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Portland Bar Scene: A Widow's Kiss in the Library

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Taking advantage of a new policy at the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library, I sashayed down to the discreet little door to pay a visit to the vast selection of spirits glittering along the brick walls behind the polished brass rails, imagining the possibilities (but not very likely probabilities) of sequentially tasting each one.

Sigh. A man can dream.

It was Monday, and MWL has a new policy of opening on Monday with a walk-in/no-reservation-needed night. In an attempt to address the frustration of crowds waiting to get in and being at the mercy of member privileges superseding them, the MWL wisely and magnanimously decided to open that one extra night a week on a first-come/first served basis.

The result thus far is a pleasant, fairly quiet and sedate and not overly crowded Monday evening. This is sure to change, of course, when more people become aware of the change, but savvy people should enjoy it while they can.

Jordan Felix, the talented lead bartender at MWL was just leaving for a cherished few days off as I was coming in, but he did stay long enough to beam a smile when I ordered his favorite new cocktail on the list, the rather impressive “Widow’s Kiss”.

It is a seamlessly delightful cocktail, heady and satisfying and complete. The beauty of it is its absolute and total simplicity. As with all good cocktails, it seems obvious, even intuitive once you’ve had it---after all, how difficult can it be to just mix three basic ingredients together and stir?

But, you see, therein is the difficulty. Jordan admitted that it took him quite a long trial of experimentation before the drink he visualized came together in the glass. First, he had to decide on just the right ingredients, ending up with a local classic, a world classic and a relatively obscure (except to a handful of wine enthusiasts) third surprise ingredient, a lightly sweet white wine from France. Once he determined that, the next step was to determine the precise balance of those ingredients, for one little variance would shatter the harmony.

The local classic was the Oregon-grown and Portland-distilled Clear Creek Apple Brandy. The world classic was the iconic and inimitable Green Chartreuse, that beloved ancient herbal elixir from the Carthusian monks. The surprise ingredient was Monbazillac AOC, a luscious sweet white wine from the village of Monbazillac on the Dordogne River, just inland from Bordeaux. It is somewhat similar to its more famous cousin, Sauternes, although lighter and a bit less intense. The grapes are the same---Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle---but Monbazillac usually has more of the Muscadelle in the blend, which gives if more florality and a lighter texture. The grapes, as in Sauternes, do have to be effected by the “noble rot”, the botrytis cynerea mold that inflicts only certain grapes in humid zones and serves to concentrate the sugars to confectionary levels.

When the Widow’s Kiss is served up, it is visually gorgeous, a delicate golden yellow leaning toward polished bronze that catches the ambient light and seems to glow from within. On the nose it is equally charming, with promises of favors and flavors to come. And on the palate it manages to adroitly pull off that hard-to-achieve but eagerly desired perfect balance, with clean, crisp, alcoholically driven and precisely delineated ingredients. The apple fruit is there. On the other side, the herbaceous tang of Chartreuse is definitively there. But in the middle, and embracing the apple and herb on each side, is the light velvety touch of the Monbazillac. And, yes, it seems the three harmonize beautifully without in any way losing the essential character and definition of each.

The Italians have a lovely evocative phrase to describe some of their more intense and compelling wines: vino da meditazione, a wine of meditation. This, then is an elixir da meditazione, a cocktail that requires and rewards thoughtful meditation as you carefully eke out the contents sip by tiny sip.

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