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Visit with friends

We have had an eventful week with friends Carlo, Mary and Mary’s niece Emily. Since they were 3 they rented an apartment in Montone (FaceBook page The Apartments Montone) owned by very good friends of ours should you be interested to visit an amazingly pretty Umbrian hill town near Umbertide.

We had one or two mishaps, which I can now laugh about. We had all planned to go to the Infiorate in Spello on Sunday, Corpus Domini. I had never been to this festival and it is wildly popular. Advice is to go early so we all were to meet at 6AM for a 6:45AM arrival. Well, the mishap was our inability to meet up and ride together. The good news was they went on their own and really enjoyed a one-of-a-kind experience. The bad was we didn’t but that’s not so bad since we can always go next year!

We also planned another first for us. We booked a tour of the Perugina chocolate factory in Perugia. First we had a lovely lunch in beautiful lakeside town, Passignano sul Lago. We strolled the lakefront promenade, enjoyed a refreshment and headed for lunch. Being a Monday many restaurants had a rest day so were closed. We just went in a lakefront place that was open called Ristorante da Lucciano di Caciatori. Turns out it was an excellent choice and we all enjoyed our lunch.

My panzanella salad was cool and refreshing. It is one of the signature Tuscan/Umbrian antipasti. In the past the people were terribly poor and by necessity, frugal. So as not to waste stale bread they added cubes of it to a salad with a vinaigrette dressing so it became quite damp, along with chopped crisp celery, cucumber, tomato, onions. It is today, a specialty of the area. Adding the shrimp was a nice touch but not usual.

We all had the Orate which is sea bream. it was grilled whole, filleted and they put crispy potatoes on top. Yummy.

Next was the chocolate tour. Perugina was started back in 1907. But later Luisa Spagnoli founded the Chocolate factory which was one of the most important factories in Perugia. During the first world war she had to take over the factory management as well as having to look after her own three children and home. She was very forward looking, so she opened a nursery in the factory so her female employees could continue to work. They brought their babies to work while the men were away at war. The nursery exists in the present factory. In 1922 Luisa, wanting to use up extra hazelnuts created one of the most iconic of Italian chocolates, Baci – the Italian name for kisses. Nearly 100 years later the recipe remains unchanged. Nestle bought Perugina in 1988 but made few changes, happily.

Emily in front of the worlds largest Baco. This one is fake but Perugina did make one in 2003 and it has the Guinness World record. It was 2.15 meters (~6.5 feet) tall, 7.26 meters (~15 feet) wide and contained 5980 kg (14,000 lbs) of chocolate. They broke it up and it took 4 hours for the crowd at the annual Chocolate fest to eat it!

Our English tour
Baci Baci everywhere!

The factory was not running on our day there except for a very small section but it was fun to watch all the chocolate bars flying down the belts and the machines wrapping, picking them up by threes and filling boxes. We also got a chocolate tasting at the end with all of the types. There are about 7 or 8 from super dark to milk to white. Yum. Our tour guide, Laura, quickly whisked the chocolate out of reach after a few minutes as some of the Australians on the tour were filling their purses and bags! It was a fun tour.

Wednesday our friends stayed in Umbertide since it was our big market. They shopped for clothes and trinkets while I shopped for lunch ingredients! I made an Antipasti plate with melone and prosciutto and then fried squash blossoms, hot from the oil. Afterwards we had a Strangozzi with fava beans, fresh peas and asparagus. Very primavera. We had a nice afternoon on the terrace.

One day they went to Assisi. I opted out mainly to rest my knee. On Thursday we headed out to Gubbio. It is such a pretty place and we walked up through the streets to the Funivia. It is yet another unique experience. I had heard it is very scary and I don’t like heights. Everyone, except Luther wanted to go. So off we went. In the end all but Carlo wimped out! hah! It looks much like a bird cage that you stand in. It can hold one person or two thin people. It goes up to the monastery with amazing views. At least, that’s what Carlo said. I grabbed a picture from the net since I didn’t think to take one.

We all met up after for a nice lunch at Locanda del Cantiniere. We had wanted to try this place for a long time. It was quite nice but they were between menus. I’ll go back.

My starter.

The pasta was rich with nuts. A pesto.

All their bread was house made. The dark one was chocolate!

After lunch we walked on up through town to the main square. I think this is the perfect ride in a town like Gubbio. Loved the basket.

View from the main square.

A couple of gents who added a bit of local color !

We bid farewell to our friends. They promised to come back….Maybe even buy a place here!!!

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During the week the weather was sunny and alternately we had huge storms. I met up with my friend Crickie who is always wiggling with delight to meet any person!

This is the season when the house martins, thousands of them, nest in the eaves all over Italy. I eagerly await their return. They are a bit messy but eat billions of insects. How can that be bad? They like to nest in condos, i.e., all together. Since our comune was renovated many of their old nests were destroyed so they are finding new places. One right above our office window! Sweet.

 

Here and there…

The last week we have gotten out and about enjoying the beauty that is Umbria. And the bountiful restaurants. Poppies are blooming everywhere. Here was a whole field of them near the Tuscan border.

We went back with some friends to one our favorite places near Magione, a town close to Lago Trasimeno. The restaurant is Umbricello del Coccio. They have a really pretty herb garden next to the terrace with a cute priest presiding. This is on a pilgrim route so there is a church next door – Santuario della Madonna di Lourdes. Inside there is an identical cave, or grotto, to the one in France.

Brilliant sunshine splashed across the church.

Lunch was Umbricelli caccio e pepe.

An assortment of legumes for which Umbria and Toscana are famous.

Cinghiale (wild boar) stew with black truffles.

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Yesterday we were off on an excursion to a winery. Sometimes these places are hard to find. And they are EVEN harder when your husband gives you the wrong name!! We visited Tenimenti d’Alessandro. Luther had made an appointment for a tasting. it was a large estate with vacation apartments, facilities for conferences, a restaurant, olive groves and vineyards. This vintner was bucking tradition and had planted Syrah and Vigionier. Normal Tuscan grapes are San Giovese and Vermentino.

