Wednesday, 28 Jun 2017

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ACR Annual Meeting and Wine: San Francisco via Sicily

"Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life's most civilized pleasures."--- Michael Broadbent

ACR’s Annual Meeting is only a few weeks away and I am in my ‘gearing up’ stage.

As I look back, I think this will be my 35th meeting attended, having missed only one or two in my younger years. I look forward to the hustle and bustle, the science, and the opportunity to present my work; but increasingly, I look forward to reestablishing the personal connections that have grown over a lifetime working in this marvelous field.

I think fondly of the many, many dinners and bottles shared with friends from around the world, in some of the great cities in this country. I remember standing in line for what seemed like hours to get into the late Paul Prudhomme’s trendy K-Paul’s in the mid-80s before the word got out. In that same era, I remember the evening spent with dear friends at the newly opened Chinois on Main in Santa Monica, run by a young hot chef named Wolfgang Puck! Lastly (for your sake), I can barely remember a night spent with a now internationally famous and nameless academic rheumatologist from Europe, at a time when we were not even assistant professors, closing down a small blues club called the Saloon in North Beach in San Francisco. We still chuckle about it today when we meet at international conferences.

The bottom line is that meetings such as ACR are family events as much as they are scientific events, meant to be celebrated with food and your favorite legal beverage, which in my case is wine.

So what about San Francisco via Sicily? Well, San Francisco is my absolute favorite U.S. city to visit. The city has such a genuine feel and is made for walking as well as eating and drinking. The only problem? There are just too many great choices. In part, my solution over the past decade has been to return again, again and again to my favorite restaurant: A16. After I get my A16 fix, I try to find one or two new places to sample. A16 was opened in 2004 by a remarkable woman named Shelly Lingren, and it features the food and wines of southern Italy. I was clueless what “A16” even meant, and it was only few years later when on a wine trip to Southern Italy and lost in Campania, I, the navigator, yelled to my friend who was driving, “stay on the A16!”. It was an epiphany and we still laugh about it today. Who knew A16 was referring to the autostrada in the heart of a great wine region?

Over the past ten years, my wine interests in Italy have shifted southward. Not that I still do not love Nebbiolo-based Barabarescos and Brunellos and the range of brilliant Sangiovese-based super Tuscans, but the south now sings to me. There are so many grapes, regions and styles.

One night in 2010 I happened to be in San Francisco, and of course was at dinner at A16, and noticed a party in there atrium room. It looked quite festive and so I asked Shelly what was going on; she told me it was an author, Robert Camuto, signing his new book and she encouraged me to say hello. I did and immediately liked him and bought his book, which he signed, not knowing anything about it. To say the least, this book (Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey University of Nebraska Press, 2010) has changed my wine drinking life forever. If you read my blog from September recommending the book Reading Between the Wines, (10 Sep 2015 Wine and the rheumatologist: required reading), I consider this book equally as important if you want to wade into the Italian wine experience. It is a book of food, wine, culture and passion and made me want to eat and drink the Sicilian experience in a genuine way. I have been working hard on this ever since.

I have shared Palmento with many of my wine friends and virtually all have been similarly affected. Several of us have specifically sought out the wine makers featured in Palmento, several of which are now internationally hot, such as Arianna Occhipinti, Alberto Graci, Frank Cornelissen, Andrea Franchetti and others. It has been a wonderful journey and I am still thirsty for more.

One thing I had not done until this month was visit Sicily, and now I have just returned. I spent a day on Mount Etna and visited Passopisciaro (below) and had a moving experience, feeling the energy and passion required to grow grapes and make wine on a living and breathing volcano. The wines are dramatically different from one winery to the other and from one plot to the next because the soil and climate vary radically, influenced by the numerous past lava flows and the climate. We ended the day with a long and wonderful lunch at the restaurant Cave Ox, where the local winemakers hang out. Bellisima!

So now, back to San Francisco. Of course I will be heavily engaged in the meeting as usual, but I have also worked hard to network with friends throughout the meeting. On Saturday, my entire family will all be there, which is truly unique, and where will be going? A16, of course; and I hope people will be looking into the atrium at us wondering who are those people and why are they laughing so much! 

Such is the world of Wine and the Rheumatologist. Will you be in San Francisco? I'd love to hear your stories from there, or wherever your travels may take you. Comment below, tweet to me @LCalabreseDO or reach me at calabrl@ccf.org

Disclosures: 
The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject

Dr. Leonard H. Calabrese is Vice Chairmanof the Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Disease and Head of the Section of Clinical Immunology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Dr. Calabrese holds the RJ Fasenmyer Chair of Clinical Immunology and is Professor of Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. He has authored over 300 published peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and research abstracts. Follow him on Twitter: @LCalabreseDO

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