Sunday, March 29, 2015

Favorite Wineries: Selvapiana in Rufina

So I continue with the series of Favorite the end there should be quite a nice selection in this blog ;)
Rufina is a Northern area of Chianti (see map) referred to on labels as Chianti Rufina DOCG. It's considered second best to Chianti Classico because of it's elevation and cooler temperatures during summer (we're just up against the Apennine mountain range here). These conditions give origin to wines that are age-worthy.
Selvapiana is one of the oldest wineries of the region. The property has been in the family for 200 yrs and is now run by brother and sister Francesco (see pictures) and Silvia. The wines produced are fabulous - can stand comparison with any great Chianti Classico on any day, and are priced slightly lower than most Chianti Classico is. The Vin Santo is one of the best I've ever had. And there's the Pomino Rosso made half from Sangiovese and equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot - a great every day wine.
Visit the winery if you're in the area. There's a great historical cellar with old dusty bottles of tempting vintages. The site is but you are probably best of calling ahead or just dropping by.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Favorite Wineries: Stefano Amerighi in Cortona

Cortona that lies "under the Tuscan sun" in Southeastern Tuscany has become a well respected wine region by now. Cortona has a DOC that allows up to 11 varieties of grapes (even unusual varieties not commonly found in Tuscany such as Gamay and Pinot Noir), but Syrah has been the one variety that has triumphed over the others.

The area of Cortona lacks the noble wine history that has gone on in the past few centuries in the neighbouring regions of Montepulciano, Montalcino & Chianti Classico - so you could kind of consider it emerging, even if of course wine has been made here as well in Etruscan times. But we're down in the Valdichiana valley, an area which perhaps doesn't give its very best to Sangiovese. This explains the revival when a few started to experiment successfully with for example Syrah or Merlot. 

The first winery to put itself seriously on the wine map in Tuscany was Tenimenti d'Alessandro. Already in the 90'ies they became notorious for their Syrah called Il Bosco, at the time considered a Super Tuscan. It's now a well-established winery of the area and, of course, tastings are available at the winery:

Stefano Amerighi is the new generation and has been the hot news around Cortona for the past couple of years. We went to visit him to see his set-up and meet the guy who works biodynamically obtaining a label that is now very well respected and to be found in the best wine shops & restaurants around Tuscany.

Stefano's winery is low-impact, completely modernly built into the hillside. It's functional and he works with traditional cement tanks and French barrels side by side, in order to create a unique style, but representative of his territory and Tuscan traditions. You can visit Stefano's winery to learn more about Syrah in Cortona and biodynamic growing, but it's very much a one man show so make sure to contact him well in advance to set something up: Here you can enjoy a few pictures from our day with Stefano.

Please notice that Stefano's Syrah is available for purchase online here:

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Italian Wine Scores and Ratings

Lets talk a bit about scores. Not because they are very important to me personally, and a lot of people question how unbiased they are. But they still are of significant use to the wineries as publicity and notoriety.
The US scores wines in points (100 point system - e.g. Wine Spectator or Robert Parker), the Brits also (20 point system - Decanter), and some Italian writers will also use numbers (Veronelli & Maroni), but others score wines in glasses or clusters or snails... 
It's sort of nice to know a bit about it if you intend to go wine touring in Italy where you will see awards hanging on the walls of the wineries. Many awards are the international ones, but then we also have the Italian ones. Here are the main 3 deciphered with their rating system.

The most well-known guide to Italy's wines is the Gambero Rosso that comes out yearly with Vini d'Italia (usually in the fall) and is published in Italian and translated and published in English, too. The Gambero Rosso bases their findings on tastings of wines sent to them from the wineries, and score wines in glasses. There are 4 ratings: 1 black glass (a fair wine), 2 black glasses (a good wine), 2 red glasses (a very good wine - a run-up to the final selection), and 3 red glasses (an excellent wine, winner of the 3 red glasses award). Available on Amazon in English also Kindle version.

Then you have the Italian Association of Sommelier (AIS) and their guide Bibenda that has gotten a bigger importance in the past 10 yrs. Rated by certified sommeliers inside the organisation, here the rating system is from 1 to 5 grape clusters, 5 being the best. Bibenda only exists in Italian, but if you can read Italian you can buy it and have it shipped to you from the Italian Amazon.

