The Prosecco Trail

I love prosecco.

I love it in the morning with a dash of OJ (for colour), as an afternoon palette cleanser, or a toast before dinner.

Prosecco turns any event into a celebration.

I am in great company.   More than 355 million bottles were sold worldwide in 2015 and the demand is still growing.

About 90% of prosecco comes from a region just north of Venice.  There you’ll find the  Strada of Prosecco, a 47-km trail lined with sparkling wine cantinas. 

We got the chance to tour one of the prettiest wineries in the region in late September.  And the prosecco was the lure.

Pitars is a fourth generation producer in San  Martino al Tagliamento, about 90 minutes north of Venice. 

The staff was setting up for a wedding the day  we visited. This place is so gorgeous, such a perfectly romantic setting,  it almost made me want to convince my husband to renew our vows.  Almost.  We opted instead  for a few toasts – mostly counting our lucky stars to be there.

After the tour, hospitality director Valentino Florian led us through a tasting of half a dozen wines.  Plan to spend some time.  They have 20 wines, each worth sampling.  White grapes rule the region. Most of fields in the area are planted with Glera grapes and used for prosecco.  I loved its aromatic flavour and bubbles that tingled on the way down. I especially loved their sparkling Ribolla Giallo – a white grape gaining popularity in Canada. 

Pitars produces eight whites and  four reds. Their  portfolio includes a Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Naos, a knockout red blend.  My cousin Lindo claims the only good wines in the world are produced in this region. 

“Un minuto!” I responded. “California, France, Canada, Spain? What about Tuscany?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders “I suppose I will give you Tuscany,” Lindo said .

Finally, the price.  A bottle of award-winning prosecco was SIX EUROS. Even with a generous exchange, that’s $9 CDN.  A  prosecco of this quality in Canada sells for more than twice the price.

As we were leaving, my husband tried to persuade me  to take home a dozen bottles, until I reminded him he was the one who challenged me to do carry on only.

That’ll teach him.

If you find Pitars on the shelves, try it first…then let me know!

Bonus Cocktail discovery:

Italian Lemonade uncovered at a Bistro in Canmore Alberta – Amounts vary to taste but I used:

1 cup of Limoncello from the freezer

Juice from 2 lemons

1/2 bottle of Prosecco

1-2 teaspoons of sugar (optional and to taste)

Top with sparkling water.

on ice.

Discovering Grappa

Distillery Pagura

Grappa is proof grapes keep on giving.

I never knew much about Grappa, other than my father telling me when I was a child, “Don’t touch, it can kill you.” Grappa was what was passed around the plastic-covered table when my father visited friends in our Italian neighbourhood in Montreal.

Grappa is made from the skins, seeds and stems  leftover when every drop of goodness is pressed out of grapes for wine. The aroma of the pomace or vinaccia is rich and heady, like the inside of a whiskey barrel.

It is steam distilled into a clear liquid of between 35 and 60 per cent alcohol.  Yes Dad, it can kill you.

Grappa is a digestive typically paired with coffee.  You can serve Caffe Corretto or corrected coffee, pouring it right in the cup,  or my favourite,  ammazzacaffe – coffee killer – where you throw back an ounce of espresso followed by a healthy shot of grappa.

 

Many years later, at my cousin’s table in Italy, it was served to me after dinner with espresso and a story.

In Italy, there is always a story.

Lindo Pagura’s family has been producing Grappa for four generations. His grandfather and namesake worked as an apprentice for Domenico Campagna who founded the Pagura Distillery in 1879.  Every morning farmers would drop by at 5am for a quick hit to get them started for the day. When Campagna died,  he left the distillery to his young apprentice.

 

Young Lindo grew the operation, winning international awards for his Grappa. But his success was short lived. He died at 35 leaving a wife and two children. Young widow Giovanna Mistruzzi kept the distillery running between two wars even though soldiers of all stripes freely came in to seize the Grappa.

“It is really all because of my grandmother that we are here,” says Lindo today.

The distillery looks much like it did one hundred years ago. Lindo and his three sisters  still use equipment given to the family in 1923 by Germany,  part of reparations from the first World War.

The distillery is in the small town of Castions di Zoppola, about 90 minutes north of Venice. It is a centrepiece of the village. Everyone knows Lindo and his family.  Several times a year he opens his courtyard to musicians and events.

The night I was there five jazz musicians and a choir of 40 performed the music of George Gershwin under the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Today the distillery produces a variety of grappas, from tawny coloured barrel aged varieties to bottles infused with local produce.  The bottles are personalized and each year, the family contracts an artist to create a unique bottle which is in itself a work of art.