We met up with Laura who was a nice young woman who had recently moved from Rome to be with her fiance. He is the chef at the restaurant on the estate. She took us on a tour of the facilities. Pretty normal except for a couple of “experimental” containers for some of their wines. They were unique to us.

This one is terra cotta.

And this one was ceramic.

We settled in for our tasting. We could each pick four. We chose a white, rose, and two reds. Maybe the Wine Guy will do a column?

Rose is called Red Pepper!

The property was on volcanic soil and they had used the lava in interesting ways. One was as a kind of rock garden along the walkway. This one was in the building housing the restaurant.

Restaurant is called Creta.

It was comfortable, attractive and unpretentious.

Olive oil dish.

Ricotta salad with cabbage. It was yummy. 

I had risotto with carpaccio

Luther had beef with cabbage.

I loved this old farmhouse sink . Wish I could have one!

It was a fine outing in Tuscany and the weather is now ab-sol-utely perfetto!!!

Norcia and Piano Grande

This week we decided to go with friends on a long drive to south eastern Umbria to a place I’ve wanted to visit since we’ve been here, Piano Grande (big plain) and Castelluccio, the small town on the high plain. This is a unique landscape. The plain is at an altitude of 4,000 feet and is surrounded by the higher Sibilline mountains which rise to 8,000 feet creating a bowl. The plain is a karstic basin which is made up of porous limestone which holds underground reserves of water. It is crisscrossed by “ditches” which drain the rain water into holes in the limestone. In summer it is carpeted with purple, red and yellow flowers. The regions famous lentils are grown here. Castelluccio is the only town up in these mountains and sits on a hilltop overlooking the plain. Unfortunately the town was 60% destroyed by the 2016 earthquakes and has been abandoned. The sweet thing is that all the farmers from down below drive their tractors up in the spring and they help all the villagers plant the lentils each year. It is the lentils that bloom purple.

We drove up a winding mountain road that was being repaired. It had been closed for 8 months after the quake but it is far from finished at this time. Along the way we passed destroyed buildings. As we rose higher we entered the low clouds and it began to rain. Due to the rain we couldn’t see the plain well so my pictures are very misty. I will go back during June or July when the flowers are blooming and it’s sunny. Somehow this somber, misty landscape evokes sadness in keeping with the destruction you see everywhere.

The hotel that collapsed.

Piano Grande in the mist

Castelluccio

We headed back down the same road. The road used to go through but it is closed at this time. We were going to visit Norcia for lunch. Luther and I had not been in a few years. It had been a vibrant little city famous for its cured proscuitti and sausages. But, being only 6 kilometers from the epicenter of the last quake (6.6) it is in very bad shape now, with most of the businesses being relocated outside of town. I was so sad to see the beautiful buildings covered with elaborate scaffolding awaiting repair. The saddest, to me, is the monastery. The front facade is all that is standing and that is being held up with the structures built around it.

This picture was taken in 2014 on our first trip to Norcia. This is the front and side of the building with the old tower to the right..

This is the same piazza. You can see the old tower has collapsed, as has the entire back of the church.

Facade facing out with supports.

This the front facade from the back. This side would have been inside the church and this rose window would have faced out. Nothing left.

This is the bell tower that stands to the left of the facade in the top picture. If  you look closely you can see the entire top portion has been knocked askew and it is held together with bands of cabling.

Wanting to support the town we ate at a restaurant near the Teatro. It was a fine lunch.

The antipasto plate which we all shared.

My Strengozzi with vedure di montagne.

Jens risotto looked AWESOME!

We shared our ham and sausage with this little, skinny stray. Another table was doing the same. I don’t know how she held it all down. I can imagine she’s never been this satiated in her life!

A couple comfortably enjoying a caffe on a bench in the piazza

Bye, bye Norcia. We will be rooting for you!

Trip Report – Mediterranean Islands and Barcelona

This is another trip report so skip if you are not interested! And I’m warning you, there are a LOT of food pictures. 🙂

The trip was three days in Barcelona prior to a cruise across the Mediterranean to Rome. 10 days all together.
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Barcelona Thursday May 3
Long day. Got up at 6:15 and drove to Foligno. Caught the train to Rome. Then took a train to the airport. Waited for it to be time to check in. Funny though, I got to do FastTrack checkin because of my crutch 🙂and people give up seats for me! Geez. Then had a bad sandwich for lunch. Plane was delayed 45 minutes. We arrived in Barcelona, got our luggage, and took a taxi.

The driver didn’t know the hotel or street. 🙄 but she eventually found the street and she walked with us to find the hotel. Which was nice. I wouldn’t want to be abandoned to find it on our own! Little bitty streets. Tons of people out. It was wet from rain. And pretty chilly. Hotel is nice but very quirky.

The bedroom and bath are on one side and a sitting area is across the hall. I’m thinking we’ll do a picnic there tomorrow. TVs are in both sides. They have planted an amazing vertical garden in the air shaft outside our bathroom.

After such a full day my knee was very sore and tired from walking. It felt unstable and I was walking very slowly. I had used the crutch all day but am beginning to feel like an old woman so I decided to ditch the crutch the next day.

At around 8:30 we were really hungry so it was time to figure out dinner. Our hotel recommended a place around the corner. Called En Ville Restaurant. It was OK. They were nice and the food pretty food.
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Friday May 4
Friday dawned gray and cool. The hotel had a great breakfast. Pancakes to order and fried eggs and bacon if you want. Plus a bar with fruit, cheese, meats, pastries, toast, bread. A frig with yogurt. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Very yummy. Not only a great breakfast but free sandwiches, snacks and drinks other than alcohol available all day and night.

We planned a walking tour of the gothic quarter. It is not very gothic! We saw the cathedral but it was inundated with hundreds of school kids who were skipping, running, dancing through a course and there was a band etc. so we just walked on by. We visited the indoor market with amazing food.


Along our walk. Pretty lamp.

Bridge of sighs look-alike!

OK everyone, what is this vegetable?

And a beautiful faucet. Brass. In a public fountain.

Then we went to the plaza with Gaudis first project…lampposts. Instantly recognizable.

We stopped for a glass of wine and to rest my knee. It was a pretty square ringed with cafes and beautiful with palm trees. It began to rain while we were there. Then we went to see one of the Gaudi buildings with a beautiful entry and facade and on top were a whole forest of little Gaudi trees. Cool.


