When I met my friend M for lunch in Milan en route to our friend's wedding in Florence, I became immediately distracted by a wine I'd never previously encountered: an obscure Emilia-Romagnan white called Ortrugo.
I've never lived in Italy and I don't speak the language. But I've managed a high-end Italian restaurant in the US, I've bought Italian wine for several restaurants, I've read numerous books on the nation's wines, and I've toured a fair portion of it firsthand, from Ivrea to Puglia. So most of what I encounter there feels more or less legible. Especially wine lists: to walk into an Italian restaurant in Italy and fondly recognise the names on the wine list is, ordinarily, a great comfort.
M and I were wedged into a table at La Vecchia Latteria, an historic vegetarian spot that had come recommended by a jazz guitarist / wine geek friend in LA. Wines available were neither extensive nor expensive; the waiters didn't seem to know a thing about them. They barked out the usual counsel reserved for moron tourists ("You like red? You like white?"). But I was still on a disembarkment-high from Malpensa,* delighted to see my old friend M, and besides, one great thing about white wine in Italy is that the obscurities are often so inexpensive as to constitute no risk whatsoever. (In case of disaster, there's always Peroni.)