I am Italian by ethnicity on my father’s side of the family. Grandma Lorraine is his mother, my Calabrese nonna. She’ll remind you she’s Calabrese too- anytime it’s convenient. Mostly when she’s being stubborn about something and she’s using her cultural heritage to remind you she won’t change her mind about something. “I’m Calabrese,” she says as she raps her fist on the table. “You know what they say about the Calabrese. Hard-headed.”
Over the years she has watched me become increasingly involved with Italy. First I went there to study and live. Then I came home and found a job in the wine business, representing Italian wineries. I continue to go back to Italy as often as possible. I think my connection to Italia mystifies as much as it impresses her. She still doesn’t understand what I do, why I am on the road so much, why I spend so much time with visiting Italian winemakers, or how I manage to taste as much wine as I do without becoming a full-blown alcoholic. She loves that I speak Italian.
I have learned a few things about wine from Grandma Lorraine over the years. Occasionally she might be stubborn, but she’s funny, she loves me and she’s one of the most intelligent people I know.
Drink what you like.
Grandma Lorraine doesn’t care if the wine has 95 points or is made by a Tuscan Count. She doesn’t care if it’s white or red. Old or young. Expensive or cheap. She just likes what she likes. I realize this is the same thing I tell people when they ask me about what wine they should buy, or what they should think about a wine they are drinking. The only thing that matters is- do you like it? If you’re enjoying it, it’s a great glass of wine. Who cares what anyone else thinks? Grandma Lorraine certainly doesn’t!
Me and Mr. Karapetian on our wedding day, with Grandma Lorraine and Papa John. Photo by Tim Wheaton
Have an opinion.
When I stop by Grandma’s house after working all day with a bag full of open bottles, she is happy
to taste them to drink them. She’ll tell me which ones she likes and doesn’t like as much. (Although to some extent I think she likes them all. With the possible exception of a bottle of Gewurztraminer that I left in her fridge that has been there for the last year and a half…). She’s not afraid to be wrong- she’s comfortable with her opinions. I love asking her questions- why does she like the Blaufrankisch better than the Chianti? “It’s more like Pinot Noir. You know how much I like Pinot Noir.” Right on, Grandma.
Wine is better with food.
I cannot remember a lunch or dinner at Grandma’s house where we haven’t opened a bottle of wine. She rarely drinks without eating (and when she does it’s usually a Manhattan before dinner). Food tastes better with wine- and the salt and fat in your dinner will round out the hard edges of your glass of wine- make it more approachable and more fun to drink. Oh, and forget those tiny tasting pours when you’re having dinner. If I pour the usual 2-3 ounce splash into her glass before dinner (thinking maybe she’ll want to taste more than one wine), she looks at me as if I have lost my mind. “Go ahead and fill it up,” she’ll remind me. If you come to dinner at Grandma’s, don’t be stingy with your wine pouring!
I may be a “wine professional” but it’s good to remember that the whole industry of wine is based around the non-professional consumer. Grandma Lorraine has taught me a lot about my own industry- in addition to supplying lots of comedy along the way.
“I’m 84,” she told us at her most recent birthday, “I’ll have a glass of wine. A big one.”
Cheers, Grandma! Tanti Auguri… we love you.