I cried on my third day in Italy. I cried hard in the shower after a full day of tasting the most delicious wines of Piedmont during Ian D’Agata’s 3iC course on Piedmontese food and wine.
Why? It wasn’t because I was sad, or was suffering from jet lag or being overwhelmed by the material, or from being homesick. It wasn’t from having too much to drink. I was absolutely delighted to be there in Barolo, surrounded by the beautiful vineyards that make the wine that the world talks about. The place is so otherworldly. Somehow I felt like Piedmont was a sort of Brigadoon – foreign, suspended in time, secretive, magical. I was immersed in culture, language, tradition, delicious food and wine. I was surrounded by people with passion.
The emotion I felt in the shower was purely from the connection that I had made. Finally. You see, my experience with wine has always been by way of the what’s in the glass. It’s a vessel that virtually transports you to another place. And if you’re aware, with each sip you can imagine the place, the soil, the air and humidity, and get a sense of the culture and the people who make this magical juice. To me, this is the ultimate beauty of wine. It’s what I often call a sip trip.
What I wasn’t prepared for was to actually go there. By that third day, I had the pleasure of tasting wines that I’ve been reading about in a hefty 600 page book entitled Native Grapes of Italy by Ian D’Agata. I indulged in foods that friends have told me I would for sure be trying …Bagna Cauda… Vitello Tonnato … Tajarin… hazelnuts… And on that afternoon, I visited two wineries. I had no idea where I was going until I got on the bus, but when I found out, my heart was full before I even arrived at the wineries.
The first was G.D. Vajra. Already feeling emotional because it was the first single vineyard Barolo I ever had (Ravera). It was given to me by a very dear friend. Since then I had tasted other Vajra wines and one I was particularly looking forward to tasting again was the ethereal Bricco delle Viole (hill of violets) Barolo, as I had enjoyed this wine and written about it in the past. We spent the afternoon with the lovely Francesca Vaira. Her sweet, passionate and thoughtful demeanor was infectious. We stopped to visit the blue stained glass windows that illuminated the fermentation room. She spoke of the importance of these works of art to her and family; it captured my heart. As we continued the tour, Bricco delle Viole appeared in more ways that one, the first of which was a framed label hanging on the wall, then a child’s drawing displayed in the tasting room, in liquid form during a tasting among other Vajra wines, and finally when a colleague shouted, “Look over there, that’s Bricco delle Viole.” I was immersed in joy.
The next visit was at Poderi Gianni Gagliardo. Again, special because it was the first Favorita I ever had. And I just opened this bottle on the first hot day of the year two weeks prior to coming to Barolo. The time with Stefano Gagliardo was memorable – touring the wine cellar, tapping into still-aging Barolo, tasting the generous offering of wines from him and other producers and finally tasting the Favorita – a touch spritzy, refreshingly crisp and once again, a crystal clear connection to something that mattered so much to me.
The point here is, what matters to me doesn’t have to matter to you. I don’t expect you’d understand. But on this third day, I felt a connection and emotion that I never felt before. How could something like wine do this? The answer is that it’s not just the wine. It’s the people, the places, all your senses all working in harmony, the gatherings, the friendships, it’s the slightest realization of something during conversations that took place years ago, it’s the celebrations, it’s shared experiences, it’s noticing what’s around and keeping it in your memory bank, then all of a sudden, it’s discovering the true meaning of it all. It’s an emotion that overwhelms with happiness. It conjures, evokes, re-creates. It’s about reminiscence, recollections and reflections.
Wine has the capacity to not only take you to place, but like a friend has told me more than once, they can be “fascinating, beguiling, and hauntingly beautiful experiences. They are like drinking pure emotion.”
Now I know.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller.