All posts by Lis Travers

Sipping A Cool White On The Italian Coast

Spending a day at the beach on the Italian coast in August is pretty much what I imagine hell would look like. Tanned bodies, lined side by side down the beach as far as the eye can see – all glistening from Bain de Soleil SPF4. Remember that smell?

But visit that same coast one month later and all of a sudden hell is transformed into heaven, with only the odd white Speedo clad professional tanner in sight. This is a road much less travelled in September, so the miles of uninhabited beach also come at a fraction of the cost.


Toe to toe in the warm waters of the Adriatic Coast

Welcome to Senigallia, on the Adriatic Coast in Le Marche province. It’s about 35 minutes north of Ancona, the biggest city in the region. Sun-drenched hotels, most of them shuttered up for the season, line the beachfront boulevard. You can walk for hours, stop and take a dip in water that’s warmer than Maine in the heat of the summer, or just settle on the sand with a picnic and a good book.

Or you can venture further south and hit the jackpot.

Paradise Found

Our little convoy headed towards Parco Conero, a massive national park on the coast. None  of us had ever been there, but nothing ventured……We made our way up steep twisty roads, passing cyclists with thighs the size of giant Redwoods, to a little coastal  town called Porto Nuovo which is hugged by some of the bluest water I have ever seen. The beach was covered with small smooth stones, the water perfect for an afternoon dip to chase the clouds away.

The only restaurant still open for the season welcomed us warmly. They brought plates of local mussels and clams pulled from the sea that very morning. Our gracious waiter suggested a red and white from the region. The red, a Lacrimo de Moro d’Alba, although distinctive, did not get many takers.  It smells strongly of roses, and has a very intense taste of prunes.  But the white, Mama Mia, La Vigne – a Verdicchio Di Jesi …well we ordered six more, cleaning them out.

On a wine note, if you are bored by your Pinto Grigio, give a Verdicchio a try.

We sat for hours contemplating life over wine and a beautiful view, took a swim in water so clear you could see the fish swim by and sunned ourselves on the rocks.

To quote Mungo Jerry, In the Summertime when the weather is fine, you can stretch right up and touch the sky”.


What a way to extend the summer!

A Tuscan Watering Hole

If you ever visit the  town of Montepulciano, put on a pair of comfy shoes and head to the top of the hill. E Lucevan le Stelle is a restaurant with an outdoor patio that overlooks the rolling hills of Tuscany. The restaurant is named after the third  act of Puccini’s opera, Tosca.

 “When the stars were brightly shining ”  tells the story of Mario, a painter in love with Tosca. It became the favourite watering hole of another pair of well-known lovers – Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart during their happier days filming scenes from New Moon.

( For Twilight fans, Montepulciano was the stand in for Volterra hence the New Moon t-shirts and menus in some of the more touristy spots). At twilight, e Lucevan Le  Stelle became our neighborhood gathering place during two days in the town.

 

 

Owner Kristian and Luca moved tables and kept the wine coming as the new arrivals to our group kept coming on our first night. They could not have been more gracious.

There is something so wonderful  about seeing old friends walk through the door of the perfect little restaurant, in the perfect little town, at the start of a perfect little vacation. My friends Cindy and Phil only found it because a kind-hearted truck driver took pity on the first timers trying to navigate the twisty roads in the dark, and he drove them there himself.

Those are  the kind of people you meet everywhere in this wonderful country. They take the time to talk, to share their knowledge, and while you enter as strangers, you often leave as friends who you hope to see again.

Luca was a big fan of the locally produced Valdipiatta, a  small winery with some big  wines.  It became our wine of choice for the eight of us over dinner, lots of catching up, and getting acquainted.  Even with eight bottles, the dinner cost us 45 Euros per couple.

 

The stars shone brightly for us that night.

I love Italy!

 

 

Mystery Solved

So if you’ve ever heard the expression “go with your first instincts” pay attention and do exactly that, because when you over think it, you’ll get it wrong.  I was recently invited to take part in a really fun endeavour called The Label Project. Basically over a period of time I received 3 boxes that arrived by “No Name Sender”.

Each box contained a bottle of wine that was unidentified and through some provided clues and tastings I had to determine what the wines were and where they were from.  Then last Friday I had to hand in my tasting notes and today the results were revealed.

