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

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.

Always the last bottle standing

Chez melchett, therefore, houses a large stock of budget . . . okay, cheap wine, but – and here is the key – sporting deceptively expensive-looking labels to satisfy a potential inspection by host on entry, prior to assimilation on kitchen table. Images of grand castles and villas clearly impress far more than those of, for example, 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.

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 its tastefully minimalist label, I just couldn’t go wrong, and 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, my 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,” commented a smart arse guest (plonker?), whilst I maintained an air of nonchalant disinterest, completely 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 the mischievous amongst them to make small marks on their labels so that they would be able 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 my come-uppance time. Having been invited to the annual barbecue/pool party at an English cousin’s home in the 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 wine 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 . . . there 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 workers on Allenby!”

There was only one thing for it: Waiting for Sylvia to exit the kitchen, I launched a daring rescue mission, and, together 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!


17 responses to “The Piano Nobile (and the wine that is never mine)

  1. Adam Green

    I’m surprised at you Michael, forgetting what seems to be the first rule of wine giving in Israel – the posh bottle bag or box, otherwise known as the “plonk enhancer”. During my time in Israel, I gave/held several dinner parties and gatherings, and built up a substantial collection of these “plonk enhancers” and even got into the habit of using them myself, purely in the interests of environmentalism, you understand. Nothing says “I care” half so much as a bottle of 20nis Merlot in a thrice recycled gold and silver bag with a string handle (one particular bag originally given to me by a fellow Natanya resident on the occasion of my very first post Aliya dinner party, which I then dutifully “recycled”, ended up back at my place on at least two subsequent occasions.) However, there are obvious pitfalls to be wary of when enhancing one’s plonk in this way, especially in the context of a multicultural melting pot like Natanya. Once, one of my wife’s seriously mono-lingual Uzbek girl friends from ulpan, obviously attempting to get into the Israeli spirit of things proudly presented me with a smart bottle tube, proclaiming to be a litre bottle of 15 year old Glenlivet single malt (far more exciting than any mere wine). I’m not sure what impressed the lady more; my initial display of surprise and pleasure at receiving such a generous and appreciated gift, or my barely disguised disappointment on discovering nothing more aged than a bottle Carmel “White” inside the tube.

  2. Rather the “plonker enhancer,” I fear, Adam! As your tragic Glenlivet story makes only too clear, the bottle make over only delays, and then aggravates, a host’s ultimate disappointment, having invited a wine cheapo like myself!

  3. Adam Green

    Yes, I suppose you’re right.

    By the way, for all you “plonkers” reading this, there is one range of cheap reds made in Israel (normally 2 for 55nis at Mega – ostensibly reduced from 37.04 each, but always on sale) made by the Binyamina winery, called Te Va (or Teva?). Bloody good across the range of three types. Without getting all Gilly (Jilly?) Gooden about this, they are reliable and consistent and really very yummy indeed. So, for those of you who want to “give cheap” yet still “give good” this is the wine for you.

    On a serious note though, the ridiculously high prices of even bog standard wines in Israel is enough to make plonkers of most of us who aren’t millionaires. The sad thing is that a big percentage of the mark-up on Israeli wines is of course because of the kashrut licensing and all the insane, weird and pathologically obsessive (not to mention outright discriminatory) abu-ali that goes along with it. A good example of how a hechsha can spoil things for poor old apicoruses like me is what happened at Odem, that marvellous little winery up on the Golan near Nimrod.

    We discovered them around six years ago. We were taking a Saturday wine tour of the region and looking – with some difficulty – for wineries that would be open. Our intention, apart from wanting to purchase fine wines, was to show support for those wine makers courageous enough to resist the shameful State supported “Mullaesque” pressure to “go kosher”.

    Anyhow, Odem was then still holding out, and they were thus able to sell their truly fine wines for around 25% less than those of equivalent quality, down the road at the Golan Winery. To our horror, when we returned there last year (not on a Saturday this time) we discovered that they had caved (no pun intended) in to the pressure and that their bottles all now carried the all too familiar hechshar. It was also no surprise that the price of their wines had shot up accordingly.

    Can someone please explain to me how such a system can be justified? During the course of my 18 months living in Israel, and all my many, lengthy previous visits, I met practically no one who gave a shit about whether their wine had a hechshar or not. And, for those few who did, they always had plenty of good choices from the likes of Golan and Yarden (and now even Carmel) to satisfy their pious requirements.

    What’s so disquieting about this, like so much else in Israel these days, is the way it all feels like something being done, not so much through the impulsion of an irresistible wave of piety (though that would be bad enough), but because it’s yet another “nice little earner” – for someone, somewhere. Worse still, is the way this “hechshar trend” (and not just with wine) relies upon, and takes advantage of the fact, that for the most part Israeli consumers comprise a captive, and peculiarly passive audience.

    What a bloody racket!

  4. philip witriol

    Marvellous piece. Dare I say there was more than a touch of P G Wodehouse there. My Japanese wife, under my influence over the last twelve years or so, has become quite the Jew and just the day before your blog we were in the North Finchley branch of the downmarket supermarket chain Aldi (but note and she mentioned how nice the labels looked on some cheap bottles with a view to us taking one to a friend’s house the next day!

