Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rare and precious – And other unlikely juxtapositions

It started last night while I was looking for a bottle of wine to go with the lasagne. I wanted something a bit rustic, not too heavy, maybe with some age on it, and red. Isn’t that how everyone does it? Go to your wine closet and pick out something fabulous?

Earlier in the day, at the nearby supermarket, I noticed a display of wine and saw the word Rosatello. Once upon a time, that meant a lightly dry rosé wine from Tuscany, long before “that” was famous. Now it means sweet, red or rosé, still or fizzy, depending on which bottle is presented. But someone shopping in this supermarket would probably get a bottle of either, to go with their lasagne.

The choices we are presented, each and every one of us. And how wine intersects our decisions, our philosophy, those choices and how it reflects back upon the chooser, and how they view their place in this temporary parking place in the galaxy.

For the past month or so, it has been terrifically humid. So much that every day I go into my wine closet (when I am home) and empty several gallons of water from an overflow container. Every time I wonder, was this in those bottles and is it seeping out? Is there a caché of wine, somewhere in that closet, that is slowing emptying out? Is this folly of collecting wine for so many special moments just that?

At a recent dinner, in Italy, the neighbors, nearby where we were staying in Tuscany, invited us to a dinner. Sheepherders, they were boiling up mutton stew. We brought a fancy bottle of Barbaresco in magnum. Our hosts also brought wine in magnums, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a Barbera, recently purchased at the local Coop. It was a casual event, and we drank the wine out of plastic cups.

I noticed that the Barbera had this searing volatile acidity to it. And being one who likes a little of that character, I was drawn to try the wine. This one was over the top. But like moths to the flame, I was kept going back to the wine. Sipping it in my plastic cup, I felt a little ashamed that we brought a wine that was so much “greater.” Here we were in Italy, and I was feeling bad about sharing a great wine with our friends!

There was something else at play here. Was it a socio-economic thing? These were hard working people, people who have their hands in the stuff of life every day. Yes, I guess I was feeling a little ashamed, in that maybe these days I don’t work as hard as I once did. And yes, maybe I have gotten a few lucky breaks along the way.

But it hit me that the relationship that everyday, normal Italians have with wine is different from those of us who howl at the moon over every nuance in wine. It’s less critical. And it is also more interwoven into their life. It’s no big deal. There’s no “rare” and there’s no “precious.” It’s just the life.

Years ago I read somewhere that the average Italian doesn’t collect wine. They go to the store and buy it when they need it. They don’t pour over catalogs and lurk over social media sites, where friends display those rare and precious bottlings, perhaps over some amazing dinner with dear and famous friends and colleagues. They are unencumbered with the luggage of expectation.

Oh, yes, they might miss out on some special bottle of wine, maybe drinking that 1959 Mouton at some special person’s 90th birthday celebration, one of many.

I saw the slight hesitation, almost a reverence that our friends at the party had for the magnum of Barbaresco, almost as if they were hesitant to enjoy the wine. As if it wasn’t there for them. I noted we probably should have brought two magnums, so that everyone could have imbibed to their hearts content. But then the bottle emptied and we all moved on to the next bottles on the table.

The Barbera was next. And with the lamb, the rusticity of the dish ameliorated the wine. It was fine.

What wasn’t fine were the inner machinations my mind was going through. Had I gotten my head so far up my ass in this business of wine that I couldn’t even enjoy a simple glass of wine with some of the most genuine people I would ever know? I looked around. Suntanned, from work. No furrowed brows, none of that citified stress. These were terrans, doing the work of the earth, eating the fruits of their labor and drinking wine from other farmers who worked their earth.

Aside from sharing their food and their wine, they were there to share their happiness. Yes, life is hard, and we have to work until we die. And yes, we get old and infirm and feeble. But not right now. Right now, we have this table and this food and this wine and these friends. And that, my friends, is pretty damn rare and precious.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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