Category Archives: Wine and wineries

Doctors, and wineries, and la cena – Oh my!

Yesterday was a Very Busy day and I want to share it with you.

It started out pretty early. We had an appointment with my knee surgeon at the hospital for X-rays. It was the standard 45 day post op checkup. I’m happy to say I’m fit as a fiddle. I’m now cleared to walk normally up and down the steps, which I did with very little problem. I’m very happy!

It was a pretty day (mostly) with a lot of fall colors and watery blue skies. Not too cold. To go from our house to the hospital in the city of Perugia we can take the SuperStrada around the city (faster but busier), the road that goes through the middle of town (tiny one way streets) or the pretty 2 lane road through the mountains. So, on the way to the hospital Luther took us through the city. On the way home I chose the mountains.

The road goes by a winery and agriturismo we like so we stopped to buy some wine. They also raise pigs which become prosciutto. Here’s the big ole sow. The piglets had run inside. The pens are super clean, and have inside and outside parts.

We also stopped at a place we’ve been passing all the years we’ve been here. It is an enormous castle and a beautiful golf course. We were looking for the restaurant that was supposed to be there. We drove up to the castle which is shuttered. Word has been it was supposed to be an upscale hotel, they also advertise condos for sale. For a long time it was covered with scaffolding but it had been removed a year or so ago. Yet still it is not open. Somebody put a lot of money into this property with the 18 hole Trent Jones golf course.

Castle

Old olive groves surround the castle

The golf course. We don’t have many golf courses in Umbria, or Italy, for that matter. It had a number of people playing. The sign at the entrance says welcome in Italian, English, German, and…Russian. Tells you who they are hoping to attract.

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We had been invited to la cena (dinner) by our friend Vera. She is such a gem. Her suocera (mother-in-law) was having a big dinner for friends and family. No special occasion that I could discern. I was a little reticent but decided I need to mix more so we said we’d come. Vera said not to expect much. It was a down-home feast with the contadini (contadino means farmer) so local folks – working people, farmers.

I will tell about it in pictures 🙂 Here is Vera and her suocera.

The meal was going to be in the garage. As garages go, it was a nice one. Here is the cinghiale who watches over the scene.

I asked what the wires across the ceiling were for. I was told they were to hang the grapes that they dry to make Vin Santo. It is for personal consumption. The grapes are allowed to raisin to get sweet before they make it. They don’t make it every year so no grapes were hanging.

What garage do you know that has a crackling fire? It was for warmth but also for roasting chestnuts at the end of the meal.

Beside the fireplace inside sat Silvester, the ancient Tom Cat. He’s 13 years old and never been to the vet. Not castrated…Italian men don’t allow “cutting”… he didn’t want to be bothered or touched. When he moved it was the slowest I’ve ever seen a cat move. He must be hurting 🙁 But he did seem to be enjoying the fire’s warmth.

Just outside is their big forno (wood oven). And the outside fireplace. Both were roaring hot.

Here is the pork liver (I am fairly certain I’ve never had pork liver before) that had been cooked for both the crostini and the secondo, much to Luthers dismay. Not really, there was plenty of food and he tasted it. We were surprised Italians love liver so much!

The meal begins with crostini. One, liberally dosed with the new olive oil, the other, fegato (liver). Very, very rich!

Beginning the polenta. Two kinds of corn meal…Add to the boiling water,  bring to a boil again and continuing adding hot water,  “til it is right”, cook, stir.

Takes a LOT of stirring to make polenta

The polenta is pronounced ready.

To go on top, a luscious ragu. It had simmered for hours and hours in the biggest pot I’ve seen in a home kitchen! It was pork bits. All sorts with bones and all. Plus lots of sausage. By now the meat was off the bones. They scooped the meats out and put them on a separate plate.  Then they took the tomatoes, which the meat had simmered in and scooped it into a separate dish. Rich and mouthwatering.

To serve, the polenta goes in a plate, add meat and sausages, and top with rich tomato sauce.

Two long tables. All men at one, all women at the other – hah! (Kids were upstairs) Very typical. After a while Vera and I moved over to the men’s table. There is no rule or prohibition to sit together. But the men and women prefer to talk of men’s and women’s things so why sit together?

I had fun. It had been a long day and I was pretty tired so we had the dolce (dessert) and headed home before the chestnuts were roasted. A very traditional, home cooked meal that couldn’t be beat! And a unique experience.

