Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!
rosemary

Pretty grounds of the hotel.
hotel

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.
wine_tasting

Beautiful vineyards.
beautiful_vineyards

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.

ristorante_rintocco

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
firstlunch2

Luther’s fish. We were near the coast so there was a lot of seafood and very fresh.
firstlunch

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.
small_town

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.

fiaschetteria

My Pici cacio e pepe…yum!
second_lunch

Luther’s pici in cinghale ragu.
cinghale_ragu

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.

3rdlunch

First the proprietor brought a little cart with six olive oils to try with the bread. Yum!
tuscan_oils

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.
3rdlunch_pasta

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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.

tabarrini
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.

Tabarrini-maple
Photo courtesy of Tabarrini vineyards

img_6539
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!

Croatia adventure – a trip report

Another trip report so skip if you are not interested!
~~~~~~~~~

We had booked a eight night cruise aboard the Windstar, a small, four masted ship. The sails are computer operated. It holds 148 passengers and can visit places the bigger cruise ships cannot get to. It is also billed as a luxury cruise with a ratio of one crew to each two passengers. We’ll see what it’s like. It is our first cruise.

Sunday – Venice Italy
Arrived Venezia on the 2:20 Frecciarossa train. Hottern’ blue blazes. Got the number 2 vaporetto packed with tourists. Made it to the San Basilio dock where the Windstar was moored. But wringing wet with perspiration.

The security process was a little like an airport. They did have cold lemon water, iced tea and cookies which maybe TSA could look into. We went through the metal detector and then walked to the ship and up the stairs and were met with a big tray full of cold damp towels. Heaven. We were checked in and went to our cabin. I had opted for a room on the bow on the port side. It is a spacious room with plenty of room to put our clothes etc.

We went out exploring to get the lay of the ship. There was a mandatory safety session where we all met up with our muster groups and learned how to use the life jackets and were instructed how to evacuate the ship. The ship has two decks of staterooms, decks 1 and 2. Deck three is the main reception area with doors to go onto the tender, a small boat that takes us to and from the towns when we can’t dock. There is also a lounge where there is music in the evenings and announcements about shore excursions in the daytime, and the main restaurant called Amphora. Also on this level is a library, computer room, small casino, spa, and shop. The next deck up is deck four with the bar, small swimming pool…really small. And then there are all the deck chairs and some tables and umbrellas. The other part of this deck is the Veranda where you eat breakfast and lunch. And the front is the bridge. Above the pool is one more place to sit with great views of everything. The four tall masts march back from there.

After a shower we went up on deck to watch the “signature Windstar sailaway”. Each day when you leave the port they play beautiful stirring music. I found out it is 1492 Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis, click to listen on YouTube. Big thunderstorms were threatening. It was too windy to use the sails. The big Venice tugboats towed and turned us around then towed us out of the harbor. We blasted a loud farewell to Venice and sailed away. It was cool. We were in the upper deck bar area as were nearly everyone onboard.

We went to the dining room for dinner and it was pretty good. We had opted for the “wine package”. It gives you the choice of any wine on the list and unlimited consumption anywhere on the ship to include your room. I figured if anyone could get their money’s worth it would be us! But I noticed you ordered with dinner and then it was slow in coming. I wanted to set expectations with the wine steward so pretty much told him, when I order wine I expect it to arrive promptly. After that he was much more attentive.

I had a corn poblano soup, can’t get that in Italia! And the grilled salmon with veggies. Luther had a minestrone soup and the rib eye steak. Hadn’t seen that cut since the US. He pronounced it good. Then we went to the deck lounge where we enjoyed a spectacular sunset. The storms had wetted all the deck and furniture but there is a small under cover area. Turns out cigars are welcome so Luther enjoyed one and we had some wine and met another couple from the Bay Area who we chatted with. The four of us were the only people up there.

Windstar sailed all night. Overnight she navigated high seas and I could feel her rocking but it was rather like being rocked in my sleep. The sound of the waves as we move along is also lulling.

Four masts.
the_masts

Our tugboat towing us out of the harbor.
tugboat

Saying bye to Venezia until our return.
bye_venizia

Beautiful sunset after the storms.
sunset2

sunset1
~~~~~~
Monday – Opatija Croatia

The next morning we had breakfast and then moored outside of Opatija at noon. It is the oldest seaside resort on the Dalmatian coast with a 7.5 mile long promenade. We did not have a tour booked.

