Monday, September 1, 2014

Natural Vineyard Art

I can't paint or draw, unfortunately, but I love to look at art around me either by the hand of a talented artist or in form of what mother nature gives us so generously. I've always been a small camera enthusiast lately with a very nice camera (with all sorts of buttons I know little about). When it comes to taking photos in vineyards of people or vats or vines, I get very very excited :)
I think that one of the facts that fascinates us all about wine regions is their incredible beauty that most of us enjoy from a distance driving past wineries and vineyards, but sometimes it's also worth it to stop up and look at the details...
I especially love the colours of the vine, of its leaves and its grapes and have always enjoyed taking endless (and a bit useless) pictures of them for my own enjoyment. But hopefully some of you could enjoy these pictures with me, so here you get my top 12! (wanted to do a top 5, but just couldn't discard any)

Which photo is your favorite?

(Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico, Italy)

(Bellet, Nice France)

(Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Chianti Classico, Italy)

(Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Chianti Classico, Italy)

(Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Chianti Classico, Italy)

(Bellet, Nice France)

(Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Chianti Classico, Italy)

(Montemaggio, Chianti Classico, Italy)

(San Polino, Montalcino, Italy)

(Cappella Sant'Andrea, San Gimignano, Italy)

(Anonymous beautiful fall vineyard, Tuscany, Italy)

(Anonymous beautiful fall vineyard, Tuscany, Italy)

Do you want to take photos in the vineyards, too? Join us in Nice, France or in Tuscany, Italy - best months for vineyard photos are from August to November.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Green harvest - quantity versus quality

August in Tuscany's vineyards is the time for some to do the"green harvest", so pruning of the vines to limit the quantity of grapes on each vine to the ideal estimated quantity for that specific vintage. This estimation is done considering 1) limits given by each DOCG regulation (min yields start from around 7 tons a hectare) 2) considering the conditions of weather. This crop thinning is done to ensure ripening and intensity in the remaining grape clusters.
Each vine has its own story and all elements around it have to equal it's future quality of wine - it's simply a question of balance. It needs just the right amount of leaves to ripen it's grapes - if there are too many grapes they may not ripen - it needs the right amount of moisture - and in Europe we deal a lot with dry farming so this may also be a measure the farmer has to take into consideration. Should it be a cool year, thinning out the grapes is also a measure to ensure more aeration around the clusters, so thinning tends to be more severe in cooler years.
When it comes to how to prune, it's a selection of the thinnest. The clusters that are the furthest away from the trunk usually get sacrificed as they have less chance of ripening.
In the olden days in Tuscany this was not an operation that was known to farmers. In the past the only value which was appreciated was the quantity of wine made. Crop-thinning was a practice started in Bordeaux in the mid 70'ies and has been adopted in all quality wine region around the World.
Today, quality is the main focus of our DOCG regions in Italy and the operation is today done whenever necessary - and always in July/August before the grapes mature completely as not to waste too much of the plants' energy.
The cut grapes are sour and unripe and can't be used for much so they are left on the ground to compost.





(these pictures were taken yesterday during a wine tour in the Chianti Classico region - 2014 has been a cool year so far so the pruning is quite drastic in some vineyards).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Favorite Wineries: Cappella Sant'Andrea in San Gimignano

Another shout-out for a great winery on my list of favorites!
San Gimignano is like an isle of white in sea of red wine regions in Tuscany. Speaking of the sea in a non-figurative way, millions of years ago it covered the area depositing fossil shells which are now commonly found when the vineyards are ploughed. Vernaccia is the local grape that goes back centuries, perhaps even longer. A medium aromatic grape that only really grows around the village of San Gimignano and is grown by less than 100 different wineries, most hardly resulting in very interesting wines.
This post features a few pictures from my favorite winery in San Gimignano, run by Flavia and Francesco - a super young couple who've dedicated their lives to farming grapes organically and produce a small amount of wines on their family estate. Francesco is an architect by training and Flavia an art-historian, but soon after finishing their studies they realised their fortune in the family estate and now run every aspect of it personally and with great passion.







