<%@ Language=VBScript %> Keepgoing.org - 1st Anniversary Issue: WORK - The Wine Must Flow, The Mind Must Wander
The fARM

The Wine Must Flow, The Mind Must Wander

By Al Dereu

WineJUST for the fucking record, after waiting three-and-a-half hours at O'Hare, flying for eight hours (ahead of schedule—thank you, JET STREAM!), moving quickly through Charles du Galle airport to catch the connecting flight to Madrid (two more hours), and getting to the train station from Bajaras Airport (another hassle), THEN a five-hour-plus train ride awaits me to get to the hotel in Logrono in northern Spain. Apparently, the aim here is QUANTITY of train lines, not QUALITY—a situation I at once loathe but also privately desire to improve upon for a large Yankee dollar some day.

The train ride feels like it will never end. At least it offers an excellent view of the northern outskirts of Madrid, its sprawl slowly turning into vineyards and orchards. They don't build small three-story buildings here, like the ones going up en masse in Chicago. Everything here gets built TALL or WIDE or WIDE AND TALL. A neat trend is for apartment buildings to stagger "rise and run" style on the top floors, creating extended terraces that surely offer awesome views.

The 20 hours of travelling is now officially kicking my ass. I sleep ever so lightly on the train, waking every stop in profound fear of missing mine. I swear this train is moving not as the bird flies, rather "as the drunk stumbles." Are we not going backwards in the exact opposite direction since the last stop?

The landscape reminds me of Arizona desert. Hearty shrubs and fruit trees dot an otherwise barren series of hills and valleys. Are we not travelling south now, with the idea of going north? Or does the sun rise in the west and set in the east in Europe? (I don't recall being taught that in school.) Fortunately, I bought a couple of vending-machine beers minutes before boarding. Unfortunately, in a mad thirst for liquid diversity, I discovered that Heineken also makes a nonalcoholic beer—IS THERE NO MERCIFUL GOD!?!?!

I've not heard of any of the places we pass (has anyone?) and ask not the reason why. Luckily, we don't stop at most of these numerous ghost towns, where clearly only fugitives, gun smugglers, and heathen terrorists reside. This trip is worse than driving the speed limit across Nebraska. The infrequent tunnels offer a rare moment of excitement, a possibility of chance magic, of encountering a time-lost hamlet of Dungeons and Dragons inspiration. What has my bag of tricks to cure this state of despair? Have I a potion of spontaneous hallucination? No, no mescal is to be found here, we've not warped into Southwest wasteland.

I quickly pound the Heineken "Lucern" (N.A.), whose vending-machine button gave me no forewarning of its impotence. Hoping I laugh before I cry, I suddenly realize I haven't eaten anything save a small airline apple-topped egg dish in the last 24 hours. Hell hath no fury like an archaic train in a sun-drenched endless desert. But this isn't hell, it's pure purgatory. At least a paid-for room in some swank hotel awaits my weary ass. If I'm not sore head-to-toe tomorrow morning, I will know not why. I would open my deck of cards to seek solace in some solitaire, but I dread drawing the Hanged Man.

A hand lands softly on my shoulder, then a deep voice asks, "Viajas a Logrono?" Si. "Bien, bien." He walks away, not knowing the Christmas cheer he has just delivered. At last I know the end is near. But the winery tours and meals over the next couple of days more than make up for the torture of travel.

Well, well, well…Marques de Caceres is indeed a muy modern facility. I arrive an hour-and-a-half late, although after double-checking, I wasn't given a specific time to be there. They are two wines into a nine-wine tasting. I've already tasted (and sold lots of) both of them—a light, summery white and a high-quality dry rose. Two other gringos are here for the tasting: a woman whose last job was a consulting gig with Gallo, and her male companion, a plastic surgeon. It would be redundant to say they are from California.

