When traveling through Romania in the early nineties, I had the opportunity to try Romanian moonshine. This drink was . . . how can I put it? . . .yes, that’s it—bad. The locals brewed the mix in wash tubs in their basements with plums grown in their own yards. Without industry standards for consistency (or health and safety, for that matter) the drink was typically strong enough to warrant donning a hazmat suit when handling it. The distilling process was far from perfect as evidenced by the errant hair or lint or gnat floating pickled in the fluid. Wide mouthed mason jars and long-necked orange soda bottles were filled in back alleys when a fresh batch was ready for distribution. The array of bottle shapes and styles gave them all a kind of matching similarity, in a strange Twilight Zone sort of way.
One evening, a village official invited us to a little welcoming party. The party was the perfect showcase for the locals to show off their brew—kind of like a wine tasting, except maybe one organized by Satan. To my surprise, a number of local moonshine experts uniformly preferred a brew made by one of the townsfolk (Vlad the beet farmer). These critics were men whose opinion the rest of the village respected, men whose vast experience provided them with unique insight and expertise. These experts then goaded, pressured, and otherwise bullied me into trying a shot of their village’s pride.
I tipped the shot glass back and in a flash I wondered if I would ever be able to use my lips and tongue again in a meaningful way. I think I also briefly saw Jim Morrison of The Doors speaking with Genghis Kahn in the corner. The drink’s full potency hit me in the back of the head like my cousin’s numchuck hit me that day he tried to demonstrate his “chucknique” in grandpa’s basement. In that moment, my skepticism of drink critics was born.
With this week’s recommendation, I disagree with an expert as vehemently as a shot of Romanian moonshine disagrees with one’s gastrointestinal tract.
Trapiche Broquel 2008, Malbec ($15.99): This wine received a rather tepid score from a well-respected national critic. In a strongly worded letter, I told him of a small Romanian village in need of a good moonshine taster. I believe Trapiche is one of the best Malbecs on the shelf.