Drink of the Week: Jezebel (TCM Fest 2017 Salute #1)

Jezebel.Yes, it’s time once again for our annual salute to classic cinema and this year’s TCM Film Fest. The 2017 edition was a bittersweet affair this year due to the passing of the network’s universally beloved host, Robert Osborne. Mr. Osborne was a unique figure in the annals of cinephiles and movie buffs in that, though he never looked old enough for this to be true, he had begun his career as an actor in the old studio contract system of Hollywood’s classic-era heyday. So, I guess we should go ahead and dedicate the first of our cocktails to him.

We’ll start with the first film I caught this year, William Wyler’s 1938 “Jezebel,” starring Bette Davis as a fiery, self-centered belle who manages to muck everything up between her and fiancé Henry Fonda with her acts of wanton rebellion. On the one hand, there’s no getting around the idea that Davis’ character is set-up as an antiheroine not so different from Scarlet O’Hara of “Gone with the Wind” fame, a role many fans felt was tailor made for Davis. (This film was regarded as something of a consolation prize, though it’s quite possibly the better film.) On the other hand, looking at things through a more contemporary and more feminist lens, it’s really about a woman driven to assert some power in a world ruled by males, who start all the wars and make all the rules.

When she finally breaks one rule too many, it’s by wearing a red dress to a ball. Yup, in pre-bellum New Orleans, an unmarried woman wearing a red dress in public was enough to start a chain of events that could lead to death for anyone foolish enough to take a strong position on the lady’s honor. It was really the worst thing in the world to wear that dress. And, yeah, these people all own slaves. So much for priorities.

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Drink of the Week: The Rose

The Rose.Perhaps the rarest of all experiences in my cocktailian explorations is discovering a new base spirit to build mixed drinks around. After all, most of us who drink to any extent have made at least a passing acquaintance with vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila, gin and brandy, and usually in about that order. With cocktails, you basically start out with at least some knowledge of most of the basic building blocks, so it’s definitely a kick to find a strong liquor that isn’t one of these.

This week’s drink is built around kirschwasser, also called kirsch. I first learned of its existence at a pretty advanced age the first time I saw Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s masterpiece of English cinema, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.” If you’ve seen it — and you probably haven’t, so go use your Amazon Prime membership to correct that error now! — you’ll remember that career soldiers Clive “Sugar” Candy (Roger Livesey) of Great Britain and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) of Germany bond over kirshwasser during a series of increasingly cordial social meetings in the company of their respective ladyfriends.

Given the genteel setting, I always assumed that kirsch was a sweet but complex cherry brandy that was more like a cherry liqueur. In fact, it’s a species of what’s called eau de vie, unaged fruit brandies. It’s no sweeter than whiskey or cognac and pretty strong stuff — one of the brands I used for this was 90 proof — but the cherry notes are definitely there. The Rose is a classic cocktail featuring kirsch that’s appeared in a number of early cocktail texts, including “The Savoy Cocktail Book” and the revivalist booze bible, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” Having now tried it many times, I honestly can’t tell you why this drink is less popular than a martini or a Manhattan except for the fact that most of us have never even heard of its most important ingredient.

Let’s start changing that now.

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Another Roundtable Chat with the Cast of “Archer”

This last summer, while the world held it’s breath about the American election, fans of “Archer” got a bit of satisfaction as the show was renewed for another three seasons. And so it was that, for the second year in a row, I met with almost all of the regulars of the humorously brutal animated spy/private eye sitcom, as well as the show’s creator, Adam Reed, who also provides the voice of fun-loving voice of sanity Ray Gillette. Like my last “Archer” chat held at San Diego Comic-Con, the interviews were done two at a time in super-fast five-minute stints. Alas, this meant that acting legend Jessica Walter deferred almost entirely to Reed. Similarly, ace farceur Chris Parnell lent brilliant but “you had to be there” comic support to Lucky Yates’s thoughts on voicing the lovably sinister Dr. Algernon Krieger. Happily, stars H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer and Amber Nash were more easily transcribed.

As for the new season, with selfish superspy turned self-involved private eye Sterling Archer last seen floating fully clothed and wrong side down in a Hollywood pool, “Dreamland” will take us into a season-long fantasia set in the film noir heyday of 1947. Presumably emanating from the not-quite-dead Archer’s brain and very definitely from the show’s new network home of FXX, the show premieres Wednesday, April 5th at 10PM.

We are promised a great many noir references, the return of former guest star Jeffrey Tambor and no doubt phrasing and anachronistic references to Kenny Loggins. We can also reportedly expect a touching tribute to the long-suffering character of Woodhouse, formerly played by veteran actor George Coe, who passed away at 86 in July 2015, a few days after my first meeting with the “Archer” cast.

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Drink of the Week: The Park Avenue Cocktail

The Park Avenue Cocktail.So many cocktails appear to be named after tony locales, and the Park Avenue Cocktail fits right in with that. Though it’s been a long time since I’ve been to New York City, and I can’t conjure an image of the street, it does appear to play host to some of the biggest corporate powers extant: Bristol Meyers, Major League Baseball and Deutsche Bank among others are located there. Make of that what you will.

As for the drink’s history, while it’s featured in Ted Haigh’s epochal “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” there’s no particular story to tell, though Haigh wonders why the tropical touch of pineapple juice came to be associated with a seat of wealth and power. I haven’t a clue, but I do know this is a nice, simple drink that’s got plenty of mass appeal and is pretty hard (though not impossible) to mess up. It’s also potent enough that you might not need a second one.

The Park Avenue Cocktail

2 ounces dry gin
3/4 ounce pineapple juice
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
2 teaspoons orange curacao

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New Zealand’s Marlborough Region: A lot more than Sauvignon Blanc

Chances are, if you’ve only had a handful of wines from Marlborough, it’s been Sauvignon Blanc. It’s what hit American soil first and, well, they produce a lot of it. It’s certain you’ll continue to see more of it on our shelves too. I just spent two-plus weeks in New Zealand, and winemakers I spoke with are drilling down to produce wines from Sauvignon Blanc that are more specific to both sites and sub regions.

During the couple of days I spent in Marlborough, one thing was abundantly clear: there’s a lot more than great Sauvignon Blanc being produced there. If you’re looking for red wines, there are many fine examples of Pinot Noir that are distinctly different from those grown in Central Otago. If it’s other whites you’re after, there are a bevy of outstanding selections being produced in New Zealand; aromatic whites are a particular strength. The weather, soils and other conditions lends themselves to these grapes thriving. As you can likely imagine, over two-plus weeks, I tasted an awful lot of great wines. Here is a handful from Marlborough that I’m still thinking about. So keep drinking those Savvies, but try some of these too.

Spy Valley 2015 Gewürztraminer ($18)

The fruit for this wine came from a single vineyard. After pressing the grapes, they were slowly fermented and aged in stainless steel. Lychee and apricot notes are evident on the nose along with a hint of vanilla bean. The fruit-driven palate is led by oodles of roasted peaches, white pepper and a hint of nutmeg. Tension between bright fruit and acid marks the long, pleasing finish. This Gewürztraminer is irresistible on its own and it’ll pair beautifully with spicy cuisine such as Thai or Indian.

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