’t wait for June and used a mix of frozen and fresh, Floridian strawberries. The daiquiris were delicious. Just like an adult Slurpee. The best thing is that even a bad one tastes good. The hardest part is getting the ice right. Little crystals. Tiny. No bigger than this “O.” Easily slurped up through a straw.

In spring, the wine’s as soft as the silver moonlight reflecting off a rippling pond. And I continue my infatuation with riesling. This time of year white wine is so versatile, pairing with salad and cream dishes like stuffed sole with meunier sauce and macaroni and cheese, working with chicken provencale and potatoes. The main reason is the weather. Brisk, not cold, means bracing refreshment from heavy white wines that would seem like hot tub water on a humid July afternoon. (Yes, soon you’ll be complaining about the heat.)

Here are a few wines that are good during temperate spring weather.
• S.A. Prum Blue Slate Riesling ($14.99) from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany. Fresh, crisp and honey toned without the syrup. A great everyday white, but this would also be a wonderful showoff wine at a dinner party because food brings the flavor up a notch.
• Clean Slate Riesling ($11.99). This wine is produced in Germany and imported by a Seattle-based import company. Apricot, pineapple and Granny Smith apple flavor hints with a thick texture and a light pleasant finish.
• Kendall-Jackson 2005 Merlot ($15.99). Deep, rich dry and a bit jammy. Tasted a little homogenized — I would have liked a little more personality and terrior to come through, but nice. Would definitely drink this wine again. Didn’t much enjoy the zinfandel I tried with the merlot at a tasting.
• Drylands Sauvignon Blanc ($16.99). From Marlborough, New Zealand. Tart and sassy. One-dimensional but interesting, with some terrior and character coming through. Worked well with pizza and chicken parmesan.
• 2006 Bodegas Aldial Naia Rueda ($11.99). What grapes are in this wine? Alicante? Verdejo? Drank a bottle. Took notes, threw the bottle out and now I can’t find/remember what grapes. Doesn’t matter. This one won’t change anyone’s life, but it does show off its roots in the Rueda region northwest of Madrid.
• Yalumba Y Series Riesling ($12.99). Not really Germanic in character but, bigger and less sweet. Yalumba is an aboriginal word for “all the land around.” (You can see how pushy those early Oz settlers were.) Nice wine, a bit brawny, but I got nectarine and lemon grass flavor with the finish.

3/27/2008 Germans play well with others

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2/28/2008 Everything must go!
2/21/2008 His & hers bottles
2/7/2008 Friends in spam
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1/24/2008 A drink to them
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1/10/2008 Wishes and predictions
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12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right
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6/28/2007 We are the merlot
6/21/2007 Forgot Dad? Bring booze.
6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
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5/24/2007 Breaking the fast
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2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
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1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
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1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
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Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
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Schooled In The Art Of Wine
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Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
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Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
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Tipples for turkey day
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What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
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