Dionysus stood at the end of the stone pier in Chios. He was watching the sky, the horizon, and the light on the water. He watched the pirate ship as it made its way into the bay. It was an old, solid ship with a black hull and a frayed white sail. There were twelve pirates on board. With the exception of the helmsman, each pirate was either a murderer or a thief. The pirates’ greed had an odor. They saw Dionysus’ flowing hair and purple robes and assumed he was an indolent fool who could be abducted and ransomed. With any luck, his father was a merchant, maybe even a king. The pirates had no idea that they were about to kidnap a god.
After the pirates rowed close to the pier and shipped their oars, one of them called out, “Where are you going?” Dionysus said nothing.
The pirates dropped anchor, dove into the water, swam to the pier, and stood in a half-circle around Dionysus. There were eleven of them on the pier. Only the helmsman remained on board. He stood at the stern of the ship with his hands on the tiller.
“So, where are you going?” said one of the pirates. His name was Lycabas.
“I was thinking about going to Naxos,” said Dionysus.
“Ten thousand islands in the Aegean,” said Lycabas, “and we’re all going to Naxos. What a coincidence. Is that where you’re from?”
Dionysus nodded. “I live in a temple on the slopes of Mount Zas.”
“Mount Zas,” said Lycabas. “I’ve heard stories about the forest there. It’s supposed to be full of wild game. You don’t live in a palace?”
“The forest is my palace. It surrounds my temple.”
“Does that mean you’re a priest?”
“No, I’m the god of wine.”
The pirates laughed. “The god of wine!” said Lycabas. “Well, good for you, my distinguished young friend. Come with us. We’ll take you to Naxos.”
“I get seasick on the open water,” said Dionysus. “If you let me lie down on the deck and sleep until we get to Naxos, I’ll be all right. But if you need me to row—”
“You can sleep the whole way,” said Lycabas. “We’ll do all the rowing. We’ll even tie a rope around you, to make sure you don’t slip over the side.”
After they left Chios, Dionysus lay down and pretended to fall asleep on the deck of the ship. He heard the pirates whispering, then he felt a rope being tied around his ankles.
“You’re all crazy,” said a man’s voice. It was Acoetes, the helmsman. “That boy is no boy. I saw lightning in his eyes. He has a god inside of him—Apollo, Poseidon, or almighty Zeus. Let’s just take him to Naxos.”
“You’re the one who’s crazy,” said Lycabas. “If the boy’s a god, why did he let us tie him up? This is an opportunity. Forget about a ransom. I say we head south to Alexandria and sell him to the Egyptians.”
“I won’t do it,” said Acoetes.
Two of the pirates, Medon and Opheltes, walked behind Acoetes. Opheltes grabbed Acoetes’ arms. Medon drew a dagger from his belt and held the blade against Acoetes’ throat. “Go ahead,” said Acoetes. “Kill me now. That boy is a god. When he wakes up and sees what we’re doing, he’ll sink us. Better to die here on deck in a pool of my own blood than drown at sea.”
Dionysus pretended to wake up. He looked at the sky, the horizon, and the light on the water. “I thought we were going to Naxos,” he said. As he spoke, white whiskers grew from his eyebrows.
“We took a little side trip,” said Lycabas. “We’ll be in Naxos before you know it.”
Dionysus looked at his ankles. As the rope untied itself, it turned into ivy. Layers of leopard fur covered the god’s skin. Claws emerged from his fingers and toes.
As the pirates backed away from the leopard, vines grew up the mast and wound their tendrils around the lower and upper beams of the sail. Black grapes hung from the vines. The oars turned into stalks of fennel. Music—
a thousand flutes, each one playing its own sad song—filled the air.
The leopard considered each pirate. As the flutes grew louder, each pirate covered his ears with his hands. The leopard grabbed Medon and tore his right arm from his torso. As Medon’s arm disappeared into the leopard’s mouth, the other pirates jumped overboard. The leopard spoke to the water. As the pirates tried to swim away from the ship, they turned into dolphins. Each dolphin jumped in a different direction. The dolphins knew the god had spared their lives but the dark sea made no sense to them. It felt like a cold, endless prison.
The only man left on deck was Acoetes. He and Dionysus arrived in Naxos the next morning. After they docked in the harbor, the god and the man left the ship and walked through the forest to the ancient temple on Mount Zas. Acoetes became a priest. The prayers, rites, and secrets of the god of wine became his whole life.
Which brings us to the 2007 Riofavara Nero D’Avola “Sciavè.”
Azienda Agricola Riofavara is located in Ispica, a village near the southeast corner of Sicily. The estate is run by Massimo Padova, his sister, Marianta, their cousin, Antonella, and Massimo’s wife, Margherita. The Nero D’Avola grapes used in Riofavara’s “Sciavè” are grown in the Noto Valley, northeast of Ispica. Massimo’s grandfather, Don Saverio Padova, used to own farms and vineyards in the Noto Valley. In Ispica, “Sciavè” (“sha-VEH”) was Don Saverio’s nickname.
In the glass, the 2007 Riofavara “Sciavè” is a royal purple touched with scarlet. The bouquet is a moment of truth. On the palate, the surprise is the way the wine unlocks your heart. The promise of refined flavors yields to the gift of raw emotions. The finish is like being at sea. Danger and safety rotate in and out of balance.
Be careful of this wine. It has a sneaky side. Its charm will make you laugh but its beauty can be terrifying. This is what happens when gods and men appear on the same stage.