Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking At Life Through Wine Colored Glasses: The In-Between Year

My last post told you more than you probably wanted to know about my earlier experiences with wine. Wine is not a Minnesota beverage. The University of MN may argue that they can develop a grape that will survive the winter and deliver the same flavor as a grape that has many more months to mature, but they are really just incredible optimists, I think. Whatever kind of wine comes out of Minnesota is appealing to some people only because it comes from a place so obviously unsuited for wine-making, and those who work so hard to make it happen deserve respect for the effort if not for the product. Minnesota is beer country, and that’s not a bad thing. If we were wine country we’d start to resemble California, and I don‘t think the world can handle another California.

Our first glass of wine together
 So I came to Italy in 2009 without any real appreciation for wine. My class lasted for three weeks, but even three weeks of great food accompanied by good wine isn’t enough to create a convert. Two people really helped me to give wine a chance. I became good friends with a classmate who had a real appreciation for good wine paired with good food and Matt shared that enthusiasm with me. The other person was our guide in the mountains who also happened to be a sommelier (professional wine guy). It was fun to listen to him and Matt talk about wines. I didn’t understand most of it, but they had me trying things I wouldn’t have tried if they weren’t there. It may have helped that I thought the guide was pretty cute.

When we returned to the States, Matt and I continued to meet regularly to eat and drink together. He introduced me to good wines, sometimes really, really good wines and great food during the next year and a half. It was quite an education for me. If I offend anyone with my next statement, I’m sorry, but beer has a very limited scope. It only makes a few foods really good. Pizza and brats and hot dogs at a ball game. Oh, and green olives. That’s it. I learned that wine can be like a magic trick; with the right food both things taste different…better.

During this same time I continued a friendship with the guide from the mountains here in Italy. He encouraged me (since I was planning to move to Italy) to find some wine tastings in Minnesota and start to find what I liked and what I didn’t. So I did, and discovered that it was actually fun and very interesting to try these different wines. I started to get a feel for what things appealed to me, and what wines I didn’t like. Our conversations almost always started with the question “So…what wines have you tried since we last talked?” I learned interesting things, like there’s more than one kind of grape and more than one way to make all those different grapes into wine. I found myself looking forward to talking to him about wine, although just a few months before this the idea of talking about wine would have made me laugh and change the subject.

My brother was excited that I was showing an interest in wines and now when he talked I actually listened (he is my little brother, after all). Dinners would be a chance to try several wines just to see what they were like. He loves to experiment, so sometimes things worked great, sometimes not. But it was always fun, and I always had some good impressions to take back to my conversations with the guide when it was over.

Ah, the guide. Life is a strange thing, don’t you think? Over the year and a half that it took me to finish things up in Minnesota and prepare to move to Italy I did much more than learn about wines. I ended up falling in love with the guide, Leif. Who just happens to be a sommelier. All those wines I tasted in Minnesota were just a preparation for living here, where wine isn't a special occasion drink but a part of every day life. Or maybe it might be more accurate to say that, for me, every day in Italy is a special occasion. And so began my adventure with Italian wines with a Swede as my guide.

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