We had a pretty exciting transfer into Opatija. The seas were very rough so the tenders transferring us to shore were bucking up and down wildly. There were two men at the entrance into the boat who watched the oncoming waves and signaled each of us to dash aboard. All got safely on and then we road a bronco across the water to the dock. Pretty exciting.

We went out of the port and just on the edge was a restaurant with a nice outdoor space called Casa Tua. We decided to go and have lunch there. Most other passengers partook of lunch onboard but we wanted to check out the local cuisine. I had a very tasty spaghetti fruiti di mare. Sweet clams, mussels, shrimp. Luther had calamari stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella. Nice Croatian Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot noir. Really good.

Then we walked through the beautiful park along a piece of the 7.5 mile long promenade along the shore. Beautiful villas along the way. Remnants of the Hapsburg empire. Pretty flowers and palms. Many folks on the rocky, narrow beaches. Water was a brilliant aqua marine, deep blue. We strolled into town next then headed back to the boat. Took the tender back. Not quite as choppy this time. Showered and resting before the captains reception this evening. Interestingly, we have a woman captain, Belinda Bennett.
~~~~~~
Well, the reception was a hoot. Captain Belinda could be a comedian. Great sense of timing. She’s a large dark skinned woman from St. Helena island in the south Atlantic. All the serving staff is from the Philippines. The housekeeping staff is Indonesian. And the executive staff is from all over, France, Poland, US, Ukraine, Canada are a few I remember.

We went up on the top deck for sailaway. We met some people from Houston, Shiva, Gus, Maggie and Bill up there. They know a town called Passignano in Umbria nearby us and were excited to hear we live near there.

Dinner was all Indian for me, lamb harissa soup and a lamb Biryani dish. Luther had carpaccio and cod on a bed of rice and veggies. All good. We headed back up top so Luther could have his cigar.

My pasta at lunch.
opatija_lunch

Croatian language needs to borrow some vowels.
opatija_vino

Windstar at anchor.
opatija_windstar

Pretty beach.
opatija_surf

Part of the 7.5 mile long promenade.
opatija_promenade

Our first towel friend! Every night, during turn-down, the crew makes a cute little animal out of towels. They also leave a daily program for the following day with info on the destination, activities and shore excursions.
towelfriend1

Tuesday – Zadar Croatia
This day we docked at 9 am in Zadar which is an interesting town for walking around. It was quite nice if gawdawful hot. We walked the old town. Did a bit of shopping. Visited the Museum of Illusions and the Glass Museum. We visited several churches and cathedrals and the Roman forum which was extensive. Croatia is Roman Catholic. We had a beer and headed to the ship for lunch. Along the quay there is the Sea Harmonica. Very cool instrument with holes in the stone of the seaside promenade where the waves go in and out and make ethereal music.

Lunch was light. They have buffets and a la Carte. I opted for the Greek salad. Luther got the tuna salad. We rested and joined everyone outside for the sailaway. Still did not unfurl the sails at that time but later they were out…not all the way but three out of four.

We had arranged dinner at Candles. A special venue set up on the deck with an outside kitchen. Mostly grilled. Very good. I had beet and goat cheese salad. Not enough goat cheese, just a schmear on the plate. Then filet mignon. Nice American beef. Luther had the shrimp cocktail and veal chop. The regular restaurant is a blast from the past with old fashioned items like beef Wellington and duck a l’orange (!) Thankfully they have other things as well. The dinner at Candles was very nice. We stayed out on deck in the strong wind after dinner. Still not too cool. Just right.

Church built on the Roman forum ruins.
zadar_church_forum

They have removed the floor and you can see how the huge piers in the church are built on top of Roman wreckage like bits of columns and rocks repurposed. It looked a little unstable but its been there a while so…
zadar_church_pier

A pretty little interior harbor.
zadar_innerharbor

The market was blessedly shady but still everyone was sweltering in the heat.
zadar_markert

One of the streets in Zadar. It had not rained. This is how shiny the stones are from years of feet polishing them.
zadar_street

Wednesday – Split Croatia
