A Love Of All Things Italian

Lyle Fujioka
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Friday - February 24, 2006 - MidWeek the weekend
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Who else but the Italians could have staged such a spectacular opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics? The drama, passion and engineering magnificence of Italian culture were all captured at Torino. The following is a recap of my lifelong love affair with everything Italian.

Connecting with Italy began in early childhood, probably after tasting my first slice of pizza (Chef Boyardee Pizza Kit - Shakey’s was still a decade away). My maiden “love at first sight” affair occurred in high school when a ‘69 Alfa Romeo GTV happened to be parked next to me. In capturing my heart, this car awoke an instinctual appreciation for Italian design. Thus, my first car purchase was a ‘67 Alfa GTV. This red gem is still in my possession more than 30 years later.

As an art minor in college, the Impressionists impressed, but it was Leonardo da Vinci who made me ponder the unlimited creativity of man. I still believe Leonardo was a time traveler who somehow got stranded in Italy. (And why is Italy’s most venerated painting, the Mona Lisa, displayed in the Louvre?!)

Dean Martin singing When the moon hits your eye, Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore did very little to move me. Andrea Bocelli performing at the Coliseum in Verona - now, that’s amore! And speaking of amore, I transgress to Italian women ... Ahh, on second thought, I never went there.

Lastly, how could you not love a country with more than 2,000 grape varieties? Actually, my first straw basket (il fiasco) bottle of Chianti was far from memorable. Instead of the beverage washing down the pizza, the pizza was necessary to get the wine down. Up to the early ‘80s, the majority of Italian wines exported to the U.S. were of questionable quality. During the ‘80s, a commitment to quality over quantity became the standard for winemakers.

As a wine merchant, I have deduced that the average wine consumer has a conflict adjusting to Italian wines’ high level of acidity - namely. Years ago, as I was laying the foundation for my wine knowledge, I came to odds with Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya over his position in the matter. Acidity in wine, for me, was to be tolerated - not glorified, as Chuck preached. With maturity and experience, I now also extol the virtues of wines with pronounced acidity. Acidity keeps it fresh and lively, which in turn cleanses the palate during the meal. Without it, you may as well put a shot of vodka in a glass of Welch’s grape juice.

And simply put, Italians make wine for food. It doesn’t make sense to the Italians to have wine without food. Continue experimenting with Italian vino and you, too, will find amore.

Turning back to the Winter Olympics and Torino, here are some recommendations for wines from this region - the Piedmonte (my favorite place).

Ceretto “Arneis Blange ‘04” ($18.39). A smooth, easy-drinking white that pairs well with antipasti to poke to lighty fried foods to pasta putanesca.

Clerico “Dolcetto Visadi ‘03” ($12.99). Brimming with fresh crushed red berries, bright and racy on the palate with a lot of acidity. Great with spicy Asian dishes.

Maccario “Barbera D’Asti ‘03” ($12.99). Dolcetto is considered the feminine red wine of the Piedmonte. Barbera is her brother. Medium to full-bodied - like a lighter cab. Try any beef or pork dish with a special nod to salami.

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