When people ask me why I’m reading so much about wine, I almost always answer that I love the stories that go along with the grapes. To some it may seem to be a silly explanation, since stories don’t really account for the drinking. But when you delve into the history and the tradition associated with many Old World wines, you find much more than just viticulture. I’ve found philosophy and principle and love, together with intrigue, mystery, and cut-throat competition. Families joined and divided. Religious implications and papal blessings. Deceit and heroism. Legends. It’s all very interesting for someone who likes to write.
Now, I’m a rookie when it comes to Italian wine. That is my disclaimer. But it’s not going to stop me from telling you a story about Italian wine – or, rather, an Italian vineyard gardener. It’s a tale I heard at a tasting last week, and although I might add that the aroma of the wine is still fresh in my memory, the charm of this account might just stick with me longer.
Let me set the stage.
It’s almost closing time at the wine shop. People are flooding into a back tasting room, claiming chairs at one of four rows of thin long tables, set up in lecture hall fashion. Each place seating is equipped with two wine glasses, a booklet with technical information and maps of Italy, and a plate for cheese and crackers. Sara, who invited me to the tasting, and I rush up to the front of the room, eager to eye the bottles. We claim our places at the first table.
Five minutes later the room quiets. Introductions are made, and Mollie Lewis comes forward to present the evening’s wines. Tall with red hair and not a hint of makeup, Mollie is poised to speak from a font of experience that seems impossible to have attained at her age. She can’t be more than thirty, and yet she must be. She began studying wine at 25, working her way up from restaurant sommelier positions to distribution in California before winning a job that would take her to Italy for five years. Her beauty resonates in the grace of her words as much as in the breadth of her smile, and she speaks with calm assurance about the aromas hidden in each glass and the history of the vineyards she represents.
A half hour into the tasting we move from the Piedmont region to Tuscany: to the wines of Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona. We lift glasses of Rosso di Montalcino (100% Sangiovese Grosso) to our noses and Mollie purrs.
“A good Rosso is what I like to call a baby Brunello,” she says, referring to one of Italy’s best known and most expensive wines. “Doesn’t that just smell like Italy?” Continue reading