The Ask Master

Regarding your response to Baffled in Belltown: For decades, glib writers, stuck-up wine stewards, and 98-point-cherry-picking collectors have put such an overwhelming emphasis on the image and prestige of wine that they have sucked all the joy out of a beverage.

White zinfandel is the place many, many people start a life of loving wine. From there these brave consumers can move step-by-step to other varietals and eventually become "Baffled in Belltown" or one of those cherry pickers that blocked the door to the cellar in the first place.

Suzanne Schmalzer Writer/Editor/Event Planner

So, let me get this straight: You think no one should make fun of people who drink white zinfandel (though even you seem to think of them as poor, ignorant saps—we differ only on whether they are to be pitied or censured) because, over time, such people will eventually begin to drink fancier, more respectable wines until, after a long and arduous climb up the oenophilic pecking order, they finally achieve the exalted status of . . . being able to make fun of people who drink white zinfandel! Wow, this is worse than I thought—I had no idea that white zinfandel was a gateway drug to wine snobbery; I thought it was just skanky.

As for being a "glib writer who puts an overwhelming emphasis on the image and prestige of wine," you couldn't be more wrong. I think wine is stupid. All of it, from T.J. Swann right up to Grand Cru Class鬠whatever the hell that is. Personally, I drink Irish whiskey, which not only does a much better job of cutting through the thick nicotine film on my tongue but in bars often comes with little glass of free beer. (Try getting a deal like that with your Mo봠et Chandon.)

But while I may not be a wine snob, I do know two things: (1) I've had white zinfandel, and it's too sweet to qualify as Gatorade, much less wine; (2) if you want to impress your date with your viticultural expertise, do your homework before you get to the restaurant, or risk looking like a chump. I'm no Wolfgang Puck, but I know enough not to walk into Maxim's de Paris and ask to have my duck confit served with a side of Doritos. And speaking of disgusting snacks . . .

I have heard that in Iceland they have a dish consisting of rotten shark marinated in human urine. I know that people eat some weird stuff—lutefisk comes to mind—but can this really be true?

Was Doubtful in Denmark

Rotten shark pickled in urine, eh? Well, over the years, I've learned not to be too surprised by anything the denizens of Northern climes see fit to stuff into their frost-rimed pie holes. After all, their options are pretty limited—it's not like a resident of Ultima Thule, feeling a bit peckish, can just stroll out onto the veranda, brush aside a few toucans, and pluck a mango from a gently hanging bough.

No, as we trek into the frozen north, fewer and fewer even nominally edible flora and fauna present themselves, until, at the very limits of habitability, we find the locals happily subsisting on nothing more than reindeer cheese and the odd scrap of lichen.

In such circumstances, anything not immediately and lethally toxic must, of necessity, be considered comestible. How else can one explain hakarl, the traditional Icelandic fermented-shark dish?

Hakarl is made by cutting a nice big Greenland shark into chunks and then burying the chunks in sand for—oh, I don't know, does four months sound long enough to you? Then you dig it up, hang it on hooks in the open air for a while to allow it to develop a bit of character, and bon appetit. It's traditional to wash down this tidbit with a swig of brennivin, a potent local schnapps which, in spite of the fact that its name means "black death," probably sounds pretty appealing after a mouthful of urine-scented rotten fish.

It smells like urine, but it doesn't actually contain urine. Contrary to what the few hardy non-Icelandic souls who've sampled this treat may have assumed, urine is not actually used in this process. Since a beneficent god thoughtfully made the shark's bodily fluids rich in tasty urea and ammonia compounds, the lucky Icelanders get the smell and taste of urine in their hakarl for free, enabling them to save their real urine for boiling seal heads in.

In fairness, it should be noted that the Greenland shark is toxic when you pull it out of the water. The toxic compounds break down over time, hence the aging period. Also, we should remember that leaving a shark to rot in a pit in Iceland is not exactly the same as leaving a possum to rot on a Mississippi highway—the shark is essentially refrigerated throughout the process.

That said, if I found some four-month-old fish (that smelled like pee) in my refrigerator, I'd probably throw it out.

Wondering why there's an eye on the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill? Write the or Ask Master, Seattle Weekly, 1008 Western Ave., Suite 300, Seattle, WA, 98104.

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