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Podlihob settles in with watching a morning sports news show, hoping there is a mention of our match from last night, and scrolling through social media apps for any mention of his win. Rhynn and I decide we will go grocery shopping. I have not gone to the market to shop for food, but Rhynn tells me that if I am to get better at cooking, I need to be able to judge raw ingredients.
We head to the market. It’s early enough in the morning to be slightly chilly. Watching my breath steam, I get into the car.
“This is a large farmer’s market we’re going to. Try not to get separated from me, as the place can feel a bit like a maze. After we’re done, we’ll check out my favorite liquor store, and then head back home for lunch.”
I’m a little excited. It feels like Rhynn is letting me peek into his world of cooking mastery. Also, I get to sit in the front seat. Usually Podlihob takes that seat and I am in the back. I get to see out the front of the car instead of looking out the side window. This whole trip feels special.
“We’ll start with fruits and vegetables, then move onto the eggs, and finish with meat. I’m still good on baking supplies, so most of what we need is leafy greens, tomatoes, eggs, and whatever good deals on meat we can find. Keep your eyes open for especially good-looking chard, and any tiny tomatoes you see. My pepper plant is popping and we can make salsa and chili with little tomatoes.”
I lean forward to watch our descent into a parking spot. We walk up to the first stall to look at the leafy greens, when the person tending the stall says
“Keep your troll back. We’re trying to run a sanitary stall. There’s regulations about that.” It’s a night goblin! You’re a raccoon!
“He’s teaching me how to pick ingredients. I took a shower this morning.” I have to speak up for myself according to Podlihob. I can do so without being rude, right?
The night goblin snickers.
“Am I on a hidden camera show? Where’s the cameraman? That’s a really good costume, bruh, I can’t tell you’re wearing one at all.”
“Come on, we’ll check out another stall.” Rhynn walks away, and I follow with the night goblin’s laughter stuck in my head.
The trip to the market winds up a disaster. Stall after stall, Rhynn is told to get me under control any time I approach the goods to check them out. Some people call me an animal, others a monster. Many think there is some trick to me talking, including one person complimenting Rhynn’s ventriloquism. A few are nice to me, and those vendors get all our business.
We’re quiet on the drive to the liquor store. When Rhynn parks, he takes a breath and pauses, like he is about to say something. He instead exhales and says,
“Let’s see what’s special in here.”
This store is dim. There’s a short guy working the counter. His hair is salt and pepper, except the pepper is green. He has a curly, wild beard and looks grumpy. Rhynn walks right up to the counter, ignoring the store.
“How’s it going, Arch? This is my friend I told you about. Zav, this is Arch, an old friend of mine.”
“Nice to meet you.” I try to keep my voice bright and cheerful. I can’t tell if I’m successful.
“Ha! You say he looks like troll. He is spitting image of troll from that horror movie! I bet you get shit for that, kid. We do samples now.” His voice is slightly hoarse, but still has strength. He clears his throat loudly and spits into a trash can he pulls out from under the counter.
“Is still morning, we do wine. Too early for liquor.”
Out of a small fridge behind the counter comes several bottles of wine.
“We start with dry whites, move to dry reds, and then finish with sweet shit. If you do not want shit I do not serve, but shit is popular because people eat and drink shit.” We all have samples of a white wine poured.
“This wine is made from grape on gravel slope. Good wind, good rain. Okay soil. Too much manganese in soil for me. Prefer iron for this grape. This is later press, not first press.” I sip the sample and suck air through my mouth the way Rhynn taught me and chew the wine. I think I can almost taste the gravel. The bitterness of the fruit with the acidity of the wine combines to make me think of a specific fruit.
“Is that apricot?” I ask, curiously.
“Ha! You have good palate. We try next wine. This wine is made from whore grape, dressed up however winemaker wants with oak barrels. Shit happened with soil, but nobody can taste it under the barrel’s turd.” This wine is also a white, but darker in color. The first was a pale yellow, while this one is a rich gold.
The taste is full of vanilla and apple.
“Is that vanilla juice? That flavor is really strong.” Arch gives us water to clear our palate and laughs at me.
“That vanilla is oak barrel turd, shit right in the bottle. This is even later press by cheap winemaker. This wine should be made into brandy, but winemaker makes more money with whoring out his babies.” Rhynn is barely suppressing laughter every time Arch talks. I think I see why.