We returned to our hotel and rested a bit before walking to our lunch restaurant – Cera 23. Catalan and Galacian cuisine. Excellent. Very comfortable space, not stuffy or fancy. Nice people. I chose the tuna tartare with “red fruit”. They had 4 tartares on the menu, tomato, tuna, steak, degustation of the three tartares.

Luther had Carpaccio de presa ibérica. Smoky Iberian ham. It was wonderful but I could not have eaten the entire thing.

Then I had the Volcán de Arroz negro con marisco. It was black rice with a cheese saffron sauce and seafood. I would call it a risotto.

Luther had Atún en dados. It was perfect cubes of seared tuna with kimchi mayonnaise. Both of these were great. I don’t quite know how kimchi mayo fits in with galacian cuisine? 🤔

Our wine.

And dessert…molten chocolate…YUM!

We planned that lunch was to be our main meal since they do eat dinner late here. We went to a little store and bought cheese, meat and wine. Then to a forn (means bakery) for a baguette. We had our picnic in our sitting room and then adjourned for the roof. Great views and no one up there. Luther had his cigar and I finished my wine.

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Saturday May 5
Another gray day. We had our excellent breakfast and headed out to try the city bus tour. It was sub-par. It was hop on – hop off at the different stops. If you didn’t do that you saw little despite the audio tour. We got off at Gaudis Church. Amazing! But we couldn’t get inside as they were sold out on tickets. A big disappointment for us both. I guess we will have to come back. I also want to visit the Art Nouveau museum next time when I can walk better.



Along the bus tour I snapped a couple photos of the wonderful architecture. Art Nouveau to the max. Gorgeous.

After the bus tour we walked down a great pedestrian street. Luther obviously had already chosen our lunch spot. It was called 4 Cats. It was on a tiny street and Picasso had hung out there. A very ornate, jewel box of a restaurant with mostly tourist traffic but we got a pretty good lunch of tapas.

Luther ordered a brandy to finish and I swear they poured half a snifter!! It was a real South Carolina Pour! We enjoyed our lunch. Then we walked back with a stop to view an amazing 7 piece group of buskers. Very talented and I got a ton of pictures. They were fun.

Toe cymbal.

Wailin’ on the sax.

Then back to the hotel to snooze.

For dinner we had a picnic with the left overs and went to the roof deck where it was raining. Oh well.
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Sunday May 6
Another rainy morning. We had breakfast and packed up waiting until the check out time of noon. Then we went to the roof deck where we relaxed until time to take the taxi to the port. While we waited the sun came out! 😀

We asked them to call a taxi and we were picked up by a lady with big blue glasses and cute short hair, off the shoulder blouse and a great selection of music on her cab stereo. She got us straight to the terminus, where we checked our bags and were processed through immigration. We boarded the Windstar and signed in. All was quite familiar from our last trip. We even chose the same cabin!

We did the muster for our lifeboat drill and using our life jackets and then we went to the deck to watch sail-away.

Dinner was a disappointment. We both got the strip steak. Sub-par. I did like my poblano corn soup. Luther hated his shrimp appetizer. Hoping things will improve. After dinner on deck was quite cold so I left Luther to finish his cigar.

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Monday, May 7
We sailed overnight to Palma de Mallorca. Still in Spain. It was gray and cool when we breakfasted. I equate the word “port” with being small…but then I think about the Viking cruises megaships and the like who are all here in the harbor. You need a lotta room! We were ready to take a taxi into the old town but there was a Windstar shuttle bus. Yay! 10 am departure and it runs every 30 minutes. It broke down on the way! But they fixed it. We walked into the town skipping all the steps up to the amazing cathedral. There is an old town with lots of pedestrian streets. Many shops, and of course, many tourists. We walked for about 2 1/2 hours. It is a nice place. A lot of tourists but we enjoyed the walk. Here are pictures.




Cathedral.


We stopped about noon for me to rest my knee and had a glass of wine and a beer in a pretty little plaza. We could have eaten there but it was pretty touristy so we decided to move on. And a good thing we did! We ended up in a tiny square next to a huge church where we had a lovely lunch at l’ambigú.

The day had turned sunny once the morning fog burned off. And it was kind of cool. But I was OK in a T-shirt. We couldn’t sit outside as it was booked out there but inside had big windows. We ended up sharing an anchovy appetizer. The anchovies were on seaweed bread with mache and a mild sauce.

Then Luther had a lamb dish with fresh mache, radicchio, cabbage and you made a nice pita sandwich. It came with two sauces, one yogurt the other super hot. Quite interesting dish.

I had grilled octopus on a mountain of mashed potatoes with fried arugula and a mild garlic sauce. Both dishes were great.
We had a local Mallorcan Cabernet – super fruity! A nice lucky find for us, having done no research.

Knee held up except the many stairs were hard…and painful.

We went up for sail-away. Cold on deck. Very chilly wind. We got underway and still see no sails. 2nd cruise. No sails.

Dinner average. I am disappointed in the restaurant this time. My salmon was overcooked the portions are minuscule. Shrimp appetizer 2 shrimp. Scallop appetizer 2 small scallops, steak entree, 1/2 inch thick, overcooked.

On deck for Luther’s cigar. Breezy but with blankets manageable.
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Tuesday, May 8
Maó-Mahón, sometimes written in English as Mahon is the capital city of the island of Menorca.The city is located on the eastern coast of the island, which is part of Spain. Maó-Mahón has one of the largest natural harbours in the world: 5 km (3.1 mi) long and up to 900 metres (2,953 feet) wide. The water is deep but it remains mostly clear due to it being slightly enclosed. It is also said to be the birthplace of mayonnaise(!) 🙂.

The town was high above the port. We took a taxi up to save my knee. We walked around the big square and down the little streets of shops. Cute.

We stopped at a large church. And found the square where our restaurant was supposed to be. It was a bit hard to find but we managed. It opened at one so we went to a nice outside cafe for wine. Then returned at one when they opened.

Casa Mares is the name of the restaurant and it has a stunning view over the harbor. Cute basket light covers.