During a wine tasting with one of our tours to San Gimignano. A couple of their whites are for sale for shipping on our web winEshop: www.tuscany-in-a-bottle.com!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tuscan Wine Time - Chianti Classico half day tour

Time for a post about one of the things we do :)
Over the years our wine touring has developed into several different products, from the exclusive private tour to the joinable full day or half day tours that are the most economic solutions, but also a great way to travel in a small group and have fun with others.
Best part for us who run the tours is to meet the people who come on them. Never had I imagined I would meet so many different sorts of people from countries that geographically weren't even clear in my mind. I never get tired of meeting the next set of personalities, it's simply so refreshing. Some leave us with a smile and others with a hug, others might even become friends or more.
Around a month ago we got a couple from California actually traveling with a small size dog. Yep, first time for that. Their idea was to travel filming the dog experience. In this occasion they came on a half day wine tour and loved it, so here's the video that Hugh made for us that we are very happy with!


Monday, August 4, 2014

Best Pizza in Tuscany - hands down!

My title sounds like I've hit every pizzeria in Tuscany and come to my conclusion. I obviously haven't...since the 2 young ones have been ruling our lives, our mondane outings are few and far apart. However, I still feel I can claim that this pizza is the best ever - so much so that it deserves a blog moment!
San Donato in Collina is a beautiful medieval village right at the Western side of the Chianti Classico region. The village is a bit dormant during the day, but in the evening it lives up with a few restaurants that color the streets with tables and chairs and plenty of people to occupy them.




One of these places is Palazzo Pretorio where Giovanni Santarpia makes the best pizza I've ever had!!! Giovanni is originally from the Naples area and came to Tuscany as many others to pursue a better career. His biggest passion is definitely the pizza and the art that surrounds making the best one possible. He's got it down right and speaks of the perfect time of rising for the dough (humidity in the air also plays a role), he uses expensive organic flours, has a beautiful wood fired pizza-oven and chooses only the best quality toppings.


He shows us how he makes a Pizza Margherita - in just a few minutes. It looks so effortless - and I'm embarrassed to think of how I struggle at home (swearing quietly to myself) - and hubby confirms that my pizza is like a dried-out cracker! 





Toppings in order of how Giovanni layers them: passato di pomodoro (tomato), fresh basil, mozzarella fior-di-latte, parmigiano gratings and fresh extra virgin olive oil.



The oven is around 360 Celsius degrees (680 Fahrenheit) and the pizza cooks the first minute on the stone to cook it's bottom. Then Giovanni holds it up ad cooks the top for around another minute. It goes super-fast and next thing you know a steaming and beautifully fragrant pizza is ready for a blissful dinner.




I've now had the pleasure of returning several times over a few yrs and the quality is always the same - EXCELLENT! Love the variety of pizzas as well, not just your classical offer but created with good taste and fantasy. And off the list there's always a few daily special pizzas!



My absolute favorite is Sorriso (Smile) - a pizza stuffed with Ricotta in the edges, and topped with the sweetest cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh rucola (arugula/rocket).


We will be offering pizza classes with Giovanni shortly so we all may go home and be better pizza cooks. In the meanwhile, you can visit his restaurant open all nights but Tuesdays. If the weather is nice, ask to sit on the terrace where you have a stunning view over the Chianti Classico hills.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Favorite Wineries: Montecalvi in Greve in Chianti

What commons the wineries I love, is the passion and dedication with which the owners run them. Here is Jackie, owner of Montecalvi, a winery that I was familiar with already back in the day when her father ran it as I was working in a wine bar in Florence and serving the wine Montecalvi by the glass (which is almost to decades ago  - yikes!). Since then I've followed Jackie's progress, not only producing some of the best boutique wines but also successfully turning the winery into an organic farm.
We visit Jackie's winery during our tours, so you could be lucky to visit if you come on one of our Tuscan Wine Tours.
You can also ship her wines back home (EU & US): www.tuscany-in-a-bottle.com


Monday, July 21, 2014

Favorite Wineries: Castello dei Rampolla in Panzano in Chianti

Castello dei Rampolla is on a historical property called Santa Lucia in Faulle in the Conca d'Oro valley just South of Panzano in Chianti. The property has been in the family of the Di Napoli Rampolla for a few centuries, and after the the passing of Alceo (whom the most recent wine of fame was named after), the winery has been taken care of by siblings Maurizia a Luca.
The winery was the first in the region to go in the way of organic and biodynamic growing already in the mid-90'ies, and Maurizia and Luca have followed in the footsteps of their father. These people really live like that, too. They drive a Prius and are completely unpretentious even though they can boast the fact they live in a castle! In any case, the property is preserved old-style with no intention of glamourising it.


