Sunday, September 28, 2008

In Praise of Pitigliano

Leaving Rome and heading north up the west coast is a little like exiting L.A. and heading up Hwy 1. I had never done it before but somewhere after Civitavecchia it started looking familiar on a molecular-memory level.

It was Sunday morning and after a little cappuccino in the hotel in Parioli we crept out of Rome, with help from the she-devil Gps. The sky was overcast and there was an early autumn breeze in the air. We were heading to California.

I am newly acquainted with the Tuscan coast, so I wonder why it took me over thirty years to get around to it. Maybe it was my mania for visiting every region in Italy. That is, except for Sardegna. I must go there with my landscape-chef friend Francesco, who as a child looked out from Orosei towards the land we were now driving up.

Sunday was a quiet time on the SS1 and once we passed Montalto di Castro my partner in crime started getting hunger pains. The night before we had gone to a little trattoria and had our second on many Last Suppers, but it was a new day, a little rain was starting to fall and there you have it, time for pranzo.

I spied a delivery truck in front of me and saw that he was pulling off into a little roadside place and my inner Gps said “follow that man.”

It was a very humble place, no tourists and a lone Indian inside the entrance peddling exotic jewelry and speaking a strange hybrid of Italian and Hindi.

We took a table opposite a large picture window and watched the rain float, then strike the outer world. But we were safe inside the little lunch room, and thirsty. I asked the waiter for a good local wine and he recommended a fresh white from nearby Pitigliano. It had been years since I had thought about the Bianco from Pitigliano, when I once brought in a 20 foot container of the stuff for a Jewish client who had an Italian café and retail store. He loved the stuff and sold the hell out of it. I remember it was light and dry and crisp and it reminded me of the Trebbiano from Abruzzo that we drank so much of in those days.

In those days we didn’t call it the Maremma. It wasn’t yet fashionable to render it so. The wines were cheap and cheerful and under appreciated. Morellino would eventually reach the close out list and we’d all make friends with $4 red from Scansano.

For now, it was Sunday afternoon and the Pitigliano was still cheap and cheerful. The owner had opened the picture window and a cool,fresh salty-rain breeze washed over us. And with a platter of fresh fritto misto from the nearby waters, maybe a little plate of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, a small dish or two of zucchini and patate, was there a more wonderful way to spend an afternoon anywhere on earth?

I just have to say this. A wine like Pitigliano, if it were my local white wine, I would be a very happy man. Yes, my tastes are getting simpler and simpler, and Pitigliano is a perfect wine for the pensioner, the student or the wine lover who just wants refreshment and no barrel chatter. Yes, I would be ignorant, but happy.

After lunch and a café, it was almost like the Indian knew we were thinking about him. He came up to the table and had an array of jewelry, each one with a story. I bought one that my contramico liked. He wanted to sell us two, three, four. He really was a fish out of water, but the water he had landed in was just fine. I mean how could a guy from Mumbai land in the Tuscan coast selling jewelry from God knows where? I’d say he won the lottery of life. He might beg to differ, what do I know?

As we neared Castiglione della Pescaia, our she-devil navigator steered us onto a side road towards La Badiola, where L’Andana was waiting for the fortunate ones who were destined to stay within here pampered walls. It was just like we had seen on the website, except that Alain Ducasse had long left the place to his trusted surrogates.

As we checked into the little jewel of a hotel, I got a faint sense that there are many Italy’s. There is the Italy of Rome. There is the Italy of the roadside café and a simple plate of misto fritto and a bottle of Pitigliano. And there is the Italy of the Alto-Borghese. We were grifters upon this refined side of Italy, with linen sheets and one star Michelin restaurants. With home made donuts in the morning, steaming cups of cappuccino and the sweetest melon this side of the Pecos.

Nowhere but Italy - Guess the wine region, become a millionaire

After a sweet little nap and some mindless television, we would press on into the full moon landscape and try our luck in this new world. It had shaped up to be a very special Sunday along the Tuscan coast on the wine trail in Italy.


? said...

Hello, I'm glad I found this blog. I am a lover of good wine and books. I also love Italy. Until we meet again, all the best.

Unknown said...

Easy on the wine

Unknown said...

And I'm glad I finally found Steve Balmer. Now, if only my friend tg's best buddy, Paris Hilton, stops by sometime, it'll be a partay.

Steve... how's the rainy vista from your windows, eh?

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