The first wine I received was a white and I really thought it was a cool climate chardonnay but wanting to be absolutely sure I totally over analyzed it to the point I got it wrong, and believe me I really hate getting things wrong.   I even had a friend (a talented Sommelier try it who also didn’t think it was a Chardonnay after several sips – goes to show the experts are sometimes as challenged as a novice when it comes to blind tastings) The other 2 bottles were reds and I figured I would just enjoy the wine and not try so hard and guess what?  I got them both right.

Jacob’s Creek Wines

Today I received a letter from the wine maker, Bernard Hickin of Jacob’s Creek thanking me for my participation (no thanks needed – I had a ton of fun). He revealed the 3 wines I had tasted from 3 renowned Australian regions, Barossa, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills.  Along with the letter I also received the same three bottles of wine, this time with the actual label you’ll find on the bottle when you buy it at the LCBO. Now I guess I’m just going to have to open up that Chardonnay again, close my eyes and just enjoy. If you’d like to try them as well, here’s a list of the three bottles:

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (from Adelaide Hills, Australia) $14.95

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2009 (From the Barossa Valley, Australia)  $16.95

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Fromm Coonawarra, Australia) $16.95

 

A Foodie’s Temptation (Why everything tastes better in Italy)

Osteria L’Acquachetta has a handwritten sign on the front door that tells visitors if you want a seat, fogettaboutit. Go home.  If you don’t have a reservation, don’t bother.This is not a pretentious little bistro, it’s the favourite place to eat for tourists and locals in Tuscany’s Montepulciano area.
And it is not hard to understand why.
The Lovely Anina

 

Tell waitress Anina that you come from Canada, and she gives you a hug and asks you if we know Debbie Travis – a regular when she is in town.

There are half a dozen long tables side by side, so you never know who your dinner companions will be. My first visit I sat beside two vegetarians from San Francisco. Interesting because at the far end of the restaurant in the kitchen , huge slabs of beef sit on a counter in front of a wood burning stove.

Guilio – Man of Meat

The kitchen  is where Guilio is king.  Order a steak “alla” Fiorentina and Guilio hacks off a slab and brings it to the table for your consideration. My husband Steve, who is a certified carnivore, thought he had died and gone to meat heaven.

The rest of the specials are handwritten on a piece of brown paper and basically feature anything that tickled Guilio’s fancy at the market

that morning or something delectable dropped off by one of the farmers in the region who knows what he’s looking for.

Anina prepared a cornucopia of appetizers – from fried zucchini flowers, to Scamorza cheese baked with thin slices of pear, peperonata, and some concoction with fennel and onion that we wiped clean.

Then there were too many choices on the list of specials so there was plenty of sharing involved among our group of eight. Saltimboca, grilled rabbit, homemade pork sausages, tagliatelle with lamb ragu (a crowd favourite) – all reasonably sized portions.

 

Then there was the beef. You can’t really come to the Osteria without trying the steak.  It’s like going to Moishe’s in Montreal and ordering a peanut butter sandwich.  Our one slab of beef, worthy of serving at Fred Flintstone’s table,  weighed in at 1.9 kilos. And don’t ask for it well done.  Guilio is armed with a cleaver.

 

The colourful  owner has a few other rules, too. Don’t  ask for a cappuccino or any other frou frou item you would find on a tourist menu.  Oh, then there is a glass rule. you only get one glass for water and wine. It’s up to you to use it wisely. The house wine was a exceptionally quaffable Rosso Di Montepulciano at a whopping six Euros a litre, good enough to order five more.

While we couldn’t finish every bite, we did a fair amount of damage. Maria wanted to gnaw the meat bone, and I think Phil may have licked the dessert plate. Yes…we had dessert too and coffee all around. It started at one Tiramisu with eight forks, then Anina mentioned the chocolate cake and something with peaches. Lynn declared it the best  meal she has ever had and threw down the gauntlet to recreate it at a future gathering.

When it came time for the bill, the guesses ranged from 270 – 350  Euros considering that slab of beef and the parade of dishes that we ordered. Guilio came to the table and did the accounting right in front of us on a paper tablecloth.  The grand total…190 Euros – less than 50 per couple.

