Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Taste of Four Cities

There are four cities in America that I am fond of. Each of them represents something of America that I am drawn to, although these four do not constitute my sole fascination for this country. They are simply four cities I have lived in. My birthplace, Los Angeles. The place of my university education, San Francisco. The first city I went to live in as a young man in search of fame and fortune, New York. And the town I raised my son in, Dallas.

If I could live anywhere, it would probably be in the Los Angeles of the 1930’s. But that isn’t possible. San Francisco is a source of inspiration for me, as it has been since the late 1960’s. New York is the high mountain that I jump off my horse for and attempt to climb, from time to time. But the wild beast and the wide open spaces have a greater pull on me than any long term commitment to the center of the universe. As long as I get 3 or 4 days every so often, I am happy. And Dallas? I really don’t know what I have been doing there half my life. Dallas, for me, was always a place that had the sense of opportunity, to make oneself over again, to clean the slate and to even live an inner life that isn’t weighted down with any sense of outer expectation.

So what little wines do these cities represent for me, on the wine trail in Italy? Let’s have a look…

Dallas. A place where all possibilities are in play. Dark, light, good, evil, a microcosm of the society at large. Dallas is green and flat, at the edge of the Northern Plains, skirting the East Texas Piney Woods, bordering the West Texas badlands and leaning south to the Hill country beauty. The trains met here. Dallas isn’t any one thing, nor would it be if it were a wine from Italy. It would have a little oak; it would have a fruity character. It would have to go with red meat, like a thick T-Bone steak, the Texas rival to bistecca Fiorentina. It would be good if it could age but probably wouldn’t spend that much time in a cellar anyway. It would have a sense of place, but the wine would have a larger purpose. It must be important and have bluster. And it would be very fashionable and graceful. An order as tall as Texas is large? Perhaps.

The wine – Il Borro. Owned by the Ferragamo family, frequent visitors to Texas for the wine and the fashion business. Il Borro is a blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and Petit Verdot. It’s a wine that I quite like. Whenever I pull it out of the rack I know it won’t disappoint. Yes, it is Tuscan, and there aren’t the usual indigenous grapes that folks are stumbling all over themselves these days. It is a balanced, elegant, juicy red wine which walks without tripping, looking straight ahead, eyes on the road.

New York – While it is a multi-layered city of old and new, New York is not just glitz and glamour. My days living there in the 1970’s were far from the New York we know today. It was brooding and dark. It was dangerous. It was inhospitable to strangers. It is after all, an island. An island of powerful people, with something under the surface of all that money and majesty, something of the raw, the isolated, the individualistic. And for some reason it brings to mind a wine from Sardegna. Cannonau red wine, without wood, raw and powerful. Alessandro Dettori said it better than I can make up, “I don’t follow the market, I produce wines that I like, wines from my territory, wines from Sennori. They are what they are and not what you want them to be…singing of Sardinia, which is powerful and vehement, but at the same time sweet and harmonious, just like our wine.”

San Francisco - to me is a dream place, a place of my youth, a place I can never move away from. In the city there is an energy, a vibration of life that I have always felt there. It excites me, it re-invigorates me. I love to walk in San Francisco until there are blister on my feet. Tired, dead, exhausted, only to fall into a little Italian trattoria and sit at a little table by the window, with that light, almost like the light in Greece, but even brighter and sharper, to me. Wine wise, it’s an earthy, gutsy, lively wine. It’s a wine that when the cork is popped, the wine flows out as if in relief of its escape. Or is it to mock the volcano under which the grapes are born? The wine, from Gragano near Naples is a Penisola Sorrentina DOC. Grapes of Per’ e Palummo, Sciascinoso and Aglianico, how’s that for going native? What it does well is match itself with the liveliness of the place and the adventurous cuisine of San Francisco. But it also captures those innocent days of youth when a frothy red and a loaf of sour dough bread, a little salami and, if one were lucky, a pretty gal to sit by the bay with and watch the sun set.

Los Angeles – my tribal grounds. The place where my coyote spirit lingers, fleeing from the fires in the hills. Wind and heat, October, a time when the town catches fire. Running to the water to escape the slap of destruction that is sweeping the land as it has for millions of years. Los Angeles is a town with apocalyptic blood in its veins. A beautiful and terrifying nature, awesome and imminent. What town is this? Not the cruising down Sunset Blvd in a convertible, but rather a place that one is fearful of, one that destroys and scars? Yes, that side of Los Angeles is very much a part of this scenario. all the while they line up around the corner to eat Pizza at Mozza or producers squat in the private dining room of Celestino Drago’s place to suck up plates of Carpaccio al Salmone just moments before the Big One hits. But with the courage to face the unknown and to go forward, undaunted, possibly to ones death. Not before the last sip from the chalice. And what is our little Italian surprise? What would cool and refresh, extinguish and exhilarate? What can help to overcome the fear and the terror? And what goes with that last meal? It isn’t a red wine, and it isn’t a still wine. So as Wall Street slows like lava coming down the side of Etna, Angelinos celebrate their 21st century march towards annihilation with a bottle of Franciacorta Rose’. If your last meal is pizza or a crudo of salmon, a macrobiotic rice bowl or an East LA burrito, or a humble plate of bigoli with pancetta, The soothing presence of the Northern Italian sparkler is its own force of nature. Oblivion? Or perhaps, nirvana?

Lest we forget, great cities have come and gone, along with their civilizations. All through this pageant the winemaker and the wine has been there, with the tyrant and the poet alike. Wine is a great civilizer, and while we have amongst us dark hearted ones who would rather destroy than build, we have countless reminders of their misplaced ambition, strewn across the deserts of forgotten lands.

Whatever city or country you are living in, open up a bottle of wine and enjoy it with someone. Soon.


Unknown said...

Love that Il Borro!

Love that wine!

Marco said...

A great tribute to these cities with wines to match.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Will have to do a NOLA one on it's own, soon.

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