In Love With An Italian

The beautiful region of Tuscany
Both Lis and I love all things Italian…the people, the food, the wine…actually we’re not really sure what’s not to love.  We’ve been there many times and both of us has family there who we wish we could visit more.  But aside from family we love going to explore the various wine regions and generally can’t wait for our next visit.  So in honour of our connections to Bella Italia we bring you our weekend wine picks:
The Estates in the Chianti Classico. Le Marcie
From Lis:
How about a big juicy Chianti Classico?
This wine discovery was one of the new releases at the LCBO a few weeks ago.
Rocca Delle Macie Tenuta Sant’Alfonso Chianti Classico 2007. Lots of ripe red fruit, a lovely spicy aroma and incredibly balanced so it is oh so smooth. I just can’t get enough of Sangiovese grapes. A true Italian treasure. Excellent choice for quaffing with friends or perfectly paired with roasted meats. $21.95.
I have had several of Rocca delle Macie wines before in the $15 – $30 price range and they have not disappointed. The winery is about 40 years old and started by a gentleman named Italo Zingarelli – what a GREAT name and like so many other Italian wineries has turned into a family affair.  But  the really sweet surprise….check out Rocca Delle Macie website – not only does it include all their wines, but food and MUSIC PAIRINGS! If I wasn’t a convert before….

From Tina:
Personally I’m a big fan of a good Barbaresco and this one I found in general list. Not having to go into the vintages section means you should be able to get your hands on this pretty much any time.  It’s the Umberto Fiore Barbaresco DOCG and it’s only $16.30. It’s from the Piedmont region of Italy and the grape varietal is Nebbiolo the same grape used to make Barolo.  As Barbarescos tend to be a bit lighter I served it with a lovely pasta and my husband who often challenges my wine picks loved it.  I’ve since returned and bought 4 more bottles…definatlely easy drinking.  There’s a link to the LCBO in the blog roll on the right.  If you key in either wine in the product section you’ll find which store near you carries these wines.

Salute!

Traveling in Style

Train from Switzerland to Italy

There has always been a great allure to me about traveling by train. My father always used to say  “I never heard a train go by without wishing I were on it.” I don’t know where it came from, or if it was really a quote, or if it reflected his unfulfilled dreams, but to a teenager who had just devoured “The Drifters” by James Mitchener and who could barely spell mortgage,  it felt like the perfect life. I wanted to be Gretchen, the drifter who carried her guitar across Europe.

I did carry mine to Italy when I was 14′ even though I could barely play two songs – Norwegian Wood (3 chords) and “my own” composition that sounded remarkably like a Bob Dylan tune. Fast forward decades and traveling between Paris and London through the Chunnel with  work mates, a few bottles of wine, baguettes and cheese turned into an unforgettable experience.  Or even today, taking advantage of an incredible VIA Rail sale and heading to Montreal to visit friends and family.

While I LOVE LOVE LOVE the never ending wine glass in VIA One, I brought my own to economy.  I am sipping a  Mimosa thanks to the Zonin Prosecco traveling 3-pack $11.95 at Vintages.

Though between the time I picked it up and the time I left on my trip, it turned into a 2-pack. In any case, sipping a Mimosa, listening to great music with free WIFI on a train that I don’t have to WISH I were on, is the perfect way to start an extra long weekend!

Happy Labour Day.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

F’Amelia located at 12 Amelia Street, Toronto

A common theme on this wine journey of discovery of mine is the delightful surprises that happen along the way.   Tonight that surprise came in the form of a little place  I had heard and forgotten about in the cacophony of new restaurant listings. Rita, one of my dearest and most willing dinner companions suggested F’amelia , a little Italian eatery tucked away in  Cabbagetown.
The first thing that made me happy, apart from the perfect parking spot, was the charming location. This is place is all about neighborhood. I almost hear the theme song to Cheers.Next, the wine list -lovely suggestions by the glass or bottle, some I recognized, some calling my name.

