James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

We Can Honestly Say We Have Never Wanted to Go to Turin So Badly

We Can Honestly Say We Have Never Wanted to Go to Turin So Badly

Red Wine in Turin

Italy has more grape varieties than all the rest of the world put together, the sommelier told me. She was not speaking in a professional capacity, but as a fellow drinker. We were sitting in Caffe Vini, on a cobbled backstreet of Turin, and I thought how this working men’s bar—its walls crowded with wine bottles, all from Piedmont, few costing more than 1.50 euros a glass, no two the same—was the ideal place to learn such a fact.

I had arrived an hour earlier, before the aperitivo rush, stepping in from the misty-orange of mountain sunset light. It had been the kind of European winter evening that should only exist in dreams. Turin was still spangled for Christmas, with Germanic plenty and Italian flair, its faded baroque grandeur dressed like a chocolate box from a more tasteful time.

“A drink?” the lonely barman had smiled, already uncorking a mysterious magnum of red. “And sausage?” Peppery dried meat was produced.

Prego, prego…”

He had gestured to a table, its wooden top worn by generations of conversation and spilled wine. The unknown red was slightly acidic but also light. It complemented the sausage perfectly.

By the end of that first glass the bar had begun to fill. Heavy-coated Torinos of all ages bustling from the now-dark street. And they were chattering and gesticulating, and new bottles were being opened for them, and very quickly, though in a way that was almost imperceptible if you weren’t paying attention, all the tables in the bar were filled.

My second glass was of a different red, more enjoyable than the first. Then, a couple of women, each at the turn of middle age, asked if they could take the spare seats on my table, and I said yes. One of the women was the sommelier.

“What are you drinking?” she wanted to know.

I said I wasn’t sure, so she asked if she could taste it.

“Very nice,” she said, and then told me what she did.

She ordered a bottle for our table, of a Piedmont red with a truffle richness that tasted better than anything I had tried before. And she ordered a different sausage and a cheese to accompany it, and that was when she told me what she loved most about Caffe Vini: how it concentrates everything of the surrounding region, and that it was the epicenter of all Turin, of all Piedmont. All the region’s landscape and its social history was in here, waiting to be uncorked. By the end of my third glass, I believed her.

Then we drank more, and we talked about Turin, and about our lives in the way that you sometimes can with strangers. And the bar became more full, while the winter night pressed hard on its windows, but did not come in.

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