The array of wines is indeed impressive. Two of the reds I've also tasted—a '94 Vintage Reserva (a personal fave) and a new vintage of the crianza ("entry level") red. A decanter filled with a decade-old Gran Reserva tastes great, and may even evolve further over time. Perhaps sensing my high regard for the product, the winemaker hands me a bottle to take home! The balance and elegance of each wine is consistently excellent. I ask if American oak—typical of the area—is used for the aging. I am corrected; it's FRENCH oak—the result of consulting with French winemakers. A recent improvement, we all agree, as it impacts the fruit character less aggressively. It must sound insane to non-wine people, we laugh, but it's still true.

We and the wines are then taken upstairs for a large lunch—again typical, as most of the country figuratively or literally sleeps during the oft-brutal heat of early afternoon. The older reds are even better alongside a beef dish cooked with olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Then we're served an array of local cheeses. I've not previously heard of any of them, but forget them soon I shall not! The last, a blue-veined goat cheese, is served with a white wine that is semi-sweet but lighter, drier, and crisper than anything of its ilk I have had before. "Rot with rot" is a classic pairing motif, meaning essentially funky cheeses alongside dessert wines made from grapes affected with botrytis (a.k.a. "noble rot") taste great together. This probably sounds even more insane to non-wine people.

As if midday hasn't been coupled with enough alcohol, I am offered (and, of course, accept) PAZATO, a moderately strong anise-like after-meal drink. The licorice notes, however, are complimented by berry flavors. I'm given quite a sizeable sample, over ice, as if my unmistakable curiosity needs a serious satisfying. A bottle of this I must bring home!

A fast-paced tour of the ultra-modern facility ensues. The huge warehouses of new and old oak barrels, the sky-high stainless-steel fermentation tanks, and the impeccably clean and impressively new bottling room are all equally awe-inspiring. Perhaps because it's the first winery I've visited, or because it is undoubtedly the envy of the entire region. Cellars really are neat to step into, but also notoriously hard to photograph successfully due to the lack of light.

"Do you act as a consultant to smaller, neighboring wineries?" I naively inquire. A laugh erupts from both of the bodega employees. "No, we don't like to share our secrets." Except with gringo turistas like me, apparently. The winery's receptionist, who was clearly ignorant of my status as a pusher of their product, had told me earlier that day to join the group tour at 3:30. Luckily, my instincts had told me to arrive as soon as I could. And while I still don't know who won the first White Sox playoff game I was watching at O'Hare about 30 hours earlier, I have a far richer experience to remember and share.

Being wined and dined until 1:30 in the morning that same night by our Marques de Caceres friend sure doesn'thelp my morning tour of Bodegas Martinez Bujanada. But travelling through the old parts of town down the narrow streets amidst age-old architecture and stopping for a drink and tapas at literally a dozen different establishments makes for an epic evening. We finish up at a larger bar with absintheon the drink menu. I just had to try it, and instantly the jokes flowed about my inability to find my hotel due to incapacitating hallucinations. "MAKE IT A DOUBLE!" I shout to our most generous host. It is pretty good, non-psychoactive (I think) and enough to last me a good hour after my obviously exhausted company leaves.

A newly purchased Marquez book, Nobody Writes to the Colonel Anymore, keeps me occupied in the largely vacant bar. Two couples work the foosball table now and again; the potent smell of cigarettes informs me that the jukebox, which is only a few feet from me, is again being reloaded. I am elated at the fact that it isn't gringo music. I half-heartedly await visual anomalies and/or audio alterations in my immediate environs—with no evident luck.

Realizing that it really isn't sufficiently lit to read just as my glass becomes empty, I decide to slowly wind my way home. Through the maze-like streets, filled with the noise of a thousand youths, I successfully arrive at my brand-new fancy hotel. In my room a wonderfully cold beer awaits me (not to mention an array of liquors in shot bottles in the fridge door if I desire), but the only thing on TV is a rerun of the Bills-Colts game I had already seen. Even though defeat is their destiny, I can't help but to root for the Bills. Maybe that absinthe is creeping up on me after all.

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Copyright©2001 by Al Dereu.

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