My Italian Holiday Taught Me to Drink Aglianico and Celebrate the Everyday

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My Italian Holiday Taught Me to Drink Aglianico and Celebrate the Everyday

I scan the shelves stocked with Italian wine, gliding past the Chianti, Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Nero d’Avola until my eyes lock on Aglianico. Without hesitation, I gingerly lift it from its place, into my cradling arms. 

My husband will be surprised when he gets home with a pricier-than-usual-bottle of our favorite Italian grape. There’s no occasion to fete—it’s an ordinary day that is worth celebrating because it’s another day together. My husband once said that the day we opened the good stuff was the special moment, the special day. We have learned not to wait for a prompt, the Hallmark-prescribed days on the calendar and instead, have attempted to celebrate the everyday, the ordinary. Today was such a day. I declared it so as I put the bottle in a conspicuous spot on the kitchen bar. 

We know about the lesser-known Italian varietal because of a summer trip to the Amalfi Coast years ago. The day of our departure, the sun was strong and clear over the coast as we loaded our bags into the taxi with long faces. Our family vacation had been idyllic. We swam daily in the Mediterranean, watching Italian mamas yell at their kids, and drank the local white wine on the beach out of plastic cups from a vendor. We hobbled around on the rocky beach, “Ow! Ow! Ow!” giving ourselves away as foreigners, if our pale skin hadn’t already. Zooming around in a speedboat, we viewed the coast from Amalfi up to Capri, the kids drinking Cokes and screaming hysterically with joy and terror as dad drove the boat really fast. Anchoring, we jumped, the cold making us gasp. 

Our leathered, weather-beaten landlord left fresh figs, tomatoes and lemons when he stopped by. He couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Italian so we talked with our hands and figured things out. When we were walking to the beach one afternoon, we saw him zipping down the street—shirtless—in shorts and flip-flops on his Vespa. This was his life. He looked over the Mediterranean every day, from whatever point of town he happened to be in, his full head of hair flying in the wind. This old Italian man, with his figs, tomatoes and lemons and view was a rich man in many ways. 

He lived a simple life but exuded contentment and satisfaction. Life was good. 
Now, with a cheery “Ciao!” and a smile revealing strong white teeth our taxi driver offered an encore to our Italian adventure. Middle-aged, he was olive-skinned with wavy, greased-back hair, the picture of an actor who stepped away from a movie set for a minute to ferry a family to the airport. When he started driving, he also started talking and didn’t stop until we arrived in Naples.  

We heard about his family. He waved his arms while describing his 14-year-old who was begging for a motorbike. “My grandmother say, ‘Little kids-a little problem, big-a kids-a big problem!’” Sighing, he said, “This generation is-a no laughing. They have much but they no laugh! We have nothing, but no problem, we happy!” 

We pivoted to the gorgeous lemons of the region. The Amalfi lemons are superior to Sorrento’s, he declared. Oranges? Buy in Sorrento! 

The topic of lemons naturally reminded our driver of limoncello and in turn, triggered a bad memory. He once drank huge quantities of homemade limoncello and had a week-long hangover. “Limencello is-a no friend!” He flashed his white teeth, dazzling bright against his bronze skin. 

As we whizzed along the narrow road abutting the rocky side of the mountain, we could see the glistening water to our left and hilly land on our right. We noticed olive groves from time to time and remarked on the delicious local olives—notably the green olives. We rounded the bend and he jabbed his thumb nonchalantly toward some land with olive trees. “Mine!” He thumped his chest. A few clicks later, he pointed to where he dropped his olives off to be pressed. 

He provided commentary on local wines, too. I confessed I hadn’t discovered an Italian wine I loved. I preferred a dark, bold red —what did he recommend? 

“Aglianico!” he shouted and then, taking his eyes off the road and turning to us, waved his finger in our faces, “Meat! NO fish!” We bobbed our heads, promising never to drink Aglianico with fish. I scribbled on a pad of paper: A-G-L-I-A-N-I-C-O

I slowly open the bottle in front of me. I pour two glasses and my husband and I decompress from the day. We lift, swirl, sniff and sip, drinking in the essence of that past sunshiny summer in the Mediterranean and the present in unison, a simple yet rich moment worth celebrating. 

It’s today, we’re together and that’s enough. 

Top photo by Boss Tweed /Flickr CC BY 2.0

Kathryn Streeter writes from Washington, DC. Find her tweeting at @streeterkathryn