Something that I’ve been thinking about since my trip to France last week. First, this proviso: France is one of the top countries in the world for food, for wine, for cheese, for bread. So let it not be misunderstood that I don’t like French products, culture, etc., because they are a lot closer to the Italian experience than, say, China or India. OK?
One night we were sitting around the hearth with a simple meal. There was cheese, there was a little chicken, there was bread, there was wine. We started with a Bordeaux Supérieur. A nice wine, good flavors, nothing improper about it. We finished the bottle and the owner of the chateau went down to the cave and brought back a bottle of Brunello. By this time we were on the cheese course and pretty much finished with the big meal.
We opened the Brunello, a 2001, and decanted it. Gave it a 10 minute period of adjustment. And dove into it.
About an hour or so later when were well into Cognac, I got to thinking about it. Now this is strictly a personal take. My view and nothing more. A light went off inside, an ah-ha moment. Now I get it, now I understand why people are so intimidated by Italian wine. It’s really, really complicated. It isn’t simple. It’s always changing. You can’t go from one region to other without scores of new grape varieties ending up in the bottle or the carafe on the table. It is difficult.
Like the Italian kitchen. The way they cook in Valle d’Aosta differs from the way they cook in Sicily. Enormously . It ain't all spaghetti and meatballs. Duh. But wait, what is the message pounded year after year; from the Lady and the Tramp café love scene to I love Lucy grape stomps, to the Soprano’s. The message: Italy is this. Meatballs, wicker and goomba's.
Is that Italy? Really?
Well, it just ain’t so. Italy, wine, food and culture, isn’t some cookie cutter representation. It isn’t monolithic and sometimes it isn’t pretty. But it is a work in progress. And for folks who like change and the differences, it is a Holy Land of wine and food. Not to say France is below par, not at all. But for a certain temperament, say mine, Italy resonates so deliciously within me that, even though it is complicated and unpredictable, it fits. Perfectly.
So how does that play into the American landscape? The answer is I don’t know. I do know there are people in Midland who understand what I am talking about, because I have talked with them till late at night about this. And they are infinitely more frustrated than the average Italian restaurateur in Queens or Brooklyn. This I know. But Midland doesn’t present itself as the cutting edge of culture (and don’t we all know that now after these past few years).
My interest is in what places like Birmingham, AL, or Novato, CA, or White Plains, NY or Snohomish, WA think and do, and are showing in their cultural evolution and development in that they are integrating some Italian-ness into their daily lives. It might just be a great espresso or a home made mozzarella. It might be a gelato that rivals Sicily or Venezia, or it might be that they just like living a lifestyle that resembles somewhere on the Italian peninsula. This is the vision I had, sitting inside a 400 year old chateau, sipping on a Brunello, in Bergerac.
Pass the passito.