No wonder you need reservations!

Still Guessing

This has been an absolutely crazy week for me…my blogging partner in crime is currently away having the time of her life in Italy, as you can see from the previous post.  Since we also work together at our day jobs, when she’s not there things get a little stressful for me. There were a couple of big projects that needed to be taken care of, which meant I worked 23 hours from Tuesday morning til Wednesday night.  This of course didn’t leave time for much else except a little sleep so when I finally got back to my desk I found 2 new mystery boxes sitting there.

To boot I got a note from whoever is organising #thelabelproject that I had to figure out what these last two wines are and send in all my tasting notes by tomorrow afternoon.

So here I sit, sipping from bottle #2.  It arrived as usual in a box with a couple of clues and some chocolate

(Oh yes, I cracked that at the office to alliviate the stress – I would have cracked the wine as well but for some reason there’s a company policy against drinking wine at your desk – a shame really because I could have use a drink today!)

The clue states the winters are cool and wet but summer days are warm dry and sunny, well that could describe half of the globe so not much help there.  The varietal clues says spicy aroma of rich fruit cake, berry flavours with a hint of dark chocolate.

Since I better get a move on I’ve had a glass of wine #2 and I’m cracking bottle #3 which comes from a maritime climate, tastes of ripe cassis with a hint of mint…hmmm.

Right now all I definately know is these wine are from Australia.  This is definately tough work but someone’s got to do it.  But whether I get it right or wrong, it’s been a lot of fun trying to figure it out.  Considering in my line of work I get pitched a ton of marketing campaigns, some definately better than others.   So whoever came up with this idea deserves koodos because it definately caught my attention, way to go #thelabelproject

 

 

 

The Best Day Ever

There are days that are circled on your personal calendar of life followed by five stars. Today has been one of those days.

The Salcheto Vineyard

We started out by visiting Salcheto, one of my favourite wineries in Tuscany. The vines, heavy with ripe fruit, are ready for picking. Three years ago when we came to Cortona with friends for a birthday celebration, we were introduced to Salcheto, producer of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Salcheto’s Vertical Garden

 

It was one of highlights  of a week. And we stayed in touch with the director of hospitality, Ettore (Italian version of Hector) even when the winery was operating out of the back of a restaurant while the main facility was being turned into an ecological marvel.  Ettore gave us a tour and orchestrated a tasting of their outstanding wines over a Tuscan brunch.

The lunch of homemade pasta e fagioli and a plate  of Tuscan meats and cheeses was spectacular, the wine even more so.

My husband Steve at the Mozart Vineyard

Next stop about 35 km from Montepulciano was a winery known for its music.  Il Paradiso Di Frassina believes music will influence the growth of the vines. So it plays Mozart in the vineyard, 24 hours a day. This relatively small operation is in the heart of Brunello country – a region so beautiful that everywhere you look, is a photograph worthy of framing.Returning to Montepulciano, a 16th century hilltop town, we wandered down the side streets steep enough to give your calves a serious workout. We poked around the little shops, including my favourite, Fantamagoria where all the jewelry is handcrafted by the owner. I found a necklace that will make me smile and think of this day every time I wear it.

Then it is wine with a view.   Lucevan e Stelle, a little bar-restaurant at the top of the hill at magic hour.  the outdoor terrace overlooks the valley. Kristian and Luca, attentive, informative, knowledgable to a fault, suggest their favourites from their wall of wine. Each has the  price to order by the bottle, or for 20% less, to take home (which made one of my traveling companions wonder why the mark up has to be so much in restaurants in Canada – GOOD QUESTION! Two visits – 6 bottles. Seems about right.

Guilio – Owner of Osteria Acquachetta

Our day of days,  ended with dinner  at Osteria Acquachetta, a little hole in the wall with a big reputation. It’s the kind of place that represents everything that is best about dining in Italy. It’s loud. Its crowded. The owner and server have personality galore! Anina who is seven months pregnant, greets us like we are old friends.Guilio the owner, armed with a cleaver and eyebrows that stretch halfway up his forehead, deftly navigates the tables loaded down by slabs of beef. The food and wine just keep coming. Each dish is better than the last. The house wine, an excellent a Rosso di  Montalcino cost  6 euros a litre. That’s right. Less than $7.50 a LITRE.