SlowWine is the newcomer, but has pushed forward as another valuable award giver to wineries. It's by the Slow Food Editor and wineries are rated by slow food members who volunteer to go to wineries and a taste wines (members are not necessarily wine experts!). They rate a lot on "simpatia" (understood the latino-way - so familiarism or congeniality) and so this guide could be good for you if you would like to visit wineries, as the wineries rated are usually of the smaller kind. Highest award is the snail. Best if you are travelling is probably the App that comes in both Italian and English.

That's all for this week. Here's a picture taken last summer from our new place in Tuscany. Breathtaking, isn't it?!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Favorite Wineries: Boscarelli in Montepulciano

Sigh, a couple of busy weeks between coming back to Tuscany and opening up the businesses for the season again. A lot LOT of cleaning at the wine schools, reordering and organising staff, ourselves (!) and getting completely ready for busy times.

Anyway, finally a moment to write up a little post. I'm giving you another of my favorite wineries to visit in Tuscany, Boscarelli. This is by no means an unknown winery or hidden gem (even though admittedly not very easy to find) as it has been around since the dawn of the DOC designation for Montepulciano and, in fact, was one of first wineries in the region to set a standard of quality that others could only dream of.

What I love about visiting the Boscarelli winery is that there is absolutely nothing fancy about it. It's a real working winery with lots of busy activity. It's small, fit into several buildings - where ever there is space for a tasting table, we will taste the wine. It's creative - Nicolò, one of the owners (see picture hereunder), spends his pass-time on converting barrels into tables & chairs. Then there are a lot of girls that work at the winery doing pretty tough jobs and I admire these souls for doing so. The wines are of a remarkable quality, compared to what is produced in many other places around Montepulciano. And during the tasting you typically get to taste ALL of the wines that are made, which is something that I love! Often times wineries will only allow you to taste a silly is that?! Here you'll taste it all and in progression of yummyness!

This is a winery that we visit every Wednesday - should you like to join us, sign up here:

You can also go by yourself. You should call up ahead or contact the winery by email before you go. Tours and tastings have to be booked well in advance:

And need I say that (some) wines are available for purchase on ?!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February - Chianti Classico Collection

It is wine trade show time in Tuscany. It starts with the anteprime Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (always the same days!) then it's Chianti Classico Collection time in Florence at Stazione Leopolda and it ends with Brunello di Montalcino. The events are organised by the Consortiums of the regions and wineries may participate if they please (actually quite a lot opt not to). Those who do can bring their regional wines (so the free IGT wines are not really on show) and can bring the new vintages even if not yet released nor in bottle (so barrel samples). 
It's a great occasion for us winos to say hello to wineries we know and to ones we may want to get to know more of...and, of course, to taste wines side by side comparing one producer to another is kind of fun, too. 
So how do you get in? You're really supposed to be of the trade...but where there is a huge wine passion there is a way. Contact the Consortiums (see links above) a few months before the shows (so November - December) and beg...

Step 1: receive a glass and wear it around your neck in a fashionable glass-holder!

If you are VIP, you may get to sit here and taste (but profs spit so that's not much fun)

Riikka-Sofia - our wine school Sommelier - so cute!

Here we are ready to attack the wineries!

Tasting the new vintage at Monte Bernardi with Jennifer & Michael

Super happy Federica from Volpaia doing business

You'll meet Silvia normally at Corzano & Paterno where we go on our Super Chianti tour. Here she's showing the DOP Chianti Classico olive oils from 2014. A few good ones even if the harvest was bad.

Bumping into Bernardo who's been tasting all day (I assume by the color of his teeth!), winery consultant & Grape Tours tour guide!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

France's "Vignerons Indépendant" - the independent vintners

It is in occasion of the yearly expo in Nice this week-end that I thought of giving this category of wine makers a mention. This one in Nice is the first of 6 exhibitions that'll take place throughout France during spring (see the list on their site and join if you happen to be in the area) The fee is a very reasonable 5 euros - or here's a free invite for the one in Nice). Wineries belonging to an association of independent winemakers pour their wines and meet the public.

