Wine — Brandy and the nude beach


The difference is, everybody looks good on brandy

By Tim Protzman 

There are many theories that are un-provable but ring true nevertheless; like the theory that pets and their owners start looking alike after they’ve been together a while.

Another is  that we all turn into our parents sometime around middle age. It happened to me this weekend. I put on this shirt, which my ex-wife told me never to wear, but I — with no fashion sense — just had to wear it.

I was dropping my daughter off at her friends and, Haley, my son’s pseudo-girlfriend, pulled up.

“I like your shirt,” she said, with a touch of sarcasm. “It’s so ’80s.”

When did the ’80s become a bad thing? I wondered.

Then I caught Sir Bob Geldof on TV. He’s preparing for his Live 8 Concert, an encore presentation of his 1985 Live Aid Concert. I saw the hair, the jackets and the leg warmers that made the decade so famous. Finally I understood. The ’80s weren’t bad, they were a lot of fun, but the clothes were awful.

I remember where I was the day of the Live Aid Concert. I was with Marie. It was my naturalist summer.

Marie and I met in the winter. When good weather came, she took me to a place called Moonstone Beach. It was a nude beach and it was eye-opening. And that summer with Marie became my nude summer.

Nudism isn’t as sexual as you’d think. Yes, there’s a certain amount of titillation involved, but not much more than at a normal bathing-suit beach. What I remember the most was the Saturday night parties at a place called the 19th Hole, which was a nudist campground a few miles inland. They were called “Funderwear Parties” and at 7 p.m., after seeing each other naked all day and during dinner, we’d all put on underwear. Just the pants. Prizes were awarded for the sexiest, the most colorful and the dorkiest. It was at one of these parties that I first tasted some of the more exotic brandies and eau de vies.

Throughout Europe fiery fruit brandies are made from crushed grape skins left over from making wine. In Italy it’s called grappa and usually it’s made to be drunk young and has quite a kick. Some is aged and it can be quite expensive. And the flavor changes subtly with the type of grape mash (called pomace) used.

Grappa is usually drunk, slightly chilled or put into espresso coffee. In France, grappa is known as marc.

Calvados is distilled hard cider. This apple brandy is from Normandy in France. Artisanal single-still batches are very expensive, because they are barrel-aged in oak, but the commercial product is about the same price as a nice bourbon. Early pioneers brought the Calvados process to America, where it became known as Apple Jack brandy and was drunk much younger than the patiently stored Norman version. Calvados is usually drunk alone, in fact the French use it as a digestive just before dessert. They pound a shot and it relieves that full feeling, something they call the Normandy Hole, and they’re ready for dessert. Not many cocktails are made from Calvados, but the one below is a version of the more traditional sidecar.

Apple Sidecar

1 1/4 oz. Calvados brandy

1/4 oz. triple sec

3/4 oz. lemon juice

Don’t be fooled into thinking that a Calvados Side Car is anything like a Green Apple Martini. There’s such a slight taste difference between it and brandy, and there’s no real fruit flavor.

Aquavit is a funky Danish liquor with the taste of caraway seeds and a potent vodka-esque finish. It’s made from potatoes like traditional Polish vodkas, but the flavoring makes it a non-neutral grain spirit. This is the booze that made Hamlet so melancholy. You either laugh or cry, there’s no in between on Aquavit. 

Poire William is one of my favorite Eau de Vies. Production starts in the spring when the workers place empty bottles over the delicate newborn pears, like the ship in the bottle concept. The pear grows in the bottle and in early fall it’s harvested.

Good Poire William is made from distilled, fermented pears, but a nearly as tasty version is made from pomace (grape mash) and infused with pear flavors. One does not drink Poire William as much as sip it as a digestive. And who William is remains a mystery. Some think it might have been William Tell, who was employed to shoot the pear-filled bottles off the higher branches in the pear orchard.

Wines I enjoyed this week

2004 McManis Petit Syrah-$10.99 Not syrah but a different grape entirely, sort of. In France they call it Durif and it’s a cross between syrah and the peloursin grapes of the Rhone Valley. Delicate fruit with an austere finish.

2003 Man Pinotage - $7.99 From South Africa. A tasty bargain with nice fruit and a rustic barn board finish.

2003 Avila Pinot Noir -$11.99 From California’s San Luis Obispo region. Light and structured with some fruit. This wine lies perfect in between an ephemeral Burgundy and a hearty Oregonian Pinot, at less than half the price. 

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