Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Family in the Heart of Italy
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As a young child in Naples, Italy, Sergio Esposito sat at his kitchen table observing the daily ritual of his large, loud family bonding over fresh local dishes and simple country wines. While devouring the rich bufala mozzarella, still sopping with milk and salt, and the platters of fresh prosciutto, sliced so thin he could see through it, he absorbed the profound relationship of food, wine, and family in Italian culture.
Growing up in Albany, New York, after emigrating there with his family, he always sat next to his uncle Aldo and sipped from his wineglass during their customary hours-long extended family feasts. Thus, from a very early age, Esposito came to associate wine with the warmth of family, the tastes of his mother’s cooking—and, above all, memories of his former life in Italy. When he was in his twenties, he headed for New York and undertook a career in wine, beginning a journey that would culminate in his founding of Italian Wine Merchants, now the leading Italian wine source in America. His career offered him the opportunity to make frequent trips back to Italy to find wine for his clients, to learn the traditions of Italian winemaking, and, in so doing, to rediscover the Italian way of life he’d left behind.
Passion on the Vine is Esposito’s intimate and evocative memoir of his colorful family life in Italy, his abrupt transition to life in America, and of his travels into the heart of Italy—its wine country—and the lives of those who inhabit it. The result is a remarkably engaging and entertaining wine/travel narrative replete with vivid portraits of seductive places—the world-famous cellars of Piedmont, the sweeping estates of Tuscany, the lush fields of Campania, the chilly hills of Friuli, the windy beaches of Le Marche; and of memorable people, diverse and vibrant wine artisans—from a disco-dancing vintner who bases his farming on the rhythm of the moon to an obsessive prince who destroys his vineyards before his death so that his grapes will never be used incorrectly.
Esposito’s luscious accounts of the wonderful food and wine that are so much a part of Italian life, and his poignant and often hilarious stories of his relationships with his family and Italian friends, make Passion on the Vine an utterly unique and enchanting work about Italy and its eternally seductive lifestyle.
artichokes. We drank two different Barolos, his single vineyards, both from 1999. The first was his Barolo “Cannubi,” from the area’s most prized vineyard; well structured, it would be a perfect wine to introduce Italy to a California Cabernet drinker. The second, his Barolo “Bric dël Fiasc,” was confident and honest. “I thank God that I was born in such a wonderful place,” Scavino said, as the wine revived the happy side of his brain. “But it’s not easy.” “Our expansion really represents the
his office. Bartolo Mascarello was a slim man with an impish smile and a Roman nose, who, due to a spinal infection, had been wheelchair-bound for twenty years. He always wore a woolen cap and black-framed glasses. He had received me in his office many times. The place was a sort of visual archive of his life. Generally I drove, wrapped in Barolo’s purple-gray haze, past cornfields and vineyards, and up into his village. There, he lived and worked in a five-hundred-year-old borgo. The meeting I
four. Almost everyone was for the idea, but just as voting time neared, Franco broke Biondi Santi’s decades-long aversion to the consortium and joined. The other winemakers were too ashamed to go against the institution responsible for their livelihood. “You know the journalist Luigi Veronelli?” asked Franco. I nodded. “Really, he was more a wandering poet. Anyway, he said that Biondi Santi is like a magnificent, budding flower that you’ll never know just when to pick because it only improves
military at the time, so it was only my rice-eating father and my no-sense-of-smell brother at home. When I returned, my mother had a party. She said, ‘Thank God! Now I can finally cook again, for someone who can really eat!’” Soldera shuffled over to the lights and turned them all off. Then we walked back through the garden and to my car. “Now I’m taking you to dinner,” he said, as he lowered himself into the passenger seat. “Just direct me on the way,” I said. We made our way down the dirt
I simply can’t.” “Right,” Filippo said. There was a brief silence. “Gino is almost seventy-eight and nearly blind,” he continued. “He’s not well. He gave his word to a friend that he would show these wines to the right people, and Gino is always true to his word. Anyway, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have to, but what I’m saying, really, is that you need to come. For Gino Veronelli. And I’ll do whatever it takes to get you here, so just say the word.” “My car’s broken down,” I said. “I