I picked Garofoli Monte Real 2010 Sangiovese. It came with a strong recommendation  from the waiter.  Such a perfect pick. With Rita running a little late –  I had Google-time. Surprise number two, the winery is about 45 minutes from the farmhouse near Ancona, Italy that I am visiting in three weeks. Thanks to Google and WIFI, within a few minutes, I had made a tasting appointment.
The menu was simple. The pizza fantastic. The conversation lively. But the real joy of F’Amelia on Amelia street, is it feels like it’s run by a favourite aunt or uncle. One who wants  you to take your time, not  rush. If you want to work your way through the wine list, there’s time to compare notes.  If you want to know more about the home made pasta or the pizza dough made on site , just ask. And even though Cliff and Norm aren’t sitting at the the bar, it really one big F’Amelia.

The Perfect Marriage

Wine and music. I can’t imagine life without them.  Of course my family and friends push them out of first and second  place – but really they’re so much a part of my greatest memories: Sunday dinner, Lucia party (A Swedish Christmas celebration), graduations, birthdays, travels or a gathering of great friends.

A Perfect Marriage

I’ll create a playlist for most special occasions, whether it’s a trip, a workout, music to cook by, laid-back tunes and most recently wine-tasting and wine-studying. My husband is my fiercest critic and greatest fan. He loves telling people my playlists degenerate towards the end – but he always downloads them to his iPod, so they  can’t be all that bad.
Every once in a while on a Friday or Saturday night, I will pick a few bottles and wrap them up in a paper bag after they’re opened. All  I need is a few minutes to forget which is which – but if you want to be sure, get someone else to mix up the order. I started by trying three wines, each from a different country and each a different kind of grape. A Rioja from Spain, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California and a Chianti.  If you have never done it before, get a few details about each wine and see what you can pick out from the appearance, aroma and taste. If you know you’ve practiced, challenge yourself and get three California Cabs  or three Australian Chardonnays from different regions.There are lots of great web sites to give you the ABC’s of Wine Tasting from Wine Spectator, bottle notes, or the Wine Doctor.  IYellow Wine Club founder Angela Aiello sums it up for first timers with 5 easy steps:

  1. sight
  2. swirl
  3. smell
  4. sip
  5. savour

If  you do it with friends and each brings a bottle – then you can afford better wine. Experimenting  is a lot of fun definitely worthy of a playlist or two. Building your own is also one of the great pleasures of life so give it a try. Here is mine:

Lis’ Wine-Tasting Playlist

  • Your Body Is a Wonderland – John Mayer (as is the body of a great Cab)
  • Your Song – Elton John  (great swirling music)
  • You Really got a Hold on Me – Smoky Robinson and the Miracles (tried a great Barolo lately?)
  • You Can’t Make it  Love – Michael MacDonald ( who has a voice like the deepest Shiraz)
  • You Are so Beautiful – Joe Cocker (frightening, but I have thought that about a great glass of wine)
  • Humble Me – Norah Jones (I could be thinking about the great winemakers Antinori and Gaja – more or likely their wine)
  • How Deep is Your Love – Bee Gees (or how deep is the  colour in your glass)
  • How Do You Keep the Music Playing -Tony Bennett and George Michael
  • So Right – Paul Simon
  • Sara Smile – Hall and Oates
  • This Guy’s In Love With You – B.J.Thomas
  • Up on the Roof – James Taylor and Carole King (because they go together in perfect harmony like wine and music)
  • Into the Mystic – Van Morrison
  • Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding (because it may be one of the most perfect songs ever written)
  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac version
  • Drive  All Night – Bruce Springsteen ( because anyone who would drive all night to buy his woman some shoes deserves toasting)
  • Heart of Mine. – Boz Scaggs
  • Through the Fire – Chaka Khan (because I can hit the high notes in my dreams. Or in my car. Only if I am alone..I promise)
  • Tiny Dancer – Elton John ( because you might have had enough wine to sing along – though watch the wax if you hold up a candle instead of a lighter- concert style) Also a favourite of my blogging partner whose name is Tina Daenzer and back when well-known sportscaster Rod Black hosted Canada AM he would sing to Tiny Daenzer when she arrived at the studio (minus the wine in the mornings of course)
  • Still Crazy After all These Years – Paul Simon (because Paul Simon is such a genius)
  • Thunder Road (the acoustic version or any version for that matter) – Bruce Springsteen ( because he could be the greatest songwriter of our time. This is his greatest song and this is such a powerful  version that it can pair with a wine that’s rough around the edges or smooth as silk).