  5. “My Japanese wife . . . has become quite the Jew”

    I take it then, Philip, that she’s your Japanese Goy . . .

    Ashamed to say that this was the first single I ever bought!

  6. John Fisher

    “My Japanese wife ……..has become quite the Jew”

    In my upwards of fifty years on this planet, over forty of which as a Spurs supporter, I thought I had acquired a fairly complete lexicon of Jew-baiting phrases. The general rule is an obscene adjective describing the interchangeable “Jew/Yid/Kike” or “Jewish” describing an obscene noun associated with a one of a number of delicate bodyparts or bodily functions.

    I was therefore intrigued to come across the obscure construction of “Quite the Jew” for the first time – all the more so as it was applied to Jewish wine-buying habits. Now we ******* Jews/Yids/Kikes have been accused of a lot of things over our chequered history but rampant alcoholism has, to the best of my knowledge, never been one of them. Indeed, even when we were caught red-handed drinking to the health of Bacchus our Christian detractors claimed we were in fact imbibing the blood of their children.

    I am reminded of an incident a few years ago when I entertained a group of nine European colleagues to dinner at a restaurant in Jerusalem. Always the accountant, prior to going in I estimated an average NIS 250 per head including a generous allowance for wine given that none of them were ******* Jews/Yids/Kikes, coming to a grand total of NIS 2,500 before the “quite the Jew” tip of 15pc. As my knowledge of wine only exceeds my knowledge of radiator fluid, I threw caution to the wind and invited the sixtyish French aristocrat in the group ( a capital fellow) to be Sommelier (or whatever you call the bloke in charge of wine). To cut a long story short, the bill came to NIS 6,000 before tip.

    Mr Witriol, can I suggest that you refrain from applying your obvious literary talents to the creation of new insults to be flung at our people – working class yoks are not as good with words as we are and you are just supplying them with free material – especially dangerous now that West Ham have been relegated to the Championship. However, if you do insist, at least go for something relevant – like the ubiquitous arrogance that leads some of us to believe that the world wants to read our ancestors’ paralytically boring diaries.

  7. Rather OTT (and unkind), I fear, John.

    I know that you are not a fan of the Diaries – I post the fifth and final installment next week, so take a holiday! – but others have enjoyed them. Anyway, I published them, not Philip . . . and I am not sure that the “arrogance” (“ubiquitous”?!) here is his.

    As for Philip’s turn of phrase, not the most elegant perhaps, but he did go to Hasmonean and it was, at least, in line with my post . . . which is more than can be said for your “rampant alcoholism” tangent! Anyway, I have no problem with it, coming as it does from a fellow Yeed. The following is an excellent example of the more problematic use of the word . . .

    And here is another related (and great) scene from Annie Hall . . .

    Philip and John, the two of you are starting to remind me of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (with you, John, being the fat Jock!) . . . now kiss and make up already!

  8. John Fisher

    “with you, John, being the fat Jock”

    It is an honour to be compared to Britain’s only “real” prime minister since Thatcher although, with the help of Great Shape Raanana, I hope to shortly be able to answer to the jibe “Thin Jock”.

  9. Adam Green

    “…the first single I ever bought.”

    Imagine the depth of my shame then Michael. The first single I ever purchased was “Popcorn” – the Moog masterwork – I suppose I was more interested in food than girls back then…

  10. John, it was less of a reference to your girth and Scottishness – shameful though that is . . . but which I had overlooked – than to you being the less sympathetic party in the spat!

  11. “especially dangerous now that West Ham have been relegated to the Championship”

    Oy! John! what has West Ham’s relegation got to do with it?

    It hurts badly enough without having to be reminded of it here as well. And the only dangerous thing about relegation is that there will be two fights, I mean games, against Millwall next season.

  12. Surely Melchett Mike should be drinking “Fat Bastard” wine.

  13. Watch it, Baigel . . . oops! 😉

  14. Dalton, by the ex-Hasmo guy I believe, is a good wine according to those who know. I don’t know though, just whiskey and Israel has none of that yet.

  15. I know a ₪100 bottle of wine you can take and they will remember it and you.. Favorably….

  16. Lawrence Green

    I recently had the pleasure of listening to a recording of Cantor Mordechai Herschman’s inimitable rendition of Geht A Goy In Shenkel Arein.

    My father, who is in his nineties and who was very familiar with the lyrics, gave us a detailed translation and commentary, one of the main points of which was the self evident, eternal truths reflected by the words of the song.

    There ensued a discussion about whether the song was perhaps somewhat racist in its sentiments; one of the several conclusions we came to was that when Jews drink alcoholic beverages, they do it in a more wholesome and refined manner than is the custom of other groups.

    Perhaps that more elevated approach is encapsulated in the name of the very wine (Nobile) you purchased in such a discerning manner and drank with such admirable sophistication.

  17. Forgot to mention . . .

    The Piano Nobile has been back on the Israeli supermarket shelves for the chagim. I purchased a bottle for the sake of a photo, which I didn’t have before and which I have added to the bottom of the above post.

    It is 28.99 sheks now . . . though that is not an agorah too much for melchett mike’s resident gay basher, Shuli, who will be receiving it, this evening, when he hosts me for Yom Tov dinner. 😉

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