Sunday, June 7, 2009

A spoonful of happiness

Order a coffee in certain parts of Spain and you might be fortunate enough to get a plastic packet of something more interesting than sugar.

Called "Gotas del Marques," it's 5 ml of aguardiente de orojo -- the Spanish version of grappa. You're supposed to use it to "correct" your coffee.

"This is the future," says Jorge Pelaez. "It's such a small amount, you can take it on the plane. You can have one when you're out driving around and if the police stop you, it's OK."

Pelaez is director of sales and exports at Marques de Vizhoja, one of the larger wineries in Condado de Tea, a subregion of Rias Baixas in northwestern Spain, just across the Mino river from Portugal. Pelaez's father Mariano owns the winery, which has 82 hectares of vines, and Jorge is always thinking of innovative ways to promote his products.

Starting next week, every pilgrim to the ancient cathedral at Santiago de Compostela will get a free cup of Marques de Vizhoja's wine. Dozens of pilgrims still arrive every day with aching joints after walking for days or weeks. Currently their only payoff is the sight of the cathedral (impressive enough to be on the back of 1-Eurocent coins). When I visited, most travelers' immediate reaction was to look behind them, either to have their success viewed by others or to wonder, "Is this really the end?" A small glass of Albarino at that moment would be perfect.

"It's expensive for us, but the memory is priceless," Pelaez said. "People will take back from them the memory of the cathedral and the tarta (a cake with a Christian cross in it), and now the memory of our wine."

The Gotas ("drops") are not free -- each packet costs 12 Eurocents wholesale. Thus you won't see them at everyday Spanish cafes, but order a coffee at a tourist hotel, for example, and you might get this little packet of happiness.

How is the stuff? Well, it's aguardiente -- strong, straightforward alcohol. It's not the best grappa I've ever had (that would be Sassicaia before they outsourced grappa production) but it's perfectly fine if you like an occasional belt of such firewater. And it does add a smile to your coffee.

Pelaez said the packets are actually being made in California now. Can we get Maker's Mark in this size, please?


Lisa said...

Clever idea. Wonder why we don't do this stateside w/ Maker's Mark?

W. Blake Gray said...

I don't know but if they start I want a box of them.