Just about any time I travel off the beaten track, I think about packing at least a few bottles of wine. A critic, after all, must constantly feed his appetite for something new, and the selection of wines is often unpredictable at remote locations. And so, along with the snorkel gear, beach shoes and bathing suits went half a dozen bottles in various bags as we headed off to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas for a quick getaway last week. A couple of those wines, I would discover, really stood out.
Packing wine for a vacation is an art and not a science. The main challenge, of course, is to make sure the bottles don’t break in your checked luggage, where they must be placed these days. You need as much cushion around them as possible, so wedging them in between layers of clothing is essential. I also like to wrap padding around them. I’ve used old newspaper sections in the past, but this time bought a couple of square yards of bubble wrap and taped a foot or so of it around each bottle. The precious cargo arrived intact, and the bubble wrap would come in handy on the return trip protecting some of those colorful conch shells the boys had collected.
Eleuthera is a very long and narrow island famous for its pink sands and where, in many places, you can look out at the blue-green Atlantic, then turn and take in the lighter-hued Caribbean Sea. Not surprisingly, the fresh fish possibilities are ample, unlike the meat and chicken, which we only saw frozen in the small grocery stores found in the settlements. With fish and warm temperatures in mind I had packed mainly white wines.
One of the highlights was from California — the 2006 Pinot Gris “Witters Vineyard” from the Edmunds St. John winery. This $18 wine — the grapes are grown in the old gold-rush territory of El Dorado County — was one of the more unusual California whites I’ve tasted recently and one of the best examples of American pinot gris you’ll find.
The wine has an originality that is sometimes hard to find in California wines. This is expressed by a pronounced mineral component that was almost startling at first, but grew on me the more I sipped the wine, and it combined nicely with notes of pear, lime peel and smoke. The result is a very dry, complex and sophisticated white that shows a clear sense of place, which you can’t always discern in California wines and to which winemaker Steve Edmunds is committed. Edmunds says the 2006 reminds him more of an Alsatian pinot gris than a fruitier Italian pinot grigio (the grapes are the same variety).
In terms of food matches, the wine went well with simply grilled fillets of grouper, which we bought on a ramshackle dock in the settlement of James Cistern from two fisherman, Ton and Wellie, who had sling-speared a couple of the fish hours earlier in the Atlantic, along with a dozen or so triggerfish and some lobsters, which we also bought. The lobsters are the spiny Caribbean variety that has all the meat in the tail. We grilled them as well and dipped the meat in butter mixed with lime juice and a little chili pepper.
With the lobster it was another wine that stood out — the 2006 Bourgogne from Paul Pernot. This $17 white Burgundy from a well-known producer in Puligny-Montrachet is a relatively rich, yet bright chardonnay that shows notes of pear, pineapple, vanilla, minerals and a touch of spice. It was a perfect accompaniment to the buttered lobster. Because both wines are relatively small-production offerings, I’ll note that I bought them at Chambers Street Wines in New York.
Bringing your own wine, as I found again, can be an essential element of an enjoyable vacation and eliminates the uncertainty and anxiety that come with searching for good wines locally. Just be sure to pack your bottles well.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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