Wednesday, July 26, 2006

All that glitters isn’t gold in Orvieto ~ Umbria Underground

Many are told, when they go to Orvieto, to stop by the Duomo and take in the brilliance of the gold laden façade. It is especially brilliant during sundown, when it mirrors the sun in the finest garments of gold the people of the time could afford. Inside the church are frightful depictions of the Apocalypse, around small corners in alleys Mad Madonna’s stare right into our grimy little souls with little mercy for our inadequacies. All very bright and fearful and dreary. Oh well…Little known to the outsider are the underground passages that line the world below. In times past those passages would be used to ferry out princes and royal families, other times to smuggle provisions and weapons in to punch up the warriors in the ongoing struggles between the warring city-states. Never conquered by force.

In later years these tunnels would be lost or would cave in or be resurrected as a disco or a laundromat. I remember Riccardo Cotarella telling me, as we wound up the hill to the hilltop town, of his boyhood adventures in the selvatici (wilderness), hmmm… I’ve seen the Fellini boyhood memories; could our globe trotting winemaker have another side that we don’t know about?

There are many mysteries in Italy; mystery is to mystical Umbria as opera is to Naples or Palermo. Part of the DNA of the landscape.

One such path on the wine trail in Italy takes us back into the hills for such a visit back in time. Our visit was to a small producer of Orvieto, and the destination was to visit the grandfather’s cave, where the ancient abboccato, the muffa nobile, was enshrined.

This has been one of those wonderful mysteries of the wine trail, for I saw this and heard about it and have never heard about it again. It’s like a train vanishing in time and we got a last glimpse before it disappeared in the tunnel. I hope this isn’t so. It would be like losing an opera from Rossini or a sculpture from Giacometti; it is part of the liquid history of Italy.

A forest behind a clearing and a little shack. To the left a cave, sealed to intercept the bats and the insatiable Italian teenagers. Once inside we saw these mead-like wines sitting in jars along the walls of the cave.
Like being inside of a truffle, there was the sensation of the humidity, the texture, even the aroma. And this golden elixir sitting in bottles covered by months, years of cosmic dust layered like a delicate Neapolitan pastry.

Our host opened a few bottles from various decades and again the room filled with narcissus and lily, honey and rose petal. This wasn’t a wine, this was a perfume! This was the alchemists gold at the end of the rainbow, or tunnel. Here was the same energy, underground that we witnessed the day before falling on the façade of the Church, and here was a wine we could take as communion in honor of a time that is only a memory now.

On the way back we ran into a group of nuns, in town for a wine tasting. Should we direct them to the catacombs of that rapturous liquid noble rot? What? Could there be any question, after first encountering the mad Madonna? We must have happiness among the nuns of us. Of course, we told them. From the angels lips to everlasting bliss.We can only hope...

< Thanks to Hank "Enrico" Rossi for some of his wonderful photos >

1 comment:

Travel Italy said...

too cool! It's in the blood.

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