Taking advantage of a sunny day

We’ve had a lot of wet dreary weather. Not cold, just damp and gray. So, this weekend, Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be pretty and sunny with no rain. We said, “let’s do something!”

Tiber on our way to the garage.

Sunday was the festival of San Martino. One of my favorites. On the 11th of November, Italy celebrates San Martino, a soldier of the Roman Empire who became a Saint for his great humility and generosity.

The story goes that while he was riding at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers, he met a poor, freezing beggar, cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with him. That same night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given to the poor man and thanking him for his compassionate gesture.

It is also said that at the moment he shared his cloak, the sun came out and that is why what in the U.S. is known as Indian summer, in Italy is called Estate di San Martino: a short period of time during the first weeks of November characterized by relatively good, warm weather.

Well, our weather was quite nice today so, in honor of San Martino we went wine tasting!

We visited Arnaldo Caprai winery. There were lots of people there maybe because hardly any wineries are open on Sundays. It was a nice operation.  Pretty tasting room, nice outside space. We did the standard tasting, grechetto white, montefaclco rosso, and sagrantino. We also asked to taste the Pinot nero and another Sagrantino. They brought us plates of bread with the new oil. And also they brought out plates of just roasted chestnuts. In honor of San Martino. We bought some wine and a bottle of the new oil.

Now for lunch. Five years ago, almost to the day, we had dined at Locanda Rovicciano We enjoyed it then so we decided to go back. It is an ancient building at the end of a dirt road. As you drive down the road you pass a number of houses that are surrounded by junk and the neighborhood looks really ugly. But once you pop out at the end it is quite pretty. It is also a B&B and there were several groups of Americans. How they found the place I’ll never know!

We had reserved and it’s good we did as the place was packed. I had the scrambled eggs with white truffles to start. Just outside of where we sat I could see a flock of white chickens. I knew where my eggs came from. They were brilliant yellow as are all the eggs here sourced locally. Happy chickens. The chef brought out two tiny white truffles and placed them on a tiny scale. They are sold by weight. He shaved one onto my eggs and recorded the grams. A yummy treat and not something you can get just anywhere. Luther had maccheroni with cheese and sausage. Real comfort food and a huge plateful.

Fried bread for munchies.

Luther’s maccherioni

My first bite.

Eggs with truffles

For secondi I had the pigeon cooked under a brick on the fire. Luther had the lamb. I had spinach and Luther had the roasted potatoes for our contorni. A nice meal.

Back in Umbertide the festival of San Martino was in full swing. There were booths with flea market type junk and booths with hand crafted things like woolen hats and scarves. There was a big tent with the new olive oil all sourced from just near here. And the fires were crackling with the chestnuts roasting. I bought a cone of them along with a bottle of Umbertide oil from Monte Acuto. The band was setting up on the stage. The Nowhere men. They played old rock and roll. All in all a nice fest and a nice day.

Fun visit !

Our friends couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. Autumn in Umbria is spectacular in an entirely different way from the brilliant greens of springtime.

The visit was with two friends. Eunice, one of my besties from my Book Group, and her husband Mark. Eunice was unable to come with the initial group of Book Group friends a few years ago. We had to make that right! So we experienced it again, with some new adventures thrown in so she has some experiences unique to her.

Our first outing was to Todi, one of my favorite towns in Umbria. Very high on a hill, it is fairly large and completely medieval. The heart of town is the Piazza del Popolo and here you find many gorgeous buildings to include the People’s Palace and the Captain’s Palace. The latter houses the Civic Museum and Gallery. We also found, for the first time, the funicular from a nice parking lot up to the top of town. It eliminates any arduous hill climbing.

Interesting door knob on our walk from the funicular to the Piazza.

One of the prettiest buildings and one of the only green areas is San Fortunato. Built originally by the Romans and converted to a church in the 1100s.

Also in the Piazza is the Todi Cathedral which features a rose window.

The  Captain’s Palace. Very Venetian looking I think.

We had a nice lunch in one of our favorite restaurants, Ristorante Umbria.

The view from the walls which was also enjoyed by our restaurant.

