Oxen, goats, monks, and world wide wine

Today we’re at sea, heading toward Panama City/Fuerte Amador. I want to finish up the coffee talk with one small story about the origins of coffee and about the oxcart, then we’ll talk about the New World vs. Old World Wine Tasting.

It seems there was a goat herder in Ethopia, many centuries ago. He noticed that his goats, when they ate the red beans off a particular set of bushes, would get really frisky. Now this herder was attached to a monastery and he mentioned this to the brothers, who then decided to try the beans and see if they could eat them. They thought it might help keep them awake when there were those night long vigils and very, very long services. But the beans were  bitter. They tried roasting them, but they got hard and difficult to chew, so they tried grinding them and boiling them to soften the seeds, turning the water into a fragrant brown liquid, which we know today is coffee. And sure enough, it did keep them awake for the long, long middle of the night services.

And that, according to our guide, is the origin of coffee. It’s a folktale, of course, and factually there’s not much evidence of its existence before the 1400s. It is known that its first appearance was in Yemen, and that the beans had come originally from Ethiopia – so its not beyond the imagination that its discovery could have happened in a way similar to this. Ethiopia was Christian, and there were major trade routes that went through the Holy Land to just about everywhere, so it’s indeed possible that the monks may have sent coffee back to Jerusalem and it made its way from there to Yemen. To quote a really bad movie line, “It could happen!”

In Costa Rica, people used to move the coffee beans for export from the mountains to the markets and the ports using oxcarts. They’d decorate them beautifully, and if I remember right, it’s the national symbol of the country. There was an absolutely huge one on display on the trip to the plantation, but I got the photo of one that was on the plantation itself – Al got ones of the big fellow (I was feeling too punky by then to want to get out of the bus – the cold was tightening its grip) and if I can find his photos, I’ll post them later.



The wine tasting was not as good as I had wanted, but not because the wines were bad or because it was a poor experience. Tasting anything with a cold is not nearly as much fun as when you’re healthy, and I was still battling the virus, so was feeling achy and logy, and the nose and tastebuds were shutting down. Even so, I got enough flavour to enjoy what I did taste. Two from the New World, and two from the Old – France, to be exact.

We started with a Pouilly Fume (AOC) from Michelle Redde in the Loire Valley in France, moved to a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand for the whites.


Michelle Redde AOC Pouilly FumeThe Puoilly Fume (2011) is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and it’s grown in flinty soil, has a pale straw/yellow colour with complex odours. There’s a metallic undertone, some lime/citrus odours and flavours, and some alkalai notes in it. Those metallic/minerally flavours are a feature of old world wines, regardless of the varietal or the colour of the wine. It’s crisp and fresh on the tongue, and paired well with goat cheese and strawberries, but with the strawberries, the minerality comes forward at the expense of the other flavours in the wine.





Villa Maria Savuignon BlancThe New Zealand (2014) wine, also Sauvignon Blanc was layered, but more straightforward than the Pouilly Fume – I forgot to note the colours, but it’s more full bodied than the French white, with more acid and alcohol, as well as a more grapefruity flavour. It also did well by the goat cheese, but not as well as the French wine.




Perrin AOC Cotes Du RhoneThe reds were a Perrin Cotes Du Rhone (2010) (from the Rhone Valley) which was a Shiraz blended with other varietals. An intense ruby colour with dark fruit, floral and liquorice flavours. It was spicy with fairly high tannins. Not so good with the goat cheese, but nice with the Gouda, and Al says it went well with a camembert. (I find soft cheeses very bland, and I couldn’t even taste the cam with my cold, so he had to provide the assessment).




Footprint ShirazAnd the 2013 Footprint Shiraz from South Africa was also an intense ruby, with smokey, warm red meat odours (Cecelia also noted that it held animal sweat notes, so maybe my nose was interpreting animal sweat to red meat. Or the nose was just off in bed trying to beat the virus.) We both got the earthy and mineral old world flavours. It was not a good pairing with the goat cheese, because of the lack of acidity, but it went not too badly with the gouda.

So, enough for today – tomorrow we reach Fuerte Amador, and since my day there was full blown cold with attendant exhaustion, I’ll spend the time telling you more about the city, the Fuerte and the Canal on a catch-up.


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