All the menus choices were to share. Tapas here are not like tapas in the US. The portions are more than generous and we always over-ordered. We got Patatas Brava – so good! With the normal bread that comes with tomatoes and garlic.

Then a crispy chicken nuggets 😏 with melted local cheese type thing each one in its own lettuce leaf with sauce.

Then an egg over sautéed calamari and cabbage and tomatoes. All of it great and very hearty.

The bread here and all of this trip so far has been fab. Crusty with lots of holes and when they split it and toast it it is great!

We were stuffed and found our way back to ship. Probably will skip dinner or just get snacks. 🤭

Sail away at ten o’clock and then an all night, all day sail to Corsica.

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Wednesday May 9
Woke to rough seas. The ship was rolling and pitching. VERY hard to walk around. Bad enough with my knee and then staggering about. Taking a shower was a challenge. And being cooped up in the little bath made me queasy. We went to breakfast and the wind was very strong outside. And quite cold. A lot of people must be seasick as I noticed a lot less of them around.

We had the BBQ lunch. Choice of hamburgers, hotdogs or chicken with potato salad and coleslaw. It was ok. We sat on deck in the sun and it wasn’t too bad. It’s nice to see the horizon, that way you don’t feel sick.

For dinner we went to the regular restaurant. I had the crab cake and the shrimp entree. Neither was all that good. I am not impressed with the chef. Last summer was much better. We dined with another couple tonight. We asked to have a table to share. They were nice folks from Salt Lake City. I’d guess they are Mormon as they didn’t drink. We enjoyed talking to them. Afterwards we went up in deck so Luther could have his cigar. There were a few other folks up there smoking and drinking who we chatted with.
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Thursday, May 10
During the night the ship docked in Calvi, France (population 6,500). Finally stopped her rolling. Woke to pretty sun and not so much wind. We breakfasted early because we had signed up for a wine tasting tour. We had to use the tender as we were at anchor. The tour was by bus and took us into the interior mountain villages. Rugged country. The whole island is covered in wild flowers.


We enjoyed the wine tasting at Clos Columbu. We tasted a white, a rose, and a red. The bus tour was definitely not worth the money.

After we walked around Calvi, which is cute but touristy, and had lunch in Le Nautical. They specialize in mussels but we had salads. Probably stupid choice.


This night we ate on deck at the specialty restaurant, Candles. Food was good-ish. The appetizer I got was beet and goat cheese but there was barely a smear of cheese. Luther got the shrimp.

I got filet steak and Luther got lamb chops.

All food is cooked on the grill. Good. We enjoyed more wine outside. Good conversation.

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Friday, May 11
Another nice day. Warmer. The town of Bastia is about 50,000 people and the capital of its arrondissment. We breakfasted and waited a bit to go ashore. Then we walked around the Vieux Port area. Old streets and lots of churches.

We had a glass of wine in a restaurant along the shore and then went in search of lunch.

We chose O Resto where we had salads. Mine was Vietnamese with nice flavors. Luther had the goat cheese on toasts salad. The food was good enough but not exceptional. Trying to speak French was comical! Italian and French all mixed up together!

That evening was the big BBQ. I will say this was as good as last year. My favorite was the suckling pig but I also liked the flank steak and the grilled lobster tails! Yum! The food service manager who is Indonesian makes his own hot sauce which he shared with us when we mentioned we like the spice. One was SUPER hot the other only very hot. Then the crew all started the line dances. And I watched since there was no dancing in my life at that time!
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Saturday, May 12
Arrived in Elba, town of Portoferraio, Italy. Another sunny day. Finally I was able to wear sleeveless. We chose Bistro Teatro e Wine Bar.

Lovely little restaurant up high with two outside spaces. One has a lovely view of the harbor.

It was on a very long, very steep set of steps.

We had the mixed seafood antipasti. Octopus, fresh anchovies (my fav) tuna, tuna toasts, tuna ceviche.

Loved what they did to the peas!

Then the spaghetti with crab. It was wonderful but really hard to eat! They gave us things to crack them with and pickers. The house made spaghetti was in a wonderful red sauce.

While there we met some Americans who have a unique retirement. They own a condo on a ship. 1,100 sq ft. Two bedroom. Big balcony and it sails the world. The condo owners own the ship. They choose where the ship goes. Pretty amazing. They’ve been full time residents for 10 years. I wish I’d gotten their contact info.

So we went up for the last sail-away. It was nice.

Pilot comes out in each port to guide the Windstar out of the harbor.

Bye bye Elba. This is not far from us. Just off the coast of Tuscany and we can return if we want.
Then we decided to eat in our room. Prime rib was ok. The party’s over. The next morning we were debarking at 8am.
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Sunday, May 13
Up and at em. We got our passports back and debarked. The captain and some officers saw us off. We got a taxi to the train station and we were off homeward bound.

Final experience to recount. We arrived in Foligno and went to retrieve our car. The good news is it was only 5€ a day so we owed 55€. Suddenly we knew we were in deep kimchi. It would not accept bills. Only coins. Aaaahhhhh!! It’s Sunday. No banks open. No stores open. Only a few ice cream places and bars. Poor Luther went off to try to get 55€ in coins!! A little known fact. Italians do NOT give change. They want YOU to give them exact change. So if you ask for change for a five it’s like asking them to cut off their arm! Luther ended up buying a small bottle of water, getting 4€ in change then throwing away the water and doing it again. And again. Until he finally got 55€ in change 🙄 I had stayed at the station figuring I’d just slow him down. Then we slowly fed in all those euro. Got our ticket and drove up to the gate. Plugged it into the slot and waited for the arm to go up. And waited. I’m like, WHAT?! This can’t be happening. You also have to understand the lot is totally unmanned so no help available. I was ready to call the cops. Or break off that arm. But Luther went over to it and gave it a shove and it raised up! We quick, like a bunny, exited that infernal lot. Geez what an end to our trip!!

Final thoughts. Windstar was not up to snuff. Not nearly as nice as last year. They will hear from us. The itinerary itself was great. I got to see lots of places I probably would not have seen…and in three countries! It was a good trip, considering my limitations.