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Next up, a visit to Tom and Maximus. This will take a little explaining. Mark and Eunice are big Bernese Mountain dog fans. They have had several over the time I’ve known them. Their latest is Quinn who is 3 years old. When they heard Tom and Carol had a puppy named Max they wanted to meet him. So I asked Tom if we could come up. Well he’s a fine fellow and decided on a BBQ lunch for us all. It was a beautiful, clear day and we drove high up into the mountains to his house. Unfortunately Carol was in the UK because her father was ill so our friend , Joanne, who is Tom’s neighbor came up to join us.

We sat outside where it was breezy and much cooler than I had expected. I brought my World Famous Ribs for our contribution. Tom must have spent hours preparing all the food we had. We had an excellent time and the time flew. When I looked at my watch it was 6PM!! That’s what happens with a lunch here in Umbria with friends. Thanks Tom!

Pretty planter at Tom’s house.

Basil makes a nice arrangement on the set-up table.

The table and view.

The dessert was spectacular. And not too heavy.

Maximus (7 months old) was quite shy and took a long time to warm up to us. Everyone took time sitting on the floor with him. When we rose to leave he suddenly became very friendly! Funny pup. He also likes men more than women.

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Our last real outing was to a vineyard in Bevagna, a small town in the wine growing area of the famous Sagrantino grape. It was another spectacular day. The winery Luther chose was Villa Mongalli. We had visited it 2 times before. A family operation consisting of the semi-retired father, two brothers, and their wives and small children. The last visits we had were with one of the brothers, Pierrepaolo. This time his wife, Natasha, conducted the tasting. We tasted a spectacular Rosato, a white Grechetto, a Rosso, two Sagrantini reds and one more, super smooth Montefalco Rosso. We, of course, bought several cases, and Eunice bought one for her planned soiree on the terrace of their rented house.

Sagrantino di Montefalco

Array of our bottles in the sun.

The vines are loaded. This is Sagrantino. They said it won’t be ready to harvest until late October.

We tasted a couple of theses. They are unbelievably sweet!

View across the acreage with grapes and olive groves. Pretty patchwork. I think Bavagna and Montefalco hills are the prettiest scenery in Umbria.

Natasha sent us up the road about a kilometer to a church with picnic tables. It was a lovely place. Way up high with excellent views. And the temperature was perfect!

Our picnic tavola. Prosciutto cotto and crudo, a nice pecorino and two flat breads. We drank a bottle of the Villa Mongalli Rosato. Prefect way to have lunch and not over eat too much.

Eunice and Luther.

View from the table of the medieval town of Bevagna. One of my favorites.

We drove on down to Bevagna after our lunch and strolled the town. Pretty streets.

I loved the sparkling sun on the fountain water.

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After a two day break we joined up on their last night in Umbria at their rented house. We had a nice evening snack table outside on the spectacular terrace. It has perfect sundowners view as my British friends would say.

We really enjoyed Eunice and Mark’s visit in Umbria. It is always fun to show people around and it got us out of the house and into the beauty of our region!

Moon over Umbertide

Summer is in full swing. The town of Umbertide is jumping. Last weekend there was a function called Calice sotto la Rocca. It means glasses under the fortress. It was nice. You paid 20 Euro and got a glass. There were five booths, each had a locally produced wine and a course from a local restaurant. It started at 8PM but, as we expected, we were practically the first people there. In fact they hadn’t finished setting up yet. Very typical. I took a few pictures.

The booths. The wine awaits.

I’m always amused by the young Italian men. They are peacocks.

The moon rose from behind the Collegiata which is our church built in the 1400s

The Rocca. Our fortress.

Antipasto was a nice, cool seafood salad.

By 9PM the crowds had arrived. They played rock and roll from the 60s.

The other courses included a Porchetta on bread, then a potato gnocci with truffles, and an odd potatoes on bread for the Secondi. The dolce was a tiramisu in a cup from Tortecetera, our local cupcake shop.

Other happenings around town. We have just celebrated the re-opening of Cafe Centrale under new ownership. It is the second bar on our main piazza. Quite posh with furniture and french pastries. It is popular with the young 20 something crowd.

Saturday is a very happy day in the dog days of summer. The kilometer zero market is chock full of local produce and people come to one of the two bars for coffee or drinks. The happy hum of voices is clearly audible up at our house.

Today is Ferragosto. The 15th of August. Everyone goes on picnics, to the beach, or to a restaurant for a long Pranzo. The weather has broken temporarily from a really hot spell. It will be a good day for gli Italiani. Buona Festa!

