Thursday, September 05, 2013

An introvert’s guide to Italian wine

I’m a devout introvert. Ten minutes in a NY subway and I can’t wait to get upstairs, where there are even more people. Naturally shy as a kid, I spent a lot of time by myself. It was easy, living in the desert. But when I went to Italy the first time, and landed in Rome, I had no choice. I had to earn to live with the others.

Back home, in the span of a week, I've come across a lot of people looking for wine. It is my job to try and make that wine Italian.

A young man comes up to me looking for Pinot Noir. “What in heaven’s name do you want with Pinot Noir?” I ask him. He can’t really say. “It’s that damn movie that’s got you wanting it, isn’t it?” He looks at me like I’m nuts. Funny. I can see the headline: “Introvert goes insane, and starts peppering the subway with Montepulciano.” And that is exactly what I do. I hand him a mid-range bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and send him on his way. How did this introvert become so assertive?

I’m sure Sophia Dembling could inform me. Her book, “The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World” is the survival guide for anyone who is or lives with an introvert. As for me, I’ve had to learn how to force myself out of my cave and mingle, only to crawl back in before the batteries die.

A lady looks at me with a sad little bottle of Prosecco. It’s $9.99. “I’ve tried Prosecco and want to like it but they are all so sweet.” I know how hard it is for her to say it; she’s also an introvert. I hand her a bottle over the $9.99 barrier ($16.99) and off she goes back to her cave with hope in her heart. It’s all so very simple.

I encountered a couple in the Tuscan section of a local store. The man had his trusty iPhone humming, looking on cellar tracker for the perfect bottle of wine. The wife was looking at the labels. They both seemed confused, even though the man would never admit it to another man. Italian wines are, after all, a bit perplexing, even to the most tech-savvy cave man. But it is the woman, the introvert, who will make the decision this time. She understands how hard relationships are, especially long distance ones. She’s had one with her smartphone wielding husband for who knows how many years.

Eventually, after we cannot find the Chianti that he has fixated on with his phaser, I ask them what they are looking for. And then, it isn’t the score or the tasting note that matters. It’s the relationship. “Take this nice little Chianti Classico," I said. "The son and daughter I’ve known since they were babies and I think of them as my Italian children. They make lovely, sensitive thoughtful wines.” I am nowhere near having to run back into the cave because my batteries are dying; I’m recharging off the cave-man’s iPhone, something the NSA will have a hard time de-encrypting.

Italy for the introvert is a wonderful place. For one, Italy has its fair share of introverts. But the extroverts are pretty tolerable. One can walk the hills of Rome or the back streets of Venice, and a glass of Frascati or un ombra of Prosecco makes a perfectly suitable stand-in for the charging station.

One doesn’t need to go to Italy for the experience of feeling Italian. And for introverts this is a good thing. A glass of wine can be a transformative experience from the comfort of one’s own cave. It’s a survival skill that introverts learn. Sit in the corner of a party and let people come to you. Hang out in your home and let Italy come to you. This couldn’t have happened 100 years ago. We’re in a Golden Age for introverts. And Italy is glad to soothe your pain, improve your dinner or make your evening a little less dull and lonely. Introverts get lonely, you ask? Of course we do. Not as much as extroverts, but we seek the warmth of companionship. We are first and foremost, human beings. The wife of the cave man craved a story, a glimmer of light and warmth. The story of the young kids who grew up to make the Chianti they were buying helps a little. It would also help if her husband would put down his toys for a minute and look her in the eyes. Yes, we introverts are a nosey little bunch. We crawl right into a scenario and suss it out right quick.

A young lady in the white wine section is desperately seeking Soave. She’s young, hipster-like, but she’s cool, like she could be the daughter of Sharon Stone. “Can I help you find what you are looking for?” I ask. That sounded too much like a pick-up line. Fortunately she didn’t pick it up as that. “I was at this little Italian place in the neighborhood and we had the best white wine with our pizza bianca.” I know the place, I know the wine. And I agree with her. “Ah, yes, the Inama, here you go.” Easier than a piercing. As she walked off, bottle in hand, I saw a little girl who just found her favorite candy bar. But this time she was all grown up and the world of Italian wine was her candy store. A vision for folks like me, who have had to crawl out of our natural state of being to sound the horns and hawk the wares as we have done these past years.

No one ever said it would be easy being an introvert in a world dominated by bluster and bravado. But this is where we were planted and we must grow. Thanks to a little quirk in the fates, Italy and Italian wines can make the magical spaceship ride a little more fun than the subway down below. And it can make even the most hard-core extrovert a little more tolerable. Of course, you better have a bottle of Brunello ready for them.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Marcy Gordon said...

Loved Sophia Dembling’s book and love this post. I often wonder how I came to be an introvert since I was born into a tipical gregarious and boisterous Italian family. But I’ve grown to embrace my introvert status and I think wine is a lovely companion.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Marcy,

both my parents are extraverts. I think all their kids are introverts. It's pretty easy being an introvert in an Italian extrovert family: eat and drink.

so glad you found Sophia's book.

thanks for commenting...

Charlie said...

A bottle of Brunello, lol. I must have misread that...

Diana said...

Lovely post!
The Italian experience does seem to present a lot of extroverts, but you're exactly right: if you know how to eat and drink well, you'll do just fine.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Jeremy

Buon weekend!

ambradambra said...

Great post. Let's hear it for the introverts. This only child who also spent plenty of time alone hasn't read Sophia Dembling, but I must - as soon as I can find a bookstore with nobody in it. Or maybe I'll order it online and look forward to extracting it from my postbox. No correspondence will be entered into and only Merlot will be drunk. Take that, 'Sideways'

Marco Cafone said...

"Introverts... are a object-lesson for the man who refuses to be blinded by the intellectual fashion of the day. In their own way, they are educators and promoters of culture. Their life teaches more than their words. From their lives...we may understand one of the greatest errors of our civilization, that is, the superstitious belief in verbal statements, the boundless overestimation of instruction by means of words and methods." However, amico, through your words I have learned much about life and Italian and Sicilian wines. Thanks.

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