Special Occasions

As a wine journalist my working life pretty much revolves around going to lunch and dinner. As they say: It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. Yesterday I, along with fifteen other Italian journalists dined at Verona’s own Bottega del Vino. A few years ago the interior design, menus, wine list and warm rustic charm of this well known eatery were cloned and transported to mid-town Manhattan with great success. It always gives me a little frisson of pleasure to know a little chip of Verona is thriving just down the street from FAO Schwartz. We were guests of a cooperative, whose top range of wines is found in chic restaurants in New York and London, among other world capitals.

The only other non Italian there was an English woman who has worked with Italian wines for many years in the United Kingdom as a buyer for a supermarket chain. She now does promotional work for the co-op in London. As with all Italian gatherings, there had to be speeches. First we heard from the president of the coop, then the winemaker, then a professor at the university who oversaw an experiment for the coop, then the marketing man. The moderator (who at least gave an amusing presentation) then presented a proletariat wine journalists, who shows his independence by wearing rustic plaid shirts and always leaving early to catch the train back to Venice. Severino Barzan, the life blood of the two Bottega del Vino restaurants, took his turn. He was followed by a guest of the coop whose family manufactures high quality cakes, and finally a local wine and food pairing maven gave his usual opinionated discourse. It was generously suggested that the English guest give a little speech about selling Italian wines in the United Kingdom. All they lacked was a translator.

Cries of “Patricia, Patricia” rose from the table. I can only assume that my fellow journalists were looking for a little comic relief with which to finish the meal. Now, gentle reader, I can translate written material but I do not make a habit of translating for groups unless there is a gun to my head. The food and wine maven, who had made a snide remark about my Italian, held the smoking revolver. So I accepted the task and did a pretty good job until the English lady said: “Of course, these wines are for special occasions and so they are hard to sell in England”.

I dropped my translators role and replied hotly that perhaps it was our job as writers and promoters of Italian wines to help English people and Americans reevaluate the concept of “special occasion”. “A special occasion can be: it’s Friday! Or it can be: my favorite cousin is visiting! Or I just bought the most fabulous shoes come on over for a drink and a chat,” I said. “Those are all special occasions!”

The restaurateur next to me held up a plump palm and said: “Give me five!” We slapped hands like victorious basketball players. And at that precise moment I realize a major difference between Italians and most Anglo-Saxons: Italians realize special occasions do not have to be measured out in “significant” birthdays or national holiday; there is always something to celebrate.

Try a little of this Italian optimism and enthusiasm on for size. Tomorrow wear your “good clothes”, use your “best” china and put a decent bottle of wine on the dinner table. What are you saving all these things for? And most importantly call up your friends and ask them round to share your food, your wine and your company. Today, as everyday, is a special occasion.