Funny to pair a wine with a moment, and pull cheeks back into a thin smile, twirling the warm blood in the glass. Twirling blood and saying “Yes, a Bolgheri is excellent with game”. It is a silly game, except maybe coming from certain guests or special aficionados, I would guess. What a word, aficionado. From Hemingway’s Fiesta, the word used to refer to bull enthusiasts at San Fermin. The narrator Jake was an aficionado, if I remember it right.
Anyway, I say Bolgheri because that is the one I have occasionally tasted in the last weeks, Easter’s visiting minister. We had two bottles of it at dinner for my birthday, and another bottle at home with the family. We poured it into wide glasses and then set the bottle next to a candle. The bottle was to breathe the candle smoke and splatter in the reflection of its wax. Whatever that good it does. “Bolgheri is really the best,” my mother says the other day. I think she enjoys it because it is so smooth, like sitting on hot sand with your wet skin, wet skin that dries immediately and then begins to sizzle and warm your insides.
My mother for Easter ordered a few of the bottles of a Bolgheri that my father loved, Il Bruciato. I remember that he had a case of the 2007 grapes. He was very proud of his case. He once sent me down into the cellar to pick up a bottle. In the middle of the dust stood the little box of six bottles, missing only one. I took the second bottle and placed the box back onto the floor, anywhere. It didn’t really have a special spot in the midst of all the odd bits ailing the space. When my father was drinking the wine its grape was from 2007. The one we were having at Easter this year was nearly a decade older. Some might note a change, but I do not remember the notes of ten years earlier. I only know that nostalgia has a sweet and warming taste, so when I see the Bruciato on a menu I might order a glass and then it would taste good. I would swallow it down and think of my father, so in that sense it would taste good.
The Tuscan spirit tends to let itself drown in its own wines. Its peoplelook into the dark pool, and it is the colour of Chianti or Maremma, and then they disintegrate their noses and faces into the filthy crystal. The label of the Bruciato is wonderful: it has the subtlety of something I want to know more about, a quiet elegance in monochrome. Above the cushion of pine-trees you just see the silhouette of a breast-like hill. You want to lie within this sepia and inhale the ruby ruby ruby of the soft southern plain. The last line of its official tasting note reads “A very pleasant wine to drink.” I am sold! They are right, it is pleasant. Who writes these things, I wonder. I hope that the “balance of flavours” on my palate isn’t so perfectthat I fall asleep in the plate of cheeses that the wine is apparently so perfectly paired with.
Last winter, I sat with a good friend at the small table of a restaurant in Rimaggio, only two kilometres from my home. He is a boy who loves food, and drink, ‘fine wining and dining’ as he says. But he is also not from around here, and is not accustomed to the aggression of traditional Tuscan taste. “Vinegar” he called the house red, and the owners, an elderly couple – who had begun to grow roots into the tiles of the floor – entertained this and brought us a different one. “Much better” we said when we tasted the milder successor. This was when two men sitting at the table next to us looked up, and emerged out of their trippa coma. They came up in a way that to me recalled Mark Renton’s resurrection from the velvet underground in Trainspotting. They took a gasp of air, and the man with the longer hair and thin scarf tucked into his shirt (take the goddamn scarf off inside, I say!) raised his hand.
“That is a very traditional wine, the one you sent away,” he said. “They don’t make them like that anymore.” His mate nodded as if faced by Christ’s sermon. The friend looked like some kind of food-drunk bobble head with some stereotypes about women’s social role. “It’s from a little farm down the road, Il Sorgente it’s called.” The source! This was clearly where it had all begun, grapes crushed to pulp under the old soles of a farmer, and really done the right way. I immediately regretted our rejection of the first wine, and our squeamish appreciation of the subsequent Merlot. These men are now lodged in a relatively jokeable quarter of my memory, but at the time we were eating their words up. And indeed, the next time I returned into that cave of wondrous authenticity I tried the Chianti again, and told myself I enjoyed it. Maybe I had developed a brain for it. “At the end of the day, the only way to tell a good wine from a bad one is to sit down with a friend for lunch, and place the bottle in between you. If, at the end of your meal, the wine is finished, it was a good one.”
Those guys had apparently never sat and drank a bottle of Isla Negra from Tesco’s in between the yellow walls of their small student apartment. Sometimes you just have whatever comes your way, or whatever you can find in the last desperate corner of the house. You have to acquire a distaste for these things, I suppose.
Where is this going? Not anywhere especially clearly, but for the moment it can hang from a hillock in Rosano, a town about 10 kilometres east of Rimaggio. I asked my friends there for my birthday some weeks ago, for a walk and a lunch. A new session of sliding under the Tuscan fun, swallowing another dose of liver pate spread across a busy olive grove. It was charming, although we lost half our party in the middle of the walk as they refused to go any further up the hill. “We’ll wait for you on this little wall,” they said. We trudged on, and turned back when it made little sense to continue. We were almost back down to the road when we detoured into an old convent of secluded nuns. I had remembered that they used to sell some of their produce, like honey and biscuits and things. We rolled into the small courtyard with big smiles and some hesitation. Our good boys’ latent catholic respect, maybe.
There was a little room in the back of which stood a sort of wooden rotating window with a peep hole. We weren’t entirely sure what to do, but there was a little bell next to the window. I rang it and waited for a few moments, until a frail old voice – I am tempted to say typical nun’s voice – sounded through the wood. We had a brief conversation, during which it was made clear that they mainly sold 5 liter glass jugs of wine. I asked for a red, which I imagined could only have been of Chianti grapes. The window spun around and the bottle appeared as if by magic. It cost 10 euros. “Have you got change?” I shouted and slid a twenty onto the wood. A few moments later my change spun out. I thanked her, although it was very difficult to gage what that thanks meant, and who exactly it was due to.
My mother was eventually the tester of the wine, which she said was perfectly good. We enjoyed it out of a jug shaped like a cock, to accompany the lunch we had on the Monday after Easter. It was not worthy of the Sunday, when we popped the famous Bruciato. But ultimately we all enjoyed the sacramental wine from Rosano, we drank it with saintly gusto. Unfortunately, the size was unmanageable, and halfway through it spoiled. The other day I watched it ooze down my drain, and didn’t feel too sorry to see it go. The glass jug felt light and fragile in my hand. I put it down carefully, thinking that the nuns might like it back.