We were off to visit Split this day. Hot hot hot. And very, very crowded. An old town that is ancient, pre-Roman. The ship docked at the main pier where the Ferries arrive from all the islands around here as well as the overnight ones from Ancona, Italy. We headed into the incredibly crowded old city. We skipped the cathedral, too crowded. We just wandered the streets and then the promenade along the sea. Stopped for a beer. Then headed back to the ship for lunch. There have been plenty of places to eat the last two days but just too many tourists.

The sailaway was early, at 5pm. Then later we went to dinner. There were no two-tops left so we shared a table for six and enjoyed talking to the two couples. One was from Tampa, the other Atlanta. Later we sat on the deck and watched the sea pass by. Beautiful evening. Finally it had cooled off.

Part of the church repurposed from the Roman temple.
split_church

Pretty street.
split_street

Fish market.
Split_fishmarket

Beer to cool off. Pivo means beer.
split_pivo

Promenade along the waterfront.
Split_waterfront

Thursday – Dubrovnik, Croatia.
We arrived in Dubrovnik at 9am. The Pilot boarded our ship and guided it to anchor. We can see the old town walls from the ship. We had scheduled a tour for this day. A wine tasting and city tour. I looked forward to it except for the heat. It was supposed to be 97. Just too damn hot. Later this evening was the free event for this cruise. It was to take place on a rock 665 feet above the sea. Beverages, canapés then entertainment.

The city tour was interesting, crowded and hot. It was an overview of the history and sights of the town and country of Croatia. The little country of Dalmatia was independent for 500 years but later was ruled by the Venetian and later, the Hapsburg Empire. The time between the two world wars and later, under the rule of Tito were very difficult times. Croatian population voted, by 80%, in 1989 to form their own country. It did not go well. They were attacked by the big dog in the neighborhood, Serbia who were joined by Montenegro. Dubrovnik was under siege and bombardment by the Serbians and Montenegrins for over a year in 1990-91. There was much damage and loss of life. Now they are enjoying a relatively prosperous time. I hope it continues.

Afterward we got a motor coach which took us to a winery. It was a pleasant drive along the coast with AC! All the buildings in the area were destroyed by the Serbians during the 1990 war. Most have been rebuilt.

The winery is a family operation. They let us taste three of the wines made from the local grapes. They also make Merlot and Cabernet. We had a lovely lunch of prosciutto, local cheese, olives and wonderful home baked bread. There were 18 of us from the ship.

We rode back and were dropped off. We walked to the dock and Luther and I decided to walk a bit and ended up in an air conditioned wine bar. The heat was incredible. About 100. I get soaked with sweat. No more July or August vacations for me!

Returned to our room. The shower was the high point of my day. All clean and comfy. We decided to not do the event that evening. Just too hot to go back out, get in the crowded tender, board a bus, for the event which didn’t sound worth it to us. We ordered dinner in our room. You can get anything from the dinner menu, we had two soups and lamb chops. Very tasty. Out on the top deck to watch the boat action. It was still very warm. Sailaway was not until midnight so we missed it.

The walls of Dubrovnik from the tender bringing us in.
dubrovnik_walls

These are the 1.5 mile long defensive walls built from 1,100 to 1,300. People walk them. It was way too hot for me! Not to mention there are many steps.
dubrovnik_walking_walls

From 1990 – 1991, over a year, Dubrovnik was under siege by Serbia and Montenegro. The citizens were defiant. If you look at this photo you will see the house owner who escaped his burning house raising his fist in anger. Notice the top floor window has flames coming from it. Also take note, he is wearing a cooking pot on his head. Hah! good as a helmet I guess. It was a difficult time.
dubrovnik_bombardment

One of the side streets off the main one. People live up in these streets and leave the main part of town to the tourists.
dubrovnik_street

This is said to be the Walk of Shame banister from Game of Thrones which was shot in Dubrovnik. They have entire tours for this series. I have not watched the show.
dubrovnik_gameofthrones

Windstar from up on the cliffs.
dubrovnik_windstar

View of Dubrovnik from above.
dubrovnik_fromabove

Headed back via tender to the ship.
dubrovnik_tenderride

Shot of the city at night.
dubrovnik_atnight

Friday – Korčula, Croatia
We arrived at our next port at 8am. The last port in Croatia…Korčula. We had scheduled a tour this day. Wine and Croatian delicacies. After breakfast we met up in the lounge with the other tour goers. There were only ten because of limited space which was fine with me. We tendered into shore and met our tour guide. The island and town of Korčula are beautiful. The town is small and built of pretty light tan stone with rounded towers and tiny streets. We headed right over to where our boat picked us up to cross to the mainland. We traveled about 45 minutes by small bus to the first winery.

We taste three wines, one white and two reds. They were all grown from local grapes called Plavec. The two reds were the same grape grown in different terroir. The Croatians are very proud to say Zinfandel is a genetic match for this local grape or the birthplace of Zinfandel. The Italians also claim this as well. I guess the Primitivo grape of southern Italy and the Plavec in Croatia and Zinfandel could all be related. Southern Italy is not that far from Croatia. The winery had pretty gardens outside and something I’d never seen. A kiwi plant. It was like a grape vine and trained on an arbor and you could see the fruits hanging above. They also had peach trees laden with beautiful fruit.

Off we went to the town of Ston. It has the second longest defensive wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. It reminded me very much of that wall as it snaked up and over the mountain. We passed Ston and boarded a pirate ship! It was cute and I’d always thought it would be fun. This boat had tables and benches. We traveled through the beautiful aqua water past hundreds of floats which were the oyster and mussel growing farms. Our objective was to taste these delicacies. The boat pulled next to another boat and they proceeded to pull up ropes with different sized oysters attached to them. They shucked then and we each got three incredibly fresh oysters. In fact, they were so fresh that when you squeezed lemon on them they contracted on the shell since they were still alive and I guess the lemon juice was an irritant. We were served the fresh local wine with the oysters. Several of the group had never eaten oysters and had a bit of trouble getting them down. Others were enthusiastic oyster lovers and we all took pictures of each other toasting with our oysters. Yum! Then they brought out bowls of just cooked mussels in an oniony broth with chewy bread. Also very good and very sweet. A one of a kind experience.

Then we left for the final wine tasting. A super nice wine-maker gave us a talk and we went up into a pretty old room with heavy dark beams and long tables with benches. There were proscuitti hanging to cure and lots of oil paintings. There was a basket of homemade bread. The delicious chewy bread favored here. And a plate with fresh home grown tomatoes and three home made fresh anchovies, very briny and fresh. Fresh anchovies are a world apart from the ones you put on pizza. Not at all salty. They are cleaned and boned (apparently a tedious messy job) and the the filets are soaked in vinegar and sea salt. He said the vinegar should not be too strong so you can add a bit of water. Leave for five hours and then drain. Cover in olive oil and serve. Very good. Then a plate with cheese and prosciutto and a nice bowl of lentil soup from the lentils they raise. The wines, a white and a red were very good paired with the food. The winemakers cousin played guitar and sang folk songs which were fun. It was a nice time for us all.

Back to Korčula in the boat and we were set free to explore the town. It is a beautiful town with a lovely cathedral. One of the interesting things we were told was that it was built on a small hill and the Main Street runs up and down in a straight line. This street is crossed by tiny streets that run up the hill from the water which is on both sides. There was a strong breeze blowing through these little streets which helps cool the town. We had glasses of water and wine on the waterfront and then back to wait for the tender. The wind was very strong and riding the tender was again a bucking bronco.

These are the walls of Korčula.
korcula_walls

Beach on the mainland side.
korcula_beach

First winery had a kiwi vine. I had never seen them growing.
korcula_kiwi

They don’t trellis the vines. They just let them be bushes. Pretty grapes.
korcula_grapes

Next stop, the oyster and mussel farm. Here is our pirate boat taking us there!
korcula_ourpirateship

The great wall of Ston.

Pretty house and beach along the way.
korcula_beach2

These are the oyster/mussel farms.
korcula_oysterbeds

These are the oysters. It is different than in Virginia. In the flat box sitting on the rail are the small oysters which need to be protected from the fish. Once they are big enough they are cemented onto ropes and they grow to maturity. The man is holding mature oysters on the rope.
