Ah, yes-- the Big Five-Oh. A big thank you to Winehiker Russ Beebe for hosting this milestone installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday. I fully expect to get some 'winehiking' in during my upcoming couple of months among los Californios-- maybe a haunted Hallowe'en traipse by the River of Skulls? For now, unfortunately, this is probably ending up as a virtual ramble down a wild stretch of memory lane.
My younger brother Alberto did not live to see fifty. Just about five weeks after celebrating his 49th birthday (On May 21, 2005, to be exact: the incident made the front page of the Orlando Sentinel the following morning.) he confronted three Brevard County officers who couldn't handle a drunk-- with a knife in each hand, admittedly-- any other way than sending him to his grave with eight bullets in him. These days I'm angry mostly at my own lack of resolve in marshalling resources to question & investigate the official 'justifiable homicide' excuse. I am also, however, enduringly irritated at the dismissal voiced by members of our extended family who argue that Alberto, in his spiral of alcoholic depression, had set himself up into a 'suicide by cop' situation. To me this seems an obvious, likely variation on blaming the victim.
How is any of this pertinent to the topic at hand? One of the last good times we had together was when we bagged the three main peaks in El Yunque National Forest during the course of a sweltering afternoon hike, led with dogged focus & persistence by our German (half) brother, Peter. If memory serves me right, this must have been close to my own birthday, in March of 2001. There are wilderness trails in El Yunque, but I'm not certain the loop we improvised around the peaks, connecting as it did by a service road, could be considered such. The tallest summit in the area is actually 'El Toro' (Its height variously estimated at 3,524 feet here, 3,533 here) which now lends its name to what was formerly designated 'El Cacique' Wilderness Area-- as you can read in this succint summary of what makes the Forest unique.
I say three peaks-- Peter can actually claim four: before beginning our descent with a planned pitstop at Mt. Britton tower, he insisted on making his way past the electrical substation & broadcast antennas at the end of the main service road to the narrow outcropping fittingly dubbed 'La Roca'. Delays had made for a late start around midday & the afternoon heat rising in waves from the pavement seemed to aggravate the pain in my knees as well as make me dizzy. I had prepared only one seltzer bottle of my homemade peppermint-green tea 'soda', hardly enough to stay hydrated in the local climate-- it was finished by the time we took snapshots on Los Picachos, our first summit.
I can't remember how I convinced the family crew to trust me & chance the shortcut of a barely discernible path along what seemed an abandoned branch of the forest service road. It was fern-clogged, overgrown, & somewhat rough going; but there was shade overhead, softer ground underfoot, & we saved quite a few minutes of precious time which was starting to run scarce. I had something of a personal agenda taking shape at this time, given urgency by the heat: I wanted to cool off in my own special pool.
Back in '89 or '90, showing a visitor from New York around Puerto Rico, I had taken the opportunity to revisit El Yunque for the first time since childhood. I discovered there were a series of more or less secluded pools both up & downstream from the showcase 'La Mina Falls'-- La Mina 'trail' is actually a narrow concrete sidewalk, slippery with rainforest moss & fairly steep to boot. I'd only returned once to the special pool I'd identified, bringing friends David Sower, his then-fiancée, & Alex Schachtner from Germany for a cooling dip when they were all my guests in June 1999. Now I wanted desperately to soak my aches & pains in the cool, churning stream.
Long story short, I got my wish-- & you may have already surmised this is the place where I'd like to open that bottle of wine-- but there was a price to pay: access to vehicular traffic is closed off at six in the afternoon, by locked gate. The hour was late & close enough to that cutoff point that we decided I should jog the two miles or so down to the gate to make sure it stayed open while Peter, his wife Astrid, & Alberto hiked the steep mile back uphill to the trailhead parking lot to get our car. I made it to the gatepost, gasping for breath, & waited anxiously by the deserted roadside. I seem to remember they were delayed somewhat, but still, no guard or caretaker turned up before we were gone-- & I haven't been back since then...
Oh, the wine-- ! Quirkily enough, the wine I'd want to drink-- to share, preferably-- in this place is one I have some mixed feelings about: Naia Verdejo is something of a 'tropical fruit bomb' (according to a reviewer who shares my opinion, in Spanish) crafted for the international palate & maximum ParkerPoints by Oenologist Eulogio Calleja under the sponsorship of importer Jorge Ordóñez. Sometime over a year ago I shared a couple of bottles with my friend Ricardo. It was a great match with his ceviche of Mahi-Mahi, the heady perfume of honeysuckle & passion fruit, (Parcha in Puerto Rico, Maracuyá in Spain & most of Latin America) carrying over with a touch of sweetness on the palate & playing nicely off the lemony marinade & the soft oiliness of the fish. While other tasting notes suggest there may be a fair amount of vintage variation, attributable as much to the subtle blending play of Viura (Macabeu in Catalunya) & Sauvignon Blanc allowed under DO Rueda regulations as to other technical factors, I dare say the slightly over-the-top character is what the lush rainforest setting calls for.
On a less idyllic note, I needed two days-- Thursday & Friday of last week-- of 40-minute pavement hikes each way to board the Tren Urbano into town at its Torrimar station & finish the paperwork for renewing my driver's license. It was then I decided I needed more time to tie a few loose ends before flying West, took a deep breath & paid the 150 smacker fee to postpone my departure. Otherwise, yesterday I might have been trying to find my jet-lagged way out of San Francisco to some trail with a wineshop nearby. In the meantime, & not to stray too far from my longstanding pursuit of Viognier knowledge (most extensively chronicled here) I've managed to get my hands on a few other different takes on Verdejo, most notably from Bodegas José Pariente & Solar de la Vega.
Having missed my deadline, & not to delay posting any longer, tasting notes will have to wait.
So I will sign off with with my all-too-often recurrent-- 'to be continued...'