Now the next generation of Pagura’s is preparing to take over the family business, moving forward with innovation, but very much  respecting the rich traditions of the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Woman of Wine

 

My journey of wine discovery has involved  many tastings. From massive producers to boutique variety to wine bars,  I have been graced to meet  many remarkable and generous people.  Sicilian winemaker Ciro Biondi gave us a tour and tasting with a heaping side of Italian history and the struggles between the north and south.

Morning Glory in Montepulciano

Irene Lesti of Montemercurio fed our love of Tuscan wine with stories of the valley, the people all, of course, over generous pours of their wines.  I’ve toured the spectacular Culmina vineyard in Oliver, BC with Don Triggs.  Thanks to Canadian wine collector Garrett Herman and crossed schedules with his close friends, we had the good fortune to be stand-ins at a  dinner with Marchese Piero Antinori, the head of one of the eldest winemaking families in Italy over a glass of Solaia.

My journey has been a very lucky one. I came to the conclusion that wine people love to share stories, a glass, a meal.  They all look at least 10 years younger.  They are the kind of people who despite the many challenges of the wine business, they are living their dream.

Cinzia Caporali was one of those people. We met her  at E Lucian Le Stelle, my favourite wine bar inside Locanda San Francesco – a stunning B & B in Montepulciano. The first time we shared a joke.  The second time, I brought 8 friends and we drank them out of Valdipiatta, her family’s wines.

Organizer Cinzia in Action

The third time she invited Steve and I to join a blind tasting of the new release of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with a dozen winemakers. My dream come true. That night I heard one of my favourite lines that I have used many times since.  “You don’t make friends drinking milk.”

The Contenders

When friends Matt and Crystal  were going on a honeymoon, I contacted Cinzia to ask her to have a bottle of Valdipiatta waiting for them in their room along with a gift and a card. Cinzia made it an extra special vintage to mark their  very special day.

Steve’s First Glass
at E Lucevan Le Stelle

And when my husband Steve had a terrible accident, she sent her best wishes. When he had his first glass of wine in 19 months at her wine bar, she said she was honoured and would not let us pay.

Guilio Caporali Among His Vines

Cinzia also organized what was undoubtedly our best wine tasting experience at Tenuta Valdipiatta with Guilio, her father. He talked about his love of opera, his love of wine and how proud he was of his daughters.

Over these visits, I learned Cinzia  was a mechanical engineer, she had a great sense of humour and she certainly knew how to bring people together and make them feel welcome.

We talked about getting together in Rome. Steve and I thought how incredible  it would be to explore the city with her. 

Just two days ago I sent a tweet with a photo of Steve and I sharing our last bottle of Valdipiatta, very excited to see her again in three weeks when we will be in Montepulciano.  I received a letter today telling me that Cinzia passed away last month. I have no idea how old she was because  wine people always look so much younger.   All I know is she was far too young.

E Lucevan le Stelle means  the stars are shining brightly, a line from Tosca, one of Puccini’s most famous operas.  Indeed, Cinzia made the lives of all she met a little brighter. I count myself  so very lucky that she became part of mine,

Continue reading A Woman of Wine

Stratus Winery: When Style Meets Substance

A bottle of wine tells a story even before it is  opened.  The shape can reveal its geography, its varietal, its history.

The iconic bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with the embossed logo representing a papal crest, hints at its storied history.   Burgundy, Bordeaux and Riesling  all have distinctive bottle shapes.

And then there is the 2014 Stratus Cabernet Franc ‘Decant’.

Stratus Decant 2014 Cabernet Franc

Industrial designer Karim Rashid has created a wine bottle as spectacular as the 2014 Cabernet Franc created by winemaker J-L Groux.

The design was inspired by the layers of soil that create some of the finest wines from the Niagara region.  The bottle  is elegant, easy to hold, and the design acts like a decanter when pouring the wine.

“The best designs come from functionality,” says Rashid, who Time magazine called ” the most famous industrial designer in all of the Americas.” His website is a cornucopia of the greatest design hits. Guess which shoes are his?

The unique style is matched only by the substance of the wine.  The Cabernet Franc grape grows well in the region. The problem is there have been too many wines with a nose and flavour of ripe green pepper.

“People have been making it wrong,” says Groux. “This is what Cabernet Franc  tastes like, when you get it right.” This wine is full-bodied and complex and has changed my impression of the much-maligned varietal.

At $95, this is  a collector’s item so act quickly. The production is small – only 110 cases – and it is only available  online or at the  winery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering New Niagara Wines: Domaine Queylus

One of the many advantages of  living where I do,  is the proximity to Niagara wine country.  Not that I was an Old World snob,…ok, I was an Old World snob…blame my Italian heritage – but moving to Toronto, one hour from some incredible wines, re-opened my eyes to wine horizons close to home.

Lucky for us, our friends (and scouts) keep an eye out for new wineries that will intrigue and delight.  