Great visit with recent guests!

We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.

We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.

The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.

The Rose Window on the Basilica of San Francesco.

The lower church in the Basilica. It is made up of the upper church, built on top of the older, lower church, which is above the crypt where St. Francis’ remains are interred.

Street. I like the blur in the background on this one.

I was captivated by the dog who looked to be chained beside this window on the first floor.

Fortress above Assisi. See that sky!?

In the main Piazza is this fountain. The water droplets were shining in the sun. I had never noticed the top tier on this is a mushroom.

One of my favorite stories is about St. Francis and the Wolf. The legend took place in Gubbio. St. Francis also is known for preaching to the birds. 

After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.

After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.

On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.

That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.

Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.

We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.

Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.

The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.

While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…

Raw ingredients…

Finished product!

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!!!

Only Wine Festival

Saturday we visited the Only Wine Fest in Citta di Castello. It was a nice day and we got there at 2pm when they opened to beat the crowds. I took a seat and watched the comings and goings focusing on fashion rather than wine.

Tickets sold here. 15 Euro for 5 tastes and a glass. I was kind of amazed that they laid white carpeting on the old stone streets. I wonder what it looked like Sunday after the event.

The fest focus’ on wine produced by young unknown winemakers under 40 years old. This is one of them. I liked his unstudied look.

Lots of Italian guys wear their hair in pony tails.

I liked his stripes!

This young lady obviously knew she has what it takes to catch attention.

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Calagrana welcomes Spring! The Patio is OPEN!

I had the duck. It was delicious.

The duck came with little dumplings and some cool condiments.

A great day to welcome spring. Thanks Ely and Albi!

Wine Run: La Maremma and Bolgheri – Part II

Another guest post from The Wine Guy.
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Day 2
maremmaLeaving our hotel on a gorgeous early fall morning, we head south on the A1/E80 following the old Roman road to Rome, crossing the flatlands around the provincial capital of Grosetto, and entering the rolling hill country of the Monti dell’Uccelina. From there we branch inland into the rugged wine region around the mountain town of Scansano.

The region around Scansano takes its name from a varietal of the Sangiovese called Morellino. One of the more romantic theories around the name is that it comes from “morello”, which literally means “brown”, the color of the region’s horses. More down to earth observers suspect it derives from the morello cherry, a dark red cherry known for its acidity and tartness. In any case, the local Sangovese has been granted the highly prized DOCG status since 2007 as Morellino di Scansano. A Morellino di Scansano must consist of at least 85% local Morellino, with up to 15% coming from a list of other permitted varietals maintained by the Tuscan wine authorities. This makes it essentially a local version of the wines of Chianti. Morellino can come in two subtypes, the Morellino di Scansano, which does not require any oak aging and is primarily a light, crisp everyday drinking wine, and the Morellino di Scansano Riserva, which must be held for two years after the harvest, with at least one of these years in oak, a much heavier wine with considerable aging potential.

outdoors

Our first goal in the region is Col di Bacche, just outside Montiano in the high hills around Montiano. This relatively new property of 13.5 hectares rises above the surrounding hills and offers a splendid view of the bright blue Mediterrenean in the distance. It was first planted in 1998 with the first release appearing in 2004. It has rapidly advanced, becoming one of the premiere wineries in the area. We are greeted by Cosimo Carnasciale, son of the founder. Before trying the wines, we talked a bit about the intense heat and drought and its probable effect on the vintage. Cosimo was very upbeat, explaining to us that the area around Scansano is considered the hottest part of Tuscany, and that the weather there had been hot, but not drastically so by local standards. He’s expecting lower yields, but the quality is high and there has been no signs of diseases, which seem to worry Tuscan winemakers considerably more than the weather.

