Demerara. That word alone is infectious. It’s derived from the Arawak language, meaning “river of the letter wood.” It sounds exotic. It is exotic. Demerara is a place, among other things related to that place. It’s a region of Guyana founded by the Dutch. There’s a river, also called Demerara. There are fields of sugarcane lined with canals where herons and egrets wade. The air is sweet smelling. It smells of forests. And the Caribbean, which is not far away.
At Bazurto Social Club in Cartagena, Colombia’s once down and out Getsemani quarter, a new scene is emerging in the Caribbean enclave. There’s not the cookie cutter cruise ship emerald shops and Hard Rock Cafes, but rather the atmosphere is fueled by the faded stone walls, graffiti, loud music, and strong drink. In this day glow painted bar, owned by Jorge Escandón of La Cevicheria fame, that particular strong drink would be the Machaca’o, a newly invented cocktail that is aiming to become Cartagena’s official.
A four day tour of Uruguayan wine country, small though it is, still barely scratches the surface and leaves one wanting more – be it somewhere new, or more of the same, the wines, people and culture are wonderfully addictive.
In November of last year one of the wine industry’s most venerable magazines, the Quarterly Wine Review, ceased publication. Wine, says owner Richard Elia, has lost its romance. The charm, the characters, the gentle hedonism, the mischievous sparkle; all have been losing ground at a devastating rate to marketing and point systems. In many ways he is right, from huge companies whose product just happens to be wine, to raging consumerism and out of control bandwagons, things can look a little bleak from a certain angle. A recent YouTube video shows a sommelier vigorously molesting his glass of wine (his glass in this case being a convenient lab beaker…) with a hand-held electric blender so as to better and more quickly aerate his fine aged wine. This is the face of the apocalypse, I thought; I rent my clothes, rubbed ash in my hair and spent a week wandering around in sackcloth.
Chile isn’t the only South American nation that is taking to craft beer. Colombia, which is better known for mass produced lagers like Aguila and Club Colombia, is taking big steps towards cerveza artisanal. In Medellin, craft brewery 3 Cordilleras is causing something of a scene. On Thursday nights, from 5:30-9pm, they open their brewery doors to the public hosting brewery tours and a lively bar area with live music and the incredible deal of five beers for CP$15,000. The later the evening gets the more crowded it gets. It’s standing room only. During the brewery tours, sometimes lead by the owner Juanchi Vélez, there are groups of 20-30 people, few of which have ever tried anything other than a basic lager. Still, they’re asking questions. What makes a beer dark? Where do you get your hops? It’s the start of something.
Michael Evans was a political consultant working with John Kerry and Rock the Vote, then went on vacation to Mendoza, Argentina in 2004. A year later, with co-founder Pablo Gimenez, he began Vines of Mendoza, a wine entrepreneurship program in the Uco Valley where owners, with help from Argentina’s most acclaimed viticulturalist Santiago Achaval, learn winemaking and create their own superior quality wine. In a few short years the project has grown to encompass a wine club, online wine store, tasting room in Mendoza, and soon a resort and spa.
A postcard available at Corchos, a small, classy wine bistro in the old quarter of Montevideo depicts a personification of a Tannat grape, Uruguay’s flagship varietal. He is short and … robust… North American of girth and his face sunburned to a deep shade of British tourist. He snarls a challenge over a stubby hand-rolled cigarette and his eyes back it up; try me, they say; see these spurs on my boots, they say; that’s right, they say; I’m no Pinot Noir mo#% *f#$!!@.
And for the longest time he got the arms-length respect he demanded in his native Madiran, a small area in the Gascon region of France. Generally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to make Madiran appellation wines (a wine must contain at least 40% Tannat to classify) or made as a single varietal, wines with Tannat are relatively simple and rustic and usually stored for many years before consumption is even considered.
I tend to travel home with lots of bottles. Rum, pisco, Cachaça, wine, etc. When I’m in Mendoza in particular, I tend to be stretching the limit of my legally allowed alcohol allowance. Also, considering if you are not buying from Duty Free and if you have a connecting flight in the United States, wine cannot be transported in your hand luggage. It has to be packed. Although I’ve never had a bottle brake in transit, I know it is coming.
To understand Pisco Porton, you must first understand Mosto Verde Pisco. Pisco Porton is probably the most highly anticipated pisco to hit the US market in the past few years, amid a slew of other new Peruvian pisco brands. It’s crafted by Master Distiller Johnny Schuler (considered a top pisco expert in Peru) at Hacienda la Caravedo in Ica (the oldest distillery in the Americas). It is the only pisco readily available on the US market to be Mosto Verde.
On an almost unbearably hot day on the Riviera Maya, I came across the Refresco, a tequila based cocktail at Banyan Tree Mayakoba’s Sands restaurant, where the infinity pool joins with the turquoise blue Caribbean water to meet the horizon. As it’s name would lead you to believe, the cocktail is indeed refreshing. Here’s what you need to put in your glass: