Thu 15 Feb 2007
My newspaper colleague Michael Donahue, who is well-versed in country things, years ago used to make corn wine. He learned the recipe from an elderly woman who lived down the road from him out in the country in north Mississippi. I don’t mean corn whiskey, but real corn wine. We have had a jar of Michael’s corn wine from 1993 sitting in the refrigerator for a little more than 13 years; actually several refrigerators, because the little Mason jar moves with us from house to house. We used another jar, again years ago and I think this was the 1992 vintage, for a deglaze with fried pork chops; it was wonderful.
Anyway, every once in a while, I say or LL says, “We ought to open that jar of Michael’s corn wine,” and then one or the other of us says, “Oh, let’s let it age some more.”
Last night, we opened it.
We were eating dinner, trying three wines with one of our favorite dishes, the cod, potato, leek and chorizo stew. Except that the fish was orange roughy, which worked fine. We were tasting the Domaine Bruno Clavelier Bourgogne Aligote 2004, the Domaine Barmes Buecher Rosenberg de Wettolsheim Pinot Blanc 2000, from Alsace, and Nicolas Joly’s Clos de la Coulee de Serrant Savennieres 2000. Yep, just another night at the ol’ trough. All three wines were excellent, and I’ll be writing about them soon, either on my website or on this blog.
In any case, we tend to sit at dinner like this for an hour and a half or so, eating and trying the wines, going back to the wines, filling out the details and dimensions. Eventually, LL said, “You know, there’s some kind of really interesting spice going on with the aligote. Something almost primitive.” She thought for a moment and said, fatefully, “Go get Michael’s corn wine.”
Off to the fridge, pluck the little jar from the shelf. Had to knock at the lid a few times with a spoon to get it to turn.
The color, of course, is extraordinary, a brilliant brassy gold. The bouquet is “foxy” and earthy in the way that scuppernog or muscadine wine is, potent and alcoholic like moonshine or grappa, and then it takes on a scent of citrus-drenched fruitcake. LL and I look at each other, eyebrows raised. I believe I say something like, “Lord have mercy.”
In the mouth Michael Donahue’s Corn Wine 1993 is absolutely smooth and mellow, a segue of orange rind into apricot into spiced and brandied peaches. And completely dry; there’s nothing sweet about this wine, in fact the finish is dauntingly austere. And under the fruit, there remains something earthy, primitive, an elusive, handmade aspect I can only describe as “country.”
What would it have been like at age 15? Age 20? We’ll never know.