Sunday, December 30, 2018

What does it take to be a lover of Italian wine?

Everyone has their idea about what it means to be a lover of Italian wine. Some folks love to go for the rare, the old, the soaring Pegasus wines that are clever and coveted and so very desirable. Others are content to sip on a simple quaff, night after night, with their pappardelle Bolognese or trofie con pesto, maybe a glass of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo or Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

A middle-aged man walks into the little Italian store in my neck of the woods, looking for a Cabernet. A young woman is also here on a mission to find a Pinot Noir. We are in a store with only Italian wine, it can be a challenge. Sure, I can point the man to a Veneto Cab or even a throatier version from the Maremma. And likewise, I can put a nice bottle of Pinot in the young lady’s cart, from Alto-Adige or Piedmont. But there are so many other wines with the texture, the flavor, the pleasure that they can derive, that they don’t have to be stuck in the Cabernet or Pinot Noir box, when it comes to Italy. Save it for France.

It has happened multiple times. What are they looking for? And what does it matter what you call it? They are looking for a solution, an answer, a little bit of comfort. And where, if not Italy, is it so easy to find?

I know my Italian friends will raise an eyebrow, as if to note, “Wait, it’s not all fun and games here in Italy! We have problems, we have dilemmas!” Yes, we all do, but even after all these years, I still see Italy as a solution more than a problem.

And that goes right back to the first time I stepped foot in the country, August 15, 1971.

That first time I sat down in a little trattoria, not far from the main train station in Rome. It was a red wine, dry, rough and so delicious with the pasta, the bread, the hot, dusty air on the street. For me, it was love in a time of uncertainty. Wars were raging, wanting my young body as fodder for old men and their folly of conquest. I had been given a reprieve, with a student deferment and a month in Italy before the next semester started. And here was Italy, before me, wine, pasta, countryside, ancient crumbling urbanity, all of it! And I loved it. And I loved every wine I tried, every ¼ liter I could afford, those 300 lire moments of joy and inquiry into a world with no bottom, no ending. A lifetime of exploration into the many hundreds of wines from the country of my grandparents. Everything was probeable, while the sweetness of childhood was being put on the shelf, and manhood was coursing through my veins, looking for a stream to swim up, to fulfill the biological imperative we all have been inured with, for better or worse.

But the young artist sees life in a different time. What about beauty? What about texture? What about passion? I can go back and retrace those steps, easily, for camera in hand has been a thing since before then. I can see the young man’s Rome and Tuscany and Sicily, even if now it appears more historical than it once did. Still, it is informative. The occasional shot of a meal, even a bottle. That dusty bottle of Corvo Rosso in the ancient café in Palermo. The bottle of Chianti Classico in the little osteria next to my pensione in Florence. The bottle of white wine, in Positano, the Fiano. The Fiano, ah yes…

I remember as much pleasure from that quartino on the hot day in August in Rome. Why? Because it was about exploration. I’d had wine as a child, sitting at my grandparents table. I still remember the pretty little glasses, and the decanter. One of my uncles was a wine merchant, sometimes he brought a Valpolicella or a Bardolino, sometimes it was from Tuscany (he was after all, a Tuscan). Sometimes it was a fruity California red wine, Zinfandel and Carignane, a simple red “Burgundy” or “Chianti” from Petri or Cribari. Usually lighter in color, not quite rosé, but not like the deeper colored reds of the 1980’s. And delicious, all of them, whether or not they deserved a picture and a spotlight from an insatiable Instagram feed.

Yes, there are hundreds of grapes in Italy, with thousands of wines from them. And yes, we are still discovering more grapes and more wines from those grapes. And the styles, and the colors and the flavors, from driest dry of the Sahara Desert to the most blood orange curdling sweet. You don’t need to be certified. There is no prerequisite for mastery. The Italian table, and the wines on it, are for every man and woman with an open heart and a curiosity for adventure, for the unexpected. I’ve trod this wine trail for almost half a century now, and still there are no ruts in my path. All you need is patience. And love.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


"...but even after all these years, I still see Italy as a solution more than a problem."

Anche io.

Buon anno 2019 -- auguri!

Real Time Analytics