By Murray Schulman
We have been exploring wine for quite a while in my IAH columns. Those of you who follow me closely know that I am an honest-to-goodness wine guy. You also have glimpsed subtle hints that I am not shy about enjoying a cocktail every now and again. Yes, I like my wine dry and my cocktails stiff.
Yet here we are in the heart of summer. The days are long and the temperature and humidity are on the rise. My trips to wineries become more frequent and my taste for wine never diminishes. On these excursions to our regional vineyards, I enjoy some company, and there is no better company than my wife, Liz. Let me tell you that I have about 10 inches height advantage and I outweigh her by well over 100 pounds. But this soft-spoken little lady has a knack for keeping me on the straight and narrow.
Plus, she is not afraid to “snatch me baldheaded” if I happen to overstep the boundaries. Does this sound familiar to any of the big tough guys reading this column? Liz comes from old-school Italian stock. There is no one I would rather have with me on an evening at the vineyards. Why am I going on about my wife in a beverage column? It is an easy answer. Liz knows what she likes to drink on a warm steamy summer evening. This leads me straight into my story.
Liz and I were on the road, making. our way to one of our favorite places. By the time we arrived at Valenzano Family Winery, it was late in the afternoon of a particularly warm and humid day. As usual, we were going back and forth. I like dry reds, and she likes sweet blush or white wines. I want to try a couple of flights for the variety, she wants a glass of something chilled and sweet. Mind you, this was not an argument for two reasons. Reason No. 1 is that she always wins. Reason No. 2 is that I will be doing self-inflicted penance for many days to follow. Being a relatively intelligent guy, I try my best to avoid arguments with Liz.
Getting back to my story, the young attendant in the tasting room overheard the discussion. He gingerly approached, taking the appropriate precautions needed for self-preservation. He smiled warmly and asked if we would like to taste something unique and special. Instantly, as if rehearsed, we smiled and nodded our assent. We were presented with two tasting glasses containing a liquid that was a deep blue/purple color. The aroma was sweet yet bold. Liz swallowed her portion and was asking for more. I had an “uh oh” moment, knowing that this was not going to be my type of wine. I took a tentative sip and let this velvety concoction slide slowly over my taste centers. It was sweet and delicious. I was reminded of times sitting in an easy chair after a great Sunday dinner. Friends would be draped over the furniture listening to Sinatra and sipping good port.
I asked for a bottle of whatever this stuff was. I was handed a bottle emblazoned with a label portraying a vision of the Jersey Devil. It was almost scary as the depiction came very close to the image that my great-grandparents described of this legendary creature. In bold old-world print the name Jersey Devil Forte was inscribed above the Valenzano Family Winery logo. I was spellbound as I ordered a full portion at the bar in that tasting room. I finished that glass and ordered another. Liz was still nursing her first glass. Did I mention that she is also much wiser than I am?
This wine, Valenzano’s version of a New Jersey port, goes down remarkably easy. There is no harshness, just velvety deliciousness. The problem is that it goes down a bit too easily. The blend of Cynthiana wine fortified with brandy and aged in oak barrels for three years packs a punch. The combination of an awesome price point of $17 at the winery and under $14 at local liquor stores, a 19.5 percent alcohol content and that amazing. flavor make Jersey Devil Forte nearly irresistible.
It was so irresistible to me that Liz took the keys and drove us home. No problem. She was driving and I was carrying a pair of those bottles under my arm. It was a fun afternoon and evening with that warm glow carrying us well into the night.
But the story does not end quite yet. In the warm sultry days to follow, we made another discovery. Fill a tall glass with ice cubes. Drop a couple of strawberries, a few blueberries and maybe a mint leaf into the glass. Pour two parts Jersey Devil Forte and one part club soda over the ice and berries. You are now about to enjoy one of the most refreshing and delightful spritzers you will ever taste.