Around Umbertide

Spring is fully in progress. Today is April 25, Liberation day for Italy and the end of WWII so a national holiday. In Umbertide it is a more somber day. On this day in 1944 the allies bombed the town killing 78 people and destroying about a quarter of the Centro Storico of the town. They were trying to hit the bridge over the Tiber and the railroad to block the retreat of the Germans. They had to try four times before they hit the bridge, meanwhile doing a lot of damage. The sad part is that Perugia knew they were coming an didn’t warn the citizens, who were mostly still asleep in their homes. Had they been warned they may have evacuated. A sad tale. Anyway, they have a Catholic ceremony in Piazza 25 Aprile and the band plays and everyone comes out early in the morning to remember when it happened.

As I was watching from my window the Carabiniere showed up in their shiny black and red car. They are the State Military police whose spiffy uniforms were originally designed by Armani. Anyway, they climbed out of the car and started toward Bar Mary for a caffe but as they walked a woman called out to them and one broke off and went over to her, giving her the double kiss of greeting. I couldn’t help comparing them to our police in the US. Hmmm.
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Yesterday my friend Jen and I went for a little drive around the neighborhood. I took her to one of my favorite places nearby, the Abbey of San Salvatore in Montecorona. The Romanesque church was built with three naves and an octagonal bell tower and was consecrated in 1105. My favorite part of the church is the crypt. It feels very ancient and special. The crypt has five-naves and three apses dominated by roman and old medieval columns, each one different from the other. Check out my pictures.

Row of columns. Note the differences.

I loved this face. Is it a beast? A bull?

In the very front are a row of frescoes. The rest of the crypt is just stone.

The Octagonal tower.

Montecorona is also known for its famous peaches. These trees are just down the road from the church. The church is situated at the foot of Montecorona, a small mountain. On its top is part of the abbey associated with the church. The road itself is the old Roman road that followed the Tiber river valley south. It is very narrow. Barely room for two cars to pass in places.

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On Saturday Luther and I made a nice excursion to Deruta, the famous ceramics town. I have slowly been gathering a six place setting of ceramics. I ordered another set and some salt and pepper shakers. And I bought this pretty little serving plate. It is the pattern that I chose but each place setting is a different color. This time it’s teal. Last time it was navy, and the time before it was a wine red color. See the detail on the serving plate I bought. Every intricate pattern and dot is hand painted. Hence the cost!


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And a mundane issue. My Lavatrice — washer — died last week. So we walked over to our local Formica store. Formica means ant in Italian. No idea why a chain of stores would be called that! Anyway, they had a good selection and we chose a new washer and drier which were delivered and installed the next day. We went back and paid for them after I tried them out. They are so much better than the old ones!

Trying to move onward with the knee

One of my posts prompted a comment about recuperation in the US vs Italy. I opined that in the US everything is go, go, go and get well, and back to work. Here it is piano, piano, take it slow, heal, you’ll be fine in good time. So which is better? Hard to say. I’m following instructions and trying not to feel competitive with those who are moving faster than me…after all, whats my hurry? 🙂 piano, piano.

That said I am not really happy with my walking ability. The knee is quite weak with it buckling unexpectedly when I take steps. This makes me less confident in my ability to walk. Other things are going well. The knee bending is very well. Sleeping is easier but I wake a lot when shifting positions and going from bent to straight leg. Next week I plan to go to the local pool with my friend Joanne who will show me the ropes there. Then I can do aqua exercises. I’m told this is an excellent way to work the knee.
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Other than the knee last week I had a unique experience. I had received a letter in the mail with an appointment for my annual mammogram. So we headed to Città di Castello to the hospital. I’d been once before so felt fairly confident going again. I sat at the desk where the woman, in pretty violet scrubs, looked up my records online and nodded to a man, wearing brilliant red scrubs, who came and took me to the scanning room. I had a bad feeling about this. His hame was Marco. He asked a couple of questions and indicated I should take my shirt etc off. Well. I had never had a male mammogram techician before but one has to go with the flow as it were so I did. It wasn’t so bad. I just have to wonder why a man would choose this profession. Yes he gets to see and touch lots of breasts but it is hardly titillating.
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Afterwards we visited one of our butchers. We needed provisions. Then, while Luther parked the car I made a loop through our Kilo zero market. The veggie people have just what is growing nearby. Cabbages…many sorts. Kale. Chard. Spinach. A few root veggies. This is the time of the year when the farmers who lived off of their crops are ready for some spring growth. They have been eating the available greens growing now, supplemented by the preserved bounty from last summer. Nearly gone. The good news is that spring has started to put in a pretty steady appearance. I am starting to look forward to the spring early veggies.
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I’ve also started to clean up our terrace. I bought a nice wood rack for the wood we didn’t use.

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And I’ve been scrubbing the grout and tiles. My pots are being slowly dug up and the old plants relegated to the trash. I will be ready in May when we start to plant again. I am thinking about what to try this year. Always fun to plan! I have lots of pots now since my failed corn adventure last year.

Italian politics

So, maybe you’ve heard that Italy had a pretty important election last Sunday. I don’t pretend to understand it all. But I’m going to try to do a little synopsis of it.

Even here in little Umbertide opinions and emotions ran high! Back in the day, Umbria voted reliably Communist. The party is the Democratic Party or the PD now. They had the most power until Sunday when they got less than 19% of the vote prompting Matteo Renzi the PD leader to resign. A real awakening for them.

The main players are the Five Star Movement, the Lega Nord (La Lega) or the League, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI), and the PD.

The Five Star Movement won the most votes. The other big winner was the right-wing La Lega led by Matteo Salvini. But no one party or group reached the 40% necessary to form a stable parliamentary majority. The group achieving anything near this was the right-wing coalition formed by Forza Italia, La Lega and the Brothers of Italy (Fd’I) with 35%.

It is now up to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, to decide which party leader to ask to try to form a government.

I am told that this is a huge deal in Italian politics. Sunday’s election marks the end of an era.

