Sunday, May 29, 2011

Palermo: Baptism, Confirmation and Shotgun Wedding

The first Sicilian wines I had in Palermo were in restaurants. I have memories of being in a place with family and they brought a bottle of Corvo Rosso. My first taste of nerello. It was a wine from the 1960’s. At one point later in time in the 1990’s I had a bottle of the 1964. It was luscious. Corvo, luscious? You raise an eyebrow? Well, let me tell you in those days, most Sicilian wine was naturally delicious. Sun kissed, ripe and ready.

I had just turned 20, and was immersed in Sicily ala natural. Baptism, confirmation and shotgun wedding all at once.

Later on in the 1990's I would find a bottle of 1971 Gattopardo rosso in an enoteca on the Adriatic. It was as if 1971 was still trailing me, making sure I stayed on course, initiated in that gestation period in August, in Palermo, in 1971.

Yes, yes, yes. I wasn’t going to stray. My Sicilian godfather wouldn’t let me. I would be a good soldier for the wines from Sicily. And when they tasted like those early wines, it set my inner sensibilities in a way that cause me to keep looking for them today.

Nerello. I once won a contest in a sales meeting because I could recall the cépage of Corvo red and white. Sick. The prize was a beach towel. All the better with to lay on the beach of my inner Mondello.

Look, these weren’t great wines like Bordeaux or Burgundy or Barolo or Tuscany. But they spoke to me. They matched the food on the table, the weather, the music, the times. It was naïve, innocent, the attraction, but it would prove to be enduring.

In present time the red wines more toward Licata and Etna are calling me now. I love the nerello, and the nero d’avola, if the sharp edge of limey/acidity hasn’t been all filed off by the centrifuge of fashion. Natural Sicily baptized me, remember?

Six years later in 1977 I would return with my young family to Sicily for a long stay. We were free-range egg eaters, organic-seeking vegetarians. We composted for God’s sake, in 1977. Tried to recycle glass, no easy task then. And to see in Sicily the mountains of refuse and the lack of respect for Mother Earth in that everyone would toss trash from their cars, littering this gemstone of an island. It was all too weird.

Palermo Centro Storico: Hippie Street Vendors
We were poor, below or right at the poverty line. Very, very small carbon footprint. Sicily looked to America for wealth, for bounty, for grand success. And so when they saw this new family from America in coveralls and cotton shoes with rubber soles from China, they looked upon us as if we were from another planet. Freaks. Guilty as charged.

The connecting thread was wine. It was the great interpreter of the two cultures clashing at the table with a liter of red from the Sicilian countryside.

Some years later, in 1981, cheap Sicilian wine would flood America. Segesta, Bonifato, industrialized Corvo; it was like the Dark Ages for a wine just waiting to be remastered by a few visionary souls. Unbeknownst to me, they were chipping away in the countryside, the renaissance was in utero, but the path had been struck, it was coming.

And that was how it was foretold in my dreamlike state of Palermo in 1971. Even as I am now thrown back into that time, so then I was thrust into the future with visions and directives: “Go back to the wilderness of the New World and wait. We will send for you when it is time.”

to be continued...

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