Pācina’s “Il Secondo” is bloody fruit splattered on black leather. If it were music, it would be Black Sabbath. Every sip is a study of contrasts. Strawberries intermingle with gasoline. Elegance flirts with chaos. At first the wine quakes in your mouth with such animated, angry effervescence, it’s like the screams of a death metal band, but then the texture softens to fine leather, and it feels like velvet is coating your tongue.
Although the wine may seem haphazard, “Il Secondo” is the work of experts, a third-generation winemaker family who grow and bottle Sangiovese in the center of the Chianti appellation of Tuscany, Italy.
A Chianti is the kind of wine ordered at expensive Italian restaurants by middle-aged suburban couples who did cocaine in the 1980s and listen to Fleetwood Mac on plush Chesterfield sofas. Chiantis had a fabulous public relations campaign in America 30 years ago, when fancy pasta restaurants displayed the wines in straw-wrapped bottles, called fiascos, on their shelves, and Hannibal Lector said he ate someone’s organs paired with “the finest Chianti” in Silence of the Lambs.
“Il Secondo” doesn’t taste like that kind of Chianti. Those Chiantis have strawberry and cherry tart tones, but they lack of liveliness of Pācina’s wine. Pācina doesn’t have the “Chianti” appellation stamp because they opt out of following the designation’s rules, and yet, Pācina has made wine in the region since the 1960s, and their estate dates back to 900 AD. You can’t say their wine doesn’t have a sense of place because they’ve been in the place for over a thousand years. It has energy and a personality of its own. It’s not “Chianti;” it’s “Pācina.”
My appreciation for “Il Secondo” is also rooted in some nostalgia. Although the wine’s strawberry, cherry, and smoky flavors loom largest on the palate, the gasoline and leather hints swirling in the mix make me remember something from my childhood.
My mother used to drive an orange Volkswagen beetle that smelled like an old gas station. Its stick shift was a chrome rod with a black bulb on top. The car’s metal interior was scuffed, its glossy shine long worn out. CD case stickers for The Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and Tool covered the glove compartment. I was too short to look out the window, and my small body swayed and shook with the car as it bumped down the highway. I would sometimes fall asleep with my mouth open on the car’s leather seats and wake up with my face wet from drool, a toxic taste in my mouth.
I remembered falling asleep in my mother’s Volkswagen and waking up, tasting the car, when I sipped “Il Secondo” for the first time. I suppose this doesn’t read like the most flattering way to describe a wine. “It tasted like an old car.” But I love the warmth I feel in my body when I think about the endless road trips in my mother’s ridiculous, orange Volkswagen.
When wine is unpredictable, when the first sip confounds my expectations, and its flavors reach beyond the typical boundaries of fruit and spice, it helps me recall sensory experiences I had long forgotten.
- Producer: Pācina
- Grape varieties: Sangiovese
- Region: Tuscany
- Country: Italy
- Taste words: Strawberries, cherries, tart, leather, smoke, tar, gasoline, effervescent, unhinged
- A pissed-off gothic princess on prom night serves her friends a strawberry tart from Hell.