April 20, 2006


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Got milk?

Immigrant wines
The greatest country is well-seasoned with culture
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

It started with the coffee that spilled on my shirt while I was locking my apartment door. The traffic was bad. I was late to the office. My boss said, “Good afternoon,” when I ran in at 9:27 a.m. I had 12 e-mails and four voicemails waiting for me. The director asked me to attend a 7 p.m. function for her, even though I had an 8 a.m. meeting the next day. They screwed up my lunch order. Instead of Black Forest Ham, I got bologna. My daughter called me and wanted to fight. The project I spent two days writing the narrative for was canceled. And even though it was a beautiful spring day full of sun and flowers, the rising pollen count gave me a sinus headache. Heading home around 9 p.m. I stopped to get gas and it was four cents higher than just that morning!

Hoping to have a light supper with a glass of wine and go to bed, I make the mistake of getting my mail. Now I have jury duty. Part of me wanted to go to the window and scream, “I wish I’d never heard of the United States of America!”

(Okay folks, it’s not original, it’s from Edward Everett Hale’s novel A Man Without a Country about a man sentenced to spend the rest of his life aboard a Navy ship for treason. And all the sailors and officers are forbidden to mention anything about the USA to him.)

The unpatriotic tantrum prompted my first smile of the day. I saw the error of my thinking. It was like the time I bought a bottle of Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay for $17.99 — big butter-ball finish with an oaky down-home flavor on first sip and a smooth, creamy finish with just a touch of refreshing acid and low tannins — and dropped it in the parking lot. You know I had the nerve to go back in and ask for a free replacement bottle! They were polite but, firm. No, I wouldn’t get a replacement bottle, but they would give me a price break on the second one. Which was nice, but also a lesson in responsibility.

Sometimes, even in the greatest country on Earth, the answer is no.

And for me it’s a good thing. I’m entitled. I’m spoiled. I’m disorganized. And I’m lazy. If they elected me Dictator of Wyoming, with absolute power over all the bison and grizzlies, I’d still find something to complain about. That’s why I like talking to people from other countries. They have a sense of gratitude. They came from a harder environment. It tempers their sense of self righteousness. It gives them deeper appreciation.

Since immigration has been in the news a lot I’ve thought about all the people from different countries I’ve met. Their stories, their homelands and their new American dreams. I thought about the wines I’ve shared with them. The food they turned me on to. And what they had to do to earn the privilege of being an American.

Mrs. C was Italian. I say “was” because she’s probably dead. She was 96 when I met her and that was 8 years ago. She came to this country as a little girl from Naples, Italy. She doesn’t remember Italy from those days but she took her whole family back in the 1970s and she met all the relatives. Her youngest son died on Okinawa. I met her selling insurance. We ate homemade garlic knots and drank Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, a white wine whose name means “Tears of Christ.” The legend says that when Jesus ascended into heaven he wept at the beauty of the Bay of Naples. Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio also comes in red. The white runs about $15 a bottle and is straw-colored with the flavor of peach and lemon. The red costs a little more and has a light, fresh chianti flavor. I always think of her stories about living in the North End of Boston in 1909 when I see this wine.

Kristine is from India. She grew up outside of Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It’s very hot and dry there most of the year. She owns a wine shop I frequent. I always ask her for suggestions. Her taste is superb. Her daughter is totally American. She was born here. She talks like a Valley Girl, for sure. First they worked for her brother-in-law. Then she and her husband bought their own place but he died of a heart attack. They took his ashes back to India to be scattered in the river. One day she insisted I try Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I didn’t want to. She persisted and said she’d give me my money back if I didn’t like it. It was $14.99 and sweeter than the Californian Sauvignon Blancs, but just as crisp and full of tart apple and pear. Now I just buy whatever she suggests.

Clarita was rich when she lived in Nicaragua, but when the politics changed her family was on the losing side. She came to this country as a teenager. She spoke no English. Now she’s in college and her older sister lives in Grenoble, France. Clarita went there over Christmas and brought back the most delightful Pouilly Fume. I couldn’t find it here but Minet Pouilly Fume Vieilles Vignes $19.99 is almost as good.

Shidarta is a Mexican architectural student. He was here on a student visa for two years but he left in January. He wants to come back. He worked at a Mexican restaurant and bar that served Casa Madero Cabernet Sauvignon from Mexico. It’s the oldest winery in North America. The wine was good. There was a heated argument in Spanish when I was there. I asked Shidarta what they were arguing about. They heard me and answered in English, “He thinks Chilean Pisco is better than Peruvian Pisco.” I offered to mediate and we all had two shots of Pisco, fiery white brandy made from Muscat grapes. I couldn’t tell the difference, but I said both were delicious.

“American are such diplomats,” the Peruvian answered, clearly miffed I hadn’t chosen his. I bought them a Budweiser and we all sang along to “We are the Champions” by Queen.

Some things are universal.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at tprotzman@sbcglobal.net.

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com

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