korcula_oysters

Our three beautiful oysters.
korcula_oysters1

We clinked oysters in a toast and slurped them down. Very good.
korcula_toastingwithoysters

Mussels in an oniony broth.
korcula_mussels

The last winery.
korcula_winetasting

Home made pickled anchovies, fresh tomatoes, home grown and made lentil soup – This tour was truly a moveable feast!!
korcula_lunch

The town of Korčula is built on a small hill with streets in a grid. The prevailing wind blows up these small streets and is natural air conditioning.
korcula_street

A break on the seaside.
korcula_luther

Beautiful, clear, inviting water.
korcula_clearwater

The tender ready to take us back.
korcula_tender

There was a BBQ this evening and it was something! The main dining room was closed. They had moved all the tables from the Veranda restaurant on the same deck as the aft deck and set them all with linen, china and glassware. All very festive looking. The servers and barmen all wore Hawaiian shirts. We chose a corner table with great views of the town and the surrounding water and mountains. The sun had not yet set and we had some sun and some shade. They had set up the outdoor kitchen and an enormous appetizer table. The chef with two assistants were hard at work searing sizzling flank steaks, lobster tails, and chicken. There were accompanying sauces. There was a whole suckling pig and the biggest paella pan I’ve ever seen. A sumptuous feast! I wish I had three stomachs so I could go back for more!

After dinner they did last call for food so they could quickly dismantle and move all the food and grills and tables to make a dance floor. Pavlo, our tour director and all round announcer and MC got the show started. The first line dance to My Achy Breaky Heart began with mostly just crew to include our fun Captain Belinda. The crew obviously did this a lot and were great. After a few songs and a few more of the guests trying to dance they played YMCA. Pavlo was dressed in a white cat suit with sailor collar and hat! The other three crew were dressed as a motorcycle tough and a construction worker with hard hat and wife beater shirt and a fireman. We stayed and watched. I couldn’t have danced with my knee but it was fun. After the ship left anchor we headed to bed. The sea rocked us to sleep all night. We would sail all night, all the next day and all the next night to get back to Slovenia.

The last tender from Korčula.
korcula_tenderreturns

Sunset.
korcula_sunset

BBQ! Suckling pig!
korcula_sucklingpig

The biggest paella I’ve ever seen!
korcula_paella

Our executive chef on the right and his crew manning the grill. Flank steak, lobster tails, chicken and  ribs. Yum.
korcula_chefandstaff

Waiting to raid the food line.
korcula_me

Luther too.
korcula_luther2'

Afterward they cleared out the grills and food to make room for the line dancing. The crew started us out. The large woman on the left in front is Captain Belinda.
korcula_capnbelinda

Another towel friend greeted us.
towelfriend2

Saturday – Day at sea.
The day dawned partly cloudy. It is very windy.

We had breakfast and went on the aft deck in a corner away from the strong wind to read and relax. There were a few events planned for this day. A cooking class, a towel folding demo, trivia contest, etc. It was a day of enforced relaxation. Just what I needed!

We dined with some new friends Brian and Pam from California who are interested in buying a home in Italy for maybe half year living. They are nice. Then after dinner we went to the lounge where the crew had an entertainment show for us. It was cute.

Sunday – Piran, Slovenia
Piran Slovenia. We arrived at 8am on schedule. Our tour this day was Slovenian wine and a farmers market. We did a walking tour of Isola, a small town. It was nothing to write home about. Then through the countryside and to an outdoor market. Problem was we were just 15 people and the folks who sell stuff don’t want to come out for such a small group. But we did have some. A lace lady. A lavender lady. A wine and spirits maker. Another wine guy with prosciutto bread and cheese bread. A potter. I bought some things to help the local economy. Then back to Piran where we had lunch. I had grilled sardines.

Piran harbor
piran_harbor

Piran from the cliffs.
piran_fromabove

Those are the alps in the distance. The far coast is Italy, the town of Trieste.
piran_alps

Piran street.
piran_street

I liked this window.
piran_window

Waiting for the tender. The weather was much cooler!
piran_waitingfortender

Windstar at anchor.
piran_windstar_sparklingwater