Italy now has to make a choice between a right-wing coalition led by Salvini and the Five Star populists. Europe has seen a big rise in the right in the last years. Here in Italy it comes mainly from two issues — austerity and immigration, both of which have hit Italians hard. Both parties that have gained most in this election are anti-immigration and Eurosceptic. 😕

Europe was shaken by this election but it has itself to blame. It has done far too little to help Italy deal with the huge influx of migrants across the Mediterranean, 640,000 in the last four years. They have insisted that arrivals be processed in the EU country where they touch land. This has left frontline countries with an intolerable burden that has fuelled anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiment. I am not Italian but I really resent the other countries in Europe for shirking their duties to a United Europe and dumping it on some of the poorest and least able to handle the crisis…Italy, Turkey, and Greece.

So to sum up…the two biggest winners have said they will not form an alliance. No one knows what the next Italian government will look like after the election. So, unless someone forms a coalition there will be another election in two months.

Finally, Umbria went hard for the center right. A big change from being reliably red.

I’m not sure this clarifies anything for you all. I got a lot of this info from the Italian papers myself so I could understand better even though I can’t vote.

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Knee update

So, today I had an awakening. I had a lesson with my Italian teacher today. She always asks about how I’m doing with my knee and all. So I vented that it was taking so long and wasn’t like in the US where people are walking in a week..blah, blah. She looked at me and said…sometimes it’s better to go slow like here in Italia rather than go, go, go faster, quicker like in the US. Suddenly it made sense. It’s my effing American mindset ! I need to chill!

Monday I get my final X-ray and consult with a doctor and I hope I get the OK to move forward with walking etc.

The Deep Freeze…. brrrr

All of Europe is being affected by a Siberian front bringing frigid air where it has no reason to be! This morning I woke to -9C temperatures.
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The photos on the nightly news and of social media of a snow covered Colosseum in Rome are amazing. Mount Vesuvius is snow covered as is Naples. The Italians do not deal well with snow. They only got 2” but it snarled all the trains up for a day and a half and caused all kinds of traffic backups. Amusing for those of us used to “real” snow.
Here is our piddling little bit of snow we woke up to on Sunday.

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Today is market day and I bet a third of our regulars didn’t show up. It’s so cold the produce is freezing and they have to cover it. They have a fire in a barrel to try to warm themselves. And resourceful folks that they are, they are grilling up sausages on the fire!
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Knee replacement update
It is a month from the day I returned home from the hospital. I feel like I’m doing well with the recovery overall. Still not walking except with crutches. My PT guy is encouraging though. I have an appointment at the hospital for an X-ray and consultation with a doctor in a week and a half. I am looking forward to that.

We also found out from a couple of sources that it is important for us to arrange to get all my records from the hospital now or it would be very difficult to do so later. So this is another thing we have to scope out…who do we see…how do we see them? Always something.

Looking forward to springtime. March is around the corner!

Maremma – Wine journey

We went for a quick two day getaway to the Maremma which lies on the southwest Mediterranean coastal region of Tuscany. It is a beautiful area. Our agriturismo (Tenuta del Fontino) where we stayed, was made up of thousands of acres. Horses, an entire lake and a person could jog and never leave the property. The house is the main manor and they refurbished an old barn into rooms where our room was situated.

Enormous rosemary bushes!
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Pretty grounds of the hotel.
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That’s the normal part. Now for the weird part. We went to dinner the first night at 7:30 in the hotel dining room. It was on the upper floor of the manor. When we were seated they ask me “Was möchten sie zu trinken?” Huh? Was I transported to die Heimat? Deutschland? Germany? Turns out this hotel caters to, and is full of Germans. We had noticed everything was in Italian and German but it hadn’t occurred to us this could be the reason. The whole room was full of Germans! And German was the default language.

So, we settled in at a table set for three which they said was ours. After we were there a bit a single woman came in – and she was Italian – who joined us. We proceeded with the five course meal. Now I should say, when I read TripAdvisor the people raved about the food. One of the reasons I went here. So, first we saw the hoards of Germans falling on the salad bar…What? salad bar? Where am I? We’ve lived in Germany and I saw it was a typical German style salad except for the cannelloni beans. These would figure often into the rest of the meal. Tuscans are known as “the bean eaters”. Next course was a large piece of toasted bread with cannelloni beans. They had a bit of rosemary in them but overall a very bland dish. Next we had a pasta which was shaped like very short macaroni. Served in a broth that I swear was cannelloni purée with….potatoes!!! Ugh. Again, super bland. Finally we got a very thin slice of roast beef in a bit of gravy. It was obviously a cut meant for long roasting and it had been. It was tender to the point of falling apart. Five boiled potatoes (more potatoes!) accompanied it. The roast was strongly reminiscent of Sauerbraten, a German dish. We opted out of the chocolate mousse, also typically German. It was maybe the worst meal I’ve ever had in Tuscany, which is known for good food.

Our single woman table mate told us she was on a two day getaway from her husband and family and their business. They own a restaurant and hotel in the Livorno area. I thought that was cute. She was very out front that she needed some ME time. So, seeing as she was a cook we asked her about the food and she assured us it was an authentic Tuscan meal. I am still in a state of shock. As an addendum, after we got home I described the dinner to my Italian teacher and she, too, said it was pretty typical Tuscan food. Funny, I’ve been there a lot of times but never disliked the food before. Maybe, since I’ve always eaten in decent restaurants I would not get typical food Tuscans eat at home which was probably what the set, five course meal was more like.

So the objective to our trip was to visit some wineries and purchase some wine. The Wine Guy is in his element doing this. There are five main wine regions in the Maremma and we visited our first one on the way to our hotel. I won’t go into describing our winery visits because I know you will read about it in an upcoming blog.

Wine tasting.
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Beautiful vineyards.
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We found our lunch which was quite good. Ristorante Rintocco. They brought out two beautiful fish to show us and a big plate of porcini mushrooms, which are in season now. We split an antipasto which consisted of a bowl of Tuscan soup, a plate of marinated zucchini and a bruschetta with fresh tomato. I had the home made tagliatelle with the porcini.

