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Though I was born and raised in Canada, our household was unmistakably Italian. My dad felt the need to remind us of this fact on a regular basis: Even though we were on Canadian soil, the proverbial flag waving on top of the house was Italian and the preferred language the members of that household were to speak was neither English nor French.
My mother cooked fresh and plenty on a daily basis, she baked bread once a week, friends and relatives dropped by without notice on any day and at any time, my dad wore a white undershirt around the house, we yelled over the TV at dinner time, wine was made in the garage in early October with California wine grapes which arrived on mile long trains, and last but not least, when it came to drinking the nectar, short, stemless glasses were used. “Stubbies” as I like to call them (a.k.a. tavern glasses), and stubbies alone.
You wanna täste da wine? Camman, try! Täst very good. Me make.
When my dad got home from work in the spring and summer time – first things first – he went to the cellar and filled a bottle with his homemade wine, red or white depending on his mood, sat on the front steps with an Italian newspaper (wearing his tank top undershirt, regardless of the fact that a young Brando he was not), and sipped from a stubby until dinner was ready.
When neighbours came home from work and greeted my dad, male or female, he’d invite them over for a glass (or more)… “You wanna täste da wine? Camman, try! Täst very good. Me make.” Then he’d open the door and belt out in Italian dialect “Get a glass for ((add name here))” and sit back down, talk about the weather in his broken English or give carpentry tips if asked, and actually, even if he wasn’t.
I once believed stubbies were so popular in our household because my dad and his friends waved their hairy Popeye arms around so much while talking, that they couldn’t help but constantly knock over the taller stemmed glasses. My dad hated stemmed glasses. Even when there was a special occasion and “the good glasses” came out, those with the 24K gold trim and heavy as bricks, he drank from his trusted stubby and always made the same comment: “Is the Queen coming over?”. Always. Needless to say, he was not a royalist.
When we visited relatives and the the stemmed glasses were also carted out for a special occasion, a stubby was set on the table for my dad. If we happened to be at someone’s home he didn’t know so well or at a wedding, he’d use the stemmed glass without complaint, but his hand clawed it awkwardly and seemed out of place when holding it.
He had a variety of stubbies: tulip shaped, straight walled, flat, engraved, thick, thin and they always had to be of clear glass without anything printed on them. My mother once saved a Nutella glass (with logo), which was an adequate stubby in her eyes, and my dad was furious: “You expect me to drink wine from a chocolate glass?” My mom: “But I washed it, it’s clean!” With him retorting: “I don’t care if it’s clean, what will people think?”. Standards were to be respected.
There were always a few stubbies laying around in the cellar which he used when tasting the wines directly from the demijohns. I honestly don’t know if these were ever washed either, he would just wipe them clean, like a priest wipes the chalice after drinking the blood of Christ, putting them back in their place when he was done. My relatives in Italy did the same thing, on both sides of the family. Still to this day my relatives in Italy only drink from stubbies.
When I had dinner at the homes of non-Italian friends and the parents were drinking wine, I noticed they were drinking from stemmed glasses. Even nose rubbing Inuit in wine TV commercials used stemmed glasses (“Riunite on ice!!” anyone?) and restaurants used stemmed glasses when serving wine. It didn’t matter if wine was being poured from a bag-in-box, a gallon jug or wine bottle, a stemmed glass seemed to be the true wine glass and “fine art” of wine service… and “we”, in my opinion, were just behind in the times – or if I may – somewhat rustic.
Even though I wasn’t a full-on cork dork in the late 80’s into the 90’s, since I was big into gastro – I originally wanted to be a Chef until I busted my knee up in a motorbike accident at the age of 18 – and enjoyed drinking wine. I’d hear about the different sized glasses for different wines, how thin they were, how expensive they could be etc. I was shocked at the size (and price) of the Riedel “Fish Bowl” when I first held one in my hands but intrigued when drinking from it, that was in the early 90’s.
When I moved to Germany in late 1995, the first thing I bought with my very first earnings was a set of 6 Eisch mouth-blown Burgundy glasses. 28 years later, I still have one single glass from the set, which managed to escape breakage. It wasn’t a planned purchase. Not long after arriving in Germany I started working as a bartender in a cocktail bar. My first work day was on a busy Friday night, so on Saturday morning I had just over DM 100,- from my earnings the night before and was on my way to stock up on groceries when I saw the glasses displayed in a shop window. I stared at them, walked away, walked back, walked away again, only to go back and buy them. They were on sale for DM 80,- (50% off), which happened to be approximately 80% of the cash in my pocket originally reserved for groceries, but I didn’t care.
When I got home and my girlfriend asked about the small amount of groceries I had in tow, I held up the box while sporting a huge grin. She was puzzled. Unboxing the glasses was pure joy. It didn’t matter if we had little food in the fridge, these glasses would be around a lot longer. And being born round, I could afford to lose a few Kilos anyway – but that’s another story.
Unless I was visiting my parents back home or relatives in Italy, for me, stubbies were a thing of the past for a very long time. When I decided to get my AIS sommelier accreditation in Bolzano, Italy in ’07/‘08, I could tell my dad was somewhat sceptical but somehow also intrigued with my new found wine adventures.
This stuff was all quite hoity-toity to him: sniffing, swirling, making slurping noises, stately wineries etc. People talking all fancy about wine, most of which had never made any themselves. Never grown their own grapes. Never cried because half of their harvest was ruined due to the moods of Mother Nature, as he and his family experienced back in the old country. But he didn’t criticise my choice, as he did pretty much everything else in my life.
One thing which made me feel strange though is the time I visited my parents in 2010 and the Riedel glasses I had gifted them many years before – which only collected dust till that point – were set on the dinner table. Even my dad had one in front of his plate, no stubby in sight. I didn’t say anything and didn’t quite know how to interpret it. Was it because I was active in the wine sector now and he quite possibly respected that fact? But it also felt like a huge gap between us considering this is an exception he only made with strangers… and I was somehow in that “not one of us” category now. My dad and I had quite a difficult relationship to begin with, but one has the need to feel some sense of belonging nonetheless, and that little bit I had felt like it was removed in a sense. Because of a glass!! WTF?!
My dad asked me to show him what I do when I taste a wine, he swirled awkwardly, sticking his nose into the glass. I didn’t know if he was taking the piss out but he did seem genuinely curious in his own way. We went through the motions but then I got us a couple of stubbies and told him I prefer the taste of the wine from these glasses. He smiled and clinked my glass. A big gesture coming from him.
A few months later he was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer and passed in 2011. We never shared a glass together after that visit in 2010 but the memory remains a fond one. I kept a couple of his stubbies after he died and still use them today. The main occasion I use them on is St. Martin’s Day, November 11. That’s the day my dad would officially “unveil” the new wine (Novello) for the first time and do so with roasted chestnuts. He allowed me to partake in the tradition from the age of 12 or 13, pouring just a bit of vino into a stubby, commenting on how it was healthier than that “garbage soda” we consumed on a daily basis.
The industry constantly talks about glassware in regards to fine wine culture, and that’s all good. I have my fair share of wine glasses and enjoy using them. But one thing I had to learn and will always appreciate is, what I refer to as “rustic” wine culture is also wine culture. It’s a culture which was around much longer than the culture being sold today at a mass level the way Nike sells shoes for every sporting discipline.
I often get asked which is the proper glass for which wine and it’s a topic which has been chewed and spit out again endless times in the industry. My answer: The glass you enjoy most.
The stubby, it’s more than a glass for me… it conjures up feelings of belonging, understanding and warmth.
PS: And I therefore found it very fitting to adopt the “Stubby” cartoon character as the my*somm logo icon.
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