Wine ó Gin

Gin

By Tim Protzman

Take a decaying inner city, where life is hard and amusements few, and introduce a euphoria-producing substance and youíve got a recipe for disaster. Women leave their children. Men abandon their jobs and families. Pawnbrokers do a thriving business and crimes of all kinds go up.

No, itís not crack cocaine, only gin. Yes, gin. In 17th-century London, gin took hold and for 50 years wreaked havoc in Southwark, the Docklands and White Horse Lane. Only a steep excise tax on its production and a strong temperance movement turned the tide. But it was too late. Gone were the thriving squares and markets of Shakespeareís time, replaced by the bleakness and workhouses that Dickens knew.

Why does gin get such a bad rap? Is it because itís the youngest of the noble spirits?

Or perhaps we remember bathtub gin, a yucky homemade concoction made from grain alcohol and oil of juniper during Prohibition. Whatever the reason, gin sales have lagged behind other spirits for 30 years.

Distillation is an ancient process. The Chinese invented it in the time of the Greek poet Homer, around 800 BC. It spread westward and the great chemists and physicians of Baghdad and Damascus prepared medicines and tonics using distilled alcohol as a base.

From there it spread to Europe with the returning Crusaders. Vodka, Scotch, Grappa and Cognac all date from this time around the 11th century. And while juniper-infused potions are equally as old, it took the prosperity and commercial power of the Dutch to create a gin weíd recognize today.

Gin started as a convenient way to ship grain. Grain spoiled on long sea journeys; gin didnít. Grain took up a lot of space; gin was compact. And gin was far more exciting in the ports of the new world than dry old wheat. Gin was often called Dutch Courage for its warming properties.

After its rough-and-tumble introduction, gin became the darling of the aristocracy, especially during the Victorian Era and the Age of the Cocktail. They drank Gin Slings: two parts gin, two parts lemon juice and a teaspoon of simple syrup (a half-water, half-sugar mix). Bronx Cocktails: gin and orange juice and equal parts dry and sweet vermouth, and the Martini, which was originally made with one part sweet vermouth, one part triple sec or Curacao, a dash of orange bitters and two parts gin. The British Navy served its gin ration with lime juice to prevent scurvy and the Gimlet was born. But most of this gin was called Old Tom, which was sweeter and pale gold in color. Bols V.O. Genever gin is still made this way.

The gin we know today is London Dry gin. Itís sharper, tangy and higher octane. Dry gin paved the way for the classic Martini: three parts gin, a half part dry vermouth. Every Martini lover has his own style of mixing; some stir with ice, some shake. Some use olives, while others prefer cocktail onions. My favorite comes from Seegerís Restaurant in Atlanta. Itís not on the menu because they serve it after closing as a shift drink for the staff. The secret is they keep a bottle of Gordonís in the freezer. Each glass is frosted and a lemon rind is run around the rim. The glass is filled with just gin, no ice. Then Noilly Pratt dry vermouth is added, about a teaspoonís worth. A green Sicilian olive is dropped in and itís stirred gently with a swizzle stick. Itís cold, tangy and strong. The secret is in the temperature. No wonder the three-martini lunch was so popular in the í50s.

Today most people prefer vodka to gin. Itís more mixable and doesnít have the stigma gin acquired in Prohibition. But gin is making a slow comeback as cocktails regain their popularity. And I often pour myself a high-ball glass of grapefruit juice, add a splash of gin, turn on the CD and go for a ride down Vermont Avenue with Snoop and Dr. Dre drinking my juice and gin.

Time for wines

Ever have a good time in spite of yourself? Here are three wines that I was sure Iíd hate, but that turned out to be just great.

2004 Pepi Pinot Grigio, $8.99. A lively white from California with lemon, pineapple and eucalyptus taste notes.

2003 Montenevoso Montepulciano DíAbruzzo, $5.99. This charmingly cheap wine made from Montepulciano grapes on Italyís Adriatic coast is light and fruity with a structured finish and a nonpareil ability to pair with food. From Ettore Galasso Cellars.

2003 Querceto Chianti, $7.99. The perfect wine to pair with the season finale of Lost.

E-mail your wine experiences to tprotzman@hotmail.com.

Find your bottle

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission can help you find your beverage with a click or two. Just go to nh.gov/liquor, type the name of your wine into the product locater and click ďgo.Ē The siteís search engine will come up with a list of stores that carry the bottle you seek.

 
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