Wine, Kilts, and…Vocal Cord Paralysis? – Literary Happy Hour

In which a fictional historical romance set in the 18th century Scottish highlands leads me to the fanciest bottle of wine I’ve ever purchased.

What to read: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
What to watch: Outlander, Starz channel, Saturdays 9pm E/P
What to drink: Hans Wirsching 2006 Silvaner Auslese

I turned, having missed Colum’s words in the growing noise, to find him offering me the decanter, a lovely bell-shaped thing of pale green crystal. The liquid within, seen through the glass, seemed green as the sea-depths, but once poured out it proved to be a beautiful pale-rose color, with the most delicious bouquet. The taste was fully up to the promise, and I closed my eyes in bliss, letting the wine fumes tickle the back of my palate before reluctantly allowing each sip of nectar to trickle down my throat.

“Good, isn’t it?” The deep voice held a note of amusement, and I opened my eyes to find Colum smiling at me in approval.

I opened my mouth to reply, and found that the smooth delicacy of the taste was deceptive; the wine was strong enough to cause a mild paralysis of the vocal cords.

“Won—wonderful,” I managed to get out.

Colum nodded. “Aye, that it is. Rhenish, ye know.”

Colum and Claire in Outlander

“Mmm. Rhenish. Really kicks ye in the vocal cords, eh, lass?”

Allow me to explain the context of this scene for all you non Outlander readers and/or watchers: Claire Randall has been mysteriously transported back in time to 18th century Scotland and picked up by the highlanders of clan MacKenzie, who are generally good to her, but also highly suspicious as to who the hell she really is (as well they should be, although their suspicions are more to the likes of “English spy” than “time traveling WWII era combat nurse”). One night at dinner the clan head honcho, Colum, not-so-subtly liquors up his mysterious guest in order to get some information out of her. And it totally works. Claire is too busy purple-prosing over his sweet, sweet Rhenish wine to keep her wits about her, and immediately following this scene she reveals a little more about herself than she should. She also tipsily flirts with that hunk in a kilt, Jamie, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

I also love wine, but I don’t know a whole lot about it. And I don’t think I’ve ever described it as obnoxiously (oops, I mean eloquently) as Claire does. Give me some red, give me some white, give me some of the bubbly stuff if you want to see me get a little silly – I like it all, and I usually purchase wine based on sale prices, cute labels, and an absence of boxed packaging, because I do have some standards.

Honestly, I didn’t think wine-dumb little old me would be able to find such a super special wine as described above, but I figured I’d try. First stop Wikipedia, where I learned that “Rhenish” is not, as I assumed, a particular grape, but actually a descriptor for any wine made in the German wine region of Rheinhessen. That sounded a bit more doable, although I was pretty sure nothing like it would be stocked at my local Albertsons (I was right).

But then a surprisingly quick internet search led me to Holiday Wine Cellar, an establishment located just a few miles from where I work. And this place…this place was amazing. So much liquor from all over the world! They had no less than ten different labels of Rhenish wine, mostly Riesling, which is a varietal I totally recognize! I felt delightfully snobby and ended up spending one very exciting lunch break at this liquor store.

I ended up not even buying a Rhenish wine, though. I bought a Silvaner wine from the Franken region, because how could I pass up this “lovely bell-shaped thing of pale green crystal”?

Silvaner wine

Ok, that’s a stretch, but just look at it! It’s so fancy and appropriate to the source material! Plus another Wikipedia search informed me that Franken region wines are similar to Rheinhessen region wines, or something. And it’s the only German wine region “allowed” to bottle wine in this awesomely shaped bocksbeutal that so resembles the decanter Claire describes. I was sold, and for such a find I gladly dropped a bit more than I usually spend on one bottle of booze.

So, you ask, how did it taste? Was the bouquet suitably delicious? Did I “[close] my eyes in bliss, letting the wine fumes tickle the back of my palate before reluctantly allowing each sip of nectar to trickle down my throat”? Were my vocal cords paralyzed??

Um, yeah, as previously mentioned, I’m not a wine connoisseur of Claire’s caliber. You know what this wine tasted like? Capri Sun. Delicious, fermented Capri Sun that didn’t give me a headache the next morning, even after drinking an entire bottle on a work night (and a definite no to any sort of vocal cord paralysis, thank goodness). I’ll call that a win.

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