Drinking Wine with the Ghosts of My Family

Drinking Wine with the Ghosts of My Family

I recently traveled to the small town of  ­Polizzi Generosa—birthplace of my grandfather, Vincenzo Termini—to connect with my family’s Sicilian roots. While his surname was helpful, my welcoming was made more hospitable thanks to my late cousin, the actor Vincent Schiavelli, best known for his role as the evil, territorial subway spirit in Ghost.

Vincent made the same trek years ago while writing his memoir-driven cookbooks, making friends with several locals, including Nino, Serafino and Enzo.

I was greeted as a figlio di Polizzi, a son of Polizzi. Dinner was being prepared in my honor at Serafino’s house.

When my partner Jeff and I arrived at the house, Enzo was on the porch trimming artichokes, getting ready to roast them in the wood-burning oven. Once inside, we were led straight to the blue-tiled kitchen. The beauty of this room, in contrast to the simplicity of the small home, reinforced the well-known importance of food and eating in ­Sicilian culture.

Serafino peeled back a bright, printed tablecloth, revealing our feast: Pizza and bread, local sausages and potatoes, and—soon—olive oil-coated roasted artichokes.

Nino placed a jug of inky-purple wine on the table.  “Ah, Nero d’Avola, il mio vino Siciliano preferito,” I exclaimed, admittedly trying to show off.

Nope. It was the local homemade wine made with whatever grapes happen to thrive in a small local vineyard.

We feasted in the sparse, rustic dining room while speaking in a mix of classic Italian, Sicilian dialect and English.

We spoke about food, about the many Terminis in town and how we were related. We discussed Vincent’s plan to start a cooking school in Polizzi Generosa, drawing on family recipes. We also discussed how each Sicilian village not only has its own dialect and dishes, but its own wine—made from its own unique grapes that have grown in the region for ages.

Then it hit me. The inky stuff Nino kept pouring from the jug was much more than a typical “field blend,” as we in the wine business often call it. This was the same wine style my family had sipped for generations.

The wine I was drinking was a direct link to my ancestors.

This realization washed over me as I looked out through the dining room window. I could see my family’s village stretching out across the nearby hilltop, its walled perimeter standing strong as it had for centuries.

As I soaked in the view, I picked up the wine of my forefathers and took a healthy sip.

Published on October 24, 2014