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We can spend a lot of time talking about all the variables that go into the making of a good glass of wine. Does it have more to do with a good vintage year or with the person making the wine? Does it have more to do with which side of the hill the grapes grew on, or how much water they received….or didn’t receive? What if the barrels were made from different kinds of oak? What if the wine had aged longer?
There are so many things that can affect the flavor of the wine. But to me, there is something else that is important to the taste as well. It’s much more subjective and much more emotional. It is the memory of where I had it for the first time. I love thinking back……. “Remember when we had that Sagrantino in Todi? We were eating those crostini with melted gorgonzola and honey and that wine was perfection, wasn’t it?” Or, “Remember when we were in that restaurant in Montefalco, and that guy kept bringing us all this great stuff we hadn’t ordered and telling us it was ‘on the house’? And then he poured us that huge glass of passito? It was so delicious, we bought a bottle to take home, remember?”
I have been lucky enough to have had some incredible winery experiences in Italy. I’ve seen the amazing diversity of Italy’s wineries; from small, rustic operations to architectural beauties to technological wonders. They have all been family-run, with most still having multi-generations living on or near the winery. I’ve tasted some truly beautiful wines, poured by people who are passionate about their product.
On many occasions, my “first time” with a wine has been at the winery. After a deep whiff, I take a sip, let it roll around in my mouth, swallow, savor the after taste, and break into a smile. My eye meets that of the winemaker, and he breaks into a smile as well. He doesn’t have to tell me all about how he grew the grapes, where he grew the grapes, when he harvested the grapes, he just has to know that I loved his wine. In the end, it makes us both happy.
Join me, won’t you…..on an Italian wine trail? Let’s meander the rolling hills of Tuscany or the hearty Umbrian countryside. Let me take you through lesser known areas like Lazio and Campania so you can discover something new and wonderful. Every, and I do mean every region of Italy has great wines, and most of them are not sampled outside of the country. You will find wines to fall in love with, and you won’t care how they were made, when you meet the eye of the winemaker.
Drop me a line at:
Let's start planning your next wine experience!
Tour Journal 5.0: Wine, wine, wine, wine, wine….that’s all this group does (besides shop, eat and sightsee).
We start October 8th by boarding our lovely vehicle and making our way to Deruta; land of ceramics. What fun to stroll from shop to shop perusing all they have to offer. Then, as luck would have it, we are offered a spur of the moment backstage tour of the Gialletti Giulio shop and studio!
We watch as the potter makes a vase lickety split, followed by a bowl with scalloped edges….all in about 2 minutes. We’re shown the giant kiln and are then amazed by the ginormous vat of underglaze each item is dipped into. The best part is getting to watch the artists at work. They are amazing…painting all the very delicate and intricate designs with a steady hand. Maybe they don’t drink as much espresso as I do.
After hauling our purchases to the van, we make our way back to Todi for lunch and to get ready for cooking class. We have a delicious lunch in a restaurant with a stupendous panoramic view of the valley. It’s such a fabulous day to eat outside and soak in the natural beauty of the area. Everyone opts for something different; pizzas, various salads. We’re trying to eat light in anticipation of cooking class tonight.
Our cooking class is held in a beautiful winery called Decugnano dei Barbi between Todi and Orvieto. It’s perfectly perched on a ridge with a view of Orvieto in the distance and row after row of grapevines falling away from every side. We take a tour of the winery and even get to see how sparkling wine is made and stored in the old Etruscan tombs. After the tour, we’re off to the restored chapel for cooking lessons. We’re joined by another small group to make: Focaccia bread, tagliatelle pasta with tomato and mushroom sauce, stuffed zucchini and brutti ma buoni cookies. What a great name for these cookies! It means, “ugly, but good”. Along with each course, we get to taste the wines made here.
We had a long night last night. We spent five hours at the winery and made our way back to the hotel rather late. So Oct. 9th is a sleep-in morning. Yay! No alarm clocks. But by 11:00, we are off to Montefalco. For the first time, the weather is not cooperating. Since its raining so much, it’s hard to sightsee. What should we do? I know…let’s eat!
We have a fantastic lunch; pasta cooked in Sagrantino wine, lentil soup…everyone chooses something different. But there’s one thing on the menu that we ALL seemed to want: roasted artichokes. Oh my! They melted in your mouth leaving the crispy brown edges to crunch on. Oh. So. Good.
After lunch, we’re in for a real treat. We have a wine tasting at a winery that is so passionate about natural wine making. We tour the facility and are amazed to see the freshly picked Sagrantino grapes drying on their racks. Soon they will begin the process to become Sagrantino Passito, the famous sweet wine of the area. I have tasted many passiti from Umbria (I am either proud or ashamed to say), and the passito from Paolo Bea is simply the best.
We’ve been busy the past two days and the trip is winding down….only two more days left on the tour, but there is still so much to see and do!
More coming soon,
What a find today! Who knew you could have lunch in a horse stall? Today, on our way to Assisi, we have made reservations at an adorable little restaurant that used to be old animal stables back in the day. Thank goodness we arrived early, because the restaurant filled up quickly with hungry folks looking for great food cooked over an open flame. Most of us had grilled meats; sausages, pigeons, pork and also grilled vegetables. The onions had been grilled until they melted in your mouth, and the potatoes having been cooked in the ashes were soft and fluffy on the inside and crispy and charred on the outside. La Stalla was rustic, loud, and delicious.
Now that our hunger has been sated, we move on to Assisi to stroll this beautiful hill top village. While there, we see sweet shops galore. Federico, the driver spies a chocolate concoction he has to try and Bruce goes for yet another gelato as does Luca, the son of our translator Holly who has joined us for the day along with Holly’s husband, Giovanni. (Maybe our hunger wasn’t completely sated afterall?) We work off our lunch and treats by wandering the beautiful streets and admiring the Basilica of St. Francis.