And if you are exploring Italian – throw in a little Andrea Bocelli,   Chris Botti’s Italia CD is divine, and Chiara Civello, the best Italian-English  singer you have never heard of will keep you coming back for more.

Whatever you choose to  add to your playlist, whatever memory it brings back, whatever wine you pour in your glass, so long as company is selected with care, you will have the perfect blend.

Quote Me!

From Galileo to William Shakespeare there are many famous wine quotes but none that embody how we feel about our favourite drink like the quote from famed California winemaker, Robert Mondavi.

In his autobiography, “Harvests of Joy” he wrote “Wine to me is passion.  Its family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.”

That quote pretty much says how we, The Women of Wine feel about life, love and the pursuit of a good bottle of wine.

There has been famous wine quotes since our favourite nectar of the God’s was first served up, many somewhat serious yet poignant.

“Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.”  Homer, “Odyssey (9th c. B.C.)

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”  Benjamin Franklin

“In victory, you deserve champagne, in defeat, you need it.” Napoleon

“Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” – Ernest Hemingway

Lately we’ve run across a lot of great quotes that made us laugh so we thought we’d share them with you.  Many I’m sure you’ve even seen on various websites or pin boards. We’re not always sure who to accredit them to and they may not stand the test of time like those attributed to Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin but they sure as heck make us laugh out loud.

“I wish I could trade my heart for another liver.  That way I could drink more and care less” – Funny lady Tina Fey

“A good friend brings over a bottle to share.  A best friend brings two so you can each have one” – unknown

“If I ever go missing I want my picture on a wine bottle instead of a milk carton.  This way, my friends will actually know I’m missing”.

And since we all know Sip Happens!!! Grab a glass, pour yourself some wine, and relax and enjoy.

All Screwed Up

Screw cap or corkscrew it’s generally not a discussion about how you open the bottle but how the closure affects the wine and how you store it.

0Screw caps have often been associated with cheaper wines but this doesn’t tend to be the case anymore.  Now turning up on more and better wines the cap crusaders seem to be from Australia and New Zealand but they weren’t the ones who started the process, it actually started in France with a quest to eradicate cork taint.

It was also believed for some time there was a cork shortage in the world.  Natural cork actually replenishes itself and current estimates show that if cork trees were not reforested as they are now, we would have enough cork for the worlds wine bottles to last 100 years.

In the last while there’s also been a third option, synthetic corks but the jury’s still out on those and testing seems to show they’re not favoured because of their inability to keep oxidation at bay.  This of course means the shelf life of a wine isn’t good for anything you may want to lay down in your cellar, which really doesn’t apply to the majority of people who generally drink the wine shortly after they purchase it.  On a recent tour to Chateau des Charmes in Niagara our guide told us they had an entire batch of wine they’d bottled with synthetic corks to test them out but probably wouldn’t release that wine because they’re still uncertain about how the wine will be affected after a number of years.  Personally I would be happy to take a few bottles of their hands to help with a taste test.

True cork dorks of course insist the only good closure is a natural cork produced from the trees of Spain and Portugal because you can’t age something with a screw cap.  True or false, I’m not sure but here are a few things I know for sure.

Screw caps:

  • Screw caps take up less room because you can stand up the bottles rather than laying them down.
  • You’ll never have to search for a corkscrew.
  • You’ll never spend money on wine only to find out it has that tainted taste – mine you can generally get your money back from the retailer in that case
Lis' cork art
Lis’ cork art

Corks:

  • Opening a screw cap is not very sexy or romantic
  • While the aluminum of the cap is recyclable the liner in the cap is not so it still winds up in the trash while a cork is a natural product
  • And it’s fun to save the corks from great bottles and even use them for fun décor projects – you’d never do that with a screw cap.

So what’s the solution?  In my opinion it really doesn’t matter.  That’s the best thing about being a wine enthusiast, whether it’s a screw cap or a cork, you get to keep trying different wines from around the world and no two will ever taste exactly the same.

