The Taste of Happiness: the Verdicchio according to Natalino Crognaletti

Those who have met Natalino know how his laughter can be contagious. When I think about his Verdicchio - the happy one (Campo delle Oche), not the interstellar one (San Lorenzo), don’t worry, I’ll talk about it another time - the first thing that comes to my mind is a happy wine, fallen in love with life, like Nat’s laughter. I tasted it for the first time the day I met Nat, at his home, in Montecarotto (Ancona), many years ago. I had never heard about him until the day our mutual friend, the vigneron Walter Massa, had named him. “You should absolutely meet him!” said he as if it had been unavoidable. In fact, Nat was a good-natured guy who one day (as I found out much later) the famous Jacques Selosse had thanked for that wine - a quintessence of opulence and modesty shining in the golden light on a sunny day of June.

 Ph. credits: Indie Wineries

Ph. credits: Indie Wineries

During my sentimental education of that extraordinary year - it was 2011 - first, I had been overwhelmed by the Trebbiano Valentini (year 1999) in Loreto Aprutino (Abruzzo), after that I had been seduced by the sharp saltiness of the Sterpi Vigneti Massa in Monleale (Piedmont), then I had lost myself in the primordiality of the Ribolla Anfora Gravner in Oslavia (Friuli) and finally I had met the father of that Verdicchio which, like an Arab Phoenix, had risen from the ashes of a depressing amphora shaped bottle almost thirty years before. Giorgio Grai was blunt, sharp, brutally precise. No surprise, then, that the Villa Bucci wine was involving but essential, with no frills, pure vertical light. What was the true nature of Verdicchio? Minimalist. No doubt. A Japanese blade with a disaming elegance.

Until.     

All my certainties vanished few months later when Nat poured into my glass a wine whose name in those days was Vigneto delle Oche - later called Campo delle Oche because of bureaucracy (which, as we all know, has never had a poetic soul...)

Vintage 2008. Unforgettable. A wine which was moving in the opposite direction compared to Villa Bucci, searching for some hidden aspect of that nature which has seemed to me so clear, unambiguous and readable. An elegant, rich, happily baroque wine. What stroke me most was its extreme nature, delightfully irrepressible, and totally lacking of arrogance. Like Nat’s laughter after all. 

 Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico, Palermo

Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico, Palermo

As time went on, that baroque soul, the golden light trapped inside the glass, and the genius loci (San Lorenzo), the guardian spirit of the place, reminded me where I had already seen all that overwhelming happiness. Well, for me Nat’s Verdicchio is the liquid version of Giacomo Serpotta’s sculptures, scattered in all the oratories in Palermo: amazingly beautiful women in the flesh, as I live and breathe, and happy children playing with their bed sheets, sleeping peacefully, playing pranks on each other for fun. If you dont’ know them, go and have a look in the Oratory of the Rosary of Saint Dominic, of Saint Cita, and Saint Lawrence (San Lorenzo). Trust me. It’s worthy.

 Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cita, Palermo

Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cita, Palermo

As it often happens when I’m happy, last Sunday evening I felt like tasting it. So I opened a bottle of Campo delle Oche 2010. Less extreme than the 2008, but still very satisfying. On the nose, a delicious white peach turning into a baked yellow peach (which, where I live, we use to cook with amaretto biscuits and cocoa powder). One by one emerge the fruity, the flowery and the hearbaceous notes: dry apricot e candied citron, the citrous fragrance of the orange blossom, camomile and elderberry flower, and in the background toasted peanut, a recurring flavour in Nat’s wines, though not as strong as in toher years. Yet, Nat’s Verdicchio, rather a smell, is a taste. It’s a strong taste filling your mouth with dry and toasted fruit, with weath fields, with warmth and light, sweet, rich and slightly salty.

Here you are. That’s what happiness tastes like.