The Piano Nobile (and the wine that is never mine)

By Melchett Mike
May 15, 2011

After years of cunning and deceit, I have finally been found out. Well, almost.

When it comes to wine-giving, I have always been firmly of the Costanza school of thought: it is pointless being overly, or even at all, beneficent when no one knows, or remembers, which bottle was yours.

Chez melchett, therefore, houses a large stock of budget . . . okay, cheap wine, but – and this is the key – sporting deceptively expensive-looking labels to satisfy a possible inspection by host on entry, prior to assimilation on kitchen table. Images of grand castles and villas clearly impress far more than those, for example, of black cats – the reason you will never catch me surreptitiously offloading the ubiquitous Gato Negro, always the last unopened bottle of booze at every Tel Aviv soiree – and old tarts/gits.

My latest bulk buy, just before Passover (from the Or Akiva Supersol next to my office), was the perfectly named Piano Nobile (pronounced as if with an acute é) . Together with it its tastefully minimalist label, I couldn’t go wrong. So, I snapped up half a dozen of the bastards at the “Pesach special” price of 20 shekels a bottle.

My stock plonks, until then, had been Casa di Luigi and Don Julio, dodgy Chilean reds offloaded by some equally dodgy Gruzini (Georgian) in the Carmel Market at “shtayim be’chamishim” (two for 50). On one occasion, the Don Julio – bottles of which tend to vary in taste, between the drinkable and the paint-removing – was actually opened at a host’s table. “Rather bitter,” remarked a smart arse guest (plonk-er?), while I maintained an air of nonchalant disinterest, confident that it had rendered itself hefke (ownerless) amongst the other assorted bottles on the table.

Bottles of cheap vino used to be passed between the Shabbos tables of Jerusalem’s Anglos like a relative with Tourette’s, prompting some recipients to amuse themselves by making small marks on labels to identify those which had come full circle. Homing pigeons for frummers, if you like.

Last week’s Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), however, was come-uppance time. Having been invited to the annual barbecue/pool party at an English cousin’s home in desirable Herzliya Pituach, I found myself clean out of melchett Reserve – the half-decent wine that I keep for such, more upmarket, gatherings (or those sufficiently small for presents to be linked to their purveyors) – with the only bottle left being . . . damn! The Piano Nobile!

Still, it wasn’t worth facing the lines of peasants at AM:PM on a holiday, so I took my chances. “Anyway,” I considered, “there’ll be well over a hundred people there. No one will even notice.”

Entering Sylvia’s house, however, from its garden, I was intercepted by my hostess.

“Hello, Michael . . . Oh, what wine is that?” asked Sylvia enthusiastically, prising the Nobile from my (suddenly tightened) grasp.

“Oh, I dunno.”

“Piano Nobile? Never heard of that one!”

“It’s rare,” I replied.

“Let’s have a look at the vineyard,” Sylvia – not having paid even the slightest attention to my miserable explanation, and now perusing the rear label – continued. “Hmmm . . . doesn’t seem to be one.”

“Oh well . . . ,” I said, leaving the sentence hanging as I made good my escape back to the garden.

After regaining a modicum of composure, the horrifying thought then grabbed me: “What if Sylvia opens the Piano at a dinner party . . . or, heaven forbid, passes it on to other Herzliya Pituach folk, who uncork it with her at their table?! Next Yom Ha’atzmaut, instead of sitting round this pool, I’ll be sharing bottles of vodka with Romanian foreign workers on Allenby!”

There was only one thing for it: Waiting for Sylvia to exit the kitchen, I launched a daring rescue mission, and, with another cousin, quaffed my errant gift in the afternoon sun . . . though the Nobile, being surprisingly agreeable, had the last laugh on all of us.

Anyway, l’chaim . . . and, to Israel, a belated Happy Independence!


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