A lot of my personal and professional life is immersed in Italian wine- it is what I do for my career, it’s a hobby and a lot of my friends make up various parts of the industry, both in the USA and in Italy. Interestingly, I can pinpoint the exact moment my fascination with Italy and Italian wine began.
When I was 16 my parents took me and my younger sister on a trip through Italy. We had never been out the US before, and I remember we were so excited to see Italy. Much of the trip is a blur for me, although one dinner we had at Verona’s 12 Apostoli has always lingered clearly. The restaurant is situated over some Roman ruins, and houses an impressive cellar. Wine is very much a part of the culture in this establishment, and the place is not short on history, either. The restaurant is called the 12 Apostoli because in the mid 1700s, a group of 12 businessmen would gather here, and they were given the moniker “The 12 Apostles”.
My dad- always a proponent of Italian wine- ordered an Amarone. He probably explained how it was a local wine, and that it was important to drink the wine that comes from the place where the food on the table comes from. I don’t remember specifically, but he was always saying things like this, which to my sixteen-year old brain sounded less like the slow-food, locavorism I spout myself today, and more like a lecture.
Image borrowed from Montesquieu
The restaurant is dark and filled with flickering candles. A waiter in a white coat came over with the bottle of wine my dad had ordered, silently, reverently presented it, and then expertly began to open the bottle. I was fascinated with the ritual- kind of like a secret telepathic language. There was an entire conversation passing between this man and my father- without words. Then the drama: the waiter slowly decanted the bottle into a beautiful glass carafe over candlelight. There is something mystical about this, especially if you have no idea why it’s being done. After finishing he poured a small amount for my dad to taste (again this quiet, knowing exchange I could not decipher). After a quick nod of acknowledgement the man began to pour a glass for my mother, and then for me.
My dad instructed me to taste the wine slowly- and to continue tasting throughout our meal. He explained that the oxygen in the air around us would begin to change the wine as it sat in the glass. I was skeptical- not sure I would be able to notice the difference- but then something magical happened. I took a second sip a few minutes later and the wine had changed completely! I was so fascinated that something so inanimate could still be alive and evolving before my eyes. I think this was the moment of epiphany- when I fell in love with Italy and Italian wine. I needed to know more. I’m still learning.
Thanks, mom and dad.