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Porcini, (means little pigs in Italian) are the same mushroom called cèpe (in French), and in Germany, Steinpilz (the “stone mushroom”). They are gathered wild in the woods and people make some extra money selling them to vendors and restaurants.porcini

House made pasta with porcini mushrooms
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Luther’s fish. We were near the coast so there was a lot of seafood and very fresh.
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The one whole day there we went south of Grosetto, the capital of the area. We visited a small winery with a very nice guy letting us taste all his wines. The business was the father, mother and this son. Fun visit.

Off in search of lunch in a small town. Beautiful vista!countryside

Town where the restaurant was…alas, it was closed.
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So we drove to the next town called Scansano which was way up on top of a mountain and fairly big. We drove through and found a parking lot and started walking up the hill. We happened upon this restaurant which turned out to be a lucky choice – Osteria Fiaschetteria Rurale.  It was a real dump as Luther said. But the couple running it seemed to care about the food and its presentation. For instance, we had an excellent cheese plate with five or six types of goat and sheep. One goat was super strong and I loved it. We each had pici pasta which is a traditionally Tuscan shape like thick spaghetti. Nice and dense and chewy.

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My Pici cacio e pepe…yum!
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Luther’s pici in cinghale ragu.
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Afterward, we decided to purchase another cheese plate to take with us for our evening picnic. It worked out well. We had bought some wine which we enjoyed with the small plate which was of mostly meat. I think the lady misunderstood what we wanted. I thought we’d get another cheese plate but turned out to be meats. Many very fatty. Luther liked them so I didn’t eat much. It was a nice light meal with not too much wine.

The next morning we headed home. We stopped in one more winery which didn’t let us taste but Luther bought six bottles. He was lamenting the fact that there was still space in the car for more!

The weather was beautiful. We put the top down and drove through the Tuscan mountainous center. We passed near San Gimignano. When 1 o’clock came around we began looking for a place for lunch. And we found a cute little place called Ristorante Tre Archi.

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First the proprietor brought a little cart with six olive oils to try with the bread. Yum!
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Then I had Tuscan onion and potato soup. Toasted bread to put in it. Very like French onion. And tagliatelle house made, with fungi porcini again. Since these big mushrooms are very much in season I took advantage. Luther had Ribolitta, or Tuscan bread soup, and lamb chops. Over cooked. The man, I assume the owner there, was super nice.
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We arrived home about five pm. A productive and fun trip.

Guess who’s back?

Yes! It’s the Wine Guy with a new guest blog article for us.
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Harvest Predictions and Two Interesting Recommendations
Like the cooling northern winds that are finally driving out the last of four hellish heat waves from north Africa, I’m back to talk a bit about the upcoming harvest and to tell you about two white wines I think you’ll find very interesting.

First, though, let’s talk about the weather: For those of you who haven’t been reading Nancy’s blog, and she knows who you are, we’ve been in the grips of an incredible drought here in central Italy. Until yesterday, September 1, we had not seen a substantial rainfall since April. Meanwhile, as I mentioned earlier, the country has been lashed by waves of heat from the north African desert sending temperatures above the 100 degrees Fahrenheit mark for literally weeks at a time. The situation became so bad that the reservoirs around Rome were reduced to literal mud flats, resulting in water rationing and shutting down of many of Rome’s fountains. On a recent trip to Sienna, we were shocked by the tilled-over fields, which had turned grey under the heat and resembled a moonscape. It is quite shocking to see a normally green landscape transformed so completely.

Normally, a long, dry summer would be desirable for the vintners, since the aridity and heat, concentrate the juice and produce a wine with amplified varietal character. There is usually a reduction in quantity, but it is offset by the increase in quality. Here, we may have had a little too much of a good thing; in fact, the latest estimates put the yield Umbria at around 60% of last year’s harvest, with Tuscany and the other central regions at about 70%. At these levels the juice produced may be so desiccated that the quality as well as the quantity of the wine produced could be seriously affected.

The first harvests in Umbria, sauvignon and chardonnay, have already started to come in and the results have been cautiously positive. In Orvieto, the yields have fallen by almost 50%(!), but the overall quality of the juice has been exceptional. The grechetto harvest took place last week with reports that there was little evidence of desiccation and that the bunches looked exceptionally healthy. Some growers in Orvieto are optimistically discussing a “vintage of the decade”, on a par with 2007, the last truly great vintage in Umbria. This may be a bit premature, as a key component of most wines from Orvieto, does not usually come in until early October. Time will tell.

The harvest here seems to move from the west to the east as the percentage of late ripening grapes is concentrated in the eastern areas around Montefalco. In between, we find Lago di Trasimeno, with a concentrations of both white and red wines. The whites, chardonnay and pinot bianco, are used to make a particularly fine metodo classico bollicine (can’t use that cham***ne word) that is treasured by the locals. There was considerable anxiety in July that the continuing heat wave could result in appassimento, the wilting of the vines in the heat. The white wine harvest, which began here August 18, turned out happily however, with expectations of grande qualità and reasonable yields. The early arriving red wines, gamay (yes, as in Beaujolais) and pinot noir, came in immediately after the whites. Again, the yield is down, although not so drastically as in Orvieto, and the quality is quite high. Perhaps the lake, second largest in Italy, exercised a moderating influence on the climate.

Finally, let’s turn to the Montefalco area. Here, the bunches are hanging heavily on the vines and the intense heat has caused the red wine grapes to change color early, which would usually indicate an early harvest, but appearances are misleading. In reality, the sugar content of the grapes is too low and the acidity is very high. This has producers looking at a more “usual” harvest in late September for the merlot and the sangiovese and October for the sagrantino and the trebbiano spoletino. The vintage is looking a little more promising as the heat has finally given way to cooler weather and thunderstorms and small rains have given the grapes a respite. I think that the words “cautiously optimistic” sum up the general situation. As I’m typing this, Nancy tells me there’s a whopper storm on the way. As long as it doesn’t turn into Harvey or Irma, that’s good news.

Just to round out the rest of the predictions: Tuscany is looking a lot like us, with limited yields and good quality. A little rain now would be a plus and it appears that they’re getting it. The Veneto, where most prosecco comes from, has been a disaster, with mudslides throughout the spring and alternating rain and high heat. The mudslides appear to have been made worse by overplanting. Prosecco is the drink du jour in Europe right now, so the wine producers are planting like mad. I have a bad feeling that by the time the vines really begin to produce, the world will have moved on, and the Veneto will find itself with tons of unsellable prosecco. Maybe not, such is the life of the producer.

