Negrette, Ramen, and Operation Ivy

9:20 PM on a Tuesday, shortly before bar ferd’nand’s scheduled closing time. I had not visited since before they had consolidated the bar and integrated it with the wine shop. Its chalkboards were full of intriguing selections, and owner Marc Papineau was generous to let me taste four different reds and whites. I settled on a red from the Alto Adige made from a grape I had not known until that evening. Of the others I tasted, however, La Folle Noire d’Ambat was $16 for a bottle, and something about its unusual flavor inspired me to take it home and get to know it better.

                   The genre of “punk rock” has been misunderstood and its meaning highly debated since the term’s first use. I am not about to use my wine blog as a vehicle to define it, but I have developed a relationship to the philosophy, lifestyle, and music of punk rock that has informed so many of my views in life, all the way to what I like to eat and drink.

While I was far from a gutter punk with a red Mohawk, I was drawn to the music enough to defend my love for it, and adopt some of the attitude that I thought defined the recordings of Social Distortion, Rancid, or the Ramones. I admired the need to create something new and pure in a stripped-down sense, completely on one’s own terms, naysayers be damned (often, quite literally). My adoption of this attitude has caused me to apply it to more than music, such that I seek out bottles of wine made from lesser-known grapes with unusual flavors, crafted by vintners producing to achieve something greater than sales through recognition.

As with wine, the mere fact that I will not eat bacon has separated my taste in food from the mainstream as well. It was thus when I read David Chang’s “The State of Ramen” that my first thought was, “so ramen is very punk rock!”:

“In Japan ramen was always a fringe pursuit. As with music or literature, the ‘cool’ food was made by outsiders fighting against the mainstream, because they didn’t think the mainstream was good enough.”

Chang’s description was so in line with the ideals I associated with punk rock, I forgot until I re-read the piece that he had not even used the word “punk” in it. A chef’s career has always been a pursuit for outsiders, much like those who seek careers in rock n’ roll. But here Chang had identified a style of cooking that fought against its own mainstream, as punk rock has always done.

Throughout the month of January, the website for Chang’s magazine Lucky Peach had been featuring ramen in the form of recipes, city guides, and op-ed pieces such as Chang’s or his Partner Peter Meehan. At the same time, I was watching each episode of the Foo Fighters Sonic Highways on HBO, listening to Dave Grohl wax about his roots in the punk scene, feeling nostalgia for some of the music that has followed me from adolescence to adulthood. I watched the Los Angeles episode alone, on the same night I was making my first attempt at preparing ramen broth, a scaled down version of Chang’s technique using chicken trimmings, kombu, and pulverized porcini mushrooms.

My stock had infused for a day, and I prepared some black rice ramen noodles, heated some leek stock to mix with the ramen broth, added about a teaspoon of chicken fat, a dash of sake, and then combined the two warm broths over a bowl of noodles I had covered with chopped leek greens, chickweed, dandelion greens, and the meat I was able to remove from the chicken neck. It was the most satisfying bowl of ramen I had eaten.

The next night, I picked up some fresh noodles to make my ramen, and decided I would drink some wine with it. I had no more chicken meat, but wanted to try putting a soft boiled egg in the finished soup and noodles this time. When deciding on a wine, I kept thinking about the bottle of La Folle Noire d’Ambat Negrette I had purchased at bar ferd’nand earlier in the week. As I boiled water for the noodles, I grabbed the wine and chose some music. Sonic Highways left me craving some punk rock, something different I had not played in awhile. I had a sudden craving for Operation Ivy, since there was no mention of them or many other California punk bands I loved in the Los Angeles episode the previous night.

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I barely appreciated their music when my brother first introduced me to them, but the sound of Operation Ivy defined most of the punk rock I remember growing up. Comprised of four members, they forged a unique sound that melded ska and hardcore punk. They tackled themes of social consciousness and non-conformity in their lyrics, and disbanded as soon as their band was receiving too much attention. The breakup is the quintessential example of an ideal so near and dear to punk rock: bands must not “sell out,” and must remain true to their roots and the fan-base that believed in their original sound. From just one album and two years together, their music established a blueprint for bands ranging from Rancid (half of whom were members of Operation Ivy) to Sublime to Green Day (the latter played their first show in the same club and on the same night as Operation Ivy’s final show).

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As Jesse Michaels screamed “Sound system gonna’ bring me back up, yeah” I poured myself a glass of the wine. Tight at first, it opened up with flavors of elderberry, cranberry, and game as it sat.

I had first read about Negrette in Imbibe Magazine a year ago, which said this rustic, earthy blending grape was just starting to get attention from U.S. wine aficionados. Something different, with its own voice, it was typical of a wine that would draw my attention, and Operation Ivy was the perfect soundtrack for it.

I do not normally gravitate toward funky medium-bodied reds to accompany the clean flavor of chicken base, but my brain had been telling me to drink the Negrette all day, just the same as it had been telling me to put on Operation Ivy this week. I was home alone, the best time to pump their tunes and sip a weird wine with my upscale version of stereotypical college dorm food, a stripped down food-wine-music pairing if ever there was one.

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As if my personal music and wine preferences were not enough, bar ferd’nand’s owner Marc Papineau writes his blog like a kindred spirit, declaring this winethe SHIT!…truthful, unabashedly brash, fresh purple love to pour down your gullet.” My honest, rough-around-the-edges roots were getting a chance to hang out as I slurped noodles, sipped my Negrette, and listened to a voice shout “Take Warning!”

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