VinItaly 2009 Preview: Milan to Lucca
Sparing the details of the myriad conversations with British Airways and American Express who told me my bag was anywhere from “no where to be found” to “on the flight the following evening”, I will skip to the conclusion that my bag was in fact waiting for me at the Milan Malpensa airport the next morning. Bag in hand, I walked downstairs to the car hire office and picked up the keys to my Fiat Panda, which luckily held all of my luggage. With shockingly accurate directions to the nearest commercial center (mall) I headed out to get my new Italian phone number. After just a few minutes at the cell phone store (which sold tiny Crocs cell phone holders), I had my new phone number courtesy of Vodafone, my obvious choice because of their sponsorship in Formula 1 racing (how else would you choose between them with names like Tim, and Wind?)
Dispensing with my usual logistical preparations, I headed south to Genoa, then down the west coast towards Pisa until turning inland in the direction of Florence for Lucca. For all of you with granite or marble countertops, you can be sure that the stone in your kitchen has visited Carrara, just south of Genoa, for cutting. The marble for Michelangelo’s greatest works is from here, and in fact that quarry just gave its last block of marble…after 500 years. It was sunny, and a perfect day for a drive, but especially a drive close to the coast with peeks of the Mediterranean on the right and snow-capped peaks at Carrara to the left. After about four hours, I was driving alongside the famous medieval wall that surrounds Lucca, heading just north to the hills to my friends’ “Villa Alba” or House of the Dawn.
I stopped at the local grocery store to buy something to eat, and wasted several minutes gawking at the enticing wine prices. I bought a bottle of Prosecco, with that cute hand-tied string holding in the cork, to celebrate, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy a bottle of Avignonese Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (one of my favorites) for less than $20. I love this place! When I presented the wine to my friends to open with dinner, the response was “oh, no, that’s too good for tonight, let’s look for something here in the racks” the result? We took a little trip to the garage cellar to pull out an incredibly dusty 1974 Castiglione Falletto Barolo, just to see if it was still good, of course. Though the logic escaped me, I was excited to have the chance to taste this wine, and despite its cloudiness, showed some initial promise. Overwhelming aromas of dark chocolate and dried tobacco just encouraged a taste, and amazingly, you could still tell it was a Barolo. Incredible, considering the story of this bottle, moving from one man’s cellar down the hill to various family members, then to my friend’s garage wine rack! Though we didn’t drink the bottle immediately, we decanted it to check its progress toward drinkability, and eventually thought leaving it until the next morning might give it the chance it deserved.
After a comfortable sleep in the guesthouse, the next morning comes and it is a Formula 1 weekend! The first race of the season is in Australia, which made us grumble because that meant it would be on at 2:00 in the morning, and begged the question, will we decide to be up at that hour just to watch the first race of the season? And … will we be having the compulsory champagne to go with it? We left the question to simmer while we ran errands (mostly for me, having forgotten a few things) and enjoyed a quick coffee and treat at a pastry shop with beautifully made cakes and confections (including a marzipan Mr. Potato Head!) just in time for Easter. Lunch was out of the ordinary for us Americans, choosing a small trattoria for a “workman’s lunch” which meant not only that we were the only women in the place, but also that the food was hot, hearty and delicious…and inexpensive. To fill up on veal scalloppine and roasted potatoes with salad set us back a whopping 13-euro for the two of us. The afternoon was spent visiting with nearby cousins until the church next door rang the bells with a special song to mark 6:00pm. After driving further up the hillside to enjoy a pizza with nearby American friends, we returned home for a “digestive” drink (something to burn up whatever one just ate) and contemplated the day’s earlier dilemma. Conclusion: We’ll be up watching the first Formula 1 race of the season with glass in hand…and I’m sure enjoying every minute of it!