Our last towel friend.
towelfriend3

Back on Windstar we had the farewell address from Captain Belinda and all the crew and support staff came for a bow. They are a super group. They all remembered our names! Then Pavlo, our tour director told us about upcoming cruises and about disembarking tomorrow. We had dinner and sat up on the top deck to see the sailaway. It was lovely as always and they played Time to say goodbye. Sad but true. All done. All in all we both really enjoyed this cruise. A couple of things I would change but mostly pretty great.

CORN!!!

Oh my god…we have harvested our first corn. It was AMAZING. After four corn-less years it was heaven on earth. I am so happy  we got some corn this year from our shared garden with Angela.

We have a guest so we went together to check the corn and I deemed it ready to harvest. We picked 5 ears for our test run.

corn1

Shucking.
corn2

All ready for the pot. within three hours of picking will ensure a mighty sweet ear.
corn3

um um good. Buttered and salted and peppered. Soooo good!
corn5

Alas, all gone. Going back tomorrow for more. 🙂
corn6

My unfortunate timing means we are gone on our Croatia cruise next week so I will not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. We will see what is left when we return.

Observations

Ciao a tutti! I am passing along some observations I’ve made about products here in Italy. They are just little, everyday type things that I’ve noticed. My point today…everything here is flimsier than the same product I am used to in the US. Here are just a few things that I’ve noticed.

Cardboard boxes of wraps…like Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, etc. are very flimsy. The box itself is made of the thinnest cardboard. This makes it nearly impossible to tear off the wrap. You end up crushing the box in the process. I have an American Glad Wrap box that I just put the Italian product in. It has held up for two years! (I guess it is getting a little worn out, still better than the Italian box)
gladwrap

Then there is the wrap itself. Aluminum foil is the worst. You can’t put it in a pan without poking a hole through it! And don’t ever try to wrap anything in it. This is one of the items I bring from the US when I go back. Good old Reynolds foil.

Note the thinness of the foil and the flimsiness of the box.
aluminumfoil

Plastic water bottles are made of such thin plastic that you can crush them into a ball with no effort. I’ve tried with water bottles in the States and couldn’t do that. In fact all plastic bottles are this way here. My lime juice bottle is permanently crushed from squeezing. My sunflower oil bottle has dimples from just holding it. Maybe this is environmentally friendly because less plastic is used?
water_bottles
lime

You know those little twist ties you close bags with? Well, the ones here have such a small filament of wire in them that they won’t even stay bent. They are useless. I save my old ones and use them over and over. The white one is the Italian one. The black is one I brought along from the US.
twistties

Something else I use over and over. Ziplock bags. I wash them and hang to dry and reuse. This is because we can’t get them here. Also, it is ecologically friendly.

Just little differences I thought would be fun to mention!

Corn – part 3

Well folks. I am the proud grower of my first ear of corn on the terrace!!! Whohoo!!

It’s just a baby but my mouth is watering!
ear

My two pots are producing radically different size plants. One, tall and thin, on the right, the other short and sturdy. They get the same sun, food and water. The only difference is the soil I guess. Our experiment continues.
rows

And a report from my “corn partner” Angela. She reports the first few rows on the left have about 20 ears!!! The plants on the right have not tasseled. I did get a fast and a slow maturation mix so I imagine that’s the reason.

Fun restaurant posting

Today, for Luther’s birthday, we decided to try a recommended restaurant called L’Umbricello del Caccio. It is nominally in Magione which is between Lago del Trasimeno and Perugia. This restaurant is south of both of these towns up in some modest hills. Very pretty countryside with lots of olive groves and yellow fields of just-harvested wheat stubble.

We arrived in a small hamlet with an old church with a pretty clock. The bells rang every quarter hour. There is plenty of parking and the restaurant is on one side of the small road through the village while it’s dining terrace is on the other. This terrace sits right on the edge of the hill. Too bad the view is marred by three unsightly power lines. For this reason I didn’t take a photo.

