I am not a wine connoisseur by any means. But I do know how to enjoy a good glass . . . or three. Several months before I came to Europe, I pretty much stopped drinking it all together, aside from the occasional sip here and there. Somebody said to me, “You’re going to be so out of practice for Italy!” I haven’t had much since I’ve been here either, but it’s not the quantity that matters. Like with anything in life, it’s the quality: here we go again with the metaphors.
Drinking wine in Italy is an experience. I have loved the passionate, rich colors of the reds and the crisp purity of the whites. I have been awed by surprise vineyards on a simple walk through a neighborhood and intrigued by a working replica of a vineyard from 79 A.D. where the grapes are cultivated according to the practices of that time. I have been seduced by the fragrance alone . . . when an open bottle has been brought to our table. I have fallen in love with phrases in beautiful broken English, phrases like, “My father’s, you don’t like, I take away.”
One morning, Tracey, my traveling companion and I, were trekking down a hidden path on a hillside, on our way to a local castle (yes I just said that). I was in awe of simple pleasures such as the woman picking herbs and carrying them draped over her arm like a beautiful tapestry . . . and another woman standing on her balcony saying goodbye to her husband while happily pointing us in the right direction. “Buon Giorno!” seemed to be singing itself from our lips as we joyfully greeted these people on our path. To add to my pure delight, a little further down the hill, Tracey stopped and said to me, “Ooooh, you want a picture of the grapes?!” She knew I would as I have taken pictures of pretty much everything since we’ve arrived. Of course I wanted a picture of the grapes: thank you, Tracey! The grapes alone tell a story but add them to the herb woman, the morning sunshine and the angel on the balcony, and I am catapulted back in time! What a wonderful, romantic feeling . . . like being in a novel!
I can’t write a blog about wine without mentioning Gennaro. A friend back home, who’s traveled to Italy numerous times, told me, “Always have the table wine. You’ll love it!” This has proven to be true time and again. “Vino locale, per favore” (local wine, please) and out it comes in a bottle, a pitcher and sometimes even in the form of free refills that you’ll be taking home with you! Seriously. Our host, Don, had been talking about Gennaro since we had arrived. We attempted dinner there our first evening in Bacoli but the restaurant was unexpectedly closed. A few nights later, we made our way to this welcoming hillside gem of a place, and oh what a treat! Gennaro is absolutely lovely. His love of his food, restaurant and wine pours over in a very contagious way. A sensory yet simple experiences awaits you in the form of atmosphere, food, drink and conversation. We started with the yummy little seaweed doughballs, reminiscent for me of the sugary pizza fritte that my mom used to make (oh God how I have fallen for these little dough balls). It was all over from there as the food just kept on comin'(this part reminded me of Sunday dinners at my Gram’s). All the while, we enjoyed Gennaro’s homemade wine. When it came time to leave, I asked if we could take our wine with us as it was so delicious, and we had half a bottle left. Gennaro picked up the bottle, and, dissatisfied apparently with sending us home “empty-handed,” he proceeded to the kitchen, appearing again a few moments later with a brand new bottle, on the house! Now that’s hospitality. Free take-away refills on the wine.
In general, I have noticed that Italians take such pride in their food, drink and “ristorante’s.” It literally feels like they are handing you a plate full of love. My mom is a DeCriscio, and I swear I can feel my ancestry here. My Gram was not Italian but very much grew up that way with my Pap’s family. Being here has given me an even greater understanding and appreciation for the way she used to offer us food non-stop when we visited. Both of my grandparents passed on to the next phase of their grand eternal journey within this past year but I know they’re smiling really big that I have been given the opportunity to experience Italy, and a taste of our heritage, first-hand.
From vineyards to grapes to the time we meant to order a glass and were presented with an open bottle (we were sure it was going to be at least 50 euros but it was 9 . . . yes . . . 9) to the time we needed an extra bench alongside our table just for our pitcher of wine, enjoying vino in Italia has been an experience to sip and savor. It’s not about the quantity but rather the quality: still, I recommend brushing up on your Italian before you head this way or you might get some of each!
“Une bicchieri, please.”