Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nurse the Hate: The Desert Island Wine

I was recently asked by a group of wine professionals what was my “desert island wine”.  This is, of course, a sucker question.  The answer is used to judge me based on some criterion that were not being shared with me, much like asking someone in a job interview asking “where do you see yourself in five years?” or asking a record geek “what’s your favorite album of all time?’.  This is a way to pass judgment, a parlor game with unspoken winning answers.  Not having met these people before, I had no idea what they were looking for.  My favorite wine?  What I think is “the best”?  The rarest and most treasured?  What do you want from me damn you!?!

I always think of these things from a strictly logical standpoint, so if asked what I would want on a desert island, I am assuming it is going to be hot and tropical, so I should have truthfully answered “a session IPA kept really cold” or “an endless stream of Budweiser from a tap carved of ice”.  I really flamed out and gave a safe answer I thought they would want to hear, and named Lafite Rothschild, a ludicrously high priced Bordeaux.  It is the blue chip of blue chips. It is also not only the last thing you would want on a desert island, it’s a cop out of an answer.  (“I like what you like!  Love me!”, groveled the little sissy.)  Really I should have named some insanely obscure white Burgundy from an under appreciated vintage or maybe even a crazy Riesling, but that would have been a lie too.

When you get down to brass tacks, one of the best wines I ever had was something I don’t even know the name of or even the type of grape.  I was in the Cinque Terre, a group of five remote villages on the Ligurian Sea in Italy.  These little villages are connected by a commuter train, but the real way to go between them is by a path that was originally made by the Romans that winds along the rocky coast line.  These towns were once very under the radar, so much so that my familiarity with the region once made a beautiful woman remark “Who are you?” when I said it was one of the best places I had ever traveled. 

I remember at the end of a day walking between the villages with a group of friends.  We had met in the morning in an even smaller village named Deva, where I had started the day by bobbing in the ocean after traversing the tiny pebbles that made up the beach.  The locals stared at the American with ridiculously long surf trunks that clumsily walked on the rocks as they gracefully hopped in wearing their micro speedos without a care.  Afterwards I was unable to withdraw money from the bank for some Italian reason like “It is Tuesday.  Come back tomorrow.” offered as the only explanation.  I borrowed some lire from a friend who then walked around the entire day telling befuddled locals, “You see this guy?  He’s into me for about FIFTY FIVE THOUSAND lire!”.  I don’t know if they didn’t understand English or if they couldn’t understand what the big deal was of spotting $28 to someone.  (The exchange rate was a little out of whack.  It was tough to figure out of a shirt for $173,000 was a ripoff or the deal of a lifetime when you had to figure the 17,862 lire to dollar exchange rate.)

We spent the entire day walking village to village.  It seemed like something Disney had built for a set.  It was so authentic it couldn’t be real.  Leather skinned fisherman smoking hand rolled cigarettes repairing nets.  Little old women with scarves on their heads talking in the church square.  Old silent men sitting in cafes nursing tiny glasses of red wine.  Dark eyed packs of girls chattering furiously in Italian while boys with slicked hair tried to get their attention walking around them.  Ancient churches.  Lazy cats flicking their tales waiting for the fish to be cleaned.  Beautiful coastline that had been walked by people like me since the Romans.  It’s a great place.

As the sun began to weaken we sat at a small café.  A cover of grape vines woven through a portico gave shade.  The waitress brought chilled bottles of the local white wine, perfect for the food they pulled from the sea.  Above us on the terraced ledges were those grape vines just as there had been for centuries.  That same wine, if poured in Ohio at a non-descript restaurant today, would have probably been awful.  Yet on that day with the smell of the olive trees and the sea, it was the best wine I had ever had and one I remember to this day.

That’s the answer I should have given.


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