As I pack for a two week vacation in Italy, my dislike of Italian wines legendary among my wine friends, I pause for a moment to reflect on a peculiarity of the wine experience, one that will see me through my upcoming trip: wines that might be disliked at home, somehow taste different in their own homes.
There is no better example of this than the bottle you see above, a German red from the Pfalz region of Southwestern Germany, varietals unknown.
Germany is not known for its reds, sweet whites being more renown in the high latitudes of this cooler region. Recently, while in Hamburg, visiting a new friend Fenari Narman, a Turkish expatriate and long-time resident of this charming city, he opened this bottle while he prepared Adana kebaps, spicy, elongated meat-balls on sword-like skewers, impeccably assembled in his kitchen, a mix of lamb and beef and spices, barbecued and served with various Turkish garnitures.
The wine was fruit forward, smooth, but sweet, a feature that would damn it to unsold shelves in the U.S. As I tasted it I knew immediately that if this came up in one of our Friday night tasting line-ups, it would be disparaged and spitted out, spilled into the spit bucket as a clumsy German attempt at breaking into the red-wine business, and what business do they have there? None.
But guess what? It tasted good in Hamburg, at Fenari’s house, real good. Fenari and I knocked off a bottle while he cooked his kebaps and then another while we ate. A sweet red with red meat? Yes, it worked, in a way it would never have worked in California.
I have had similar experiences before. Recently, while traveling through the Po Valley of Italy I drank nothing but Valpolicella, a wine I have scorned for decades, and Amarone, a strongly grapy-raisiny wine that you could not get me to spend a dollar on. One of my most cherished experiences on that trip was Julie and I knocking off a bottle of Amarone with some old Italian cheese we purchased in Garda, drinking with plastic water glasses in a tiny hotel room in Bellagio overlooking the scenic lake and its ferry pier. It was wonderful.
As there is no end to wine snobbery, so it is that there are endless ways to cut down snobs. None is easier than to place them in the native country of a wine they scorn and see how they react to it.The wine experience, subjective as it is and ambiance dependent, can humble the best of them.
As I embark upon Puglia, a region of Italy the wines of which I know little about, I am sure I will love what I encounter there. But then I will still return home with a craving for California pinot noir, while contemplating future blogs extolling the virtues of southeastern Italian wines.