Great Wine Reads

I’m a big reader – there are always 2-3 (more like 4-5) books on the go on my night table. There are magazines and another couple of books in the bathroom, on the coffee table and always one in my gym bag (sometimes it takes me a little longer to read that one). because I never know when I’ll have a few minutes or 20. After I took a wine class, the need and desire to learn more about what I’m drinking has led to a growing wine collection – not just the text book variety which, I learned the hard way, are always required to weigh at least 10 kgs. Here are some fun and fast  favourites that are worth making their way to a reading spot near you.

Educating Peter

Educating Peter: How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot or How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert by Lettie Teague

If you love movies and love wine – this book is fun quick read by Lettie Teague who writes a terrific column for the Wall Street Journal. She takes on the challenge of teaching the elements of wine to  Peter Travers (no relation), the long-time film critic for Rolling Stone magazine whose favourite wine is a flabby Chardonnay. This is not wine school. This is a fun ride through varietals, regions, peppered with analogies to movies and movie makers.  It won’t change your life, but it will have you wishing to have Lettie Teague as a teacher when you look at the wines they sampled together – simple little bottles from the $599 Harlan Estate to a $4000 bottle of Screaming Eagle. And where else would you find out what Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese and Peter Jackson pick from the wine list?

Red, White and Drunk All Over

Red, White and Drunk All Over by Natalie Maclean

Now I LOVED this book. Natalie Maclean, Queen of www.nataliemaclean.com,  takes you on a journey of her wine experiences while making you lust after some of her stops along the way. COME ON, she tours Domaine Romanee Conte – which ONLY  produces one of (if not THE) greatest Burgundies of all time with owner Aubert de Villaine. She spends a few days in the fields with one of California’s most colourfull wine makers Randall Grahm – founder of Booy Doon Wines. He describes himself as a vinarchist and  “champion of the ugly-duckling grapes” which is one of the reasons he became known as a Rhone Ranger. And that’s just the first two chapters.  What I really liked about this book, is Maclean’s approachable style.  Each chapter is  a great experience with lots of information thrown in. It is educational – but not dull or intimidating in any way.  Honestly, by a few pages in  you just wanted to be riding shotgun on that adventure.

A Hedonist in the Cellar

A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine by Jay McInerney

Jay McInerney exploded on to the bestseller list (and on to my night table) with Bright Lights, Big City in 1984. Now one of my go-to sites on Saturday morning is the Wall Street Journal where he writes a wine column.  There’s nothing stuffy about this collection of essays from McInerney’s days as a wine columnist for House and Garden magazine.  McInerney blends his extensive wine knowledge with his ability to tell a great story. It’s so well written that there are descriptions imprinted in my memory. Who else would describe  the notoriously difficult Pinot Noir Grape as ” the source of  more heartbreak  and tears than country music radio “?  His essays take you around the world:  from the most modest wine store – where the writer was first exposed to the joy of wine  to a restaurant table  in Italy for a chat with Angelo Gaja – one of the greatest

living wine makers. It’s no wonder Salon has called McInerney,  the best wine writer in the U-S.

So many to choose from

There are so many more great wine books out there. And coming soon will be a few suggestions on books about wine pairings (a couple are still on the night table). But just writing about these ones has made me want to read them all over again!

The Big Chill meets Under the Tuscan Sun

Friends Italian Style

Take twelve people. Most of them strangers to one another.  Entice them with the promise of winning wines,  primo pastas and the other tantalizing tastes of Tuscany.

What do you get?

The Big Chill: Italian-style

When I turned  50, instead of shrinking from the F-word, my 50th year would be nothing short of F-F-Fabulous. I pitched a dazzling dozen of dynamic wine drinkers a villa vacation – and it proved to be an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Google tuscan villas and you hit about 1.5 million matches – everything from luxury villa retreats to castle apartments.  My group of seasoned travelers included hostel hoppers, cottage couples and travelling teens – old friends and new. Most had never been to Italy.