The association started already decades ago as a reaction of the small growers who were being overshadowed by larger corporations. United makes stronger was the idea, and indeed the term and logo that is now well recognised and appreciated can be used only by members who respect the terms of what the association also stands for:
- Respect their terroir
- Work and harvest their own vineyard
- Make the wine themselves
- Bottle their wine themselves
- Keep viticultural traditions

I love their logo:

I'ld really recommend that you give this event a go, if you have the chance. You can talk to the wine makers, try thousands of different wines, buy wines and just enjoy the variety that French wine makers have to offer.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Food for thought - "Fait Maison"

Lately I've stumbled over a symbol très simpathique on a few restaurant doors here in France - one that stands out from other stickers provided by the different guide books or sites. It says "Fait Maison" and means home-made. Now, I do find a bit of contradiction in the fact that one of the countries of strongest culinary tradition and pride has to go as far as to make a law of defining what can be labelled and sold as home-made! But surprisingly the French have been slacking towards the convenience of modern processed foods. A statistic says that 75% of the eateries in French are all but traditional and do not prep their food from scratch. I wasn't too shocked about reading this number as I've been unpleasantly surprised with the amount of fast-food restaurants on offer. And the other end of the spectrum comes at a prime price.
So whatever happened to the reasonable home-cooked meals? Well, there should be a revival as public consciousness arises and value is given to original quality ingredients.
Of course "Fait Maison" can be bastardised as many other concepts that have come around to distinguish restaurants have proven to be fail-proof. According to the decree a "home-made dish is made with products that have been sliced​​, cut, shredded, chopped, cleaned, boned, skinned, skinned, cut, ground or powdered, smoked, salted, chilled, frozen or thawed." Certainly someone could sustain a product was frozen hence home-made!
In any case, it's a good thing that awareness is being put out there and I think the concept should perhaps expand its borders to other countries suffering from industrialisation of their food offers?!

For me the biggest disappointment in going to a restaurant is if I detect the food wasn't home-made or even just partly. Second to that is a chef who does home-made stuff but can't cook! (happened to us last week, so recent in my mind but just serves to illustrate that that isn't the worse offence).
I see it this way, if I go out and spend many-fold of what I'ld spend on my own home-cooked meal - I want an experience and I want it first to be good quality and then perhaps different (hopefully better) from what I would make myself. Anything else is a waste of time & money!

Here's a couple of dishes in good "home-made" restaurants this past week in Nice. They were very good and eye-catching, too.

(fois gras sushi anyone?)

(cod made yummy on leeks and fish sauce)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rent our apartment in Nice, France!

This is the new development of our small enterprise, we're going into the rental business! This sounds grand, but we're really just talking about one apartment and it's placed right in the heart of Nice on the French Riviera.
Since Pierre and I started going to Nice some years ago, we always loved the Port area. Last year we rented an apartment here and got the wild idea of investing in this area. So this was the area we searched in and found a beautiful renovated apartment in an old art-deco building a stone's throw from the line-up of huge flashy yachts and small colourful fishing boats. We gave it the name "Niça" - an old word for Nice. 
By August we started furbishing it, step by step in between being in Tuscany running the wine tours. And now, after much selection and fixing we're almost ready - at least with the final photos for the site. 
The most wonderful features of our apartment - and the reason why you should rent it - is that it's so central to everything, the historical building gives you a true feeling of Nice, we've decorated it beautifully and given it all features of comfort for a great stay.

Have a peak with me now! This is the hall when you walk in on the second floor.

I love this cabinet. We've filled it with pebbles of Nice's beach.

In a rental I've always thought there weren't enough cooking utensils to cook up a nice meal, if you feel like it. So here you'll have all you need for a fine dinner at home.

We'll have breakfast in the kitchen with fresh made croissants or baguette from the bakery around the corner.

Here I'm standing on the terrace where I hang clothes or check out the sunny weather

I love to cook with spices and it's hard to do so when away, so these are all at the disposal of our guests.

Let's move into the living room. It's large and bright with a comfy sofa and two armchairs.

Great painting of Nice Port

There's an bluetooth stereo, a few books and games available

 Sofa's so inviting...have a drink or watch international TV (netflix available!!)

Another detail I love - this is depicted on a window shutter in the theme of the sea just outside...

Master bedroom with king size bed, super comfy!

Touch screen computer hooked up to the internet for your use

Second bedroom with beds that can be separated.

The bathroom

The meditation room!

The building is at the Port of Nice (where those green trees are)

Lots of options around for some delicious specialties

Place Garibaldi where you can hang out at Aperitif time (2 drinks at the price of 1!)

And the pebbly beach just 5 mins walk away

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