Survive and Thrive with Wine
I have been buying wine for about 15 years, beginning with bottles I picked up from Shaw’s supermarket at a bargain. These days, I am more interested in where the grapes were grown and meeting the winemakers to learn about their craft. The most notable change in my journey is the kind of wine that I prefer, and recent events have solidified that I have an “Old World palate.”
Being a flag-waving “USA all the way” type of person, I didn’t want much to do with foreign wine at first. I would always choose domestics. They seemed like a better value, and the labels were easier to read. Then I discovered Napa cabs, and I figured that I had followed the yellow brick road all the way to wine heaven. Journey over. Or so it seemed. Soon after, I would discover Old World wines, and a whole new path opened up for me.
At the Winter Wine Spectacular in New Hampshire this past January, my winemaker friend Antonio Zaccheo of Carpineto Grandi Vini di Toscana pulled me aside and told me, “I have made an observation that people standing at bars frequently will have a glass of wine without food! That never happens in Italy. We Italians only drink wine as part of a meal.”
I asked what they drink at a bar. “Grappa, spirits, sometimes beer, but never wine,” he said. “Wine is reserved for a meal, almost every meal.” My wife and I had been planning a trip to Italy this year. Before the current crisis put plans on hold, I had visions of ordering a glass of wine at every bar. But now I realize that behavior would be uncouth. We will just have to eat more frequently to taste the maximum amount of Italian wine.
Antonio’s observation really hit home when I was picking a bottle of wine to bring to a dinner party at a neighbor’s house earlier this year. At the last minute, and without a lot of thought, I went to my cellar and grabbed a $30 bottle of Karma Reserve by winemaker Carol Shelton.
When we arrived, our hostess had already decanted a bottle of Michele Chiarlo’s Tortoniano from Barolo, Italy, that she’d picked up at the Tuscan Market in Salem, N.H. This was a great Old World wine to have with dinner. Then we opened the New World wine from California’s Sonoma County. The Karma Reserve had been aged in oak barrels for 20 months, and these barrels are partially constructed using American oak. I was embarrassed. This was a horrible choice to have with food, and I should have known better. American oak imparts a strong vanilla flavor. Plus, this blend was 70% zinfandel, which is very fruity. It’s a good quality wine, but it didn’t pair well with food.
Amid the global crisis that we are all enduring, Antonio wrote to me: “We are now grounded on the farm but nature goes on. We are pruning olive trees, training vineyards, planting a new vineyard. … Mother Nature doesn’t know that us humans are in grave danger.” In the face of this threat, Antonio posted a video on Facebook describing his survival kit — what he calls his “thrival” kit — noting: “Italians expect to thrive not just to survive.” It includes pasta, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, basil and, of course, a good bottle of his Brunello di Montalcino, which I highly recommend.
Time will tell if we’ll be able to visit Antonio’s winery in Greve, Italia, this September. Hopefully, life will be back to normal by then. I’ll start saving up Old World wine for dinner parties when the time is right. Salute!