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Pigs, Dom Pérignon and Nicaragua

Posted: Jan 11, 2007 9:10pm ET

I bought the last two bottles of 1996 Dom Pérignon at the border of Honduras and Nicaragua. Doesn't that seem a little excessive? I got them at a bargain $120 a bottle. And 1996 is one of the best vintages ever. It is at the same quality level as the 1982.

I was invited to a pig roast in Estelli, Nicaragua, at the Padrón cigar factory. The 70-pound pig had been cooking all day in a special barbecue that resembled a small garbage bin with a compartment underneath for the burning charcoal. And I knew a friend was coming well-stocked with 2002 red Burgundy. So I couldn’t show up empty-handed.

The day had been a long one visiting various cigar factories in Nicaragua and Honduras, mostly for the production of Rocky Patel cigars. So a cool bottle of fabulous Champagne seemed like the perfect way to chill after a long day in the 4x4 saddle on the dusty roads of Central America. Moreover, some Nicaraguans were celebrating the inauguration of the country's new president, Daniel Ortega, but I certainly didn't buy the wine for that ….

I arrived at the Padrón's factory right when the charred pig was being pulled out of the oven. It looked a bit well-done to be honest, but I am no expert on barbecuing pig, despite my family name. The pig had been butterflied and placed in a stainless steel rack to be cooked. The Padróns pulled the pig out and placed it on a large table, and many of the partygoers immediately dug into the meat, grabbing the pieces of crunchy skin. I chilled the fantastic fizz as they crunched away.

About a half-hour later, I was pouring the icy DP, and everyone was in one hell of a good mood. The Champagne was floral and citrusy with wonderful and complex aromas of bread dough and fruit. It was long, fruity and fresh. It showed great class. Jorge Padrón was carving the pig and drinking the fizz. "This is one hell of a glass of Champagne," he cooed. I was equally elated; it was superb. I gave it an unofficial score of 97 points. Perhaps I was influenced by the impressive beast that lay before us for dinner, but it was delicious.

The pieces of pork were served family-style at the large table, with lots of black beans and rice (the Padróns are Cuban, so they prefer black to red beans), boiled yucca and deep-fried plantains. My buddy brought some bottles of 2002 Joseph Matrot Blagny La Pièce sous le Bois. It was a spicy, earthy, decadent young red and went wonderfully with the pork and hearty side dishes. It was much more open than the 2002 Lafarge Volnay that we had drunk a few days before, but it was obviously not as classy. I gave it an unofficial rating of 90 points. The Pinot cut through the rich and juicy meat and made you want to drink and eat more … not a good thing after five days of eating rich food.

Cigars and 18-year-old Flor de Caña rum followed. So did a slightly scary speech by the new president of Nicaragua, as we all watched the television.

So much for my hardship posting in Nicaragua …

What's the strangest place you've ever drunk excellent wine?

