I received a call on the Wine Novice hotline recently. It was from my brother John who lives in Providence.
"I'm leaving for North Carolina for a week," he said in the message, "and I want you to check on Uncle Sully and bring him some wine. He's out of it. And visit your mother while you're at it. She says she's forgotten what you look like."
John's my older brother by one minute -- we were born identical twins 60 years ago -- and he likes to use that 60 seconds of seniority as leverage.
Naturally, as the youngest of four siblings -- there are two older sisters -- I admire my brother but rarely, if ever, feel obliged to agree with him. In fact, all his "orders" are designed to needle me.
Nearly two decades ago, when I bought a penny stock that he said would make us all rich in 90 days -- yet actually made us poorer in 30 -- he incredulously replied to my complaint, "Why did you listen to me? Go make your own fortune, will you?"
I tried. I went into the private sector. John went into the public sector. I'm still working and he retired five years ago with two pensions, two homes and more consulting jobs than Gallo has grapes.
Anyway, John's worth a lot of laughs and is the rock that holds the family together.
He is the legal guardian to my Uncle Sully, who is 95, and the 24/7 peacemaker to my mother Dorothy, who is 93, and her everyday caretaker, my sister Angela, who is 73.
I arrived at Uncle Sully's apartment this past Sunday at 11 a.m. He saw me with three bottles of wine and his spirits lifted.
"I brought six bottles for you, but Johnny said to leave three at mom's (house) because he didn't want you drinking before lunch," I joked. "He said he'd bring you the rest when he gets back."
My uncle replied kindly. "Tell Johnny to fly back tomorrow. On the double."
Uncle Sully is totally blind in one eye and sees only blurs out of the other. Remarkably, though, he takes care of himself and finds the breakfast, lunch and dinner table without a problem. I say it's because he's Italian; aromas provide him with the best sense of direction.
He is living proof of a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that suggests drinking alcohol in moderation can dramatically reduce mortality rates. The report can be found in the American Journal of Public Health. No smoking, a healthy diet, exercise and moderate drinking reduced death rates by 63 percent, the study said.
For as long as I can remember, Uncle Sully, who owned his own jewelry manufacturning business for decades, drank a glass of vino and ate a piece of cheese for lunch. That's right. He did it on his lunch hour at work. One glass, one piece of cheese. My father, his older brother, adopted the practice in retirement at the age of 65 and lived to be 88.
Today, Uncle Sully religiously adheres to the practice although he's added another glass or two to the daily regimen, hence my brother's warning to me.
I opened a bottle of 2008 Monte Antico Toscana, lightly replaced the cork for uncle's convenience, and put it on the counter. The other two bottles, a 2009 Cusumano Sicilia Nero D'Avola and 2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, were placed on top of the refrigerator.
The wines cost between $11, $14 and $18, respectively, and are rated from 86 points (Cusumano) to 89 points (Monte Antico) by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. The Monte Antico has the quality of a Super Tuscan and is 75% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet. The Nero D'Avola is a great Sicilian grape with warm, red fruit flavors. The Beaulieu Cab is dark, rich in black currants and balanced on the finish.
Uncle Sully asked about the Boston Celtics. Then we talked about the 1960s heyday of Providence College Friars basketball when Joe Mullaney coached and Lenny Wilkens, Johnny Egan, John Thompson, Vinny Ernst and Ray Flynn (yes, Boston's Ray Flynn) put the small school on the national map.
He recalled the night in Madison Square Garden in 1963 when Flynn outplayed future NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, the country's leading scorer, in a Friar victory over the University of Miami. "(Flynn) kept yelling for the ball in the second half and Ernst kept passing it to him. He scored 33 points. He matched Barry basket for basket. It was PC's 17th win in a row. They won the NIT that year too."
He was moving on to the Dave Gavitt and Ernie DiGregorio era.
"Uncle," I said interrupting him, "how about a glass of wine?"
"There's no law that says we can't have a toast before lunch, is there?" he asked.
"Not yet," I said, pouring two glasses of the sangiovese. Then I sat back and delightfully waited on Uncle Sully, wondering if and when I should retrieve the three bottles I had left behind.
Read more at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/winenovice. Follow Jim Campanini on Twitter @suneditor.