Wine Tasting on 'roids
As most may already know, my family is from Hungary. Only twice in my life have I visited the land of my fathers, but I have managed to accrue some great memories during those few short visits.
My first trip to Hungary was back in 1987. At that time, the country was still being ruled under a moderate communist government. As Americans, we were being watched very closely. This is not paranoia, but simple fact. Our “watchers” (as we came to call them) tried very hard to keep themselves hidden and unnoticed and we had a lot of fun with them. By asking them for the time of day, or bringing them some food, or even asking them to join us for dinner would make them incredibly uncomfortable. They were, after all, supposed to watch us and remain unnoticed.
One of the few times we were not being watched was when we made our first trip to the family winery. This was on my birthday, which meant that I was a dead man. When we arrived at 9am, I was greeted with a shot of schnapps, and things continued to go downhill from there. From there, we moved onto beer then moved onto some of the best past vintages that the winery ever produced. By then I was well into my cups, but still somehow managed to stay functional. This is the state of being that I like to call “the cliff edge”. All it takes is one little nudge to demonstrate the Doppler effect .
This little nudge was more like a body slam. At one point during the day, Stephan, my father’s cousin, decided that we were sufficiently lubricated for a visit to the cellar. With him leading the way, and us staggering behind, we descended an old, stone, staircase into a vast chamber that was home to 10 massive casks. Stephan produced a wine thief from behind one of the casks and proceeded up a ladder to fetch a sample.
It is important to note that a Hungarian wine thief is not like the ones you see in wine shops or being used in Napa. Hungarian wine thieves can be best described as “portable water towers”, a big 2 or 3 liter jug-like container with a 4 to 5 foot shaft at one end, and a mouth piece at the other (all made out of 1 piece of glass). To use the thief, you stick one end into the wine, inhale through the mouthpiece, thus drawing the wine up into the “container portion”. It would take several inhaled breaths to draw enough wine to fill the thief.
To make matters worse, Stephan did not draw a “sample” from the middle of the cask (as he should). Instead, he drew wine from just the first inch or so. Alcohol, being one of the lightest components of wine will rise to the top of a large, still, cask over time making for abnormally strong wine. As Stephan descended the ladder, he proceeded to fill 8 ounce water glasses to the brim for each and every one of us.
At this point in the story, it is very important to note that there existed (at the time) a set code of ethics that HAD to be followed. Stay outside the code of ethics, and you not only insult yourself, but also your host. Hungarians are a people with very generous nature. Living at the time in a communist country, things were very hard to come by. The availability of goods that we Americans take for granted simply did not exist under communism. It is almost criminal to refuse ANYTHING that a host offers you.
With the code of ethics in mind, and being offered a large 8 ounce glass of rocket fuel, my only choice was to accept it, and drink it down in earnest and with great relish. I managed this just in time to see Stephan climbing the ladder of the next cask, brandishing the thief. Did I mention that there were 10 CASKS?
I do not remember leaving the wine cellar, or what was for dinner that night. I was told that at one point in the evening I was speaking Hungarian like a local. The only problem is this… I don’t know how to speak Hungarian.
Image courtesy of Neviawen
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