The difference between how Italians & Americans view wine: poop

From the department of “reductive reasoning” (winemakers will get the joke)…

dario cecchini tuscan butcherAbove: pork salumi, rendered lard, and beef steaks in the meat case at Dario Cecchini’s famous butcher shop in Panzano in the heart of Chianti Classico. No Italian in their right mind would eat rendered lard without a glass of wine.

A lacuna in Eric Asimov’s brilliant article last week in the Times, “A Guide to Drinking Wine at Home,” reminded me of a hilarious anecdote from my time as a grad student in Italian at U.C.L.A.

Every year, when professors from Italy would visit for this or that conference, we would ferry them to dinner in LA’s downtown Asian-American neighborhood (often at ABC Seafood).

On the occasion of an Italian Futurism conference, I remember well, my dissertation advisor and I shuttled a small group of top scholars to one our favorite restaurants there. None of them had ever been to California and they were all excited about the feast that awaited them.

Please order for us, they implored, and we were happy to oblige.

And then, one of them, a professor from Bologna, asked, what wine will be drinking?

When we explained that the traditional accompaniment to most Asian cuisine was hot tea and that the only alcoholic option was beer, said professor (who shall remain nameless) stood up and proclaimed, I cannot eat dinner without wine!

As the Italian department’s de facto factotum (excuse the pun), I was enlisted to source a bottle of vino (and you can imagine the swill I delivered from a downtown LA liquor store).

Said professor was satisfied with the quality of the plonk and the dinner proceeded without further international incident.

Many years later, as I became a self-aware gourmet, it occurred to me that the episode illustrates a fundamental difference in how Americans and Italians perceive wine’s role at the dinner table.

Italians, like many current-generation Americans, view wine “as an ordinary part of their meals, like salt or bread,” as Eric wrote of the new American wine lover.

But they also see it as an elemental digestive aid, a mealtime component that will help them metabolize their food (in other words, ahem, as a tonic that will help them take a good shit the next day).

Some say that the Puritanical origins of proto-American culture continue to this day to make us squeamish about poop.

Italians generally espouse an antipodal attitude about defecation. Just the other day, for example, an Italian friend and colleague — a male in his forties like me — described his upcoming colonoscopy in great detail. And the conversation was part of a longer discourse on colitis and other gastroenteritis caused by eating heavy foods while selling wine to restaurateurs here in the U.S.

The bottom line (I can’t help myself, sorry) is that Italians enjoy an enlightened disposition in regard to digestion. After all, the earliest mention of the bidet in print is ascribed to an Italian. Although the French were the ones to popularize it with the rise of modern plumbing, the bidet is one of the Italians’ great gifts to humankind, on par with Marconi’s radio (at least in my view).

So please read Eric’s excellent article. His offers great advice for American wine lovers today on how to buy, collect, and drink wine. I highly recommend it to you.

But the next time you drink wine at dinner, please think about how the wine makes you feel the next day and how it helps you to digest your food.

The ultimate tasting note, nearly any Italian will tell you, is how you evacuate…

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