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 week-long 3iC course on Piedmontese food and wine.
Why? It wasn’t because I was sad, or was suffering from jet lag or was overwhelmed by the material, or from being homesick. It wasn’t from having too much to drink. It was a dream be there in Barolo, surrounded by the beautiful vineyards from which one of the world’s most legendary wine comes from. The place is so otherworldly. Somehow I felt like Barolo 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 had always been by way of what’s in the glass – the vessel that virtually transports the drinker to another place. And I knew if I’m conscious and mindful with each sip, I 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 was, and still is, one of the very beauties of wine and what I often refer to as the sip trip.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the feeling I would experience when I got 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 back home had told me I would be tasting for sure …bagna cauda… vitello tonnato … tajarin… hazelnuts… And on that afternoon, I visited two wineries. My heart was full before I even arrived at the wineries.
The first winery was G.D. Vajra. I was already feeling emotional because the first single vineyard Barolo I ever had (Ravera) was Vajra’s. It was a Christmas gift from a 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 and her family. Her sweet, passionate and thoughtful demeanor was warm and comforting. We stopped to visit the beautiful stained glass windows that illuminated the fermentation room. She spoke of the importance of these works of art, and hearing the story brought me closer to understanding why their wines touch the heart. As we continued the tour, Bricco delle Viole appeared in more ways that one. First as a framed label hanging on the wall, then a child’s drawing displayed in the tasting room, followed by liquid form during a tasting among other Vajra wines, and finally the magical view from the bus when a colleague shouted, “Look just over there, that’s Bricco delle Viole.” Was this really happening?
The next visit was at Poderi Gianni Gagliardo. Again, another aha moment because it was the first Favorita (Vermentino) I ever had. I just enjoyed the wine on the first hot day of the year in Las Vegas two weeks prior to coming to Barolo. Now, I was here. The time with Stefano Gagliardo was special – touring the wine cellar, tapping into still-aging Barolo, tasting the generous offerings of wines from him and other producers, and finally tasting the Favorita – a touch spritzy, refreshingly crisp and once again, a crystal clear connection.
Later that day, back in my hotel, suddenly I felt an emotion that I never felt before. How could something like wine do this? The answer is, it’s not just the wine. It’s the people, the places, all my senses 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 then suddenly discovering the true meaning of it all. This deep feeling overwhelms with happiness, with genuine purpose, with emotion – followed by an ellipses and an exclamation mark. It conjures, evokes, re-creates. It’s about reminiscence, recollections, and reflections.
A friend has told me more than once that wine can be “fascinating, beguiling, and hauntingly beautiful experiences – 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.