My wife is “Gaelic & Garlic”, half Sicilian and half Scotts Irish. She was raised by the Sicilian half, which is why she will probably outlive me by at least 20 years and why I should never ever make her too angry at me. She will be the first to say her’s are a bitter people. Sicily has apparently changed hands more than a few times. Perhaps the Cosa Nostra has been necessary for a time, kind of a gentle stabilizing force.
Turns out that bitterness is in the food and the wine. Bitter greens grace our table sometimes every other evening. It is a bitterness I associate with livestock feed – it takes some getting used to. Many Italian wines carry this bitterness as well – in particular the ones that rarely make it to a U.S. table. Italy has more indigenous grape varieties than there are Eskimo words for snow. They have so many in fact they are still trying to catalogue, categorize and understand all thats going on with grapes in Italy. Everybody makes wine in Italy. Every region, village, and possibly even house. I imagine all Italian children have purple feet.
During our first flight of Italian Reds the bitterness was discussed. While many of my classmates made squinty bitter faces I mused that this was perfectly balanced wine for my wife or Mother-In-Law. Piercing bitterness up front, a little fruit, and then a herbaceous gum curling assault of tannins. This wine was so dry all of my spinal cord fluid evaporated. If you cough, a puff of Sicilian dust will burst out.
I like this wine – kind of how I like my wife. Bitterness, we are told by Catherine, encourages us to eat more food. My wife tells me this has something to do with the Vegas nerve that controls appetite in the stomach. Bitterness stimulates hunger. Perhaps that’s why Elvis got fat when he lived in Vegas. My wife just told me its actually spelled “vegus”. At any rate Italian wine demands food so obtusely you can almost feel pasta being sucked towards you by some giant tractor beam. In the New World we’ve forgotten that too much fruit, too much oak, and too much alcohol can all spoil your appetite. These wines weren’t gentle, some of them were like falling into a dark cave and hitting a cold stone floor about a hundred feet down. But they always left me hungry for more, just like my wife.
I had many Super-Hero Sommelier fantasies during this class. I would wander from village to village, drinking all of the wines and naming all of the varietals and their characteristics. Italian maidens with blazing eyes would set before me clay jugs of red mystery wine and steaming plates of pasta. I would make them all rich, without anyone having to sacrifice their “rustic” lifestyle. Laughing purple-footed children would follow me from one wine consuming adventure to another. Despite my drunkenness I’d save lives often and return to my wife tan and trim. Tragically a hemorrhoid problem caused by sitting all day and all night prevented me from taking an actual trip to Italy.
I left this module thinking of Italy as a vast undiscovered terrain. Dangers lurk here, but also treasures for those who savor subtlety and variety in their food friendly wines.
* Super-Tuscan is used to describe Italian wines made from Bordeaux varieties of grapes, it is not the name for an Italian superhero.
* Every grape varietal I don’t know is usually another name for Nebbiolo
* There’s some weird gender thing going on with Barollo and Barbaresco. I think one of these wines is having its masculinity regularly questioned.