'Light, Suspended in Moisture'

I'm reading Dava Sobel's 2006 tour de force 'Galileo's Daughter,' an engrossing depiction of the great mathematician's ideas and trials as well as his tender and loving relationship with his illegitimate daughter, Soer Maria Celeste. After Galileo was im

Apr 14, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I’m reading Dava Sobel’s 2006 tour de force Galileo’s Daughter, an engrossing depiction of the great mathematician’s ideas and trials, as well as his tender and loving relationship with his illegitimate daughter, Soer Maria Celeste. The two carried on a lifetime correspondence, with the dutiful daughter writing always from behind the cloistered walls of the San Matteo convent in Arcetri.

Later in life, Galileo stood trial in Rome for his heretical support of the Copernican “hypothesis” that the sun is “fixed” while the planets, including Earth, move about it. During his now-infamous trials and his subsequent wrongful imprisonment, Maria Celeste managed the family’s Tuscan property, Il Gioiello (“The Jewel”), and their correspondences touch on the mundane details of daily life, including, frequently, wine.

Wine, of course, has been central to daily life in Europe for centuries, and just about anyone with property in those temperate climates would have grown their own grapes and made their own wine for personal consumption. Galileo was no different. While offering heartfelt prayers for her father’s exoneration at the hands of the Inquisition, Maria Celeste mentions that some of the casks of wine in her father’s cellar must be sold, before the wine spoils in the heat of a warm Tuscan summer.

In other letters, she warns Galileo to moderate his consumption of the finer vintages served to him by the Tuscan ambassador while under house arrest and awaiting sentencing. Galileo, it seems, suffered from gout, a common disease of that age. Exacerbated by the consumption of alcohol, the condition is marked by a painful and debilitating build-up of uric acid in the body.

Today, of course, wine remains an important commodity throughout Italy and especially in Galileo’s native Tuscany. I recently dined with Colleen McKettrick, the sister of my friend Cheryl. She and her Greek husband, Vessilios, run CMK Consulting, a Tuscan-based wine export business, and she travels the globe (which, it is now no crime to admit, circles the sun just as Galileo well knew) opening markets for the products she represents.

I had the privilege of tasting several of her wines, including the “super-Tuscan” 2005 Monteti, over a long and engaging supper. Bottled with an IGT designation, it’s not required to contain traditional Tuscan grapes, as it would be were it bottled under far stricter DOC wine regulations. In fact, it’s a blend of traditionally French Bordeaux grapes (mainly Petit Verdot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), grown near Tuscany’s southern coastline. The warm sunshine of this area is evident in the ripeness of the slightly spicy fruit, yet the cooling coastal breezes help it maintain beautifully balanced acidity, making it a perfect partner with food.

As Galileo often remarked, wine is “like light, suspended in moisture.” I cannot think of a more perfectly succinct or profound description for this Tuscan “jewel” of a beverage.