We began with the Vermentino, which was an interesting contrast to the Narà which we had tried the day before. Here, the nose was decidely fruity and florid, with very pleasant acidity that did not overpower but promised a good pairing with fish, antipasti and milder salamis.

vermentinoWe followed this with the 2015 Morellino di Scansano, the lighter of the two Morellinos produced here. It’s a ruby red wine meant for relatively early drinking, although it has some aging potential with 40% seeing five months in old French oak while the majority undergoes clarification is stainless steel tanks. This yields a well-structured fruity wine with soft tannins and notes of vanilla and strawberries. It’s lovely now.

scansano

We next turned our attention to the Morellino di Scansano Riserva Rovente Riserva 2013. The flagship. This wine is made from a hand selection of the best grapes with a maceration 18 to 21 days to express the full potential of the harvest and aging in new French oak for 12 months. “Rovente” is Italian for “fiery” or “passionate”, and the wine expresses these sentiments well, with a warm, round nose, mouth-filling, spicy body and a full finish. This wine is built to go the distance, and should reward 10 years or so of aging. It is considered one of the best Morellino di Scansano by many of Italy’s leading wine journals.

sreserva

Factoid: Cosimo remarked that in the future, the wine will be labelled solely Morellino di Scansano Riserva, dropping the word “rovente”, which can also mean “sizzling” or “scorching”. He says the winery has decided this is a bit over the top now that the vineyard has found its place among the top producers.

cosimo

As his final offering, Cosimo brought out his pièce de résistance, the 2014 Poggio alle Viole (Hill of Violets), his version of a Brunello di Montalcino. It is 100% hand selected Sangiovese, as is Brunello from what he considers his best parcel and sees 15 months of aging in small oak barrels. (Brunello actually requires 36 months) Oddly enough, he is not allowed to put the DOCG of Morellino di Scansano on the label: although the DOCG requirements mandate that the wine should be mostly (85%) Sangiovese, it cannot be 100% Sangiovese. It’s an Italian thing–Go figure.

poggio_viole

In any case, the wine is lovely, but a bit young. Dark ruby red with a gingery nose with some peppery hints. Lot’s of body in the mouth and a deep finish. The tannins, not overpowering, but clearly present, hint at a wine that could improve for many years. Cosimo thinks it could go 20 years. This is clearly the masterpiece of the house and Nancy, who usually trusts that I will buy everything in the house, took no chances on this one, insisting we had to have some. This is high praise indeed.

Leaving Col di Bacche heading south, we pass lovely hill town of Manciano in Toscana with its magnificent walls and medieval Fattoria della Campiglio, its stronghold. It’s a lovely day and we’d love to visit, but we want to get to Scansano for lunch and it looks like a bit of a drive. And so it is. The SS323 linking Scansano and Manciano winds it way up 500 meters through brush and pine forests with wonderful views towards the coast and into the mountainous region separating the Maremma from central Tuscany. The top is down and the weather is perfect. A lovely drive.

Wine Run: La Maremma and Bolgheri – Part I

Another guest post from The Wine Guy.
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Day 1
maremmaOn this trip, we’re going to visit the southwest of Tuscany along the Mediterranean coast. Home to surprisingly good, and very reasonably priced, wines you might want to try to find. While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll also look into what is probably the most prestigious (and correspondingly expensive) district in Tuscany, which you probably haven’t heard much about as the wines are usually locked away from prying little fingers. More on that later.

Let’s start with our primary goal, the Maremma. We’re in the Porsche, so if I’m driving alone it’s probably about two-plus hours. However, Nancy’s along, so let’s call that two and a half. We drive west into the rolling hills of Tuscany as far as Sienna then swing south on the SS223 towards the principal city of the Maremma, Grosetto. We pass through some rugged, rocky hills that seem to form a natural barrier between this area and Chianti and finally emerge into the green rolling hills of our first target, the wine district of Montecucco clustered around the picturesque hill town of Cinigiano. Our goal is the winery of Leonardo Salustri in the village of Poggi del Sasso, about five mile from Ciniziano.

view

Although Poggi del Sasso is quite small, we had an interesting time finding the place due to the peculiarities of Italian signage, where signs facing the driver and pointing to the left can mean (1) go straight ahead down the road in front of you, (2) turn left here, or, (3) we’re just across the street. After a round trip through the village and several expeditions on foot, we stumbled into the business office at the back of the cantina, where we were cordially greeted at last.

nara_property

The Salustri family has been making wine in this area since the turn of the twentieth century, making it one of the oldest wineries in the Maremma. Their 50 acre property is located on the outskirts of the Amiata, a series of lava domes surrounding the 5,000 foot high Monte Amiata. The property is certified biologic, meaning that no pesticides or other artificial substances are used in production. He limits his production to the three grapes typical to the Montecucco region, Sangiovese, Vermentino and Ciliegiolo.

