April 15, 2013

In $40,000 cocktail, ruby delivers bling

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Got an extra $40,000 burning a hole in your pocket?

click image to enlarge

The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk will offer a $40,000 Ruby Rose cocktail starting June 1. A real 4-carat ruby, about the size of this fake one, will be put in the glass.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

You could put a nice little down payment on a house with that, or pay cash for a 2013 Ford Expedition.

You could fire a stinger missile. Or retire peacefully to Albuquerque.

If pondering what to do with your wad of dough makes you really thirsty, you could order the $40,000 Ruby Rose cocktail at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk.

The drink, which will be available June 1 through the end of the year, is made with Hanger One Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, pomegranate and a spoonful of rosewater.

Oh, yes -- it also comes with a 4-carat ruby.

The idea of adding an actual ruby to the inn's ruby-colored cocktail originated with a guest who was joking around with the staff one day. But the more they joked about it, the better the idea sounded.

Founded by the late Laurence J. "Laurie" Bongiorno, the inn is marking its 40th anniversary this year, and ruby is the anniversary gemstone for four decades of wedded bliss. So why not use a gigantic ruby to celebrate?

"Rubies were always considered a very precious gem," noted maitre d'hotel Matthew Swinford, "and (Bongiorno) would always refer to the White Barn Inn as a precious gem."

Swinford said the inn has a New York jeweler shopping around for rubies to drop into the cocktails, and the last he heard, the gems were still in India. One of them -- they'll come to the inn one at a time -- is expected to arrive in Kennebunk in about a month.

Rubies, plural, implies that Swinford thinks they might sell more than one $40,000 cocktail, which would be quite a feat in this economy.

Actually, Swinford thinks they could sell two. Remember, this is the White Barn Inn, where wealthy businessmen, celebrities and politicians seeking a lot of luxury and a little discretion can stay in the 620-square-foot Loft Suite (separate entrance, steam shower, marble bath with heated floors) for more than $800 a night.

And that's during the off-season.

For inn guests with "particular tastes," Swinford said, "the dollar amount is not the issue. It's the experience."

When a ruby arrives, it will be stored in a safe at the inn until a guest orders a Ruby Rose cocktail. (You can order the cocktail without the ruby for $18.)

When it comes time to deliver one of the cocktails, Swinford will literally pull out the white gloves.

"The way we're going to present it is, it's going to be in the martini glass," he said. "And then we're going to pour the martini tableside so they see the gem, and they see the tray -- a very high-quality sterling silver tray."

If handing over 40 Grover Clevelands for a single cocktail seems a little extravagant, there will be other options for guests who want to celebrate the White Barn Inn's 40th anniversary.

The inn is planning a big celebration the weekend of May 31 through June 2 that will include a nine-course dinner served with a bottle of 1973 D'Oliveiras Verdelho, made the same year the White Barn opened its doors. The dinner will be held June 1, and costs $400 per person.

During dinner, the inn will auction off a 1973 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir, with all the proceeds going to Share Our Strength, a charity that works to end childhood hunger.

The bottle is valued at $206, but as they say on "Antiques Roadshow," it could go for much more. Swinford is hoping the wine fetches at least $5,000.

Portland resident Layne Witherell, who spent more than 30 years in the wine business and now writes about wine, says Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma, Calif., founded in 1957, "set the bar for greatness" in California wines.

The 1973 bottle's allure is enhanced by the fact that the wine was made the same year that Bob Sessions, winemaker emeritus at Hanzell, began his 28-year career there, so this is his first vintage. "This gentleman is an icon when it comes to American-style pinot noir," Swinford said.

The wine comes from Hanzell Estate's private cellar and is not sold on the open market, which increases its value.

"I have called multiple, multiple restaurants, some in Manhattan, and a wide variety of master sommeliers, and said, 'If you had this bottle on your wine list, what could you sell it for?' " Swinford said. "And usually, it's 'Whatever I want because no one is able to get it.' The market for this wine is nonexistent. It is its own market."

Even the winemaker at Hanzell is unsure how much the bottle is worth.

"I couldn't tell you what the value on the market would be, but I can certainly tell you that it's a special bottle of wine," said Michael McNeill, director of winemaking at Hanzell. "Quite frankly, all the Hanzell wines from the late '60s and early '70s have been fantastic. We still do have wines here in the cellar dating back to '65. We have all the vintages of our chardonnay and pinot noir going back that far. They are still very, very much alive, and just fantastic to drink."

Once word about the wine gets out, it's likely a few oenophiles will set their sights on it and come prepared to bid, and bid often.

The cocktail's future is less certain. Are there a lot of folks out there willing to throw down 40 large for a single martini?

As your mama always told you, it only takes one.

"When it comes to requests with engagements, anniversaries, birthdays, we do have some guests where the sky's the limit," Swinford said. " 'For my other half, there's no price for her love.'

"We do get a lot of that."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

 

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