Coming Around Again
Sometimes that which we really love just disappears. Take certain models of automobiles, or a high school sweetheart, or a favorite store, or even something as mundane as Windows 7. Gone. And there is nothing we can do about any of it.
Years ago, one of the most popular wine grapes was Chenin Blanc. This white wine style was approachable, went with many foods, unpretentious, good structure, not expensive to grow or to purchase, and then as if the wine gods sneezed, Chenin Blanc was gone. Off the shelves. No longer on restaurant wine lists, and never featured in publications devoted to trends and good wines.
What happened to this pleasurable wine was that American winemakers, intent on following the European model and grape styles, literally sucked the joy out of Chenin Blanc. Americans saw an opportunity to add an easy feather in their winemaking hat and in the process, changed all that was good about Chenin Blanc.
Chenin Blanc traces its roots (sorry about the bad pun) to the Loire Valley in France. It boasts wide range of applications from a soft, stand-alone wine, to a sparkling wine, to a good food accompaniment and even as a dessert wine at elevated sugar levels. Given that level of versatility, it’s no wonder winemakers in America, Canada, even South Africa, where it is known as “Steen,” were enthralled with vinifying it to a wide range of fruit and sugar levels.
It also was a very cheap date. On a scale of costs, Chenin Blanc’s economics were way down the list.
It was the Americans, however, who tried to push the envelope, tried to improve on an already nice situation. The vines in certain locations were planted too close together and overcropping caused the fruit to be flabby, without character, completely uninteresting. It is no wonder that in a world of heavily oaked chardonnay, chenin blanc paled.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the wine bar. Some winemakers in the New World, and a few the Old Country, decided that here was something “new.” This grape could offer, if done right, a fine alternative to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in the white range.
It took a while before Chenin Blanc found multiple homes, boasted fine wine qualities, was unencumbered by snooty attitudes and was reasonably priced.
Welcome back, Chenin Blanc. We never doubted you. Okay, so we did but now you are the creature you were meant to be. Your presence at the dinner table or on the stoop for an early afternoon of wine drinking brings back memories and points to a fun future.
I’ve never thought much about it, but the Moors must have been an odd lot. They were bent on conquest but in at least one instance, they created a remote village up in the mountains of Andalusia, behind Marbella, above the valley of the River Real, and then ignored the establishment. The Moors made no secret that they did not like the place.
Yet here was born an alcoholic beverage, Ojen (Oh-hen) which takes its name from the place. And because the Moors were not a drinking culture, they left the liquor alone. They demonstrated a consistent attitude towards the product and the place.
Not surprisingly, the spirit, Aguardiente de Ojen, rocked along for a century or two, then partially sank into obscurity. Here, the story takes another weird twist. A King of Rex, New Orleans Carnival royalty, tasted the spirit and liked it enough to pass it around to his loyal subjects, creating a cocktail enjoyed notably at Carnival time and mainly around the Rex activities and parade.
The Ojen cocktail has a bit more of a following today, although not much. But it is a known, albeit obscure, cocktail done just about only in New Orleans. Go figure. Our Executive Editor at Renaissance Publishing, Errol Laborde, is particularly fond of Ojen. So, I guess you could say this is a “suck-up” column from me, a lowly writer, trying to impress the boss.
If your curiosity is piqued, the Ojen cocktail, with its dominant anise flavor and aromas, also contains Peychaud’s Bitters, a local invention. William Goldring, a New Orleanian through and through, now has the rights to produce Ojen at his Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. I’ll bet the Moors are surprised at all this fuss.
The recipe for an Ojen Cocktail:
- 2 oz. Ojen
- Dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
- Splash of Water
- Dab of Sugar
Shake with ice. Enjoy!
Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com on Thursdays, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature about cocktails every month in New Orleans Magazine.