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Thursday, June 27, 2013

An old Story about young Grapes by John von Daler

             An old friend walked through Europe from north to south and back again in the course of three years in the 1930's. Many stories came out of that trip. Although those stories are not mine, my friend is dead; I do not think he would mind me telling one or two.


          J usually walked about thirty kilometers a day. In the morning he would get up in some room or tall grass or stall where he had slept. He would find a store and, filling his wineskin with local wine, he would buy some bread and cheese and then walk on through the countryside. J was one of the few people I know who actually could speak knowledgeably about the grape fields so important to many denominations of wine: he had been there, slept there, and tasted many wines where they actually came from.
         On one particular day, he had slept outdoors just south of Rome. He went into a tiny country store and bought white wine, a good, chewy bread, and cheese. I can only guess at the name of the cheese. Perhaps it was Fior di Campo, a local sheep cheese in Lazio. The wine I will come back to.
         He walked the whole day through, heading south. The weather was warm, so he stopped at about eleven o'clock and had some bread and cheese, washing those down with the white wine. Even though he was used to tasting all kinds of wine, he had hardly ever tasted anything this good.
He finished his lunch and walked on. As evening approached he found a little store by a church on the side of a hill. J went in to see if he could get his evening meal and some more of the same white wine. He tried a swig of the local wine and had trouble swallowing it. The little, swarthy grocer tasted a small sample of the rest of this morning's wine from J's pouch.
         "Ah!" he said, "This we don't have here. You gotta walk about thirty kilometers north to get it. It's called #Frascati."
         Now the nice thing about this story is that J did just that. He walked all the way back the next day just to taste the Frascati one more time.
After J came home, the Second World War broke out. He went through terrible tribulations during that time. But when the 1950's came, he was living a good life in Copenhagen. He and Denmark were getting back on their feet. Stores were starting to import foreign goods again. One of them was wine.
         Of course, J had to try to find Frascati - and he did, but as in so many other stories, this lost treasure could not be recovered. Like Blixen's Barabbas, who complained that even a young virgin could not restore his good spirits when he lost the taste of the wine of Jesus, J could not regain anything of the indescribable taste from the wine he had drunk just that once. Sure, the local supermarkets had Frascati, but it tasted vapid. J gave up.
         He was a talkative and inquisitive person. He used to say that you could tell everything about a village you were entering by seeing what the dogs were like at the perimeter. Here in Copenhagen, J was no less observant.
         One day he was walking past a new basement store that was selling Italian wine. In the sun at the top of his stairway sat the owner with a glass of white wine. J was walking past and he gave the man a casual greeting, something about good wine in the warm sun and a good chair to sit on. The man offered him a seat and a little glass of wine. J sat down and stretching his legs out in the sun, took a sip from his glass.
         Instantly, he shot about twenty years back in time. Frascati, sun, the taste of youth perhaps. He asked the man about the wine and they got to talking some man's talk about wine.
         The wine merchant who was Italian looked at J and asked where he had been buying Frascati. J told him the name of the store.
         "Ah, but that's two- or three-year-old Frascati. You have to think of Frascati the way you think of women," he said and lowered his voice; Denmark even in the fifties had more equality between the sexes than his native country. He was probably married to a Dane himself.
         "When those grapes become wine you must treat them as you would girls who have recently become women: if you are given a pleasant opportunity to taste the grape just off the vine, do not hesitate. Frascati should only be served within one year of being bottled. If you wait more than a year, you will never experience that beauty and fullness again. "
          Now the two men, neither of whom ever weighed their words very carefully, sat a while and pondered this metaphor. We shall not do that here. Let it suffice to say that you should drink your Frascati very, very young. And if you can, walking thirty or so kilometers to get it does not damage the taste. As for young women, at our age, we neither can nor will say more on that subject. Cheers!


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