There are three things that I find most Italians are happy to talk about: food, wine, and sports!
Not unlike wine, the sport of cycling has a great heritage in Italy, with its own larger than life heroes such as Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, and, of course, ‘ il Pirata’ Marco Pantani.
As a passionate wine guy, I’ve gotten lately to thinking about the bicycle’s relationship to wine.
Along with wine, a passion for cycling has, for me, been an important part of a personal interpretation of the Italian lifestyle. I mean, broadly speaking, folks in Italy have the living of life down to an art form. Eat, drink, sing, be lighthearted, and socialize. Do so with people you care about. Keep an appreciation of personal well-being and don’t rush. For God’s sake, be spontaneous. Yes, each to his own, I say. But, if one currently does none of these, I politely suggest the immediate adoption of a few lifestyle changes.
It is hard to argue that the relationship of the bicycle to wine does not coexist in a rather complimentary fashion: calorically speaking, the excess of one is quite in harmony with the effort of the other. Eat. Drink. And ride the bike. One sort of absolves the sins of the other. To give the point a bit of religious connotation ala Chazz Palminteri’s movie The Bronx Tale in a scene about Catholic confession, “…you can start over every week.”
Wine and cycling, as separate activities, both capture something beautifully simple. Yet, in either, one can find meanings both deep and profound. Both wine and the bike, in their own ways, lead one across emotional and physical landscapes, open the heart to the rhythms of nature, and promote a consciousness of lifestyle and the human spirit.
I recently re-read a few articles I’d written about wine and, in the following passages, noted the crisscross of connection between my cycling life and my life with food and wine:
Pedaling fast along a downhill curve I approach Bahler Farm with the bike’s computer reading 51 kph.
CAUTION: COW CROSSING.
I squeeze the brake levers. My lungs need air, but an early evening mix of July humidity with the permeating smell of cow dung deters me from opening my mouth to breathe: it’s nose only.
Between me, dinner and a bottle of Pierre Frick Pinot Blanc chilling in the refrigerator is one hill and a handful of miles which I plan on ripping through at 100 strokes per minute. A salty elixir of sweat and old sun block runs down my face and onto my lip somehow stirring my appetite.
Tobacco hangs in the curing barns now. Great fields of corn have been cut down to brown stalks returning an expansive feel to the local landscape. Thousands of jack-o’-lantern-orange orbs peek out from among the pumpkin vines.
Fall is rolling into my neck of New England. Today, the world outside seems composed in shades of brown accompanied by a sleepy, rainy day’s soundtrack. But inside, overhead lighting and the sizzling sound of shiitake, portobello, porcini mushrooms and shallots hitting the pan turn the kitchen into a lively space. We’ll simmer these in a cream sauce and serve over fettuccine, washing it all down with a bottle of Barolo.
Riding the open flats past local corn fields is always a windy proposition during autumn. The wind that, when at my back, earlier made me to feel like a better cyclist than I really am, now bears down hard on my forward motion.
Tall, dry corn stalks look on with disapproval as I ride by. “Better riders than you have been by here today” they crackle, their dehydrated whispers chasing me row across row. Across the road, sunflowers bow their heads politely down so as not to stare as I struggle past.
The breakfast of champions was apparently not on my morning table today. To distract you now from this tale of lackluster pedaling, I shall draw your attention instead to the more winning performance of Weiser Kunstler Riesling Spatlese.
I don’t believe in perfection. Not really. But, there are moments both on the bike and with wine that come pretty close. There can be moments with either one when silence comes coated with a sort of smoothness. Some would call it meditation. But, I think I call it harmony.
Is it necessary to point out that any benefit derived from wine or cycling should never be sought by conducting either activity together with the other? To be clear, I am not suggesting or condoning active cycling along with the consumption of wine. Only that each one, in its own way, contributes to this writer’s living of la dolce vita.