Top Ten Reminders from a Trip to Italy
I was recently in Italy for a couple weeks. It was for a combination wedding and family vacation -- not wine-related at all -- in Tuscany and Umbria. So there were no visits to wineries. There was, however, plenty of wine, and a few things about wine and life and Italy occurred to me:
1. Italy has some of the best simple wine around. At virtually every restaurant meal we simply ordered "vino della casa". Almost inevitably, the wine was simple but tasty and perfect with the food.
2. The exception to 1 was when we ordered red wine in Orvieto, and were served house wine made from Merlot. The wine was not good and we ended up having to order bottles off the list from other regions. Orvieto, of course, is famous for its white wines. If you're in Orvieto, stick with white. I guess that will seem pretty obvious to most of you.
3. Italy -- at least in the simple osterias that we patronized -- has a temperature problem: the red wines were all served too warm. There was a heat wave going on, and the wine was simply served at the very warm room temperature. No effort was made to keep the wines cool. We once asked for an ice bucket, and after enduring a patient explanation that red wines are meant to be served at the ambient temperature, us silly foreigners were indulged. The contrast with Spain is sharp: in warm months there, all the red wines are kept in ice buckets.
4. A great florentine steak from a great butcher is a wondrous thing. We bought a couple and cooked them outside over wood. Then, with a little trial and error, we confirmed that there is no better pairing on earth than Sangiovese and steak.
5. The Rose phenomenon that has taken over France and the U.S. does not seem to have arrived in Italy. Very occasionally you see a Rosato on the list. But we didn't see many people drinking it. And it was really hot. It just doesn't seem to be a thing there.
6. It is remarkably hard to buy good wine in Italy unless you are in a wine town like Montepulciano (where you are mostly limited to buying local wine), and probably one of the big cities (I didn't go to any). Yes, you can buy wine at the grocery stores, but it is virtually all uninteresting mass-produced stuff. I was reminded again and again that we are so unbelievably lucky here in NYC to have easy access to so many interesting wines.
7. A two-hour lunch with wine is a great thing. It's like a mini-escape from life. Or maybe it is life. Whichever, I really wish we had that tradition here in NYC.
8. Wine is a very good deal at Italian restaurants. By the end of my stay there, anything above 20 euros was starting to look expensive! Why it is that Italian restaurants are able to survive with these prices and American restaurants are not is truly mysterious.
9. The only non-Italian wine we drank was Champagne. Champagne is a wondrous thing. It really seems to be a perfect beverage in so many contexts and is easily the best wine to drink if you're going to go off-region.
10. Circling back to point 1 above, the trip confirmed something that we've been saying at Flatiron for a while: wine regions are blessed with tasty simple and inexpensive wines that are just too hard to find here. So few of those wines make it beyond the local trattoria. We find them occasionally and when we do we will let you know!