Sunday, September 15, 2019

Asprinio - a Ramble, a Recollection, a Revelation

“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.” – George R.R. Martin

In my den, on an oak table, bottles of wine are lined up to be tasted. Wine from Sicily, from Chile, from Napa Valley, waiting. I should open them, taste them, make notes and find a way to tell readers what they’re like. But a newly aroused narrative has jumped the queue, an anamnesis, long ago filed and forgotten. And cadaver-like, it pops up, resurfaces, and appeals for its story to be told, before it is consigned once again to oblivion on the battlefield of memory.

I’m in Naples, walking, heading towards the water on Viale Antonio Gramsci. It runs into Via Mergellina runs into the Via Antonio Gramsci and turns into the Galleria Laziale. I get my first up close view of Vesuvius.

Walking on the Galleria, it turns into Via Diocleziano and then Via Bagnoli, where it turns and runs into Via Pozzuoli. Heading towards the town of Pozzuoli it name changes again to Via Napoli and then to Lungomare Pertini. This is before GPS. I am walking. It is a long walk, blistering hot. And it is lunchtime. I find a little osteria/pizzeria and sit down. The soles on my desert boots are hot. My jeans, worn such that they need patches, are steady. I’ve been marching through Italy and I am hungry. I order a simple pizza with tomato, garlic and oregano. It was 600 lire. A few minutes later the lady brings out the pizza and asks me what I want to drink with it. “Vino rosso,” I answer. She looks at me like I’ve gone mad, and instead brings me “una foglietta” of white wine and a glass. It was 80 lire.

It was the perfect foil for tired feet, a perspiration-soaked army surplus shirt and a 20-year old in search of Italy. The lady in the pizzeria sounded like my grandmother, their dialects similar. And even though I didn’t understand the exact words, I grasped her intention. She wanted me to enjoy the pizza with the correct wine for the time.

Years later I’d sit at a trendy wine bar in Tribeca and the barman would pour me a glass of Asprinio. “It’s the latest hot wine from Italy, and it’s totally, 100% natural.” Hot wine, indeed. A wine needed for the heat. And rounding-off with the creamy lusciousness of fresh mozzarella, the pungent balm of garlic and the bracing nip of oregano, a memory is seared.

Now, there is a wall between the natural wine believers and the non-believers. The believers say the wall is white and brilliant, and the non-believers claim it is unconstrained in its dim blackness, roiling the wind, the water and the earth with their dogmatic harrows, as if to plow on is to be righteous and precise. A drone from above sees that the wall is indeed white on one side and black on the other, but the two camps cannot see the differences in shading. So, they argue, they cajole one another, they form social circles of concurrence, and keep each other agitated while they wait out the bleak winter days in the concrete caves.

It was the lack of precision that made this half liter of Asprinio so vital, that day long ago in August of 1971. It dueled with the heat, and won. It tangoed, waltzed and two-stepped with the mozzarella, garlic and oregano, and everyone went home, tired but elated. It made an impression, once filed away, now bobbing back up to the surface. It was a natural wine from almost 50 years ago.

In 1971, Italy was merely a generation removed from a devastating war, poverty and monumental struggles. When I walked among those crowded streets with the Neapolitans looking at the tall, gangling “Americano” who was strolling among them, I sensed a place much different from where I grew up in sunny Southern California. But I also sensed a familiarity with the place, and the people. And the food and wine. I loved it then and I love it now. I’m not at all interested in the black vs. white wall quarrel. I don’t have time for it. I barely have time to taste and enjoy all the wine that is available in this Golden Age of wine for Italy.

with thanks to Luigi Veronelli and Ian D'Agata for jolting my memory

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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