What made this day so special, was getting to share all of this with my husband and with some of my dearest friends.

So when I will have one of those days that feels far too long, and couldn’t end soon enough, I will look back on this one, and know that whatever is going on, I have been truly blessed.

Loving Local

Tundra Lobby Bar

Recently I had a chance to visit the newly renovated Tundra Restaurant and lobby bar in Toronto’s Hilton Hotel.  Quintessentially Canadian from decor to cuisine the restaurant has won several awards in the past.  The textures used to create this new space are visually pleasing, warm and inviting, making both hotel guests and restaurant patrons feel like they’re enjoying a true Canadiana experience with a modern twist.

Chef Kevin Prendergast

Keeping it local on many levels Executive Chef Kevin Prendergast changes the menu seasonally and even has his own herb garden at the hotel.  From salmon to lamb chops, Cornish hen to grilled octopus the menu has something for everyone. I got a chance to sample several things off the fall menu including the seared duck breast which was my favourite.  One thing I noticed on the menu that I really liked was the fact that each dish came with a wine recommendation.

Since so many people get intimidated by trying to select a wine to pair with their meal and this takes away the stress and makes everyone feel like a sommelier.

Seared Duck Breast

Along with international wines they also carry a good selection of Ontario VQA wines and even have a house red and white provided by a Niagara vineyard which they serve at special functions.  So many people are realising its important to support our local growers and its nice to see that along with individuals restaurants are stepping up to the plate.

So whether you’re planning on staying the night or just looking for a place to enjoy dinner with friends, check in and check out the menu.

The Mystery Continues – Box #2 Arrives

As with any good mystery it’s the anticipation of the next clue that gets you excited. If you’ve been following our stories you’ll be familiar with this one, but if not take a minute to go back and read the story I posted on September 10 about a challenge I’ve been invited to take called The Label Project.

Wine Delivery – Bottle #1

So last week I received another delivery at the office once again from “Sender Unknown”. Already eagerly awaiting this package I opened it to once again find a wooden wine box with the front marked The Label Project.

This time there was actually a bottle of wine inside along with a letter of instructions, 2 written wine clues pertaining to the wine varietal and regional location as to where the wine comes from.

Also inside were 3 small spray bottles each containing a different scent associated with that particular varietal.

Like any good detective I first inspected the bottle for any obvious clues and even though the front label revealed nothing there was a small label on the back that stated White Wine, Product of Australia.  Well that was easy…but what next?

Written Wine clue #1 stated the region lies between two other major and much older wine regions and it’s famous for its fruit produce including cherries, pears and apples.  So I’m going for South Australia as it lies between New South Wales and Western Australia even though New South Wales is also well-known for its fruit production.

The Three Aromas

Next I started with the 3 aromas – #1 was definitely citrus, #2 was peaches or nectarines and #3 smelled a lot like hazelnuts but since these are most likely synthetic aromas it was hard to tell, they could have been trying to emulate cat pee a scent closely associated with Sauvignon Blanc and since the wine was white this could be a possibility.

 

Comparing the Colour

Sometimes its easier to figure out what something is by knowing what it’s not. Upon pouring the wine into a glass and seeing it’s colour I also poured a glass of something I definitely knew was an oaked chardonnay and compared the two.  This definitely wasn’t an oaked Chardonnay, it had a pale straw colour with a silvery rim but what is it?

Next was the nose…it wasn’t very fruit forward so I’m thinking it’s a cool climate because a hot climate wine is usually very fruit forward.

The taste was crisp and fresh with a high acidity so I’m guessing it’s a Sauvignon Blanc from somewhere near Adelaide in South Australia but what do I know I’m totally guessing.  I figured it would go really well with the Cheese Fondue we were having for dinner so that’s how I enjoyed it.

Do you think you could guess a wine from these clues?  It’s easy to create a fun challenge like this for yourself and totally makes for a great dinner party game, just take a couple of bottles and don’t let them out of the bag…pour the wine and challenge yourself and your friends and remember don’t judge a wine by it’s label.