Our next wine sample comes, and this one is another pale yellow. Does that mean it is good? I try it and make a face while tasting. Arch and Rhynn both laugh.
“If the last one was whore, this one is junkie cannibal! White sangria made with dozens of different grapes, all on late presses, loaded with sugar. It has name but fuck that name. I call this wine Soggy Raisins.” Arch then pours his sample down the sink. Rhynn slams his sample quickly and then washes his mouth with water.
“Tastes like a fruit salad’s afterbirth,” Rhynn remarks.
“You are too nice! I say it tastes like devil’s bile, but devil has bad liver too.” Arch puts away the bottles of white and pulls out darker bottles.
“Now is time for reds. You eat cracker and clear palate.” We all eat a cracker and take another drink of water.
“We start with best wine of lot again. This grape has thin skin, so fewer tannins. Comes from good environment for the grape, cool mornings and evenings with lots of dew.” Arch is almost praising the wine. I have high hopes.
The flavor is berries at every step of the way. Cherry on the front and raspberry at the end. I smack my lips.
“That was pretty good,” I volunteer.
“Ha, is most expensive bottle to sample. You should like.” Arch pours us samples from the next bottle. “This is grape with thickest skin, most tannins. Impossible for winemaker to fuck up. If nicest thing you can say about winemaker is they do well with this grape, their skills are shit.”
The last wine was a deep red, while this one is so dark that it is almost black. It tastes like figs. It is passable, but not really good. I hold my hand out, shake it back and forth, and say “Ehhhh.”
“Is boring wine. Is not terrible, but not amazing. I distill in freezer or make sangria with because is so cheap. Winemaker is nice person, but their skills are shit. I sell this as favor and tell them they need practice.” Arch pours us a sample from the last red.
“This bottle is made by evil wine conglomerate that pretends to be small family business. They buy wineries and ruin talent making them work on shitty juice and later presses. This wine is garbage and you should only smell.” Arch dumps his sample into a sink and rinses it vigorously. “I cut out middleman, although would be better if wine went in toilet. Is where it belongs.”
I lean into the glass with my nose and take a big whiff. It burns somewhat, like I just snorted hot sauce. I hand the glass back to Arch, who dumps my sample down the drain as well. Rhynn shrugs and drinks the wine.
“Oh wow, it’s even worse than I expected. I think I taste some impurities in there, too. They need to clean their tanks, that bacteria is gross.” Rhynn is giggling as he makes a sour face, rinsing his mouth with water and eating a cracker.
“Okay, we are done with normal samples. You want syrup shit samples? Is for people with palate ruined by soda. I pour you sample of wine that make dessert wine look dry.” Arch opens the fridge back up.
“No, we’re good. The furball doesn’t like soda, and you know how I am.” Rhynn hurries to assure him we don’t need more samples.
“Ha, you want to see selection of seasonal? I have good cru, you like dark one with mushroom note, yes.” Arch bustles over to a shelf, muttering to himself all the way. He pulls down a sinuous black bottle and puts it on the counter. “I also have good white, cheap, only third press, good price for that press. Honeydew melon and nectarine notes, you will like.” A light green bottle with a high rounded shoulder comes down. “You hated fortified wine. I remember! I have good one in, is a shame you do not like. Is okay. I have big dry red wine from desert area. Too much irrigation, that area is fucked, but wine is good. You try, will not be around forever when water goes away.” Another black bottle with a colorful label comes down. “I pick those for you, you buy. You buy more if you want, but you buy those.”
“Thanks. We’ll take a walk around and pick out some more.” Rhynn gives Arch a big smile, and we walk through the store. Rhynn picks out another half dozen bottles, putting them all on the counter.
As Rhynn pays, Arch looks over at me. “You are good kid. You come back when you want to learn more about wine, yes? I teach grape name, region. If you can learn stupid wine trivia, you can learn anything.” All that pops into my head when I drink the wine anyway, but I tell Arch I will definitely come back.
The bottles get loaded into a wine box, which disappears into Rhynn’s inventory. We thank Arch, and head home. Maybe I’m a little tipsy after all the samples, but I am feeling pretty good about shopping with Rhynn.