Monday, January 16, 2017

Merry in Sherry - trip report!

Recently we grabbed an opportunity of heading to Southern Spain. Our main goal was to get our heads around Sherry - and perhaps also to get a vacation from having small kids? Truth be told, when you can get a grandparent to watch your kids, you don't deny (especially when this is a luxury you're not used to).
The choice fell on Southern Spain, having already "done" the Port wine region in Portugal, this one was really missing from our experiences. Funny enough, we're were not particularly fond of either (even though a good port or sherry would never be denied) but these wines are so particular and important to the history of wine that a trip really really merits. And after visiting, you really do gain a different appreciation.
And I couldn't imagine a better time to visit than in the middle of winter. Temperatures are incredibly mild and, well coming from a nordic country, almost summer-like!

Our itinerary:
We started with 3 full days in Seville to, well, simply be tourists and discover the city on foot. The good thing about walking miles every day is that you get to celebrate your workout with lots of good food :)
Seville is an incredibly beautiful town. Tapas were born there & so was Flamenco. The Cathedral is breathtaking (one of the World's largest) and the orange trees decorate the streets wherever you go & monuments & squares are simply enchanting. Santa Cruz is one of the oldest in charming areas, very central and perfect to stay in as a tourist.
On the evening of the Epiphany we had the thrill of watching the parade of the 3 Kings with decorative carts and lots of children in costumes, throwing candies at the crowds!
Then we took the train 1 hour south to Jerez de la Frontera and had 1 full day in town to discover Sherry. You don't need a car as all the Sherry houses are placed in a circle around the city at convenient 5-10 walking distance one from another. You could probably check them all out in one day - we got a little tired after the first 6-7 and decided to take a nap at the hotel.
Next day we took the train from Jerez to El Puerto de Santa Maria (10 minutes) to visit a Sherry house on the harbour. From there we took a boat to Cadiz (30 mins) which was nice to walk around in for a few hours. And that rounded up our short trip.

Places we ate (& drank):
- Vineria San Telmo (Seville) - mentioned first, because it was our favorite. Varied menu of tapas and plates, excellent quality at good prices. Excellent list of wines, also by the glass. Waiters and owner very nice, environment simple, but pleasant.
Mamarracha (Seville) - We ate here the first night and enjoyed what a late Spanish dinner means, getting to eat only around 11 pm because the place was crowded. But worth the wait with some very nice contemporary tapas and a very good bottle of Toro.
- La Brunilda (Seville) - This was an enormously popular tapas bar, so we got there half an hour before opening time and actually waited in line to get in. We were a bit taken away by the crowd of tourists. However, the food was very good...but I don't understand the hype...
- Casa Morales (Seville) - This is a century old wine bar where wines were stored in the past. Now you can have a glass of wine (or two!) and enjoy some delicious cheeses or ham. Gets busy in the evening, but the atmosphere is local and it's worth elbow-rubbing for a space at the bar.
- Dos De Mayo (Seville) - a more traditional tapas restaurant. Best part was that we sat on the terrace and enjoyed the winter sun. The food was ok, but not specifically noteworthy.
- Abantal (Seville) - I was really looking forward to the tasting menu at the city's only Michelin starred restaurant, and even though the food wasn't bad, it just wasn't outstanding. My high expectations were met by a few original and interesting dishes, but some were just pure bland or boring. In my opinion the dishes lacked a thread of consistency. The wine pairing was quite decent and well priced.
- Las Banderillas (Jerez) - this is a typical sherry "tabanco" (traditional wine bar typically linked with one of the sherry wineries, selling wine from the barrel - quite cheaply, might I add). This one was very traditional with bulls pictures and otherwise bare facilities. Food was traditional, ok, not fantastic. Prices were extremely reasonable.
- Tabanco El Pasaje (Jerez) - simple wine bar with a lot of local regulars. You can order cheese and cold cuts (and lots of sherry) and other simple tasting dishes. Best thing of all is that there's a Flamenco show every evening from 9 pm to 10 pm. Absolutely loved that!
- Albores (Jerez) - locally quite a popular restaurant with an ample menu. Food was very good but somehow I didn't find it to be very memorable. Just good.
- La Bodeguilla del Bar Jamón (El Puerto de Santa Maria) - very nice wine bar / tapas restaurant with lots of wines by the glass and excellent hams...
- Casa Manteca (Cadiz) - a bar with lots of local charm. And apparently a must-go in Cadiz, we were told. Menu is mainly cured/pickled fish, but of course excellent. Especially the pickled sardines!

Wineries we visited:
- Tradicion (Jerez) - tour & tasting 20 euro per person (great tour & tasting by Ulrike)
- Lustau (Jerez) - tour & tasting 15 euro per person.
- Gutierrez Colosia (El Puerto de Santa Maria) - tour & tasting 10 euro per person (tours run by passionate Betrand and start at 11.15 am)

Small piece of advice:
If you are headed to Seville & you're a serious foodie, you should get into contact with Shawn who works with a few like-minded people in Seville. She has an extensive website on places to eat and organises small group tapas tours through her website.


















Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Wine on the Riviera (Ponente)

Liguria is the Northwestern-most region of Italy, lined by a beautiful coastline featuring steep cliffs, topped by medieval mountain hamlets, and colourful fishing boat villages that reflect in the beautiful Mediterranean blue water. 
Viticulture and olives are native to area since Roman times, but the rugged terrain makes any kind of agriculture a real challenge. Vineyards with native grapes such as Vermentino, Pigato & Rossese are typically terraced on hillsides facing the South. Taggiasca olives are so hard to harvest that they are often collected by falling onto a net, making a mild olive oil that goes well with local seafood dishes. 

We've spent some time discovering the Western area of Liguria which borders to France - the so-called Ponente (west of Genova city is Ponente, and East is Levante). Apart from the more commonly grown whites, Vermentino & Pigato, here grows a red variety called Rossese. The name may have you think of something red, but in fact it's a name that has been given to a family of varieties both red and white (Wikipedia). 
The area that is best known for the variety name is the Rossese di Dolceacqua, the latter being a cute little village in one of the valleys leading up to the Alps. The Rossese di Dolceacqua variety corresponds to a French grape called Tibouren which grows in Provence and is used to make pink wines. However, in this first Ligurian DOC region it is made to make a dry red, usually released only a year after harvest. A more selected version is released under the Superiore appellation, however both are dry and moderately alcoholic with a light color (similar to Pinot Noir) and soft tannins (this makes it one of the few reds that can match sea food quite well).

Here follows some pictures of our visits with a few wine makers from the area. Most are incredibly small with just a few hectares of low yielding vineyards and such a low production that labels may never reach the other side of the border. But the passion seems to be there, and a great desire to make high quality and to develop the area into a more notorious wine making region, as the potential is certainly there! We personally think that it could be interesting for the producers to age their wines a slight bit longer, perhaps using cement vats or big oak barrels. We are certainly looking forward to following the development of the region in the future!

Starting 2017 Grape Tours is proud to present the first ever small group wine tour from Nice to the Italian Riviera every Wednesday. Don't miss it!

Dolceacqua village

Apricale village

Vineyard facing the South (the sea)

Gajaudo - a "larger" operation

View from Terre Bianche

Filippo of Terre Bianche

Our first wine tasting of Rossese (bravo Filippo!)

Vineyard at Poggio dell'Elmo

Valentina with her father

Valentina with her mum

Another enchanting view from the vineyards


Marco at his organic winery

Tasting in the living room of the most panoramic house!!

Tino & Daniela

Dolceacqua in fundo!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Florence's Wine Windows "bucchetti del vino"

Ahhh...the laziness of winter has crawled upon us and at last after watching the last episodes of House of Cards and Lost I now have no excuse but to write a little post ;)

Before retiring for the winter, I went to discover the "Wine Windows" of Florence together with a group organised by the Associazione Culturale Bucchetti del Vino, an association of people who have as their goal to discover, create awareness & protect all of the Wine Windows found around Florence.
We did a 3 hr guided tour around the city center of Florence starting by the noble Palazzo Antinori that you should certainly go see when in Florence (free entry) - you can walk straight inside the courtyard simply to see how one of these palaces look from the inside, or even go for a glass of wine at their wine bar.

So if you find yourself in Florence and you're aware of the Wine Windows, you'll start seeing them everywhere. But beware! Because not all holes in the walls are true Wine Windows. Some were holes where candles were kept to lit up the madonnas (so likely ones that are close to a madonna are fake windows!). So if you want to see a really good example head for the Antinori Palace, take a right around the corner - and there it is, "vino" written right under it - you can't be mistaken. A perfect example of a Wine Window.

Wine Windows appeared sometime around the 17 hundreds in Florence and were installed to allow the free commerce of wine (so without a middleman) - farm to table, so to say. A very modern concept and unique for the time. Typically, the noble families of Florence who possessed land in the countryside traded products, made in their farms by the sharecroppers. Fresh farm produce, and of course in particular wine, passed through these windows on street level of the noble palaces directly to the consumer.

Some Wine Windows are quite decorative, others very simple. Some have a writing with the opening times to the public. Some have been covered up, others are now being used as a mailbox! There seems to be more than 150 Wine Windows in Florence, and they are constantly being unveiled and recorded, especially now that the aforementioned Association has created some awareness about them. You may also find them in other old cities around Tuscany, but Florence is the place with the highest concentration and where you will probably pass by 10-20 just within a 15 minute stroll around. Next time you're in Florence, make sure to notice them!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Free App: Flavorful Florence

Very happy to introduce a fun little side project I've been working on collecting some really great food related places around Florence & Tuscany for you to use next time you're in Tuscany!

It's work in progress, so expect much more stuff for the future. But I really hope you'll enjoy it! And of course I hope you'll review it after using! 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Harvest time is a time of joy...and of hard work!

Time for a little 2016 harvest report from Tuscany and a few pics from the past few weeks. We had a really hot and dry summer, so quantities are looking a little scarse, but so far the grapes are looking really good and many folks have high hopes for a great vintage. Of course, only time will tell...
This is a super busy period for all, anxiety, joy & hope. You really can compare it with a birth - in this case of a new potential long-lived wine (if we all were to have the patience to wait to drink these wines!).

 Harvest coming in from the Antinori vineyards at Badia a Passignano

Sorting of grapes at Fattoria La Massa in Panzano in Chianti


Giovanni Manetti happy with grapes coming in at Fontodi, Panzano in Chianti

Stomping of grapes like in the olden days at Fattoria Corzano & Paterno, San Casciano Val di Pesa

Grape bunches being laid out on bamboo for drying at Capezzana in Carmignano

A Vermentino grape at Castello di Gabbiano, in Chianti Classico area

A couple of bunches of Sangiovese at Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Panzano in Chianti

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