Sunday, November 10, 2013

A last supper with an old friend

The internets are rife with social media sites where folks post great wines they just had. This is not one of them. This is a story about an old friend who has been living with me for thirty years. We celebrated his passing with a meal fitting his life, his character and his destiny.

I first met Morello in a cellar in Florence in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata. It must have been 1984. I remember the area because years before I had spent three weeks above in a pensione. I remember we didn’t have the budget for warm water in the bathroom, but I found a way to turn on the water heater when we showered. We were traveling with our two children, one 8 and one 11 months. Wine was still a few years off in the distant horizon.

The proprietor of the enoteca was Barone Armando de Rham. The company I worked for did business with him and he was showing us around Italy and his cadre of estates. In Florence we walked the cellar and he offered to sell some of these wines, ostensibly for our clients. I made some notes and gave him a sheet of paper with my requests. It was there Morello, a 1976, was lying there sleeping on his side.

A few months later the wine arrived to our warehouse. I had a little corner for the esoteric Italian wines. I called it my little infernoti. Many of the wines went to a client in Fort Worth, Carlo Croci, at Bella Italia. There was a collector who sold wines, Grailey Jaynes, and he took some of the wines. My friend Alessio Franceschetti, took some as well, including most of the Inga Brandy from the 1920’s (pre-Mussolini). We drank several of those bottles over the years.

But the 1976 Morello, from Scansano, I had to have. It was my son’s birth year. Someday I hoped to open it when he was old enough.

Over the years (almost 30) I kept Morello in the dark, away from vibrations and in a cool place. Every so often I would check on him. He came to me from the cellar and I was intent on maintaining our friendship by making sure all conditions were as good as could be. I’d look at the bottle and the wine inside. He seemed pale and anemic. I thought probably the wine was more important for the label than what was inside. I have some bottles like that in my wine closet. Everybody does.

But for some reason, about two years ago, I stood Morello up on his base. Either for display or with any luck, to allow him to settle.

There he would be, staring at me every time I opened the closet. We’d make contact. I might go over to him and inspect him a little closer. He was standing there. Waiting. Patiently. But everyone has their limit.

My son was over this weekend for his birthday. He had expressed the desire to have some of his favorite foods. A soup with tomatoes and pasta and cucuzza. String beans in tomato sauce. Classic Caesar salad. And Italian fried chicken, essentially pieces of chicken pounded and drenched in half and half and eggs, then covered in a mixture of cheeses, breadcrumbs and spices and then cooked in olive oil in a hot skillet.

We started off with an apertivo of Franciacorta Saten from Contadi Castaldi. Something to drink while cooking.

Someway through the preparation I went into the closet, though. It was like someone was calling me. Morello. “It’s time,” he whispered. “Time to open me up and let me go.” I carried him ever so carefully into the room, pulled the cork out and released him into a special old decanter. Hi was old, but far from dead. Funny how a wine like that ends up, 37 years later, at a table in the middle of nowhere. Destiny?

We finished our cooking and once all the food was on the table, I poured the wine into our glasses. The color was light as a faded rose. The aroma was unexpected. There was an incense of herbs, from rosemary to violet to the overarching aroma of lavender. Odd, I thought, lavender?

With a wine that probably should be drunk within 10 years at most, what happens to one that lives longer? Without a doubt the wine was old. The wine was not cooked. Or corked. In any way. No, the wine was mellow, like a saddle that had been ridden many years.

The flavors were almost perfect with the green beans in tomato sauce. And also with the chicken. The soup was where the wine surprised. The two flavors (wine and soup) made an altogether new flavor. I don’t know, maybe it was from a memory from several thousands of years ago, but I recognized it, even though I don’t recall ever having anything like it in this lifetime. Morello, he was teaching us all, even as he was passing on, through us.

One can develop a relationship with wines or a wine, when there are years spent in proximity. I never really knew Morello until yesterday. It’s not like a painting on a wall, where one looks at it over the years and it changes and beckons further interpretation. With Morello, we had one shot. And we didn’t know until the cork came out if we’d pour it down our throats or into the sink.

Fortunately for all, the life of Morello was a celebration. His life, the life of my son, both the same age. One finished, the other far from it.

That is why I love wine and wine from Italy. For these deep friendships that last over time. Time and time again.

Buon anima, Morello, amico mio.

The Wine:
1976 Morello   from Azienda Agraria Sellari Franceschini
The wine in 1976 was bottled as a Vino da Tavola and was bottle # 3000 ( of 3257)
Alcohol was 13%

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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