Wine and culture was one of the two classes I was enrolled in at Lorenzo de Medici in Florence. When I was deciding on classes, I originally intended to take an introductory Italian language course and a Roman history course. But, looking at the course selections, I realized I wanted to do something completely different that I couldn’t do in my own time in the US. I also didn’t want to overload myself with coursework so I could enjoy myself and travel as much as possible.
Choosing Wine and culture was one of the best decisions I made for my abroad experience. Every day for the month of June, Monday through Thursday from 1:15-3:45pm, I made the few minute walk to the class taught by professor Giovanni Pacinotti. He wanted us to just call him Giovanni. Giovanni was a wine connoisseur who brewed his own wine which he confessed to having about a bottle of each day throughout his meals. He was a very warm and friendly person who had a passion for wine in the fullest. He did not own a car despite living outside of the city in the hills around Florence, and was happy biking several miles to the school and back each day.
For class, each day we had a host of appetizers in front of us from whatever the cooking classes made that day: mini pizzas, sliced cheese and bread, bread and olive oil, panini sandwhiches, and flatbreads. We also had some saltine crackers for cleansing our palettes of any previous wine. Needless to say I was never hungry. Each day we would sample 5 wines, specifically selected by the professor. He would tell us about the wine region where the wine was from, what its classification was, something about the producer, and then he would pour half a glass for everyone. We examined the viscosity of the wine as it swirled in our glasses, and then devoted time to smelling the wine, noting hints of whatever fruit or extract might be added, and examining its fine characteristics in color. We classified the tastes of each wine according to many terms that we learned, swishing it in our mouths attempting to detect the extracts and fruits. We would gauge the quality and age of the beverage, and then learn about what foods would be paired well with it. This was the most fun I’ve ever had for a credit earning course. Rather than reading a book or receiving lecture, we were using our other senses to learn about the intricacies of Italian wine, which as the course suggests, is essential to understanding a component of Italian culture.
Rather than carry around a notebook, I took concise notes on my phone. Here are a few samples of those notes indicating regions, taste, alcoholic content, color, etc. on the various wines I sampled:
Piemonte. Roero arneis, cayega, (DOCG) dominion of region of control
guarantee-upper class wine class. tenuta carretta, grapes arneis, Alba, 2013,
younger the better. 13%. Straw yellow color. Smell. Olfactory aroma, intensity,
persistent, Dry, clean feeling. Clean food, seafood fried.
Lombardia region, (among best 3 for Spumante. Champagne only from French.
Classic method. Italian Spumante better. Perlage-chain of bubbles. )
Franciacorta Spumante, 12.5%, DOCG, Brut, good with crab and shrimp before or
after. (Chardonnay + white Pinot) berlucchi, can be a blend of several years
together. Clean, dry.
Toscana, isola Delba, Valle di Lazzaro, IGT, stefano farkas, Rosato, 2012, 13%.
Cerasuolo, between intensity, thick viscosity intense, persistent, plants,
fruity, persistent. 10-12 euro
What Giovanni emphasized about the general wine culture in Italy is that most Italians aren’t drinking wine in excess. They enjoy taking in the quality and flavor of a fine wine with and after meals in a very romanticized way. This was something I appreciated and really enjoyed.
Several days we took trips throughout the city to enotecas-local wine shops that had shop keepers often with the expertise that Giovanni had. He was personal friends with each of the owners of the shops we visited. These shops always provided samples of a specialty wine as well as some little food items that the shop sold. It was an advertisement for the shops as much as it was for our educational experience. One of the wine shops we visited had an enormous cellar with hundreds of expensive wines lining the walls from each of the Italian wine regions. I went here to buy a sweet white wine I enjoyed called Soave.
My favorite memory of the class is an optional field trip we took on a Friday to a vineyard that belonged to a friend of Giovanni about a half hour away from Florence, but where you could still see the Cathedral in the distance. The vineyard once belonged to the Machiavelli family; Machiavelli being of course one of the more famous political philosophers in world history, and from Italy. Works of his are surveyed in just about every political science course I have ever taken. the owner of this vineyard had this land in his family for many generations. He was a cheery, nice, and upbeat guy who had a wife from the US. Early in his life he was a stock broker, and he claimed to have made so much money that he didn’t know what to do with it. But he abandoned that cushy career because he did not truly enjoy the work. He truly loved making wine, and made a decent living of it in this small vineyard, known nationally for some of its red Chianti wine that it crafted. I found this very admirable and inspiring. In wine and culture class fashion, they provided us with a host of gourmet appetizers and wines directly from the vineyard. I was so impressed with what I was having, that I bought a bottle of the Chianti, as well as some olive oil used traditionally for dipping bread in. The vineyard also served as a kind of bed and breakfast, where wealthy travelers stayed occasionally to just live on the vineyard, eating all of this gourmet food and sampling this incredible wine. A pool was on the side of the estate. He showed us some of his grape vines, and led us into his ancient cellars, explaining some of the little intricacies of making his wine.
Leaving the vineyard, we walked back to where a bus would pick us up, but not before Giovanni took us across the street to overlook a valley which down the way had an American cemetery dedicated to some of the fallen from the allied campaign in Italy during WWII. Being an amateur WWII connoisseur, I could not have been more moved by the big American flag waving half way across the world from its home.
When I tell people I took a wine and culture class, they laugh because of how easy and fun it sounds. And for the most part, it was very easy when you showed up and just tried. But I did have to write a hand written, 10 page paper, single spaced about the various wines of Tuscany. The exams were also full of multiple choice questions about qualities and characteristics of wine that without some prior reading I would have had no clue about. Each exam included a blind taste, where each of us had to describe the wines by smell and taste, which included a guess of what the wine was. So yes, the class was incredibly enjoyable and a unique cultural experience. I could not have been more satisfied with my choice, and am now an amateur wine snob back in the States. It was by no means a blow off class. But it definitely beat taking a renaissance art class.