It had been a brutally hot summer. Sangiovese came up to me and announced, “I can’t take it here anymore with you. There’s too much tradition, it’s too provincial and it’s just too damn hot. I’m heading to the coast to live with Cabernet. I need someone strong and vibrant, and I need to feel the cool sea breeze between my leaves.” And just like that, she was out of my life.
We had grown up together. We were inseparable. In the early days people said I was the one who had the character, the depth and the lasting power. But the years passed, and Sangiovese seized the ascendant spot in the relationship. I was content to fill in for her. She had the backbone and was favored among the local marcheses and nobles who saw in her a bright fire and an even brighter future.
She took very little with her. She was easily uprooted. I mourned through the dog days of an even more miserable August and limped to an uninspiring harvest along with some of my pals, Malvasia, Colorino, Trebbiano and Ciliegiolo.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was always in the company of others, never a solo player. There was no in purezza in my vocabulary. I needed others.
Colorino occasionally asked me to join him and Malvasia for an evening out. We would sit and talk about the sweet old days. Malvasia was always so sympathetic. Ciliegiolo and Trebbiano would often join, trying to persuade me there was life after Sangiovese. “Just mark two years off the calendar,” Ciliegiolo would say, “and when the day comes you’ll never know she was even here.” Easy for him to say. He was so strong, so versatile, so confident. I was not Ciliegiolo, though, and so I mourned and lamented the loss.
Time passed: autumn, winter and the issues of the seasons. When spring arrived, I’d poke my head out to see what was happening. It was quiet without Sangiovese. It was is if someone had drained all the blood out of me and left me standing in a field, like a dried up stalk waiting for death. I preferred the dread of winter to the promise of spring. But, alas I had no choice. I had to press on.
I heard from my cousin Grecchetto that she went to Umbria and took up with Montepulciano. They would vacation on the Adriatic in the Marche hills.
On a pilgrimage to Assisi, I ran into Sangiovese, in Torgiano. She was having a sip of water. She told me that Cabernet had kicked her out because she was too high spirited and strong willed. He wanted someone more supple, someone softer. And he ran into Merlot’s arms and their affair is still going strong. I felt pity for her. She told me she needed warmth and softness, too, and so she found Montepulciano and they are living a wonderful life in Umbria and the Marche. I missed her, but I wasn’t as raw as I had been years before. We said goodbye, and I ventured to Assisi before returning home to Tuscany.
And then one day, she blew back into town. She had the look of a wizened woman, the kind that are more attractive to older ones like me because they’ve gotten some character in those facial lines. Still, I guarded my heart. I was no young pup; I’d been around Tuscany for what seemed like ages.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her. “I grew tired of Montepulciano,” she said, seeming tired, sad, even wilted. “He was too soft, too overbearing, too dependent on me. It was always the same vertical position and predictable finish. I needed something more.”
“With Cabernet it was exciting, especially after all the years I had with you. You have to understand I needed to find out if that was for me. I was looking for deep love, for commitment, for something new. But Cabernet grew impatient with me, and Merlot was so comely and easy. I never had a chance.
“When I moved to Umbria, Montepulciano was a godsend. He was jovial and mellow, unlike his cousin, Sagrantino, who was so stiff and haughty. And Montepulciano was such a good dancer. But after some years, he grew so predictable that I thought to myself, ‘Is that all there is?’ And so I’m coming home to my place, to those I grew up with, hoping you would take me back.”
I didn’t know how to respond. So I told her, “Welcome back to your home. If I don’t warm to your entreaty immediately it’s not because I have stopped caring. But a lot of harvests have gone by the crusher, and I have made a life for myself. My friends and I have found a way to get through the snow and the hail and the frost and the blistering heat, together, while you were off living the life you wanted. You traveled. You saw the world. I heard you even lived in California for a time. And there was that period when you lived so scandalously in Montalcino. And now you want to come back here and act as if the last 20 years never existed? I’m not sure how to answer your pleas.”
And with that I saw in her eyes the regret of someone who had made a youthful mistake and was now reckoning with its fruits. I still loved her, but I wasn’t going to uproot my life. Not now. Not yet.
written and photographed (at Rosemary's)by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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