The hills of Assisi have done their magic and made us hungry enough to tackle a nice dinner. We’ve moved on to Todi for the next two nights and are dining tonight at Pane e Vino, one of my favorite little spots. Fabio and Loredana have prepared a wonderful meal for us. We start with an assortment of crostini and a beautiful bottle of Sagrantino. We move on to a risotto with saffron and pumpkin and continue with a stew made with Sagrantino wine. Whew! Barely able to move, but still we can’t resist the dessert: A lovely piece of cake smothered in pastry custard and garnished with blackberry sauce. Time for a digestivo! What’s that, you ask? Well, we weren’t sure to be honest, so we asked Fabio to show us just what he had brewing in that giant vat of alcohol. Turns out, it was a massive wad of thyme. Highly unattractive, but when he filters it and refrigerates it, it becomes a “digestive”; a drink consumed in small quantity which is to help you digest your food. “When in Rome!” (Well, actually, we’re in Todi, but still…)
And what's with the Christmas decorations, you might ask? Well, we were equally bewildered. Turns out, the previous weekend a film was being shot in town and they needed the town to look like it was Christmas time. All the shopkeepers decorated their windows as if it were Christmas. Christmas trees were hauled in, and lights were strung everywhere. Then, kind of jokingly, the restaurants thought to go ahead and serve Christmas menus. So after our delicious dessert, we got Christmas cookies (in October)! Merry Christmas from Todi!
I love the hill town of Todi, in Umbria for many reasons. A decade or more ago, we took the boys there, and met up with my sister’s family and my mother. We had a most fabulous meal at a restaurant overlooking the verdant valley below. It was one of those moments where you actually stop time, take a step back, and say to yourself, “Life is good. I need to hold on to THIS minute.” Of course, time doesn’t actually stop, does it? It moves on. In fact, it speeds up. Though my life is currently at half pace, I swear time is passing at hyper speed.
About two months ago (it feels like yesterday), Dennis and I decided to revisit the town of Todi. One of his business friends is from there. His friend, Daniele, who loves food as much as we do, has recommended a restaurant, and even told us what we should order if we go there.
We arrive on a Saturday afternoon (mid-August) for a two night stay. Upon arriving by train to the tiniest of stations, a little bus comes by to take us to the top of the town. It lets us off in a little piazza, where there happens to be a charming little hotel. We go in to check availability and price. It’s a little higher than we want to pay, so we tell the man we will check a few others before we decide. “Did you arrive by car?” he asks. “No”, we reply. “We came by train from Rome and took the bus up.” “Did you know there are no other hotels in the town? All the others are outside the city walls in the countryside.” Well, I guess that bit of information makes the decision easier for us. Actually, he kindly gives us a nice discount, and a lovely room which includes a nice buffet breakfast.
Though it has been sweltering hot and humid in Rome, it’s lovely in the hills. The humidity is gone, and there is a breeze that actually requires a light sweater in the evening. Todi is very small and very walkable and though Daniele’s directions to the restaurant seem quite simple, it takes us a while to find it. When we do get there, the owner is thrilled to know that Daniele has sent us, but they are filled for the night, and so we make a reservation for the following evening. We go instead to seek out the restaurant of a decade ago, and actually find it much more easily. We talk with the owner telling her that we are repeat customers, and she explains to us all the changes that have been made to the restaurant since then. She seats us along the edge overlooking the verdant valley below, and as we munch on a cutting board of cheeses and salamis and savor a fabulous pizza, I think to myself, “I need to hold on to THIS minute.”
The following day, we start off just exploring the town. We walk everywhere, snapping photos of picturesque streets, beautiful views, and charming scenes. I hate to describe it this way, but Todi is almost like Disneyland. It was SO charming, SO clean, and SO well restored, as to be not real. We wander aimlessly along hilly, winding side streets stopping into shops to buy ceramics, wine, and olive oil. We find a beautiful city park overlooking the beautiful valley filled with beautiful well-behaved Italian children with their beautiful, well-dressed parents. Dennis and I look at each other. “Is this place real?” But it is, and it’s fabulous.
This day is an important one in the history of Irene. It’s when I have my red wine epiphany. We were looking for a place to have a small lunch when we came across a little enoteca with a sandwich board out front advertising appetizers different from those we’d seen before. “Not the usual fare” we think. This is the place for us. We order a plate of peppers and sundried tomatoes stuffed with fish, and another of crostini covered in melted gorgonzola cheese, drizzled with local honey. Dennis decides to try a red wine, and at 6 euros a glass, I decide to have water. The fish stuffed tomatoes and peppers are quite yummy. But some strange and very powerful chemical, emotional, reaction occurred between my mouth and my brain when I took a bite of that gooey crostini and washed it down with a taste of Dennis’ red wine. POW! Ecstasy! Why did it take me nearly fifty years to discover this?! I flag down the waitress. We need another glass of that wine. She smiles knowingly, and is back in a flash with a goblet of ruby red elixir. Well, as it turns out, I have good taste. It’s a Sagrantino from a vineyard called Lungarotti. We buy a bottle for 25 euros because Irene has fallen in love, and has discovered the secret of red wine; it’s not just the wine, it’s what you eat with it.
Oh, and dinner that night? Fabulous! The owner seated us at the best table on the terrace overlooking the lights of the valley. The steak Dennis ordered on his friend’s recommendation was another one of those juicy slabs of beefy wonderfulness covered in black truffle sauce. We used every bit of bread to mop up every bit of sauce. Life is good. This is the moment.
(Written Aug. 2008)