Our pool under the Tuscan sun

I gathered their preferences and narrowed it down to three properties: one about 20 minutes of Cortona, the stunning hill town made famous by Frances Mayer’s Under the Tuscan Sun, the second near Siena and the other in Chianti – the heart of Tuscan wine country. The group voted and  committed with cash.

Our beautiful villa

I will admit to moments of trepidation. What if it was a scam? What if the pictures were of another villa surrounded by landfill? Or maybe there was no villa at all? How could I be sure?

Even worse, what if the villa was perfect and everyone didn’t get along?

We planned to meet in a parking lot outside Cortona. One thing you realize quickly – even when you speak Italian, getting directions is not easy. It’s more of a state of mind – like getting a recipe from my mother – a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Invest in a GPS. In this case. no one had to pave paradise , you were surrounded by it.

A place of unbelievable beauty

Andrea, son of the villa owner, and most gracious host – met  us and accompanied  us to the villa. We never would have found it ourselves. The address was something like turn right after the bus stop at marker 232 and continue along the third dirt path until you are absolutely sure an axe murderer will pop out of the bushes and there’s no one to ask for help just chestnut trees and the odd family of wild boar.

But when we turned the final corner, it was obvious, the pictures on the web site didn’t come close.

Our villa turned out to be a 13th century treasure. Six bedrooms, each with its own separate bathroom over three floors, a huge dining room table where we ate every night and a living room with overstuffed couches  in front of the fireplace, with enough space to dance up a storm.

A villa fit for kings

The main kitchen was big enough that the wannabe Italian cooks never had to compete for space. Then there was the pool, the view and the price.   $2500 for the week or about $500 per couple.

My wonderful band of strangers bonded on the first night over the freshest salami, ripest tomatoes, most fragrant cheeses washed down by local wine. We brought our own music and danced until 3am. Nice start to wash away any worries.

A breathtaking view from the pool

But renting a villa with a group of people forces you to make all kinds of decisions.

Take a wine tour or a cooking class, a bike trip or feign jet lag and relax, visit  places with names that you’ve probably read on wine bottles. Montepulciano, Montalcino, Chianti, Orvieto.

We took the slow option and hung around the pool most of the first day.

A taste of Tuscany

Blame  Marcella – mother of our host Andrea. She arrived with her cheerful assistant Valentina to cook us a five-course dinner. And we didn’t want to miss a second. I was the only one who could speak passable Italian, but where there is a will there is a way. Johanne and Lynn watched as  the kitchen was transformed into a haven of heavenly smells. Marcella and Valentina whipped up three kinds of appetizers, spinach pie, two kinds of homemade pasta – yes made right then and there – one with fresh mushrooms, the other with fresh tomatoes and a chicken roasted with something delectable, all topped off with a fruit flan of some sort. Did I mention it cost 30 euros a person WITH wine?

Friends and family

There are moments in life when it feels like you are being rewarded for any good deed you have ever done in your life. That’s exactly how I felt. Graced with my daughter and her best friend who is like a daughter to me, my best friends who have been through the best and worst of times, and new friends who have become such an important part of my landscape – we all sat together around a table as families do. How could I be so lucky?

I knew I had nothing to worry about when Johanne one of my oldest and wisest friends said after the first night – there will be tears when we say goodbye.

The rest of the week just kept getting better. Picture the Big Chill – Italian style.  The kitchen became the hub. A few of us, standing around the centre island, one whipping up a salad, another a plate of antipasto – with the freshest ingredients bought that afternoon, another trying out a favourite pasta recipe as familiar to them  as breathing.

Our walking tour of Tuscany

We walked, we talked, we wine toured and talked more. We solved the problems of the  world. Any problem we had a world away.

And on the very last day – we had lunch outside the villa Under the Tuscan Sun – we drank too much – danced on tables and threw rose petals at the wind. But most important we got to experience that something special with people and a place that you will never  forget.

If you are going:

  • 6 months before departure date – confirm with potential housemates. You will find everyone wants to go, but when it comes time to commit, the group shrinks.
  • Get the group to rate their priorities: price, ensuite bathroom, close to town or in the country
  • Look for a recommendation.  We worked with rentvillas.com and our most gracious host Andrea who has a number of villas available info@casaleruffignano.com

 

Paradise by the Cheeseboard Light

Formaggio, oost, queso, fromage – cheese – loved and savoured, in any language. It even has the power to alter your dreams, according to one British study, but never gives you nightmares.

