Sun 17 May 2009
I was having a little snack a couple of days ago, some bread and cheese — I made that bread, by the way — and a glass of Spanish red wine, taking a moment on the back porch to read a few pages of a book I plucked from the shelves in the sitting room. I decided, in another by-the-way moment here, to start reading books from our library instead of trying to keep up with contemporary literature the way I did for so many years, when I was a book page editor and book reviewer. So the current read is Thomas Mann’s Stories of Three Decades in the edition of 1936 published by Alfred A. Knopf.
Anyway, I couldn’t help being amused by the packaging of the wine. I mean, here is a pleasant, tasty grenache and tempranillo blend — 75/25 — from the Campo de Borja region, the impressively titled Don Ramon Vino Tinto Barrica 2006 that happens to have a suggested retail price of $9, and it displays, on the neck, a red ribbon held in place by the bold splash of a red wax seal. On a $9 wine! It made me happy just to think about a few guys back at the winery in Campo de Borja saying something like, “You know, it’s a nice presentation, but we need something to spice it up a little, give it a touch of glamor and nobility, maybe … a red ribbon and a red wax seal on the neck!” And everybody goes, “Yay! Bravo! Olé!”
Because eccentricity always must grow out of innocence. Eccentricity without innocence is affectation, and affectation leads to pretension. I found neither affectation nor pretension in Don Ramon’s red ribbon and red wax seal; rather, I thought they make a touching gesture of hopefulness and esteem. “See,” say the ribbon and the seal, “this bottle of wine may cost only $9, but it takes its place proudly in the world.”
Don Ramon Vino Tinto Barrica 2006 offers beguiling notes of raspberries and mulberries with touches of spicy wood. The wine is dry and vibrant with acid, well-balanced, gently shaped by oak. A few minutes bring up hints of rose petals and potpourri. A lovely little luncheon wine, or with bread and cheese. Very Good. About, as I said, $9.
All right, here’s another example of eccentricity, and this one is more extreme as you can see in the accompanying image. Yes, friends, the bottle of the Mosen Cleto Crianza 2005 is coated with sand, and if you are thinking, “What the hell?” you echo my thoughts completely. The wine is, like the Don Ramon Vino Barrica 2006, a 75/25 blend of grenache and tempranillo from Campo de Borja., though this model delivers more heft and personality, more of a macerated fruit and dusty, leathery, mineral character. All of this for about $10; I rate the wine Very Good+.
But sand! It boggles the mind. Is there a lot of sand in Campo de Borja? I mean, the region is way inland, just south of Rioja. Such a device, such a mode of packaging, was not, I promise, born in the fevered imagination of a hot young marketer or PR person. No, this oddity, both weird and strangely endearing, was fostered by the same sense of wonder and eccentricity that gave us Don Ramon’s red ribbon and wax seal.
Both of these wines are imported by Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I wish that Scoperta’s wines were more widely available, but they are carried mainly in markets in the Upper Midwest and on the East and West Coasts.
My last example is a bottle of Armagnac that LL and I have had for 15 years or so, given to us by a dear friend not long before he died. Our friend brought the bottle back from France, where he had lived for many years, but long in the past. It could be 30 or 40 years old. What’s so eccentric is that the bottle is molded to look as if it’s drunk, obviously listing a bit to one side as if it had consumed too much of its own product. This Rabelaisian manner is reinforced by the great metal seal on the sloping front that depicts the profile of a slightly amused Musketeer. Could one find such a product, such a marvel of individuality today?
The bottle still holds an inch of Armagnac that LL and I keep saying we’ll finish some day but never get around to. Perhaps tonight would be the right moment.
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