Maria Cuanang was born in 1912, a few months before the Titanic sank, and on the day that the Republic of China was established. It was New Year’s when she came to the world and as my father says, the world celebrates with her, year after year. I was maybe 10 or 11 when she died.
I don’t really remember much of our conversations but I do remember her scent and how much she loved us. I remember her soft skin that still glowed even at a ripe old age. Her hair as dark as mine but sprinkled with a bit of grey, her face beautiful.
Of the things that I regret, the most heartbreaking was me not getting to know her. I was a child, yes, but time waits for no one. It certainly didn’t give my lola time to find out what kind of person I would become. I could only imagine now how life was like when she was young, a mere child when America granted independence to the islands and a woman in her 30s when the Japanese docked on our shores.
My dad would later tell us stories about her: how she loved sarsaparilla, what mouthwatering snacks she’d buy from the market, her reaction to my dad climbing up a tree to avoid the policeman who intercepted him from going to the movies on a school day, how she used coconut oil for everything, among other little stories. Maria was more than all that though and I am blessed to know that.
She was strong that despite her being partially blind, she still made a living and she did that well. She sold jewelry to the ladies of the small town where she grew up. She ran a store with my grandfather Benito Salucop. She was hardworking. She was a doting mother to two children, my Aunt Socorro and my dad, and a loving grandmother to me and my sister and my cousins Oliver, Jasper, and Richelle. She lived for decades after Lolo Benito died and I would like to believe that she lived a full life.
There are not that many stories about her from other people but it does not elude me how utterly complex she must have been and how intensely beautiful it must have been to live the life she lived, no matter how simple it was.
I thought of her and my very few memories of her while making Basi Maria. I knew that the wine had to be red. It had to have an intense red colour with enough purplish hues to give it depth. It had to have a delicate fragrance and an elegance characterised by complexity. It had to have a full body and tannins that would deliver a subtle spiciness when eaten with rich, creamy dishes. It is difficult to plan all these but after years of testing, we finally found the sweet spot for the Basi Maria brand.
Basi Maria is intense with an almost forgettable bitter finish. It offers a polished taste of the Old World with a high alcohol content that makes it generous in the mouth. Like my grandmother, it is not overbearing and its structure makes up for its lack of sweetness. It is perfect for rainy days or when it is cold. It is my ode to her and all the afternoons that she spent with me and my sister.