The scarlet red wine that had been poured into the cups were very tranquil, not a hint of a ripple to be seen. The fragrance of the wine wasn’t too strong, as though all the flavor had been tightly locked into that sparkling, translucent, blood-red, ruby like wine.
The Wine Master’s hand didn’t tremble at all. He filled all four cups to an exceptionally equal level, up to two fingernails height in each cup. Just by looking at the cups, couldn’t tell the difference between any of the cups at all.
Lan Jue stared at the wine, but the Gourmet was staring at the enormous ham in front of him. Both sets of eyes were mesmerized.
Twenty candles were set up in orderly fashion, just slightly smaller in total size than that square serving tray. The Gourmet swept his right hand towards the wicks of the candles, and at the same instant, all twenty candles lit up at the same time. The flames didn’t burn very high, but they were very bright.
Holding the serving tray by the edges, the Gourmet held it at a straight level above the candle flames, allowing the heat of the candle flames to evenly heat up the tray.
The Coffee Master said, “Isn’t that too much trouble? Why can’t you just use your own fire?”
The Gourmet didn’t even look at him as he spoke. “That’s why we say you have no taste. If it weren’t for the fact that you are extremely lucky, there’s no way you would have the chance to drink this wine today, or eat a ham like this. My flames are positive energy flames, but of a dry and explosive type. Candle flames are positive energy flames that are gentle, soft, and evenly distributed. The latter is what I need right now.”
The Coffee Master said somewhat argumentatively, “Why is there no way? I don’t believe it! Wine Master, is he telling the truth?”
The Wine Master didn’t say a word. He lifted up the long-stemmed wineglass in front of him by its long, crystalline stem. Raising it high, he caught the light of the candles within it and stared at the scarlet red wine within.
The Coffee Master next turned to look at Lan Jue. “The Gourmet looks down on me! On what basis did he criticize me like that?”
Lan Jue’s gaze was focused on his wineglass as well. His movements were almost identical to the Wine Master’s. He lifted up his wineglass, staring at the ruby color within.
“He speaks the truth, and he has a very good reason. The reason the Wine Master didn’t say anything was because he didn’t want to hurt you. However, I can tell you the reason. We’ll just treat it as my revenge for you stirring up trouble earlier.”
“Fine. Tell me.” The Coffee Master said in a dissatisfied way.
Lan Jue laughed calmly. “If you want to learn something, you have to pay a price. Give me the wine in your glass, and I’ll tell you the reason. Otherwise, where’s the ‘revenge’ part?”
The Coffee Master said with some anger and embarrassment, “Fine. If your reasoning convinces me that I’m not worthy of drinking this Romanée-Conti, then I’ll give you my glass.”
Lan Jue put down his own wineglass, then turned to look towards the Wine Master. “You aren’t allowed to fight with me over it. He asked me the question. It’s your own fault for not saying anything earlier.”
The Wine Master let out a sigh. “For him to be willing to give up this glass of Romanée-Conti, in and of itself, is already a sufficient reason why he isn’t qualified to drink it.”
Lan Jue smiled as he spoke. “But this isn’t enough to convince him, because he could always make up the excuse that his desire for learning exceeds his desire for delicacies.”
Lan Jue raised the glass of water and took a sip before finally turning to look at the Coffee Master.
“Actually, the reasoning is very simple. It is because you are the Coffee Master. Although you know how to appreciate wine very much, and you also know how to appreciate gourmet food very much, in the end, you are a Coffee Master.”
The Coffee Master, somewhat bewildered, said, “How can this be considered a reason?”
Lan Jue said, “Of course this is a reason. Compared to red wine, you like coffee better. Might I ask, how many cups of coffee do you drink every day?”
The Coffee Master said, “Three cups.”
Lan Jue said, “Drinking coffee has already become the most important habit you have in your life. The better the coffee, the stronger and the longer lasting its flavor is. However, it will also dominate your taste buds. Before sampling a truly top-class red wine, in order to be able to enjoy all of its fragrance to the fullest, one has to avoid eating anything with strong flavor for at least three days in advance. Coffee, tea, chocolate…these are all definitely forbidden. Otherwise, your taste buds will have already been occupied. Although you can use white bread to try and absorb those flavors from your mouth, there will be at least a little bit that remains. It will impact the sublime feeling which this fine wine will transmit to your soul. This is a form of blasphemy towards the wine.”
Pausing a moment, Lan Jue smiled as he looked at the Coffee Master. “Then, in the past three days, have you drank coffee?”
The Coffee Master laughed bitterly. “Of course I have.”
“Thank you.” Lan Jue gracefully picked up the glass of wine in front of the Coffee Master, pouring all of the wine within into his own glass, then returned the empty glass to the Coffee Master.
The Wine Master let out a sigh. He gently swirled the glass in his hand, then delivered it to his nose for a sniff. Instantly, the solemn look in his eyes disappeared, and was replaced by an intoxicated, mesmerized look.
He took a rather large sip, keeping it in his mouth for a rather long moment before swallowing it.
Lan Jue also took a drink. Lowering his head, with a gentle sip, the gentle sound of liquid entering his mouth could be heard. And then, he once more lifted his head up, swallowing the wine.
