Sunday, June 10, 2018

Can (or Should) a Wine Be Life-Changing?

The Flying Wallendas
Life-changing. It’s a pretty tall order. I’ve had some things that have happened that were life changing. Two years ago, almost to the day, I was in the back seat of a car in Sicily. My pal, Eric Asimov was driving. We had just finished an assignment for the NY Times (he the writer, I the photographer) and were heading to the Catania airport. Then, out of nowhere, a somnambulist in a vegetable truck ran a stop sign, T-Boned the car and knocked us unconscious. Out. Just like that. Life-changing.

When my wife Liz was in the end-stage of Multiple Sclerosis, on her last day, as her life energy slipped away and she died, that was life-changing. For both of us. And while she bore the greater brunt of that experience, it changed me forever in this life.

When my son Rafael was born at home, and the mid-wife didn’t show, and outside, storms were raging and lights were flickering on and off, it was also a life-changing moment. To see life appear in front of you, under candlelight, is one of those life-changing events. One I will always be grateful for.

So, can, or even should, a wine be a cause for a life-changing event? A mere wine?

Last month the esteemed wine critic, Antonio Galloni penned Ten Wines That Changed My Life. It’s a window into his life and mind, and this little post of mine is not intended to cast dispersions upon another’s influences in their life. Rather, I saw Galloni’s piece as a jumping-off point in which to gaze a little closer at those things that truly, really affect one in this life. I wonder, can, or even, should a wine be life-changing?

Was there a wine in my life that changed the course of my life? Did a wine ever save my life? Was there a wine that had I not encountered it, my life would have been fundamentally changed?

Yes, I’ve had wines that when I tasted them, enjoyed them and relished them, that they made an impression, sometimes unforgettably. But what about those 1/100 of a second moments when something happened and that altered the course of my life. Have you ever had something like that happen to you?

Upon reflection, what has been life changing for me has been the relationships with the people who make the wine. Dino Illuminati, Bruno Benziger, Justin Meyer, Pietro Berutti, Raymond Chandou, Anthony Barton, Primo Franco, Eugenio Spinozzi. And in more current moments, Arianna Occhipinti, Paolo Bisol, Jacopo Bacci, Daria Garofoli, Alessandro Locatelli, Valeria Losi, Alessandro Sonnino, Silvia Franco, and many, many more. Yes, I remember their wines. I also remember their voices, their eyes, their kindness, their strength, their occasional challenges, both within themselves and directed outwards. Personal growth is never easy. And it’s most often life-changing. And if there’s a wine opener around to assuage the challenges of change, why not?

Try as I might, and I have been racking my brain for a few days now, I cannot think of any one wine which has truly been, for me, life-changing. Italian wines, in totality, have been life-changing, no doubt. But any one wine, whether it has been the 1964 Monfortino or the 1911 Lafite or the 1945 Dow Vintage Port or the many more amazing and unforgettable experiences with wine, Italian and otherwise, no I cannot compile a list of wines that have altered the course of my life. Not that I am not a little bit envious of someone like Galloni who can expound so elegantly about his life-changing wines. I must not be wired in that way.

I do remember the red wine my grandparents served in their carafe and poured into delicate little grapevine etched glasses, served with a roast and potatoes, string beans and the many other delicious foods that arrived to the table, on Sundays or holidays.

I remember the wine we would serve on Tuesday nights in college, when a team of us would make spaghetti in tomato sauce for a hungry hoard of coeds.

I remember the first time I tasted Italian wine in Italy, at a little trattoria in Rome near the train station, I’m sure it was a vino sfuso.

In the cellar with my Calabrese family, emptying bottle after bottle of their home made wine, so they could re use the bottles for the new wine gurgling in the corner.

I recall years later sitting in another trattoria in Rome with Liz, drinking a bottle of Frascati, the light falling on her face just so that she was beaming with gladness.

I remember the first time my son tried wine in Italy, in Montalcino, and how much he liked Brunello (and how much it liked him).

I will never forget sitting at the table with my mom, she was 97, and she’d just made me some eggplant parmigiana, and we opened a bottle of Barolo and enjoyed it together.

Those, my friends, were life-changing events. And yes, wine was part of it. Just not all of it.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Marco Bonfim said...

It is a balm to read your words after the news of the past week or any week for that matter.

Francesco Gullino said...

more than once, you have brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.
We may not know each other by sight or name, but we do know each other by experience and lifes travails. And Sicily, and wine. And life's curve balls.

My father, first generation Sicilian, refused to speak Sicilian to us kids. But he and mio nonno would speak it, leaving the rest of the family out of the conversation. Only seeing him intermittently , I never absorbed the language, but I did absorb Sicily.
I love Sicily and her wines. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the ubiquitous Nero d'Avola, but as soon as I'm home, I crave it. I crave it and the people: the authentic people. And the incredible food, and the wines. The wines which are getting a new lease on life.
Your writing always brings emotional connections to me. I love it. I'm off to Ortigia for a month in October, and I'll be reading your blog whilst I soak up the Sicilian life. Again.

So continue with the emotional connections. And maybe one of them will be a life-changing experience for one of us!

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