Sunday, November 19, 2017

Nine Reasons to Give Thanks for Italian Wine

Italy and Italian wine, during my professional life, has been an arduus ad solem. It has so possessed me that I fear that I am like the Japanese soldier holding up in the Philippines who continued to fight 29 years after the end of WWII. At other times, more recently, I have felt the task to be more arare litus, in that the waves would come and wash away much of the hard work. It could be very simple to just walk into that ocean and keep walking, to disappear in time and space. But that will inevitably happen anyway, to all of us. Better to retreat to my highland post and keep fighting, even if the war has been won (or lost). And to the homeland, for which I have been fighting: look upon all these years, where thousands of men and women have been laboring and pursuing Italian wine’s ascension as some of the great wines of the world. How not so long ago it seemed we were all fighting for our place on the stage as a legitimate wine. That battle has been won. Let us give thanks.

1) Sangiovese – this grape won me over with a long and hard fought battle, but I now joyfully surrender. I love Sangiovese now more than I have ever loved it. It is my friend, my lover and my muse. It also has confounded me from the beginning. I think that is some of the draw, for one never knows what will appear from the bottle when the cork has been popped. Yes, there are some inconsistencies, but then a bottle Chianti Classico will be opened and it is as if it was the beginning of the world. It is a wine that could sit at the table of kings and queens, but one could enjoy if one were a mere human, sitting under a bare lamp in a rustic makeshift dining room, with friend and neighbors, enjoying the simple food and warmth of those souls. Sangiovese – thank you.

2) Nebbiolo – You’re beginning to get too rich for my blood, but I hope, for as long as I can, to continue to enjoy your charms. I moved into the neighborhood when prices were low and saw one hell of a deal in you. Over the years, I have kept with you, even when they raised the taxes, and evaluation. I continued to pay. And I realized, that while you are charming when you are old and wise, you are even more delightful when you are young and bright and full of life. So easy to drink, I know nothing of the tannins people decry over when they speak of you (maybe they are mistaking you with Napa Valley Cabernet from the 1990’s?). And yes, there are some neighborhoods I love more than others. Barbaresco, you have my heart. La Morra, you too. Castiglione Falletto, you as well. There are others, but you win. And it is a battle I am happy to wave the white flag and surrender to. Thank you.

3) Aglianico – you are a new and ongoing mystery to me. I think we will spend many hours together in my dotage. You are the new-old frontier. In some indigenous human (and animal) cultures when an elder grows frail, they step away from their group and disappear into the savannah or high plains, never to be seen again. When that time comes, I will walk in your direction, looking for my friend Aglianico. You will be my Eldorado, my fountain of youth. Thank you.

4) All Italian white wine – Yes, all of you. You were once a motley crew. Old when young. Tired when new. Dark, when you should have been the sunniest light. And then that all changed. You become bright and sharp and glorious. And then they stuck you in those small dark barrels, forced solitary confinement upon you. And when they released you, they exclaimed, “Look what we have done! We have made the ugly duckling into a swan!” But you were not smiling. You were not brilliant. You were dull. And then a new generation released you, kept you away from the air, or at worst, micro-oxygenated you. And you came back to life. And now you can sit on my Thanksgiving table with the Riesling from Germany, the white Burgundy from France, the many lovely white wines that adorn and grace our lives. Thank you, Greco, Fiano, Soave, Verdicchio, Arneis, Pinot Grigio! Thank you, Campania, Piedmont, Le Marche, Friuli and Trentino- Alto Adige. Thank you all. White wine from Italy is better than it has ever been in all of time and history - thank you!

5) Rosato -  I loved you from the first time we met, at Michelangelo’s Villa San Michele. It was a very warm summer evening. I was sitting outside under the arches, a light breeze stirring, wearing a (required) black jacket that felt more like a straight-jacket, sweating like I was in a sauna. And then I took a sip of you and everything turned cooler. Even the warm, rustic bean soup couldn’t warm me up after your embrace, your kisses. You were lovely, well-tanned and the archetype for all rosé wines to follow, in my world. After you, I could never look at those pale French rosés with the same longing and, dare I say it? – lust. Thank you. Thank you.

6) Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo – you have been my rock, all these years. And even though I have strayed from you, often, you made me love Italian wine. Well, made is a bit harsh. You formed me, by repetition and practice, taught me to speak Italian wine like no other region. And we grew up together. Now you are strong and powerful, your reds are juicy and bright and sought after by even the most finicky curator of cool, hip things. But we both know that is not your caché. No, you are a wine of the people, little, big, wealthy or poor. You feed the many souls who love wine as an accompaniment to their daily bread. You are a shining star in the pantheon of Italian wine as it has risen from the ashes of a devastating world war. You are my Spartacus – thank you!

7) Sicily – My God, doesn’t it seem only like yesterday when we tried to sell you in large bottles for $2? It was 36 years ago, when most of the people I work with now weren’t yet born. But they did arrive and you also were born again. And this time, you weren’t going to go down in history as the lowest common denominator. My Sicilian brothers and sisters had, and still have, a vision of a country, an island and a culture of greatness. And against some of the harshest social and cultural uphill battles, now look at you! You are ablaze with the youthful glory of rebirth. And I am so thankful to my wine family in Sicily for this modern-day odyssey we’ve traversed together. I know, this is just the beginning, again, but Thank you, thank you, thank you!

8) Rome – I love you and I hate you! You have broken my heart so many times. But as many times that you have, you have also lifted my heart and reformed it back into one whole piece, ready to fight the good fight again. Over the years, we have seen the wines of Italy transform meals (and people) on your tables as in no other place in Italy. Roma – Caput Mundi. We have seen a lot, but not as much as others coming forth will see. Italy is not going backwards, and you will see to it that her food and wine will be served on some of the best tables in the world. We’ve come a long way from Colli Albani vino sfuso, although those are precious memories. Thank you.

9) And finally, my sweethearts – the ‘stickies” – from Pantelleria to Montespertoli, from Colli Orientali to Salina, my precious sweet ones. From the first time I walked into that “all Marsala” bar in Palermo’s La Vucciria, to the many times since then when someone brought out an ancient bottle of sweet wine a long-gone father made before all of us were born. To the nights we sat in the cellar in the hills of Calabria, drinking the sweet Moscato, trying to empty the many bottles so we could fill them up in the morning with the new wine, all of you, thank you! I know we are no longer fashionable, but hasn’t it been a good ride? To be long lived and after all these years, you are still the sweetest bunch of wines in Italy. I will never forget you, and this week you will, once again, adorn our Thanksgiving table, with all the respect due to you. You are our grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, all of them who can no longer be here with us in the flesh. You are their spirits and we will celebrate and cherish their memory as we sip your golden, unctuous, deliriously sweet nectar. Thank you.

And thank you, dear readers. Peace and blessings upon you all.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Marco Grillo aka Carricante said...

Very pretty post, amico, and the same to you and yours! It's good that those sweet wines from Italy are not fashionable anymore because then they would be even more expensive. There is a local store that has marked down 350 ml bottles of a certain Passito di Pantelleria 50%. No not that one, but still.

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