What Would Zorba Drink?

“How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: A glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a Wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple frugal heart.”-Nikos Kazantzakis

I got home from Swigg late one evening last week. The kids and Joanne had already retired to bed.  So, I decided to pour a glass of wine and watch a movie. Since I couldn’t bring myself to let Verizon extort more money from me to watch a new release, I followed my frugal nature, if not my heart, and selected something in black and white.

I never got around to reading Nikos Kazantzakis’s classic, Zorba the Greek, so on this particular evening I felt compelled to watch the 1964 film adaptation starring Anthony Quinn (Alexis Zorba) and Alan Bates (Basil). It was the best 142 minutes I’ve spent watching anything in some time.

IMDb describes the film as “An uptight English writer traveling to Crete on a matter of business finds his life changed forever when he meets the gregarious Alexis Zorba.” However, after watching the film, I think a better description of the film would be- While the effervescent and irrepressible Alexis Zorba teaches an uptight young man to live, he teaches us all how to live.

Alan Bates is terrific at playing the tense, straight laced Basil, an English Gentleman with Greek heritage. He travels to the island of Crete in Greece to resuscitate an abandoned mine his father left him as an inheritance.  He is the perfect character foil for Anthony Quinn’s portrayal of Zorba. Quinn is magnetic and captivating on screen, embodying the “madness” that allows him to “cut the rope and be free,” while his boss Basil clings to a world where he “doesn’t want any trouble.”  I can still hear Zorba cackling as he chides Basil, telling him, “You think too much, that is your trouble. Clever people and grocers, they weigh everything.”

Interestingly, Zorba is aware of his own metaphorical weight in life. He is aware of the importance of living a full life, living life in the moment no matter the outcomes or the consequences. He placates reality with humor and bestows wisdom in a wink, as illustrated in one of the movies most famous lines, “Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? So, I married. Wife, children, house… Everything. The full catastrophe!”  Zorba has everything, he has the “catastrophe” and it’s excitingly beautiful; worth living for even under the weight. If only more of us could take such joy in the ups and downs the “here and now.”

Zorba is the personification of happiness, for he takes pleasure in the simple beauty of life no matter the circumstances. Whether it be the site of a dolphin, or the site of a full-figured widow, or the importance of perfectly cooked lamb, Zorba enjoys it all.  Even when everything is gone, and “there’s nothing left,” Zorba focus his attention on the positive and fills his heart with wine, women, music and dance.

I wish I were more like Zorba. Unfortunately, I think Joanne would tell you I’m probably a lot more like Basil. I have known many Zorbas in my life, but I have never truly learned to live in the moment. Instead of breathing, I’ve always held my breath. The “catastrophe” has always been very real for me.

But in the spirit of Zorba, maybe later this summer, with the ocean or the bay in front of me I’ll pour a glass of wine. Nothing fancy or expensive, Zorba wouldn’t like that. Just something simple and beautiful for the “frugal heart.” I’ll cue up the iPod and take Joanne by the hand. Shoulder to shoulder, grin to grin, cheek to cheek and we will laugh and dance to our own “catastrophe.”

“Come on my boy…Together!”-Zorba

So, what would Zorba drink?

I picture Zorba drinking some sort of inexpensive, anonymous local Greek wine, like the ones my Dad and I drank on our journey to visit my Grandfather’s village in the Peloponnese.  Unfortunately, the Greek wines we currently stock at Swigg are small grower offerings and though fantastically delicious, I believe they would out price Zorba’s “frugal heart.” Instead I think he would drink something simple, pleasing and effervescent. Something refreshing with a little color.

I think Zorba would love Cantine Elvio Tintero’s Rosato, and I think he would equally love the story of Pierre Tintero the original patriarch of the family. Pierre was a Frenchman who came to Piedmont looking for work and in the process found the widow Rosina Cortese and ultimately the “full catastrophe.”

I have always appreciated the playful simplicity of the Tintero family’s wines and especially the Rosato bottling, which is typically comprised mostly of Barbera with a little Moscato and Favorita. The bottle has quite a following at Swigg, and for good reason. As the shelf talker on Kermit Lynch’s website notes: “This one is a no-brainer: Fresh and dry, low in alcohol, with flavors of wild red berries and sweet lemon, with just enough fizz, making it the perfect sipper for long summer evenings.”

For this taster, Tintero Rosato shows us “how simple and frugal a thing is happiness.” And I think Zorba would agree.

Find the “There There” and the “Full Catastrophe” here at Swigg.

-David Govatos