The rest of Italy is looking at a nice harvest. The kind of hot weather we’ve been experiencing is par for the course in the south with the exception of western Sicily, known for a grape called grillo not seen very much in the USA, but the main component of Marsala wine. Keep your eyes out for nero d’avola (red) from Sicily, Fiano di Avellino and Grecho di Tufa (whites) from Campania and primitivo and aglianico from Puglia. They should be great and the costs, even with the dollar down almost 20%, should be good.

A Couple of Interesting White Wines
Finally, I’d like to tell you about two white Italian wines I’ve discovered with these interesting characteristics: (1) You can find them in the US; and (2) They exhibit a good aging(!) potential.

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The first wine is from a local Umbrian grape, trebbiano spoletino. It’s a low-yielding local variant of trebbiano that, in its native state, grows in trees. It is well known as a “neighborhood” wine: that is, its only production was by families willing to invest the labor necessary to cultivate the vines. Real winemaking businesses were not particularly interested for many years and it remained a local curiosity. Trebbiano spoletino has become a sort of boutique wine in recent years and there are now several relatively large producers who cultivate it in the standard posts and wire method. However, there is one winemaker, Tabarrini, who produces trebbiano spoletino from 60 year old vines in the traditional way, cultivating the grapes in trees. They do this today as an homage to one of the original founders of the vineyards, Armando, who was one of the first to recognize the value of the grape here and, according to his grandson, took a particular delight in going up and down the ladders at harvest time. The wine, Adarmando (to Armando) preserves his name. I’ve included a couple of photos to give you a feel for what the grapes and the harvesting process look like.

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Photo courtesy of Tabarrini vineyards

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Photo courtesy of Tabarrini vineyards

At our last visit to Tabarrini, we were offered several older vintages, 2009 and 2010, and invited to compare them against the current 2015 release. We were pleasantly surprised. The 2015 vintage is quite good, with good minerality and overtones of fresh fruit. In the mouth, it has a distinctive character, unlike many whites, which just come across as a bit liquid. The previous vintages exhibited these qualities, but in a rarefied way, with a softness and additional depth of character that was quite surprising. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wants to drink the 2015 now, it’s delicious, but the aging did seem to transform it to a higher plane. I decided to play my cards straight down the middle and bought a batch for now and a batch to go down. I don’t see it going more than five or six years, but I think those who wait will be rewarded. You can order the wine from www.tabarrini.us at $19.43 a bottle plus shipping. It’s available at some restaurants in the Washington, New York and San Francisco areas and at some specialty wine stores, but with a production of only 8,000 bottles a year it is probably going to be a bit hard to find.

For those of you who want the gory details, the grapes are grown at about 1000 feet in silty, clay soil and harvested in mid-October, unusually late for a white wine, but typical for this varietal. It spends twelve months in stainless steel tanks on the lees, meaning the left-over yeast particles from the fermentation are left in the tank. This imparts what is usually described as a creamier, richer flavor to the wine and adds complexity. After the fermentation the wine undergoes six additional months of bottle aging before release. A considerable amount of work for a white wine, but worth the effort.

ferentanoExhibit number two comes from just a bit south of the Tuscan border with Lazio, from the producer Falesco. Falesco is a major producer, nearly 3 million bottles, from 370 acres of vineyards in Lazio and Umbria. Falesco is best known for its monster merlot, Montiano, which is widely available in the US–I’ve seen it at Total Wine in the Washington DC area. It also produces a cheap local style wine with the cute name “Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone”. Mark Twain once remarked that Wagner’s music was “better than it sounded”. In the case of “Est! Est!! Est!!!” (Est! = it is!) the name is better than the wine–give this one a miss. But I digress.

The head of Falesco, Riccardo Cotarella, prides himself on discovering and preserving ancient, indigenous wines from extinction. One of his most notable finds was roscetto, a varietal found near the ancient Etruscan town of Ferento, from which it takes its name, Ferentano. Like trebbiano spoletino, roscetto is a late maturing (late September), low yielding grape with good sugar content and aromas.

We had the good fortune to discover the aging potential of roscetto at restaurant Pascucci al Porticciolo, a fantastic fish restaurant with an attached hotel of the same name but under different management about a 20 minute cab ride from Rome’s airport–secret tip: go there!. The restaurant feature vintages of Ferentano going back to 2004 and we tried two. They were amazing. As with the Adarmando, let’s talk about the latest vintage first, the 2016. It has a beautiful golden hue with roseate tinges, reflecting the results of the dry ice process used during maceration. The wine, which sees four months in barriques, small (250 liter) wooden barrels, shows a buttery taste reminiscent of good chardonnay. The taste is forward, with lots of fruit and a lingering finish. There is a bit of tannin on the mouth, due to the oak aging, but it’s not unpleasant. The older vintages show these qualities in a softer and more multi-layered way. It’s not like the aging of sagrantino, which turns pit bull tannins into lap dog esters; it’s more subtle than that. But the tannin has been tamed and once again, you see a softer, rounder result with many dimensions, not a normal quality in anything but the best white wines.

For the technically interested: Riccardo Cotarella has said that his goal was to emphasize the varietal characteristics of the roscetto grape. To achieve this, he developed a process using dry ice(!) during maceration, the time when the tannins, coloring agents and flavor compounds—are leached from the grape skins, seeds and stems into the freshly pressed juice. This is carried out in stainless steel vats over a period of four months. Following that, the wine sees four months in maleolactic fermentation in barriques, a process usually reserved for the better reds and fine chardonnays. The maleolactic fermentation imparts a buttery quality to the wine. The use of barriques imparts a subtle oak feel reminiscent of French chardonnays.

Next Time
Nancy has shamed me into resuming my writing. To make sure I continue, I’m going to tell you what I’m planning next, just to keep me doing more writing and less drinking, the latter of which I think I’m much better at. In any case, next time we’re going to visit Puglia, one of the little known jewels of Italian winemaking. If you think Puglia is just a sort of Italian zinfandel, you’ve got a surprise coming.

Salute!