In my early college days in the dormitory at Oklahoma State University, I tried my first glass of Italian wine with a couple of friends. The tastings usually began at 10:30 with the local TV rerun of M*A*S*H, but inevitably ran a little later into a record or two. That often meant the Byrds, our hosts favorite group and a unique blend of something we all dug that was mellow enough not to disturb the neighbors. The other guy had invested in a nice wood box containing two reds and two whites, which is most of what I remember about it. No idea what was actually in that box—could’ve been Antinori, could have been Banfi, undoubtedly not Gaja. But we all wanted to learn something new and this was our square one. As is the case with most newbies, our taste buds were overwhelmed immediately and there were few notes of distinction. We all agreed that one smelled like cedar, a possibility we’d never considered before. Unfortunately, at the time we thought that was a fault.
My tastes are more refined than those early dorm room days, but it’s wise to not forget one’s roots and often a good idea to return to them. So it was with that memory in mind that I visited Europa Wine Merchant on the way home from work, looking for an Italian white wine; mentioning I particularly enjoyed minerality. I was pointed to a 2013 I Clivi Ribolla Gialla, which I’d never heard of, and headed home with the idea of an old recipe with better ingredients.
The record was in my head by the time I’d unlocked my bike to head home: McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. These were three of the original Byrds, which had disbanded some years before but these fellows had crossed paths on tour in Europe, played a few songs together for the fans, and decided to work together once more. There’s a particular energy to the record that comes from its objective. This was not a “band” playing together. These were three stone cold, solid, professional musicians performing their respective parts in a studio, wanting to prove they could write good songs, play and record them well--and make some money. Three careers were riding on this record. Two made out very well in the long run. It’s arguably overproduced. The recording of each instrument is pristine but there’s often an extra instrument for texture that’s not needed for the song. But this is one of my test records; usually about the third or fourth record I reach for when I listen to new stereo gear, because of the purity of the recording.
I Clivi is from Fruili, at the northeast top of the boot, with Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north. The soil they call “ponca,” is chock full of calcium that imparts minerality to wines. Simpler, more straightforward than the New World wines I’d been drinking lately, but not austere. Lemon and tart nectarine flavors, but what I wanted was the stony, mineral note. I got it. A great wine!
Purity is where the two paths meet; both of purpose and execution. Ribolla Gialva is a simpler wine, but that simplicity is a beautiful thing. Not exactly a quaffer, but great with a nibble (I had salami and cucumbers), it finishes clean. Not so for McGuinn, Clark and Hillman, who at least caught a break with their timing. The Eagles were riding high but between albums, and the album was close enough to the SoCal sound that was on the radio then to put the album up on the charts, and put “Don’t You Write Her Off” into the Top 40. Chris Hillman’s career as a country artist ramped up shortly after. Roger McGuinn has become a PBS fundraising staple and distinguished gentleman of rock and roll. But Gene Clark died at 47, shortly after the Byrds’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s a bittersweet ending, but if you pour a glass of wine and crank up the Byrds’ first album, you’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.