When I was 16, I went to visit a friend who at the time was attending culinary school in Florence, Italy. She was living in a charming, very old apartment overlooking a cobblestone street; we had a wonderful time visiting the small, local markets around the city and cooking simple, authentic Italian dishes, including, on one occasion, lasagna from scratch – including the pasta.
We took that lasagna to a potluck dinner party. After a wonderful evening eating delicious food and drinking lots of red wine, a group of us left and went in search of the next stop. I think we went to a loud bar where we probably absorbed enough cigarette smoke to have effectively smoked a pack. At some point we left, but no one was quite ready to go home, and my friend had the inspired idea that we should buy some wine from the 24-hour sandwich cart — yes, that’s a thing in Italy, sandwich carts that also sell wine – and sit in the Piazza della Republica. By day that piazza is bustling with tourists and ringed by cafes with lots of outdoor seating. At 1am it was deserted and dark.
We bought a bottle of red wine — with no other designation than the color — for about 3 euros and sat down at an abandoned cafe table with plastic cups. We finished the first bottle. We finished a second. And a third, and probably a fourth. I can’t remember what we talked about, though I’m sure at the time it was very important. We sang. Finally at 6am, as dawn was breaking over the city, we walked across the Arno river, in the still, gray time when things are just starting to wake up. We went to another culinary student’s apartment and had French toast with beautiful Italian bread, honey and apples. It was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. And then at about 7:30, we all hit a wall and collapsed. I think later that day we had to get up to make cannoli for some other event. It’s a miracle they came out all right — and I think we definitely added a bit more Marsala than called for.
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A few weeks later I moved to Paris, where I would spend the next two years and continue to drink many glasses of cheap wine with friends. These experiences were not about “great wine,” they were about great people and conversation. I have no idea what wine we drank that night in Florence, and it really doesn’t matter. I think that’s the power and beauty of wine, that it creates a special — if ephemeral — bond amongst friends and strangers. I didn’t speak to most of the people I shared that bottle of wine with ever again, and I’m not even in regular touch with my friend who I was visiting. The day after that glorious evening I was on a plane back to New York, and my Italian adventure was over. But even with the disparate paths each of us has taken since, that shared experience around wine, that late night in the piazza, is a memory that I will always cherish.
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Adrienne is a native New Yorker who now lives in Napa with a penchant for all things food & beverage. Previously she co-founded Dipsology, a guide to great cocktails in NYC, and she is also a Certified Sommelier. Follow her on twitter @alstillman.