Easter 2011, I must say, was pretty cool. So cool, in fact, that the exploits of the day are going to have to be broken down into several posts. Well, at least a couple. But this aspect of Easter definitely deserves stand-alone recognition.
Some of you may know that, in another lifetime, I was in the wine business. My first job in wine, as a matter of fact, was at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, CA. I still have relationships with a few of the people I met there. One of those is John Downing, who is my go-to guy for recommendations on Italian (and other) wines. So when I found myself inviting an ex-pat Italian — from Rome, to be exact — to Easter dinner, I knew I was going to have to do something special. So I trotted over to Hi-Time when I knew John would be in the cellar, and I waited.
Pretty soon John was able to break away and spend a few minutes with me. I need help, I said.
Your mom’s a therapist, he said.
Not that kind of help, I said. (Yes, we have that kind of friendship.)
And I boiled it down for him: I wanted two bottles of wine, one each red and white, and I wanted them from the Emilia-Romagna region. (Rome is located in the Emilia-Romagna, and our dinner guest was Roman, so I wanted to do my best to make him feel welcome.)
John chuckles and scratches his head and starts kicking some thoughts around. At first, he thinks he only has one — a Sangiovese/Cabernet blend. Thirteen bucks. I’m on it. But what about white? It takes him another minute, but he produces one more bottle for me: a white, this one a varietal called Albana. Not very acidic, very round, a little sweetness. I shrug and take the bottle. Could be great, could be gross. We’ll find out tomorrow. I go home and put the red on the sideboard and the white goes in the fridge.
So now it’s Easter dinner and our guest has arrived. He’s affable and charming, and is quite engaging in conversation. He compliments everything that comes out of the kitchen. One of our friends asks if he can open the wine. Go ahead, I say, I’m busy in the kitchen. So a couple minutes later, I get handed a glass of the Albana. It’s reminiscent of honey and pears, kind of like a Greek dessert. I take a sip. I swear if you had not told me this was Albana, I would have put money on it being an unoaked Chardonnay. Barely sweet, fat, not woody. Not normally my kind of white wine, but I have to say it was a killer match for the Ceaser salad and the fondue I was laying out on the table. So I was pleased. I was also pleased that our Roman friend was enjoying himself.
Finally I get the pasta on the table, and it’s time to get the red wine into the glasses. The bottle has been open for an hour or so, but not decanted. Didn’t matter; it was pretty young, but not tight at all, so it did just fine being poured straight away. I generally don’t get excited about Sangiovese, but this was yummy. The nose was like the darkest red roses you’ve ever smelled, and in the mouth it was rich but not tannic. It was a perfect foil for our pasta with spinach/wild mushrooms/truffle oil.
It was no surprise when the bottles were completely drained. Nor was it a surprise when our Italian friend reached for second glasses of each with a big smile on his face. I’m sure someone dead and famous once said that wine is the lubrication to make fast and lasting friends of us all, but for the life of me I don’t know who that might be. So maybe it’s me. After I’m dead, be sure to quote me.