It's not surprising that the great Italian auteur Federico Fellini snagged the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1958 for Nights of Cabiria.
Raw, funny and ultimately tender, the film allows you to shadow streetwalker Cabiria (Giulietta Masina, Fellini's real-life wife) through the misadventures of her life. She's aggressive, feisty and strong, yet strangely vulnerable to seduction and the promise of true love. Masina's physical comedy is so good that the original 1957 trailer touted her as a "female Charlie Chaplin." The role earned Masina the best actress award at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.
I challenge any viewer not to be touched by the enigmatic Cabiria in some way. Orphaned at a young age, Cabiria fended for herself on the streets and is fiercely proud of the tiny little house she owns on the outskirts of Rome. Immensely resilient, she rebounds from a robbery and attempt on her life at the hands of her "boyfriend," only to get picked up and spend the night (sort of) with a famous movie star, Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari).
Later, she and some friends decide to hop on the pilgrimage bandwagon and visit a shrine to the Blessed Madonna, just outside of town. This is a turning point for Cabiria as she gets swept away by rapture and prays to the Madonna to change her life.
Seemingly in answer to her prayers, Cabiria meets Oscar D'Onofrio (Francois Périer). Refined, polite and sexually unassuming, D'Onofrio is not the kind of man she's used to. We watch Cabiria struggle with herself wanting so much to believe in him, despite her intuition and experience.
A big, powerful film like Nights of Cabiria deserves a wine of the same caliber, found in Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico 2004 ($52.95 CDN, $59.99 USD).
Zenato is a family-owned and run operation with vineyards across 18 different winegrowing regions in Italy. Winemaker Sergio Zenato pours his passion and enthusiasm into making great wines across all brands and regions, as evidenced in his Amarone della Valpolicella from the Veneto region, located in Italy's northeast corner.
Amarone is a blended wine typically made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grape varietals. As is the case with many wines, Amarone was discovered quite by accident from a batch of blended wine intended to be Recioto (Amarone's sweeter cousin) that was ignored and fermented in error. The sugar transformed into alcohol and the wine lost its sweetness, but retained its robust flavor. Thus, the English translation of Amarone is "big, bitter."
Amarone is made through a process called "rasinate," whereby perfectly ripe grapes are harvested in mid-October, and clusters are hand-selected, laid in specially designed chambers and allowed to dry and shrivel, concentrating sugar and flavor.
Zenato drys the grapes for about five months after harvest, ensuring adequate space for air circulation around the individual clusters. After pressing and fermentation the wine is aged in French Oak for two-and-a-half years, followed by one year's aging in bottle prior to release.
Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico 2004 is made from 80 per cent Corvina, 10 per cent Rondinella, 5 per cent Molinara and 5 per cent Sangiovese. It is deep ruby in color with MASSIVE crushed red and black fruit nose. One sniff and you'll say "WHOA!" echoing the 89 points from Wine Spectator. The palate is luscious and left me helpless for a moment but the fruit is complex, not overbearing or cloying as the jammy nose might forewarn. And it's softer in alcohol for an Amarone at 14.3 per cent.
On the food front, Zenato suggests roast or game dishes, but I enjoyed it on a Monday night with Nights of Cabiria and some meaty Fettucine Bolognese made by my sweetheart. I close my eyes and relive the bittersweet combination.
Jill Vanderkooy, Sommelier and certifiable bon vivant, has worked in the wine industry for over 10 years, has been drinking wine for 25 years and is a true devotee of film across all genres. Her liver thanks you for reading.