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Friday, July 16, 2010

Tej - Ethiopian Spiced Mead

My sojourn to Astoria has been rich with discoveries, but the richest lode may have come last night when I visited Drina Daisy, a Bosnian restaurant downtown. I was initially attracted by the line-up of beer bottles in the window--a selection from the region almost wholly unfamiliar. The folks on Yelp love the place, so we decided to give it a whirl. Based on a quickie web search, I decided to forgo the beer--Lasko, Karlovacko, and Niksickie. While Lasko, from hop-growing Slovenia, may have been a characterful pils, BeerAdvocate raters dismissed it. The wine list, which featured a bunch of grapes I've never heard of, was far more alluring.

I know wine is generally beyond the ken of this blog (and blogger), I have to direct you to two grape varieties should you see them in the store:
  • Vranac. An important grape from Montenegro. The Vranac at Drina Daisy (unhelpfully labeled only "Vranac" on the bottle) was dense of body and jammy, but not heavy or sweet. It was a gentle wine that ended softly.
  • Blatina. Even better, this wine smelled something like a spicy pinot, but had the color of a Cabernet. It tasted more like Italian grapes though, and had tons of pepper and spice. I don't think I've ever tasted a wine so spicy. A huge winner.
Then, for desert, we continued with exotic liquids. Sally ordered a sweet pomegranate wine and I got Tej, which is actually Ethiopian. It was described in the menu as "hopped," and because it was made in the US, it might have been. traditionally, though, Ethiopians spice Tej with crushed gesho, a form of buckthorn native to Africa. The variety on offer was pretty sweet and quite alcoholic. It was made with a grassy honey, a quality accentuated by the spice. That astringency was critical to balance the beverage. Sally's pomegranate wine was a winner, too. Fruit wines suffer for being over-sweet, but pomegranates are sharp and tart, characteristics carried over in the wine. Tannins from the seeds were evident, too. Complex and satisfying.

Next time you're in Astoria, consider stopping in. Big fun--


  1. Jeff: When you get back to Portland, check out the European Market at 18th and Hawthorne. It is also run by a Bosnian, and might have some of the wines you saw. I don't think they carry any Balkan beers, they seem to be heavy on industrial German beer. Good sandwiches, also.

  2. Vranac is big in Balkans. There are many winemakers who make Vranac, but you probably had Vranac Plantaze 13.Jul which is most reputable. If you get a chance try Vranac Reserve it is wonderful!