Glenn S Lucash
January 12, 2007 12:04pm ET
This past Christmas week, we were in St Lucia at a wonderful restaurant drinking a '96 Cos d'Estournel that was very reasonably priced at $ 125.00 when we noticed a rather large tarantula strolling on a nearby wall. They are magnificient creatures, not poisonous but can give you a nasty bite if you annoy them. Was a bit strange gazing at the Pitons, great food and drink and G-d's amazing creations all rolled up in one relaxing evening. The Cos was superb too!
John Flaska
Laguna Niguel, CA —  January 12, 2007 1:49pm ET
James, I want to appologize in advance for this question since it has nothing to do with your post. We will be visiting Bordeaux March 25-28 and wanted to know if we will be in the middle of your industry tasting and would have any problems visiting Chateuas or finding a place to stay. Any recommendations would be greatly apprecitated. Thanks
Michael Mintz
Washington DC —  January 12, 2007 4:25pm ET
I am not sure why, but I consider Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel blends (ala Rhone-styled) to be excellent for Festivals (ie. Shakespeare, or Burning Man...). We had J. Phelps Le Mistral 2002, drunk from Riedel 'O' stemless crystal, at the Pumpkin Chunkin' Festival 2005(leftover Halloween pumpkins launched from catapults or pneumatic guns - some fly over 1/2 mile). The combination of a dusty cornfield, hearty fair-style foods and exuberent crowds was fantastic.It was an incredible experience and the wine only enhanced it!
Brandon Redman
Seattle, WA —  January 12, 2007 4:37pm ET
My wife and I enjoyed a bottle of 1998 L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vyd. Walla Walla Valley in Yelapa, Mexico. We had our legs propped up in front of our tatch-roofed hut, watching a HUGE thunderstorm roll in. The wine was wonderful, but the setting was better!
James Suckling
 —  January 13, 2007 12:56am ET
No problem John. The official trade tasting is the first week of April. So you should be okay. I will be in Bordeaux when you say. I suggest Cordelian-Bages as a place to stay in the Medoc and Hostellerie de Plasaince for Right Bank. Have fun.
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  January 13, 2007 11:39am ET
Perhaps not so strange as unexpected. On a business trip to Japan, our hosts took us to many fine Japanese restaurants in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kobe for sushi, tempura, teppanyaki, a traditional Kaiseki-ryori dinner, noodles (for lunch), even Chinese food. But on our final night, we went to Alain Chapel Restaurant in the Kobe Portopia Hotel for a dinner that started with foie gras accompanied by Chateau d'Yquem, a fish soup with Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet, Kobe beef filets with Lynch-Bages Pauillac, a cheese course with an excellent white Cotes du Rhone, and finally, apple tarts with a late harvest Alsatian Gewurtztraminer.
James Suckling
 —  January 13, 2007 11:46am ET
That sounds like an amazing dinner. I agree that it is unexpected. But the quality of ingredients in Japan is next to none.
Joseph Romualdi
Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada —  January 13, 2007 3:33pm ET
Back in 1996, my wife and I went camping with 2 other couples. We were in Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada. This was the first time my wife had been camping, so suffice it to say, I had to stop her from taking the kitchen sink with us. Aside from having our own tent, sleeping bags, clothes, etc., we decided to share the cost of food and drink equally. On top of that, each couple was to bring a surprise. On our first night in the wilderness, under a clear late-summer sky, littered with a million stars, we sat around our camp fire joking and reminiscing, when my friend Rob pulled out a bottle of a 1990 Brunello. I can't remember the name as I was not really into wine back then, but I remember it was expensive and delicious. Not to be outdone, at around midnight, I took out a bottle of Remy Martin XO Cognac, complete with 3 crystal snifters I 'borrowed' from my mother-in-law, and 3 Cohiba Coronas Especiales. The girls had gone to bed, so it was just us 3 guys, smoking and drinking the night away. I'll never forget how smooth the cognac was and how great the cigars tasted. It was a night I'll never forget. As for the rest of the trip...we downed 3 cases of beer between the 6 of us. My wife had 1 beer the whole trip.
Tom Hudson
Wilmington, Delaware —  January 14, 2007 8:33am ET
As a (former) practicing CPA, my wife and I travel to Negril, Jamaica each year on April 16, the day after the end of Tax Season. We have done this for 15+ years.One year we brought a bottle of 1982 Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (a gift from a client) with us to Jamaica. We drank this for dinner one night, sitting on white plastic chairs on the patio of our $25/night "cottage" 50 yards from the Carribbean, paired with whole steamed Red Snapper we bought from a homestyle place across the street from the cottage (the restaurant is called "Fattie's" - no menu, you get what she's cooking that day). The cost of the whole snapper, enough for 2, was $5.00US.
James Suckling
 —  January 14, 2007 11:04am ET
Tom. That sounds great. I did something similar on a beach in Thailand with white Burgundy and steamed fish in a small restaurant.
Everett Cowan
Brentwood, TN —  January 14, 2007 12:38pm ET
My wife and I were returning from an Alaskan Cruise when our flight was delayed and the airlines put us up in a low end hotel for the night. The evening meal came from a nearby Pizza place purchased with the coupons the airlines provided. We ordered the lasagne and decided to open a bottle of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet we had purchased on board ship and drink it from the tall thin stemmed wine glasses that also were purchased on the ship. My wife insisted on washing these out in the bath tub. So there we were sitting on our bed in this run down hotel drinking Mondavi Reserve Cab and eating lasagne from delivery. The lasagne was surprisingly good because we were famished of course but the evening was made bearable by the fine wine.
Peter Czyryca
January 14, 2007 2:25pm ET
James - great blog...I always enjoy living vicariously through your travels. Just out of curiousity, how is the provenance of wine in South American in general? I know that in the US, probably half of the retail shops have less than optimal conditions - and that's in an affluent nation. Do you ever have concerns such as these when you purchase wines in the corners of the world?
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  January 14, 2007 7:42pm ET
On a boat west of the island of Chacachacare, between Trinidad and the Venezuelan mainland, in what is called the Grande Boca (Columbus named the three passages between the islands west of Trinidad Las Bocas del Dragon, as they can have some very rough water). We had just landed a nice 90 lb. wahoo and a 25 lb black fin tuna, both of which tasted very good in subsequent days.The wines were a La Crema Pinot Noir (which was not a great wine but pretty good, especially out on the open water) and a Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvee 1988 Champagne, which was really fine and delicious. The food was smoked salmon sandwiches and Italian olives. The water was not rough, the sun was bright and the wind fresh and vitalising.Some may cringe at hearing this but with the final flutes of champagne, we poured in a few drops of the pinot noir and produced a delicious rose. I do like rose champagnes and this was easily comparable to some of the best I have tasted. The question is who will cringe more, the Americans or the French?
Wine Studio
Toronto, ON —  January 15, 2007 11:44am ET
James,excuse the off topic post. A friend and I are heading to Havana at the end of the month. I haven't been since 2003 and wonder if the many paladars and restaurants I used to frequent are still there. Is La Casa still around? I know La Guarida is still there. La Cocina de Lilliam? I also used to enjoy El Rachon begind the LCDH on Fith in Miramar. Has it re-opened? Do you know if La Florentina at the Hotel Capri is open again? Decent Italian food. Really looking forward to the trip before everything changes with the passing of Fidel.

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