The fun part of this post is that, like almost always when we walk into a restaurant, they spoke English to us and automatically gave us English menus. We have gotten used to this fact of life here. Somehow we are nailed as foreigners before we open our mouths. I’ve figured out they don’t know what sort of foreigner you are generally. German, English, Dutch usually. When we spoke in Italian to him he asked if we understood Italian. We said we did so he brought over Italian menus.

Here’s the fun part. This is a good example why I hate getting the English menu. They don’t really translate it fully or correctly. The first picture below is the English version of the Antipasto menu. The second picture is the Italian one. I count 10 choices on the English one and 16 on the Italian one. This illustrates how much tourists miss out on if they don’t at least understand “menu” Italian. What a difference! The subsequent pages were equally deficient.
antipasto_english

antipasto

They specialize in a dish called Caccio e Pepe. It is made by putting the hot pasta into the hollowed out rind of a parmigiano cheese. The cheese is scraped and stirred so it melts into the pasta. They also specialize in house-made Umbricelli. It is a very fat, dense, chewy spaghetti type of shape. Luther’s pasta was made in house and was what they call integrale or whole grain. Hence the slightly unappetizing color. Worm-colored…don’t think about it. He liked it! His second course was Cinghale or wild boar which they do wonderfully here. Sorry, my picture didn’t come out.

Here is the wheel of parmigiano in which they make the pasta.
caccio_pepe

Luther’s Umbricello.
luthers_pasta

I had caprese salad. The tomatoes should have been better, especially at this time of year. It tasted good. Then I got Umbricello too but mine was Carbonara with truffles. I had not had this is a long time as it is not normally on menus in Umbria. Carbonara was invented for the American soldiers after WWII in Rome because they had eggs!

My pasta.umbricelli_tartuffi
fork_umbricelli

We were sent on our way by a sweet angel. It was a nice outing…if very HOT!
angel

Mozzarella and Burrata

Hot, hot weather now. Big heat wave covering most of Europe. Here in Italy this front is called Guida, or Judas for obvious reasons. It blows across the Mediterranean from the Sahara and is HOT.

So, hoping to beat the heat, today I descended the stairs to visit the weekly market aiming for cool things, like salads. The wonderful tomatoes are in now and we are loving them. I aimed to buy some and some mozzarella and burrata. There is a man with a small truck who is here every week with the best. It’s sent up from Paestum (mozarella) and the Burrata comes from Puglia.  When the burrata is sliced open, a spurt of thickened cream flows out. The cheese has a rich, buttery flavor and retains its fresh milkiness. It is best when eaten within 24 hours and is considered past its prime after 48 hours. I you’ve not had it, it is a literally a bag tied up and inside are the creamy leavings from Mozzarella making. It is a useful way of using up the ritagli (“scraps” or “rags”) of mozzarella. But it is oh so much better than that!

Behold, burrata fresh from Puglia!buratta

Sliced open to reveal the creamy inside.
sliced_bag

Trying to divide it is difficult. I wanted some for lunch and the rest for dinner. Bag on the right is saved for later.
opened_bag

My lunch. Beautiful pomodori con basilico e Burrata.
lunch

Brochure from the producer of the Moazarella.
mozarella

Picture of the lady without which we’d never be able to enjoy this pleasure.
buffala

And it’s summertime in Umbertide. The outdoor cinema is open on Piazza San Francesco. It has seats outside with beer and wine sold and on Thursday they screen original language films.
cinema_al_centro

Only Wine Festival – Città di Castello

Every year we have meant to go to the Only Wine Festival in the town just north of us. This year we did. The purpose of the festival is to promote young winemakers around Italy. The winemakers must be under 40 years of age. It helps them get publicity and visibility they may not have gotten elsewhere. The festival has a website and we checked it out. There were many special tastings such as a Whisky tasting, Sparkling wine tasting, Cigar tasting, beer tastings, regional wines such as Umbrian, Tuscan. These had to be reserved and had a fee. We decided to go for a targeted wine tasting of wines grown in volcanic soils around Italy. We really didn’t know what to expect so this was an exploratory mission. entrance_to_fest

wine_tent