Enter Domaine Queylus They had me at the log cabin – reminiscent of the Quebec sugar shacks of my youth. But it was the wine, and the hospitality that will keep my coming back (and buying the wine).

The name honours Gabriel de Queylus, a wealthy Sulpician priest from France who was on the losing end of a Sopranos-like power struggle in early days of Montreal. The up side – it must have driven him to drink because on an expedition to the Great Lakes, he oversaw the first vineyards on the shores of Lake Ontario. 

Award-Winning Collection

We sidled up to the bar in the bright tasting room attached to the log cabin. Laurie started our flight with Chardonnay, not my favourite varietal. This one was full-bodied and elegant with just enough oak.  It is one of the best Chardonnays I have tasted recently and  I highly recommend it.

Their signature Pinot Noir was absolutely delicious, but the wine that we really took a shine to was the 2013 Cabernet Franc – also generally not one of my favourites.  This one was medium-bodied, complex with a long finish. I loved it. I bought some for home sipping and I am sure it will be outstanding with a juicy burger. 

Cabernet Franc 2013

Domaine Queylus challenged my tastebuds and the pre-conceived notions about certain wines.  It is a great addition to the region and I predict it is going to be a busy summer at the cabin.

A Glass of Wine with a Side of New York Stories

Frank’s Place on 2nd Avenue, NYC

Whenever I visit a city, I always check to see if there are any interesting wine bars that have garnered some great reviews. I have found it is a great way to discover some new wines – whether local or imported and meet people who share a passion for the grape.

Wine Cafe of Dreams

 

I did a 30-hour pop in to NYC, well-known for having some stellar wine bars. Casellula on West 52nd street is a gem in Hell’s Kitchen. The wine selection is creative. I loved the Matchbook Tempranillo – one of their staples from California. Or  Frank’s on 2nd Avenue in the Lower East Side where I found a Tuscan favourite called Salcheto.

 

But New York also makes me think of my dad,  Alberto Travers, who introduced me to the city many decades ago.

Alberto after he joined the Italian Resistance

He was  a fighter in the Italian resistance and to him, New York was the dream. As a teenager during the Second World War,  Alberto  fought alongside American soldiers, smoked their cigarettes, read their copies of Life magazine with a dictionary in hand  and heard stories of the greatest city in the world.

Back in NYC at last

Years later, my father would drive from Montreal in a van typically full of his children, our friends and visiting European relatives.  We all jammed into the same hotel room, though hotel is a bit generous for this downtown  place.

 

The Times Square Motor Inn was a favourite of my dad’s mainly because it included parking.  We found out the “hotel”  had a second vocation as a temporary shelter for the homeless and home to  some really big bugs and the odd rodent.  But  you couldn’t beat its location,  next door to the New York Times on  43rd  where the delivery trucks rumbled down the street after midnight. It was an impressive sight for  a wannabe journalist of 14.

 

 

The Former Times Square Motor Inn

 

Coincidentally on my latest visit, I ended up staying at a hotel right across the street. The New York Times moved around the corner, and the Inn was no longer open for business.

 

Those NYC trips were magic. From Broadway musicals like Chicago and A Chorus Line, to the late night improv clubs, to his own self-created Mafia landmark tour including Umberto’s Clam Bar where mobster Joe “Crazy” Gallo met his maker, My father  shared his stories and gave us experiences we will never forget.  The only rule: order the cheapest thing on the menu.

My father passed away  25 years ago in May but all four of his children inherited his love of New York.  One daughter and three grand daughters live there now.  The rest of us visit when we can. Relatives still talk about those adventures,  many of them over a glass of wine.

It is one of the  many gifts he left us.

A sign painter by trade  and a fan of fonts – my father  lived life in capital letters and taught us to do the same.

 

 

Movies for Wine Lovers

 

When wine is a passion, you are  always looking for new ways to enrich the experience,  The spa that serves bubbles, the endless hours in the hair stylist chair is eased  with a glass of chilled  Vouvray, and now my latest addiction…Movies for Grown-Ups.

The VIP movie theatre experience  has reached a whole new level with reclining seats more comfortable than at home, plenty of leg room and a selection of wine by the glass or even by the bottle.

This is the way to watch a movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A glass or two  of Sparkling  during La La Land.

Five ounces of California Cab to sip during Manchester By the Sea, Make that 8 ounces, please.

And a punch your face off Zin to sip while hiding your eyes on the Saturday afternoon shoot ’em up  flick Jack Wick 2.

You get the idea.  This is the way to watch a movie.  A little pricey, but Boomers no longer have to pay the sitter.

it’s dangerously addictive.  And the appeal is clear.  No crowds. No line-ups.

The message is simple – if you pour it, we will come.