Last night a friend who worked in the wine business, opened a 1981 bottle of Amarone. Made with hand selected grapes from the Veneto vineyard of Allegrini, this numbered bottle of Fieramonte (they made only about 18,000 bottles that year) contained twenty-seven years of work, patience and sunshine. I love good wines and a few days earlier the same friend opened two bottles of vintage Laurent Perrier rosé champagne from 2000. Her habits in Zurich, she said, were to drink Crystal champagne with brunch and Chateau Equyem is on her list of must haves. “Very spoiled,” I called her. “Très gâté.” She spoiled us too.
For anyone who observes wine making (and not just the drinking), the process begins years earlier with the planting and careful pruning of vines. In Switzerland, I watched the wine growers clip the first vines, cut off excess grapes, cover the rows and rows of hillsides with black nets to keep the birds from eating the grapes. One fall harvest, I volunteered to harvest the fat, sweet juicy grapes of merlot to help some locals with mountainside vineyards. The air turned sweet from the sugary scent of warm fruit and my hands and fingers turned purple from the back-breaking work.
Ticino wines have an excellent reputation, but they’re made in such small quantities that they’re rarely exported – and they’re costly (rarely under twenty dollars a bottle – especially with the high exchange rate). A vineyard at Cademario charged seventy dollars a bottle for a young wine grown on this hill above Lugano. Connoisseurs willingly paid the price. With names, like “Tracce di Sassi” (Traces of Stone) and “Bucaneve” (Crocus – the flowers grow wild here) they reflect the characteristics of place.
When I lived in France, I kept a small cellar with wines bought during the good years. The trick is not giving into the temptation to drink them immediately but conserve them for five or ten years until their flavor blossoms in the bottle. Though I’m not generally patient and I’d often consider opening them and then put them reluctantly back, the wait was worth it. Not only had their taste turned mellow and rich, but the same wines on the shelves had doubled or tripled in price. My favorite was the Chateau Margaux. (Hemingway named one of his daughters after this wine.) More than a snobbism, it became a pleasure of savoring each drop, each instant that the taste of wine held fast to the palate. It also became an exercise in the appreciation of the passing of time.
copyright: Debra Moffitt, 2008 www.debramoffitt.com
While the 1981 Amarone played out a symphony of almond and raspberry on my palate, I recalled that year in my life. It tasted of dreams of European travel and a time to come when I’d be free to write.