Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Perfect Italian

I was sitting at the bar of a restaurant, don’t remember where. It could have been Columbus, Ohio or St. Louis, Missouri. Or Yountville, California. I travel alone most of the time, so often I sit at the bar of a restaurant and order from the food menu. It’s kind of like work, in that I see what is going out to the folks, libations and wine, and get an idea of where I am at.

This time another solitary traveler sat nearby. She started up a conversation, found out I was in the wine business. When I told her my area of concentration was Italy, she perked up. “Oh, I love Italians, the wine, the countryside, the men; it's all so gorgeous.” She was younger than me; I don't think she was coming on to me. Or at least I wasn’t picking up that vibe. No, she was just talkative and I am a good listener. So I listened.

“I love the wines from Tuscany, they are so brawny. I once fell for a man in Florence, his name was Jacopo, he was tall, young, lean and very sweet. He taught me all about Sangiovese.”

At that point my appetizer appeared and she moved a little closer. Still not “that” vibe. I asked her about what her perfect Italian wine would be. “Well, you probably would know much better than me,” she said, “but seeing as you are asking me, I’d say it would be much like my taste in Italian men.” I had no idea where this was going.

“Jacopo was sweet, but he wasn’t enough for me. He wanted someone from his own breeding. He came from wealth, centuries and centuries of it, dripping off his chin. Our brief fling was just that. But one of the wines he exposed me to was from Montepulciano. It was a Vino Nobile and it was amazing.”

“What about wines from other regions?” I asked her.

“I once went to Lake Como and met an older man, twice my age. He was worldly, he was very confident. And despite being older than me, he and I had more in common, intellectually, than I did with dear Jacopo. He loved to climb mountains and ski; he had a motorcycle and a boat. Yes he was very wealthy, but he wasn’t pretentious. Like I said, he was very confident.”

“Yes,” I replied. “What kind of wines did you drink with this older man? What was his name?”

“He was Armando, with a lot of middle names and a title, and he had a home in the hills around Asti. We took a long motorcycle drive there once in the autumn. We visited Barolo and Barbaresco. His favorite wine, though, was Dolcetto. He told me it reminded him of me.”

I tried to imagine what about this lady reminded Armando of Dolcetto. She was in very good shape, worked out, yoga, all the things smart ladies do these days. She was trim, her bare arms illustrated that she had an upper-body regimen. She was tall-ish and wore a dress that showed her legs, which were also toned and tuned. She was a looker, but not a Hollywood type. A little more country-exotic. I could see how Armando could correlate her with Dolcetto. Dolcetto can be firm and spicy but not showy. It isn’t for everyone, but it has a distinct charm. Ok, the picture was being painted for me.

“Is that all?” I asked her. “Anywhere else in Italy? Just two loves?”

By then the restaurant was humming and she knew she had her hooks in me. An extrovert wrestling control over an introvert, not that it is very hard. We are very good listeners, as I have said.

“There was this married man in Sorrento, Domenico. I was there for a conference and we met accidentally. It was a brief interlude, after all he was married, had children, lived in Italy. How far could it go? But he loved food and wine, something his wife no longer cared about. And we would meet in these little seafood restaurants and eat and drink and make love and it was all so romantic.”

This gal must have thought I was her confessor or her shrink. I was eating a salad, hoping the strings of arugula weren’t hanging out between my teeth.

“What kind of wines did you all drink?” I asked.

“Everything in the world – but the wine I loved was Gragnano – it was lively, it was sexy, it was fizzy.”

She stopped and took a bite of her entrée. I wanted to say something but I really didn’t know what to say. So I said, “What happened?”

“He was married. It fizzled. Like the wine.”

She seemed to be longing for the perfect man and the perfect wine, both highly improbable to find in this life, she seemed to conclude. “At least I’ll always have Gragnano, she mused.”

“Three, only three?” I pressed on. “From my perspective it seems you have had better luck with Italian wine than Italian men.”

She took a long sip of her wine and stared in a way that seemed she was looking right through me. Maybe she was lost in thought. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone there.

“You know, there was one. It could have worked. He lived on the Adriatic East Coast, a little town in the hills. Piero was his name. His mother was a great cook and very friendly. His brother was a winemaker; he made bright, happy red wine in the Marche. He had been married, but one day his wife drove to the tallest bridge in the region and threw herself over it. She left him and their two young children. He wasn’t a morose man, but he was awake to what could happen to one in life. He taught me great lessons about patience and acceptance. And we would sip his brother’s Montepulciano in the afternoon after I got home from a run and he was taking a break. There was only one time we ever, you know, did “that”. But it was a time I will remember forever.”

“And why are you not there now?” I asked.“Oh, it was too much for him, he was still too raw from the tragedy. He was a very bright soul, like his region’s wines, but he was burdened with a sad past and an indefinite future. I really, really loved him; we could have had an amazing life in the hills, with the mountains behind us and the sea in front of us. I don’t know, really, why I am here. But I am.”

I felt like I had pressed too much, felt embarrassed at how she laid bare her life before this stranger. Fortunately for her, this outsider knew a few things about love and loss and wine and life and her story wouldn’t be used to put her in an uncompromising situation.

I loved that fact that she could open up to me, we could share a meal, sort of, and then go about our ways, nothing further. I considered her a fellow traveler and wished only the best for her.

As we sipped on a dessert wine from Piedmont, a Barolo Chinato, she looked at me and said, “All this time I’ve been talking about myself. You must think I’m very self-centered. I know nothing about you.”

I replied, “It was me who asked you these questions. I wanted to know. Me? That’s a story for another time. What we share is our love for Italian wine. I am in agreement with all your Italian wine loves. Now, as for your men, you are on your own.” I smiled and she gave me a look as if to say, “Was that your ‘line’?”

Me? I have no ‘line.’ Never had the time to dream one up, or rehearse or whatever those characters do to get what they want when they want it. I was just a solitary traveler sitting at a bar having a meal and being a good listener.

Is there a perfect Italian man, woman or wine? Who knows? One of my mentors once said to learn about wine you have to “taste, taste, taste.”

As in wine, so in life – taste, taste, taste; till you find the ones you love.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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