Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vin Santo: Full Moon in the Microcosm of Tuscany

I recently drove from Dallas to San Antonio for a meeting. It was decided at the last minute; the plane ride would have cost more than one to California. So my frugal being got up early one morning, before sunrise and with sheets of rain falling from the dark heaven. It’s what we do in the wine biz. Go see potential customers, taste wine with them, and try and get them to like the stories we tell, enough so that they will buy the wines or better, let us improve their wine lists.

The meeting went well enough, but we didn’t make a sale. We weren’t there to take an order, but to plant seeds. Ok, we did that well enough. My colleague told me, “He never spent that much time with me, " referencing the wine buyer I had driven 300 miles to see.

At the end of a full day, sitting in my hotel room, I was tired enough to order room service. But after a run, I wasn’t in the mood to eat crap. So I cleaned up and headed back out.

The first place I stopped at, known for very good pizza; there was a line out the door. I was in no mood for that. I spied a Korean BBQ/Sushi place across from the Pizza place. It was tempting, but I really didn’t want to eat oil-soaked meat. Or thawed out raw fish. I know, cynical. But I was starting to get tired. I looked up the next place on the GPS and saw it was only 5 miles away. So I made my way to it.

I found the Italian-styled place, which is very popular, so popular in fact it’s hard to get a seat in the place. But lately I have been lucky like that. So I poked my head in and sure enough there were two tables open.

Once seated the sommelier came over. “I know you from Twitter.” And then the other wine person, who works usually at another one of the chef’s places, came over. We’re friends. “What are you doing in San Antonio?” I was spotted.

No big deal. These are sincere fellows. Hard workers. Affable. Likable. They made me really feel welcome. I was just popping on for a little something to eat and a glass or two of wine. What happened then was one of those moments, on the wine trail, that makes me want to get down on my knees and thank my lucky stars for this life.

Both of the sommeliers offered suggestions; let’s just say I was in good hands. There was a young couple across from me, visiting the town, they were eating and drinking well. They were really enjoying plunging the depths of the wine list and the menu. And so young. And beautiful. Nice to see.

All this to lead to the inspiration that hit me at the table that night. I ordered a glass of Vin Santo from Badia Coltibuono. I didn’t recall having it in many years. I have a particular kind of Vin Santo that I really like and it seems to elude me. There was the one once from San Gimignano, Pietraserena, I still have a bottle of it. For me that was the greatest Vin Santo I have ever had. It had a creamy depth to it that was calming. Reminding me a little of a great Marsala. Is that a compliment?

Avignonesi, I remember theirs too. But this really isn’t a post about any one particular Vin Santo.

No, what hit me that night in San Antonio, as I stared at the glass, reminding me of a stained glass window in the Milan Cathedral, was how misunderstood Vin Santo is in relation to the Tuscan wine microcosm.

We all seem to think Chianti or Vino Nobile or Brunello are the quintessential expressions of Tuscan, and to a greater extent, Italian wine. But that night, Vin Santo was the full moon in the sky shining brighter than all the rest.

And don’t take it wrong, this isn’t a “Vin Santo is better than Chianti” kind of assertion. Far from it. No, the spirit of the evening, the perfect storm of wine and service and respect and the weather, and yes, the full moon above might have had something to do with it too. But in that brief moment, a flash it was, and with it Vin Santo appeared to me to be the perfect symbol for the spirit of Tuscan wine.

Oh, you were expecting a tasting note? Or a score? How about a recommendation? I have one for you. Forget all you know about wine. Sit in a room without a cell phone or other distractions. Let yourself fall into the glass, smell it, breathe deep. Don’t think about it, just feel it. Enjoy the beautiful colors, the myriad of aromas. Let yourself go. And then, take a little sip. Don’t dip any damn stale cookie into it. Just you and the wine. Period. And see if you don’t have some kind of revelation. I dare you.

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