I came late to the cheese plate. I was one of those odd kids who didn’t like cheese. “I’m allergic,” I told people when they pushed a cube towards me. Then one day at  McD’s, my teenage crush du jour ordered a  quarter pounder WITH a gloppy square of yellow processed something. Of course, I was too well brought up to send it back.

And so it began.

This week, I discovered a cheese counter worthy of attention. My co-womanofwine blogger, Tina, has already described our outstanding experience at Toronto’s Alimento Fine Food Emporium a few posts ago..

But the cheese counter inside the Mercato is a story unto itself.  The Contardi brothers who own six Grande Cheese shops in the GTA opened Alimento in October of last year.  It’s half restaurant/Mozza bar and half high-end grocery store where you can sample the finest cheese, charcuterie, olive oil and balsamics. And let me tell you, this ain’t no sampling at Costco.
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Tammy Vitale is the Queen of Alimento’s cheese domain. She fell in love with cheese working in the Grande Cheese factory as a teenager.
Today, she hums, ponders, nibbles, savours to carefully select the dozens of cheeses sold at the Mercato at any one time.. Spend five minutes with her, and you know she is one of those people who is living the dream.
“My heart is truly into cheese. It’s my passion.”
Her greatest cheese moment; cracking a 50 kg wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s a tradition passed down for centuries using a special set of tools to slowly indent the wheel until it breaks apart without crumbling. The process has been described as “cracking open happiness”. Tammy would agree. She describes it with the same reverence as witnessing a live birth.
That’s because many of her life experiences are wrapped in cheese history.
“I grew up in it.” She says she can’t imagine a life without cheese.
Alimento carries 250 varieties of cheese, 140 at any one time. From the freshest Bufala Mozzarella – Tammy’s favourite, to Gorgonzolas, Pecorinos, Friulano and Burrata. And placed among these crown jewels of Italian cheeses, you will see  a number of the finest  that the  Niagara region and Prince Edward County have to offer.
“People think of cheddar, blah mozzarella and cheese curds when they think of local cheese, but I think they are awesome,” says Tammy.
“They’re not as pungent or sharp, yet they are very unique,” she adds.
Tammy’s favourite cheese dish: room-temperature Bufala Mozzarella with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The biggest mistake people make: not taking their cheese out of the fridge for an hour or two before serving.  “It’s why the same cheese will always taste better in Italy” she says.
The other mistake: letting a commitment to low-fat keep you from cheese. “Just eat small amounts” says Tammy. “Though it can be addictive” she admits.
Not to mention, it can give you sweet dreams of some morsel in your future.

Good Bubbles for your Buck

Bring on the bubbly

Summer’s definitely the perfect time for something fun and light and it seems everyone is finding a way to add a little fizz to their wine.  Over the last few years Prosecco sales have risen dramatically and it seems wine makers from around the world have taken notice.  On a recent trip to my local LCBO I realized they actually devoted an entire row of sparkling wines and everyone from the Francis Ford Coppola winery in California to the Wolf Blass label in Australia are offering their versions of sparkling wines to get in on the action.  There even seems to be a good selection of rosé sparkling wines.

In fact, in 2011 Prosecco sales rose 50% and this sparkling wine has done a great job in terms of value.  When you look at the average cost of a half decent bottle of champagne coming in at around $70 and the fact you can get a nice bottle of Prosecco for under $15 which one would you choose if you were just looking for a fun drink for a sunny summer’s day?

Lovely to enjoy on its own Prosecco it’s also a great drink to serve with Hors d’oeuvres, antipasta, or seafood.  I actually found one I really enjoy called Il Prosecco and it’s only $11.75.  It reminds me of an old school pop bottle it doesn’t have your regular type of pop cork it but a cap.  The bubbles are lively and it has medium-intensity citrus, pear and melon notes with a dry, light-body and crisp, refreshing taste.

Il Prosecco by Mionetto from Italy

So at this price I say “Bring on the Bubbly”