Only a long moment afterwards did the Wine Master’s expression return to normal. “A pomegranate glow makes clear its quality; the fragrance of classic Romanée-Conti, the smell of roses and sweet peppers; gentle and harmonius, in the mouth, one can sense how the strength of the taste is rather reserved, but an extremely long aftertaste remains.
As he spoke, he turned his gaze towards Lan Jue. “You picked very well. This bottle of Romanée-Conti is right at the perfect time for drinking.”
Lan Jue let out a soft breath. “It fuses both a spicy fragrance and a floral fragrance, is refined and joyous; in the mouth, it shows off its astonishing suppleness and harmoniousness. The taste of haw fruit mixed with cherries, plentiful and exquisite. This existence of this wine and its exquisiteness is a sort of pleasant surprise to us! It indeed lives up to its reputation as being acclaimed as a ‘heavenly treasure’, the king of wines! I think, in the next three days, my taste buds and even my teeth will still be filled with this wondrous flavor. I can’t drink wine for the next three days.”
The Coffee Master looked at the expressions on their faces. He couldn’t help but say, “Is it as good as all that? Wine Master, give me a little bit more.”
The Wine Master let out a sigh. “I originally had prepared that plate of white bread especially for you. I wanted to have you use it to absorb some of the flavors saturating your taste buds. After doing that, given how powerful the flavor of Romanée-Conti is, you should be able to just barely appreciate the flavor of it as well. However, you’ve already lost it to the Jewel Master. I had only intended to offer you a single glass to begin with. Thus, I’m very sorry, but today, you don’t have a share.”
The Gourmet removed the tray from above the candles and placed it on the table. He patted the Coffee Master on the shoulders and said, “This is what the revenge of the Jewel Master is like. This fellow really knows how to hold a grudge.”
The Coffee Master turned his head to shoot a vicious glare at Lan Jue.
Lan Jue once again took a sip of that heavenly treasure, that wondrous wine. “The other day, Miss Camille [Ka’mei’er] went to my store. Although she didn’t buy anything, from her eyes, I could already tell what she liked.”
The Coffee Master’s face frozen. He let out a gloomy sigh. “You win.”
Lan Jue inclined his glass towards him. Slowly, the Coffee Master’s face returned to his previous calm. “But I won’t leave just like that. Although I didn’t have the chance to drink fine wine, I’m still going to eat some of this ham.”
The Gourmet had, at some point in time, taken a slender, long, yet narrow knife into his hands. With a gentle cut, a paper-thin slice of ham drifted down into the plate.
His hand suddenly transformed into a blur, and soon, several dozen slices of ham filled up the plate.
“Why did you have to roast it a bit first?” The Wine Master asked the Gourmet.
The Gourmet said, “This so-called ‘black pig’ should actually be called an Iberico boar. Generally speaking, in the previous era, they were raised in the mid-west forests of Spain. That place was one of the most classic, natural environments. It included wide pastures, oak trees, and the acorn trees which made up most of the foliage in Spain. The pigs which were raised in these wide pastures primarily ate the seeds of the oak trees and acorn trees. As for oak seeds, true oak sees were an indispensible part of the feeding for true Iberico ham.”
“This is the manufacturing process; Slice open the pig, then chill the pig meat to six degrees Celsius; cure it; clean it; after the curing for one section is complete, use cold water to wash away the remaining salt of the ham, then place it in a storehouse for two months while salting it evenly; it will naturally dry. Afterwards, hang it in a natural cave for at least twenty four months without disturbing it, and it will be ready to eat. The finest of Iberico ham actually needs to be quietly cured for at least forty eight months.”
“This ham that you brought out is an exquisite specimen even amongst Iberico hams. Only a 100% pure Iberico pig that was completely fed on oak seeds can possibly be cured in a mountain cave for as long as seventy two months. Even in the previous era, this is something that one cannot buy with money alone.”
“But this sort of ham has a problem. The problem is that its natural fat is too thick. Although the flavor is pure and beautiful, the fragrance will be somewhat masked by the fat. While chewing it over, although you’ll be able to taste it, in the end, it will still be flawed. I first heated up the tray, then chopped the ham into slices, so that the temperature of the tray will cause the fat to melt, allowing it to permeate into the meat and for the fragrance to completely come out. Look. The white fat has already turned translucent.”
Indeed, in the originally white-and-red ham, the white fatty parts were already translucent, looking like frozen crystals. A faint fragrance came out from the platter which thickened but did not dissipate.
Lan Jue reached over to take a slice, delivering it to his mouth. Instantly, his face changed. The flavor was strong and pure, and it lasted a long time in the mouth. After taking another sip of Romanée-Conti, he was utterly intoxicated.
The Wine Master also ate a slice, and his reaction was almost the same as Lan Jue’s. And then, he let out a bitter laugh. “It seems my previous manner of eating it was a waste.”
The Gourmet smiled as he ate the ham while drinking the wine. “I’m eating your food, drinking your wine, and being praised by you as well. How wonderful.”
Lan Jue sighed leisurely. “Heavenly treasure, a top-tier Iberico ham. Wine Master, in the future, I will often come.”
The Wine Master didn’t look at him, but his eyes had a bitter look in them. He knew that the Jewel Master wasn’t by nature an immodest person, but when he decided to act immodestly…
The Coffee Master also had a bitter look on his face. The aroma of the Iberico ham far exceeded his imaginations, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the ‘heavenly treasure’ to pair it with.