Back to Italy we went, prepared as well as we could be, to close on our new home. It was toward the end of November and we decided that, in the two weeks we had, we would try to squeeze a month’s worth of activity. We invited two other couples to join us on the first part of the trip: Jessica’s father and his wife, Jeff & Cindy, and Jessica’s boss and her husband, Deb & Mike. For the first week of our trip, the itinerary was two days in Rome, the next four days in Tuscany, and a last day in Rome, after which our guests would return to the States and we would head to Puglia for the closing.
Rome was, as it has been for millenia, wonderful. And the winery at which we stayed in the Montalcino area of Tuscany was warm, rustic and delicious. But the highlight of the week, as I knew it would be, was our visit to see the Angelinis in the ancient town of Spello in the nearby region of Umbria.
I had met Roberto Angelini, his willowy, beautiful blond daughter, Irene, and his wife, Daniela, who lights up the room when she enters with an abundance of energy and the odors of her incredible kitchen. Each year, from the middle of January to the end of March, the Angelini family comes to the US and travels around the country hosting wine dinners and tastings at restaurants and private homes, featuring the products sold at Enoteche Properzio in Spello. Many consider Enoteche Properzio to be the best wine shop in all of Italy. “No,” says Roberto in his sophisticated manner and smoothest Italian. “Only the third best.” I’ve never asked him about who places first and second. On our first meeting, the Angelinis were hosting a wine dinner at a local Pittsburgh restaurant and my good fried, Albert, invited me as his guest. Though Albert and I were only two of fifty attendees, for some reason, Roberto recognized us, not so much for our knowledge of wines as for our passion for it. It made us his kindred spirit and we spent much of the evening (when he wasn’t presenting the wines and their pedigrees and characteristics) chatting with us, Irene translating all the while since Roberto speaks less English than he knows.
At the end of the evening, when Roberto and Irene invited us to come to Spello and visit them, I knew that they meant it. This was not a hollow, polite, “when you’re in the neighborhood, stop by,” sort of thing. They sincerely wanted us to come to visit with them. Well, on Thanksgiving Day, that’s exactly what we did.
When I emailed the Angelinis to let them know that we would like to come to the enoteca, they offered to prepare lunch for us. None of us could have imagined what “lunch” meant, but we found out shortly after the driver we hired to take us from Montalcino to Spello pulled up in front of the shop. It sat next to a church and behind a small courtyard where outdoor seating was available. We entered the wine store and were warmly greeted by Roberto, even though mine was the only face he had seen before. The Angelinis approach friendship this way: if you are a friend, then your friends are friends; and if you are friends, then you are family. Can there be a better path to happiness? I don’t know of one.
Roberto guided us to the lower level of the store where a table was set for seven. The place settings were elegant, maybe too much so, for the surroundings that consisted of stone walls and floors hundreds of years old, but only the table was lit which gave us all the sense that we were special. Indeed, the dinner that followed our seating confirmed it. As we sat, we noticed two other people in the room: a middle-aged woman who was busy in the kitchen area of the space and a tall, thin man, well-dressed and quietly standing in a dark corner. Only the woman was introduced. She would be doing the cooking, serving and translating. Unfortunately, Irene was in Bologna studying for her sommelier certification, and Roberto’s son, Luca, was in school.
The meal started, as any civilized meal should start, with a spumanti (a beautiful prosecco). This was accompanied by bruschetta topped with various local treats (fresh tomato, a luscious meat pate and a truffle paste). Next came a fruity white wine made from the grechetto grape made by Tili, one of the names familiar to us and many others as synonymous with great Umbrian wines. Roberto described, in great detail, the wine, its crafting, its notes and its future at which point he asked us if we liked it. Had there been something not to like in the wine, we probably would not have mentioned it, but we were not faced with that choice. The grechetto was full and reminiscent of late-summer pear and pineapple. We all raved as Roberto waved the man in the corner out into the light.
“Allow me to introduce Vito Tili, the maker of this wine,” Roberto said. Having had and been awed by other Tili wines, including the 1997 sagrantino, I was reminded that wine-making is an art, performed by artists, and that we were in the presence of a great one. More striking to me was the obvious reverence for Roberto exhibited by Vito Tili. Roberto had asked him to come to the enoteca to meet some of his special friends, and he came.
The next four courses were as spectacular as the first. Pasta, meat, fruit and dessert, each accompanied by a wine particularly chosen by Roberto for that dish, gave us all a Thanksgiving meal we will never forget.
Satisfied in belly and soul, we all placed wine orders. We kissed Roberto on each cheek as we left, the only payment he would accept for one of the most memorable culinary experiences we had ever had.
The next day, we returned to Rome for more wandering through the ancient city. The day after, the group parted ways and Jessica and I headed south to make Villa Tutto our own.
Final word: Should you ever get to Umbria and would like to visit the Angelinis at Enoteche Properzio, check it out at www.enoteche.it. They also have beautiful apartments for rent in the heart of Spello. You will never regret the effort.
Next: Let the Construction Begin!