|Avignon - 1985|
And then I went to France. It was the summer of 1985 and we drove from Venice. Our first stop was Avignon and they were having a summer festival. I loved the trees in Avignon, the music, the lights and the people. Their French sounded more like Italian than I had thought it would. And the wines seemed more alike than opposed.
I keep a little spread sheet on my travels. It is important to get dates right, especially when referring to something in writing. Ten trips in so far to France, and surely more to come. And every time to I go France I ask myself why these fellows from the 1980’s made such a distinction between Italy and France.
My host has family connections with France. To many whom I have met, especially in Northern Italy and Tuscany, that isn’t so unusual. People living in Texas have relatives in California and New York. Big deal. But we have been conditioned to think these borders are real, that there is no porosity. This, in fact, is an illusion. Just like the illusion that French wines are better than Italian. They’re just different, like my relatives in California.
What really has been going on for many years between France and Italy has been more like an underground collaboration. After all, France and Italy account for 50% of the world’s wine production. And through many hundreds of years they have intermingled and become family. That they would be allied should seem more logical than being opposed to one another. Yes, there is competition for export markets. And yes, one will more easily find fine French wine in Italy than fine Italian wine in France. But those are minor issues. The heart of the matter is that the Italians have learned a lot about wine from the French, just like the French did from the Italians, going back to Roman times. There really is no “them” or “us” except in some obsolete corners of connoisseurship. Now, most of those fellows are gone, or will soon be.
|Avignon - 1985|
And just like drinking Bordeaux in Venice, why would they matter? In shaking off our suits and ties and climbing into our well-worn jeans and Jack Purcells, why shouldn’t a wider appreciation of wine, wine without borders, follow?
Personally, I am relieved. I no longer have to skulk in a corner with my Gattinara, in fear that I am some kind of leper. I can freely pour Franciacorta in public, next to a grower Champagne, with no fear of ridicule. Hip sommeliers in New York post pictures of incredible Barolo on their Instagram feed next to prized Rhone and Burgundy wines. Are we not drawn onward to a new era?
That bottle of Lafite Rothschild my friend opened? When he poured me a glass I took a sniff. It smelled corked. Several folks around the table agreed. What did my friend do? There was no scorn for a French wine being corked. He went into the other room and brought back a bottle of another First Growth, a Mouton Rothschild. It complemented his Italian wine wonderfully. And we all proceeded with the night, admiring the evening and the lighted boats shimmering along the Grand Canal in the most serene of ways.
written and photographed (in Italy and France) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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