But you've turned this to your advantage!
So I’ve made a career out of righting that kind of wrong, of rewriting my own history. Correcting my own history, correcting the pronunciation of my name. I don’t know, I take great pride in it. And then meeting my wife's family, this ferociously proud family — I love it. And I like that the recipes from them are new. They’re real. They’re exactly what they’re doing in Sicily today. And we go back there, and we cook with the aunts, I roll pasta, I go to the farm, we milk the cows, we feed the pigs, we walk out the door in the morning and pull the lemons off the tree to make our lemonade for the morning. We take the eggs from the nests of the chickens. I mean, the dogs are chasing the animals into the pen. I mean it’s cuckoo there. It’s just a different world and I love that.
So if you had to pick one Italian wine to serve when you’re hosting these people what would it be?
If I’m in Sicily? I can only serve Sicilian wine. They will have nothing else on the table. I tried pouring American wines to show them what we could do and her uncle Pepino said, “Who served this American dishwashing liquid with my lunch?”, and it was a fabulous California Viognier. And he wanted nothing to do with it.
And the irony is that they’re from Messina province, which is where the worst Sicilian wines are grown. So I would serve something from maybe Cos or Notto. The southeastern-most region of Sicily makes the best — for my palate — some of the best Sicilian wines. So I might serve the Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio blends, they’re really beautiful — from folks like Benanti.
Which wine do you perceive as closest to your heritage?
Well, it’s absolutely the wines of Campania. When I taste beautiful Aglianico, I think, this might be something that my great-grandparents maybe tasted 150 years ago. And poor Campania, who knows what they were drinking. Poor people were probably diluting it with water or soda. There may have been honey in their wines. Who knows?
When I taste those wines, I think of beautiful Fianodi Avellino, Grecodi Tufo, or Lacryma Christi. I love the drama of the names too, like the “tears of Christ.” I think of those whites, and think that they were probably drinking oxidized version of these wines. I don’t know. I guess that’s the closest I’m ever going to get to knowing. I do have to get over there though. Now that I have kids, it’s just a little bit tougher to say I’m going to go over there for two weeks and fish around without being paid.
You taste wines all day, go home, and want to have a glass of wine with your wife. What would you choose to drink?
The best bottle from that day’s tastings, typically. I have no limits to what I’ll taste. Although if I have something that I’m saving, I will absolutely limit it to those I’m willing to share it with. Like, this is not to open for 12 people at a dinner party so that we’ll all get an ounce or two ounces. It’s silly. But I will say, "This is special," at a dinner party for four, "Let’s open this great bottle I got my hands on." But I am the un-snob in that I will never say, "I will never serve this to so and so because they don’t know better." And I’ve been to plenty of dinner parties like that.