It was mid-June during our eleventh Roman summer in the same rented attic apartment with a terrace view of the volcanic hills south of Rome in the distance, hills called the Castelli Romani (Frascati wine country!) and a small park and quiet residential community in the forefront. Located on the slope of a hill leading up to Rome's second largest center city park Villa Ada who trees were sucking up the air below to ventitate with a pleasant breeze our otherwise un-airconditioned flat with a piazza in front of us below so no buildings blocked our view above, we were content with our morning coffee bar, corner bar/enoteca, fitness center, pharmacy, little markets and other amenities, including four passing bus lines connecting us with the university, the central train station, and central Rome including Trastevere.
Reading the free paper at the coffee bar one morning when they were not all taken by other regular clients, bob spots an ad for a week long wine fair "Vino Forum" at some peripheral city park. This was not the first summer we'd noticed serious organized wine activity, but it was the first that bob decided it was time. We arrived by a convenient bus we'd discovered courtesy of Google maps and the Italian chip in bob's US smart phone, and were disappointed that all the snooty restaurant dinners were sold out, so we paid the 16 Euros apiece just to do the tasting. Food vendors were there to dine at anyway. We got a fancy wine glass and a cloth pouch to carry it around like a bib and our cards marked with the numbers 1 to 10 for the limited wine tastings. We quickly understood that no one cared about the cards, it was unlimited tasting and smoozing. As Americans speaking Italian (at least in our own opinion) with no Italian roots, we were a curiosity, so it worked in our favor.
We loaded up with some pretty good pasta to soak up that wine. The only cacio e pepe integrale (whole wheat) we have ever seen (left), and a fava bean plus super-delicious ziti, courtesy of one of the sponsors, La Molisana pasta. And later a few other food items that called our names here and there.
At the third wine vendor as usual our American accents blow our cover as typical Romani and are asked where we were from. Philly is our response, so they call over Alessandra, the wine company's owner's bubbly daughter and junior partner. "I went to Conestoga High for a year!" (which is a high school in our own western suburb Main Line zip code), do you know Luigi and Erica?" Do we know Luigi and Erica? We think. Then it dawns on us, yes we do!
Two American wine novices at a Rome wine forum not really knowing what they were doing, and BAM, we run into someone who knows an Italian couple we had met at a dinner (Italians love dinners, even abroad) of some Italian pharmaceutical friend-colleagues on leave to GSK-USA for two years from Verona, 10 years earlier, but had somehow lost touch when our connecting couple returned to Italy. We had known then that Luigi, a biochemist, with some partners had just sold their small biotech to Big Pharma for a pile of cash, but we did not know that his best friend Carlo had used his share to go back to Puglia and realize his dream of becoming a wine producer starting from scratch. And of course Alessandra was close to Luigi and his wife Erica. She WhatsApp'ed Erica immediately and got us back into contact. Their wine was pretty excellent, given our limited ability to know any more than what tastes good to us. We are clueless wine drinkers, tending to build up our familiarity with Italian wines from our long association with the place, unable (unwilling?) to learn the finer points of describing wine characteristics.
Well, it was a love fest for a short time, but Alessandra had to get back to business, and we on to taste more great Italian wine and have some terrific tasting pasta and other food items to absorb some of the alcohol. By the end of the evening bob was a bit tipsy, the first time in decades, but all we had to do was snag a radio-taxi and pay our way home. We had survived our first wine fest, and had an amazing tale to tell and retell to keep the memory alive.