We arrived around 5:15 and our tasting was at 6PM. This left time to do some of the regular tastings. There were many different venues. There also were two full floors of a palazzo that had numerous wine stations for tastings. Ostensibly you paid 15 Euro and that entitled you to five “Free” tastings of the wines. Only in Italy would they say you were getting free tastings but you had to pay the 15 Euro for them. Anyway, since we were going to the Volcano tasting we decided to just get one “Free” tasting for the 15 Euro and we’d share it. They give you a nice glass with a little sack you put around your neck to hold the glass and five tickets for the tastings. Turns out no one takes your tickets so you go in and it’s unlimited tastings for as long as you can stand up! It wasn’t too crowded because it was early. We enjoyed all the young winemakers who were eager to talk about their wines.

tastings
Then we went upstairs to the Volcano tasting. We didn’t know where it was and there were no signs. Typical. We asked but no one knew. Finally we found the room way back in a corner. We went in and there were tables set up with six glasses at each setting. The room was hushed. We sat at a table in the front and after we sat down three other single men came in one after the other and joined us. A sommelier came and introduced each wine as they were poured by numerous pourers throughout the room. Of course I didn’t understand everything he said . But I did manage to catch the grapes for each, whether they were aged in oak and for how long, and the region they came from. The first one came from Lazio, north of Rome. Next two from Orvietto. Then one from the Veneto and finally two from Sicily on Mt. Etna. All were white except for the last one, a light red. It was quite interesting. One of our table-mates asked if I could understand it and I said, maybe 30%. Turns out hes a vintner from near Orvietto and one of the wines was his. It is also a vineyard we tried to visit once and were turned away. We will try again soon. One amusing aside, they had a signer for the deaf. She had both Luther and I suppressing giggles every time we looked at her. Signers have the most expressive faces and she was one of the best with rolling eyes, smacking lips, pursing lips and bulging cheeks. I wondered if the sign language in Italy was the same as in the US…

volcano_wine_tasting
The sun was setting when we left and walked through this park to our car park. Beautiful!
CdC_park

We will go back next year but this time we’ll stick to the regular “Free” tastings.

Errand to Rome

This past week we took a day trip to Rome. We are STILL trying to get our German drivers licenses converted to Italian ones. We started this process last year and hit a road block. Italians like every document to match perfectly. In our case our Italian documents say we were born in a city in the US, while our German licenses list our state. Even though we brought in our birth certificates which list both they said no. And we’ve learned two main things here. One, when a bureaucrat makes up his or her mind you have no recourse. And two, they each make up the rules as they go along. We gave up until it occurred to us that we could just try another place and hope for better luck.

So we went to the next town called Trestina. And we visited the little auto services place there. A nice woman is helping us and we took in all of our copies of all of our documents. We waited and she called and we returned. This time the discrepancy was not only our places of birth but Luther’s name. On his Italian documents he is Luther Pearson Hampton III. On the German drivers license he is merely Luther Pearson Hampton. Oh no! So, she explained we had to do an attestazione to swear we were who we said we were even though we were born in different places and had different names. And we had to do this in Rome at the American Embassy.

So we created our attestazione and took the train to Rome. It was a pretty day. It takes about two hours to get to Rome on the train. Then we walked the maybe ten minute walk to the Embassy. They were super nice there. Nothing like the Florence Consulate. We went through the security and the man took our papers and said they get this all the time. We paid $50.00 for each notarization. Cash cow for the Embassy! Another guy stamped and witnessed our signatures. Mission accomplished. We were back home by 6pm.
attestazione

Next steps, we have to get four photos made. And we have to affix one to a piece of paper stating who we are and our address. Then we have to go to the Comune and get them to attest that we are who we say and that we live at that address. First we have to find that office since all the people from the Comune are scattered around town due to the renovation. I sure hope we can get the licenses after all this!