nara_wineguy

Our first sampling here was the Vermentino, which is the primary white grape of the western Italian coast and Sardenia. Our host explained to us that his vines were unusual in that Vermentino on his property, while excellent in all other dimensions, lacked nose. He is very jealous of the quality of his grapes–he works closely with the Eneological Institute of Pisa and his grapes are registered as specific types of Sangiovese and Vermentino there–and not about to replace anything on his property. Thus, he very reluctantly brings in grapes from another property to round out the wine. Our Vermentino, the 2015 Narà, certainly was not lacking in this department, having a well-defined mineral nose, not at all floral, but very promising. On the tongue, the wine was mildly acidic and medium bodied with a hint of berry and interesting pear notes in the back of the palate. It had a nice dry finish. Impressive.

nara_vermentino

Our second sampling was the 2015 Marleo Montecucco, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Ciliegiolo, a local varietal known for its large, red grapes (ciliegio is italian for cherry) used primarily for blending, which lends color and fruity notes. The wine is fermented with the skins for about 15 days, matured in steel vats and finishes with six months in the bottle, giving it a light, “drink me now” air, but with sufficient body to stand up to salami, aged cheeses and other heavier flavors. It goes for about 12€ here, so the price should be right if you can find it. If your palate inclines to the lighter red wines, this one’s for you.

marleo

Our final tasting was of the Santa Marta Montecucco. This is 100% hand selected sangiovese with 20 days of fermentation and maceration. To achieve what the winemaker considers the proper balance, half the wine spends 24 months in large (700 gallon) oak barrels while the remainder is kept in steel. According to our host, this lends the wine a taste of oak “from afar” sufficient to bring out the flavors. I agree completely. This is a very large wine, for me comparable to some Brunello di Montalcinos. The oak is there, but moderate, balancing out the fruitier notes and resulting in a dense structure. A lively nose, with strong tastes of black cherries and sage in good tannins. A great finish that sticks with you. This one will go a while.

salustri

Now the good news and the bad news: Salustri is known for two award-winning single vineyard bottlings, Grotte Rosse and Santa Maria, which in the 2013 (latest) bottling drew rave reviews. Sadly, both are sold out. That’s the bad news. Now the good news: There were a couple of unsold magnums in the house and I got some. I’m sure that we could deal with a magnum, although it might be unpleasant later, but I’m keeping this for truly wine loving visitors. You get here first and you get to drink it. Something to consider.

wine_tasting

Leaving Poggi del Sasso we make our way towards Cingiano, the center of the Montecucco wine area, for lunch. Cingiano is a small hill town whose various districts sit upon ever smaller hills with even narrower streets. Quite exciting in the Porsche. We spot our restaurant, which sits on a small square, and note with horror that there’s no place to park. Nancy isn’t about to let me go back around these narrow streets, so things look iffy. Luckily, we see a sign which leads us to a miniscule parking lot with just enough room left for us. I’ll leave the details of the restaurant to Nancy in her blog, other than to say that it had a huge slice of old-guys-eating-enormous-plates-of-pasta local color, but I will tell you about the wine. It was Riserva Rigomoro 2013 from Tenuta di Montecucco. It’s a big one, with a fruity nose shot through with a bright note of cherries. Sapid, with moderate tannins that would reward some aging and a satisfying finish. It would really go nice with some strong cheddar cheese. Tenuta di Montecucco is also an Agriturismo, so if you’ve a yen to watch grapes grow in beautiful surroundings, you might want to put it on your list.

rigomoro

Properly fed, we point the Porsche south south west towards Grosseto and then north west into the rolling hills around Massa Marittima. Here, we find ourselves in one of the latest Italian DOCs, Maremma Toscana, created in 2010. Unlike many of the other DOCGs and DOCs, where specific grapes and blends are prescribed, this one, for the most part, satisfies itself with identifying the locality. The allowed grapes and blends reflect the topsy turvy nature of the zone, requiring a minimum of 40% Sangiovese while admitting any combination of red varieties permitted somewhere in Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante (Granache), Merlot, Petit Verdot and a vast number of native varietals. The white must be based on 40% Vermentino or Trebbiano, but after that it’s Katy bar the door, with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and others permitted somewhere in Tuscany.

As the sun sets, we approach our hotel for a well earned rest. I’ll refer you again to Nancy’s blog wherein our further adventures there.

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.