A week ago, my wife and I brought our youngest daughter home from the hospital. We’d been there with her for seven days straight, and finally — finally — we were home. Our oldest daughter came home from school, and the two of them quietly and happily played in the family room as dinner approached. Too exhausted to cook but wanting to celebrate our homecoming, my wife and I hastily assembled a cheese and prosciutto plate and flopped down at the kitchen table.
You’ll have pardon me (again) for taking my wine blog back onto personal turf. I mentioned this a few weeks ago when I profiled the Raptor Ridge Gran Moraine Vineyard Pinot Noir: wine is not existential, and writing about it in the context of a major life crisis is problematic at best, offensive at worst.
And yet, when your life is upside-down — particularly with a health problem that is completely out of your control — restoring little bits of normalcy to your routine is about the healthiest thing you can do for your mind and spirit. It’s why I try to keep hitting the gym twice a week (emphasis on “try”). It is why I still want to cook meals in the kitchen. And why I keep opening special bottles, and wanting to write about them.
Normalcy as an act of defiance. What a weird thought.
And so wine remains in the picture, if for no other reason than to represent my “normal” life.
Wine can color a moment. And often times, the moment colors the wine. (Which is fine. One might say that such a thing tarnishes objectivity … It does. So what?)
What we had with that cheese plate is the perfect example of both happening at the same time. It was a Barbera d’Asti from Renato Ratti, which enhanced the cheese and crackers and the sound of our girls playing, and was — in turn — enhanced by the colorless week we had experienced.
As I sniffed and sipped this wine, I could feel my feverish thoughts slowing down. It occurred to me that, of the world’s many wines, Barbera is The Old Friend. It’s so full of character and personality, yet so familiar, too. Every time you have a glass, it is like you pick up where you left off from last time. You want to spend more time with it.
And the Renato Ratti was a particularly excellent Barbera d’Asti. It had the kind of sensory largesse one would require in such a moment. After seven days in a sterile hospital wing, scraping together whatever meals we could while watching too much television and sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor, drinking a wine of amplified beauty felt like an act of restoration. Let’s paint over these last few days in garnet.
All was momentarily forgotten. We could relax a bit.
And while I’d hesitate to call Barbera — let alone this excellent version of it — “normal,” it’s familiarity and kinship was exactly what I needed to feel normal again for that short, short moment.
At least until the next doctor’s appointment.
2012 Renato Ratti Battaglione Barbera d’Asti
Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Italy
Grapes: Barbera (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Aromas, Flavor & Structure: ★★★★★
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★★
Tasting notes: Exceptional, and rich with the same unique brawniness you find in Piedmont’s cuisine. The aromas are hearty and fluent in the language of comfort: cured meat, fennel and tinges of tobacco overlaying a deep sour cherry fruitiness that is accentuated by swaths of acidity but not muddled by tannin. On the palate, it presents an herbaceous woodsiness that completes the picture. Lingers for a long time on the finish and improves with air. Truly a remarkable wine.
Recommended for: A simple cracker topped with a creamy yet sharp cheese, and a dollop of raspberry preserves.