Saturday, May 8, 2010


When you live in Italy, you've got an obligation to wine. I'm sure I'm safe in the assumption that unless you're a toddler, you drink wine in Italy. I'm gonna make a guesstimate here and say that vineyards cover maybe twenty percent of the Italian landscape. The guys who work them, well, they're kind of Gods. Italians worship them. Working with wine is the single most respected profession in this country. I understood before leaving for Italy that I was going to have to adapt and conform to the level of wine-idolization that happens here. What I didn't understand was exactly how far that adaptation would go.

After only a few short weeks in Florence I was addicted. My apartment was stocked with Chianti, Tuscny's famous wine, enough that I never went a day without it. Soon, all the students were coming back from trips into the Chianti vineyards boasting their excitment at having been wine tasting. Trips left every weekend and for some reason I was either to busy or too forgetful to get myself on one of them. By the time April rolled through I was envious of all the people who went on the wine tasting trips. Casalinga's birthday offered the perfect excuse to go on one! The morning of her birthday a group of us gathered our things and made our way into the heart of Chianti. Our first stop was a small town called Greve. We walked up a hill with a tour, learning all about the different ways to make white wine and red wine and grappa. We stood from some of the best vantage points in Tuscany and looked out at the endless fields of vineyards that covered the hills. I'm going to make a really strange comparison here and please don't think I'm simple-minded or weird for it, but it seriously looks like someone put cornrows on the face of the Earth. Its so outrageously cool; its the type of view you see in the movies but think someone edited to make look a certain way and when you see it in person and realize it isn't fake you get this feeling that you've stepped out of your life and inserted yourself into a completely different reality. I had that same feeling as I wandered in one big circle through the smallest Italian village I've ever been in. There were little old Italian ladies wearing aprons and sour-pusses walking down the cobblestones with their dirty laundry, barely squeezing past me cause the walls are so close together. The sun was shining, the leaves on the trees were finally fully-grown and greenness seemed to seep from the cracks in the buildings. It was at the top of the hill I'd been walking up, and God it was beautiful. There was an art exhibition happening. It was these abstracted scenes all having something to do with the consumption of wine and I thought it was brilliant. Kind of funny, too.

Walking back down the hill was perhaps more beautiful than walking up, partly because of the fact that the wine-drinking was getting closer and partly because of the Napoleon Dynamite effect. Its a theory I've proven time and time again-the first time you see something you don't neccesarily understand it goes totally over your head and you find yourself not only unappreciative of its magnificence, but slightly irritated at it. The second time, though, the magnificence almost forces itself on you and you're forced into appreciating the thing. Like Napoleon Dynamite. We went into this old, old wine cellar when we made it back down to see some wine from the 1900s and beyond. I was amazed and considered briefly snatching one of the bottles. It would have been easy, they were flaunting themselves unprotected in my face. I didn't though, and in my bitter resentment of never being able to taste them I thought to myself Their probably vinegar, anyway. Wine, when it's corked wrong, turns into vinegar, and I can only imagine how disappointng it will be to the person who opens a bottle of hundred-year old wine that they paid half a million dollars to drink, only to find themselves with a bottle of vinegar. The thought made me feel better.

I forgot about the 100-year-old wine quickly. We left the cellar and made our way to another town ten minutes away to taste wine. We were going to taste the Sassolino Chianti, a small winery at some dude's home, with lunch and grappa. It was a villa. Guys who make wine are always pretty loaded, here. There were lemon-trees, rosebushes, and a field of grapevines in his backyard that stretched a couple miles. The house was this antiquated, rugged, dusty place filled to the brim with old objects, old portraits, and various other old things. The only thing that wasn't old was our host, who, as the day wore on, I became increasingly attracted to. We sat down at a little table and were served four different kinds of wine, bread and oil, pasta with pesto and tomato sauce, and biscotti. As Italian as it could have been, it was. It was one of the more perfect meals I've ever had. The fireplace behind me was blazing (due entirely to the efforts of future Girlscout Camp Counselor Casalinga), drying off my clothes and hair that had been damped by the sudden downpour I walked through right before making it to the Sassolino house. I spent hours with my friends, talking about everything from our now ending semester to our Zodiac signs.

It was here that I learned, finally, the proper way to wine taste. I'd seen other people hold their wineglasses by the stems and had long-ago learned to imitate them. I found out later that this is so as to not change the temperature of the wine. I learned here why swishing your wine in the glass is important-you must expose the wine to air, its been without air for so long. I learned how to tell the difference between colors of wine, and what colors are indicative of what things. I know now that when I put the wine against a white backround I should look to see if the wine is brown, red, green, or yellow. I know what it means if the wine shows any of these colors. I learned to smell the different fruits, soils, and other influences on the wine. I learned to put the wine to my lips before letting the wine touch my tounge. I learned that I should let the wine graze every one of my taste buds before swallowing. I can now taste the different between wine thats been inside a barrel or inside a metal tank. I know if there was alot of grass or a little, whether fruits or spices have been added to the flavor. I can even taste the amount of sugar the wine has, which is never really that much.

I found myself in love with the Sassolino vineyard's owner when I went to the bathroom. I became increasingly intrigued by the house when I looked around at all the antiques. There were shields with family crests on them and figurines and different furs and photograpsh of animals. When I went up the stairs to pee I realized the extent of the antiquities this house offered. To my left was a room. A library. With hundreds and hundreds of books from the 17th century onward. I'm not kidding. I had to run into the bathroom because I was so excited I nearly peed my pants. I spent about fourty minutes in the library until my friends came inquiring after me, worried that I'd become the next Elvis or something similar. My friend who I'm going to call Foto found me in the library, beaming a smile at her across my tear-stained cheeks. I was officially in heaven. They had a Voltaire that was from the 1800s. I was lost in those books. Together Foto and I looked through the dusty volumes, exclaiming about this one or that one. I found an Aesop's Fables in English from 1822. After looking around at all the books we moved on to the cluttered desktops and through doors in the library. We found old pipes and ink pens, we found an old bed with old hats, we even found the Sassolino seal. I found Golden coins (which I swiped) that had to have been from ancient times. They have Caesar on them, and are now my favorite possession. I also found these golden, Egyptian little figurines (which I also now own). There were old reading glasses, magnifying glasses, and letters from years and years ago. I was losing my mind when the young, scruffy farmer Mr. Sassolino came in and spoke with us, telling us this dusty old library barely got use anymore since the whole family moved out but him. I was so sad that I came within seconds of telling him he could marry me and I'd use the library for him. Then his father came in. He didn't speak a word of English, but his tufts of poofy white hair that stuck out in crazy directions, the spectacles that sat right on the bridge of his wrinkly nose, and the pipe that dangled from his lips at all times sent Foto reeling. Because, this guys was this crazy-accomplished psychologist and Foto is a psych major. It was the single greatest experience of my life. (Pictures of this place to come).

When I left the Sassolino house I was a different person. I was a wine connosueir who'd taken a trip through history and the future life she'll probably never live. I bought a bottle of the wine, mailed it home illegaly, and am going to drink it all by myself in my not-half-as-awesome library on a white tablecloth I'll spread on the floor, swirling my wine and sniffing it and pretending I'm back in that place.
Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

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