Sunday, September 07, 2008
Lager Library: Passion on the Vine
Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito bills itself as a memoir of food, wine and family in the heart of Italy. It is a love affair with the grapes and culinary arts of Italy that just might induce you to buy a ticket on the next Alitalia flight to Rome.
Esposito takes us from his roots in Naples to his arrival in Albany, N.Y., ("a city held hostage by its weather") at the age of six, to his time working in New York City restaurants to the establishment of his wine shop, Italian Wine Merchants in New York with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. The rest of the book paints in glowing detail buying trips back to Italy, including the meals, winemakers and landscape.
In a book filled with family stories and assorted characters, two of the best involve Esposito's trip back to Italy at 16 with his father and brother and a later visit with his family and his elderly parents.
During his visit as a teenager, Esposito convinces his father to allow him to set out for Pisa on his own and how a waiter on his first evening tells him "orange soda won't do here" and switches his order to a half glass of Sangiovese, followed by a Merlot. He ends up meeting with a group of Italian teens and visiting wineries and small villages before finally rejoining his father and brother in Naples days later.
Later in the book, Esposito decides to take his wife, two kids and his parents, who have retired to Tucson, Ariz., on a two month buying trip around Italy. That 2004 visit includes time along Lago di Garda and a visit to Vinitaly outside of Verona that are some of the best writing in Passion on the Vine.