Sunday, July 05, 2015

A little bit of Americana for our friends in Italy

A pictorial journey through West Texas on July 4th weekend

Three weeks ago, I was sitting in a basement in Bari judging Italian wine made from any number of indigenous grapes. Today, I’m in West Texas, eating chicken fried steak and drinking Prosecco. Life is strange, ain’t it? But for my Italian friends, these past few days are the kind of experience I know many of them would give their I-teeth for. Imagine a 4th of July weekend in West Texas. For some it might seem foreboding. But it all depends on who you’re hanging with.

The occasion was the birthday of America and also Dallas cheese maven, Paula Lambert. Along with one of her best friends, chef Stephan Pyles, arrangements were made to caravan to Big Spring, Texas, for a wine and food (and music and dance) weekend in Stephan’s childhood town.

Big Spring wasn’t exactly on my bucket list. But West Texas is another country altogether. I’m fascinated with the bigger-than-life panoramas. And after a wet spring, the normally tinderbox dry desert landscape was April shower green. And the weather, a light breeze, dry and not too hot, made it easy to stay outside.

So what about it would my Italian friends like? For one, most of the wine we had was Italian. We drank dark rosé wines from Apulia and Abruzzo, crisp whites from Piedmont and the Maremma and juicy reds from Umbria, Piedmont and Tuscany. West Texas food, this time of the year, can be anything from smoked salmon to pork ribs, multigrain salads, gazpacho, fried chicken and of course, chicken fried steak. And all the wines we had went exceedingly well with the food.

Highlights of the trip

The Hotel Settles in Big Spring. A recent $30 million dollar renovation makes this a must stop on the road from Dallas to Big Bend. When it was finished a few months after the stock market crash of 1929, it was the tallest building between Ft. Worth and El Paso and could be seen miles away. The place is a little gem among the austere landscape of West Texas. A welcoming (and quite cool) swimming pool where one can relax and catch a few West Texas sun rays, working on the summer tan y’all. Good food, good beds, great air conditioning and a perfect place to camp for the weekend.

Fireworks in Big Spring. I’m not a flag waving patriotic kind of American. But I do enjoy national holidays with a good mix of Americans. Big Spring surely isn’t the prototypical "whites only" place it once was. The evening was a great gathering of music, patriotism and respect for our many men and women (of all colors) who have served our country. And of course, some killer fireworks.

There’s nothing quite like listening to the local symphony belting out Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown while the skies rained with pyrotechnic displays. Yeah, it’s a little over the top – but it brings out the little kid in each of us. Good stuff.

A visit to an iconic ranch – one of Stephan’s childhood friends has a lovely ranch out near Forsan, Texas. The place is rich in oil, historically, and cattle ranching. And the home, lovingly built, stone by stone, by Mexican immigrants who got stuck there in the late 1800’s and had nowhere to go. So they hunkered down, and built a home for the ages. A pond Monet would die for, a house filled with any number of personal touches, so achingly dear that to leave the place was painful.

And the food, Stephan and his team did so many wonderful dishes, perfect for the time and the wines. But the cobbler, along with homemade ice cream, that was the inevitable gut-buster. I wouldn’t do anything different the second time around.

Last night, though, the piece de resistance was our very own hoedown at a honky-tonk, The Stampede Dance Hall. Ours for the night, complete with Dave Alexander and his Texas Swing Band, and plenty of room on the dance floor. Sitting there under the breeze of a swamp cooler, sipping on a dry Cerasuolo from Abruzzo and listening to Bob Will’s music. Outside the rocket’s red glare (from the firework display) - that pretty much nails down my idea of Heaven in America. And for my Italian friends, I lapped it up like a fool, thinking about what you what be thinking, doing, if you were here. Most of you, I know, would be on the dance floor.

And the icing on the cake, literally, was Sunday brunch at Perini Ranch Steak House in Buffalo Gap, Texas. Perini, that’s Italian, yes? That and the mascarpone in the cake and the Prosecco. But all the rest is 110% Americana.

Some see us, come take the ride, spend some time, eat under the stars, dance in a honky-tonk and fall in love with an America everyone can feel good about. We’ll save a place for you at the table – family style, y’all - and that ain't no bull.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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