Festa di San Martino

Nov. 11, 2006

November 11th is the feast of San Martino.  Martino was a nobleman, a cavalleria. One very cold day, he was riding through the woods, when he came upon a beggar. Seeing that the beggar was cold, he took off his heavy cape, slit it in two, and gave half to the beggar to cover himself.  The beggar was God in disguise, and rewarded Martino’s generosity by making him a saint.  The holiday is commemorated by eating chestnuts and drinking ‘vino nouvello’, or new wine.

Sounds innocent enough, right? The ‘proverbio’ in the newspaper,  that always comes with the weather report, had this to say, “On the feast of San Martino, leave the water, and drink wine.”

We were invited to a San Martino party by our Del Verziere taverna group. This is the group of regulars that work on the summer festa and plays and the Festa del Bosco. Eating roasted chestnuts and tasting wine seemed like a good way to spend a Saturday night.

The party was called for 8:30 pm, so at about quarter to 9, we head up to the taverna, and we meet Iva along the way,  She’s my partner in the pasta kitchen, and the definition of a salt of the earth type of woman. I adore Iva.  She’s wandering around, complaining and inquiring, why is no one up at the Taverna? The lights are out, the doors are shut. Boh! We chat for awhile and when we head up there again, this time it’s a little after 9:00, and a small crew has arrived and they are just lighting a fire to start roasting the chestnuts. There are about 6 of us in the cold kitchen. It feels sort of sad to be in there, when there is no happy hubbub of a festa outside.  We start slitting about 5 or 6 kilos of chestnuts, and I’m thinking, who the hell is going to eat all of these chestnuts?  Little by little, people are arriving, and eventually we open up the Taverna.  The set up is a little odd though. It’s one long table and then all the chairs were put in a semi circle facing the table.
At some point, Roderigo, the defacto mayor of Del Verziere, asks us if we want to be judges for the wine. On a side table, there are about 10 bottles of wine, with numbers taped to the bottles. Vino_nuovello
Turns out it is to be a ‘blind’ tasting, and a competition of our neighbor’s homemade vino nouvello. Anyone from Del Verziere, who is a winemaker, can submit a bottle of wine to this very prestigious wine competition.  At this point, the room is now bursting with people, and somehow in the midst of this chaos and confusion, I am elected the President of the judging panel.And yes, that water bottle on the far left is filled with a white wine. 
We take our places at the head table, Iva is another judge and a young guy named Leo, and another guy named Mauro.
A big bowl of hot chestnuts arrives, and is passed around. This will be the first of many bowls of chestnuts that get eaten.  Roderigo attempts to bring order to the proceedings and teventually the tasting begins. I don’t have a watch, but it must by 10:30 by now.  There are 12 bottles in the competition. We are given our instructions: we are to taste and then comment on the wine and then give it a score of 1 through 10.  As Madame President, my official job appears to be that I’m the first one to speak and pronounce judgment. 
  The audience is full of hecklers, comedians, young and old.  Luca, is a born comedian, he stole this summer’s play with his line about the “grande luce” (big light), and was probably always in trouble in school. He can’t stay in his seat, or stop making wisecracks. He’s sitting next to Simonetta, who resorts to punching him into submission or beating him on the head with a stack of plastic cups. This background is just so that you understand the seriousness of the competition.
  We then proceed to taste 12 (!!) wines, from the good to the downright awful.  In all seriousness, we tried to give thoughtful comments and a fair evaluation. Honest. I swear we did. I think we did. Things started to get hazy towards the end.  With each wine, someone from the ‘populace’ or crowd would be selected to vote along with the judges. Sometimes it was one of the ragazzi, and it was generally impressive the way they analyzed the wine and tried to articulate their response to it. Can you imagine asking the average group of 18 year olds what they thought of a particular wine? Very few would have the experience or the vocabulary to contribute to this event.
Somewhere around wine  number 9 or 10, people had started to wander out of the room, and the room was only half full. By bottle 12, the room was once again crammed with people, and amid much shouting, hilarity and confusion, a winner was selected: a very well balanced red wine that was a classic example of what a vino nouvello should be, i.e. fresh fruit, crisp, and light.
By this time, I had eaten about a kilo of chestnuts, all by myself, had sipped so much fresh wine that I was oozing yeast from my pores, and it was time to go home. We cleaned up, laughing some more and then headed home.  I’m coming to the party next year, but they’ll have to find another President!
Today, I’d like to know, who is the patron saint of the day after San Martino? San Cura di Hangover?

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