11 March 2008

Miranda do Douro and I

I was working in pharmaceuticals at the time. Little dot-com start-up thing. Back when that balloon was still in the parade. Funded by The Wellingtons. Don't know 'em? Ask around at any rich tufted leather steakhouse this side of Park. You'll find the answers swimming in the clouds of sweet cherry mahogany cigar smoke and the deep bellowing laughs of the haves.

Just me, Simon James and that damn iceberg wedge. Gorgonzola dressing, bacon and a few grape tomatoes. Simon wore Italian eyeglasses before Prada and Gucci. Before he said a word, you just knew he wasn't from around here. Linen Santorio suits and bright blue Balenciaga socks. Italians pay special attention to detail. Simon would look at you in horror if a thread was hanging off one of your buttons, or your hem was coming apart. So naturally I never took Simon by The Spofford. Well, not during the week at least. But we'll get to that later. And by "that" I mean Simon and The Spofford.

Simon and Karen Miranda would argue well into the moonlight about men and shorts. Karen felt only children should even consider wearing shorts, and they had to be under 12 and the shorts should not be tight or shorter than mid-thigh. It got later and later and these two just would not quit. I started surveying the house for the nearest California King. Just wanted somewhere to rest my head and my father's cognac Gladstone.

Karen was from Portugal. She'd kill me for that if she ever found out. But she won't. Regardless she's actually from Miranda do Douro. And so naturally she was driven to New York for its merciless winters and equally heartless summers.

"A bit of black fruit to go with your Posta à Mirandesa?", Karen mused aloud.

Miranda do Douro was known for its abnormally potent wine. Miranda do Douro is to wine what Budapest is to absinth.

"Sure, but where?", it was late and I had no idea where to find wine at this hour in this town. It would take me an hour just to figure out where we were anyway. Not to mention finding something talented enough and highly oaked. Toasted grains, dry toast finished with some grilled barley. Almonds. That sort of thing. Earthy.

The classification system for Italian wine mirrors that of the French. Italian wines are generally Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata et Garantita (DOCG). These correspond with the Appellation (d'Origine) Contrôlée wines of France, the DOCG wines supposedly with an extra degree of quality. Hey, what do I know?

The fairly recent qualification of Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) corresponds to France's Vin de Pays wines, whereas the lowest category for Italian wine, Vina da Tavola, accounts for the table wines. Unusually Vina da Tavola has been known to includ some of Italy's top wines, as quality conscious wine makers were excluded from the DOC or DOCG because of the grapes or wine making practices they used. Riots. Murder. Extortion. All over a few bunches of grapes. Can you blame them?

Wines frequently referred to as 'super-Tuscans' are found in the the Italian wine region around Chianti in Tuscany. Makes sense, right? The relaxation of the DOC and DOCG thing was intended to bring the winemakers behind these 'super-Tuscans' back into the fold. In general it hasn't worked. Same way the A.K.C. refuses to recognise the pit bull. Once a rebel, always a rebel. But, none of that really matters now. The so-called super-Tuscans dried up years ago and so off to Piedmont went searching we.

Piedmont is surrounded on three sides by the Alps, including the Monviso, where the Po rises, and the Monte Rosa. It borders with France, Switzerland and the Italian regions of Lombardy, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna and Aosta Valley. And that's where I first met Simon, the Italian Francophone and Karen, the French Lusophone. I knew huit années of French would pay off sooner or later.

Every morning we'd "Alons, enfants de la patrie..." before class. I'd usually be knee deep in back page marble notebook daydreaming by the time we started conjugating verbs and doing the whole fronde/frond, gommer/gum, porche/porch, and traîner/train/trainer thing. Dreaming of sitting around the radio, dreary Sunday in early November and couverture chocolate. Chopping chocolate blocks into small pieces to temper. Two fitted saucepans make a double boiler but mum always called it a bain-marie. Warm petite madeleines dipped in chocolate fondue. Yeah, that too.

I overheard Karen diving into a discussion about vulgar Latin, the Satyricon and Petronius and that was my cue. That's when I decided to turn in for the night. In the morning, I was wistful, everything would work itself out. For now, I buried my head underneath an itchy, olive drab German Army blanket and dreamt of Slippery Nipples and a girl from Cardiff Bay.