Here you see the vineyard in April just before the bud-break - Panzano in the back-ground. Vines are planted densely to create competition and promote quality. Being in Chianti Classico, this is the wine that is primarily made in the cellar, so most vineyards are grown to Sangiovese. But there is also Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc & Malvasia.


A detail of the property in the month of July...


And here you see the vines in July when the canopy has developed fully, and now the next step is to capture the rays of the sun and transform them into sugar inside the grapes.


To protect the plants, fresh spring water and manure is "dynamized" inside this biodynamic system that moves the water around in circular motions to activate enzymes and create natural sprays to apply to the vines in the vineyard to vitalise plants and protect them the natural way.


A relatively new feature in Castello dei Rampolla is the reintroduction of cement vats for ageing and then the use of terracotta vases like this one to make a completely natural wine that has no addition of sulphites. 



The cellar master is Marcus.


Maurizia is a busy lady, but when she does find the time to do a wine tour with us it is the most outstanding experience. She's incredibly down to earth and fun to be with. She evidently loves the wines and enjoys sharing the experience.


The wines made are Trebianco (a white wine made in the style of a red wine), Chianti Classico made with Sangiovese with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Sammarco (takes its name from a third sibling who passed in an accident) which is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and one of the historical Super Tuscans. Ultimately d'Alceo (named after the father's vineyard) made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot - this is celebrated wine since it was first released in very limited quantities, even reaching 100 points with the 2008 vintage!


This is the Alceo vineyard.


Castello dei Rampolla wines are distributed and can be found in a lot of different countries. Just in case you want to get your hands on some of that 2008 100 point vintage, you can ship it from here: www.tuscany-in-a-bottle.com.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Florence for Foodies: The New Central Market in Florence



This post is about the newly opened first floor of the Mercato Centrale in Florence that you should definitely pay a visit to when visiting Florence. This space used to be where the fruit and vegetable vendors were, but the space was too large and it lost its sense as Florence has increased its tourism and locals are no longer the dominating population of the central area.
The bottom floor remains the same with many vendors of fresh foods, however very much geared towards tourists. And the second floor has been transformed into a very trendy food-mecca - which Florence very much deserves.
Open every day from 10 am to midnight you can walk around and purchase little bits of delicious foods and sit wherever you please. There's also an upstairs seating area if you prefer a more restaurant-like situation with service and all.
I was awed by the place and it's very 2014-vibe. What a great place to dwell in foods!!!
A few observations:
The theme is mainly Tuscan, but not exclusively as also great foods from other areas around Italy are served such as pizza or mozzarella di bufala. The wine shop features exclusively wines from Chianti Classico (maybe a bit boring?), whereas the beer shop features one of Italy's biggest commercial beer maker Moretti...(could have been nice if it featured small breweries from around Tuscany, don't you reckon?)
The cooking school (Lorenzo de' Medici - see picture) looks very nice and professional with room for plenty of students. Daily courses are run - either a cooking demonstration "Lunch or Dinner with the Chef" of an hour and a half with a tasting of the dish prepared (30 euros) or 3 hr full menu hands-on cooking class (130 euros).
The wine school (Enoscuola - no picture) is run by Luca Gardini (who is not Tuscan nor personally present) under a manifesto that we couldn't really get our heads around, so apparently wines should have "simplicity, frankness, drinkability, clean taste and sensitivity" - I thought this to be quite hilarious and much more a marketing strategy than an actual help for people to learn how to taste. Having said this, each to his or her own...I am, of course, biased - viva la Tuscan Wine School!


So here's the map of the places you'll find - underneath with a picture of almost everyone of them (didn't get the fish-vendor as I visited on a Monday - and, of course, there's no fresh fish on Mondays)... I tried to match the heading colours with those on the map - not totally successfully!


La carne & i salumi - the meats and cold cuts:


La birreria - the pub


Il ristorante - the (Tuscan) restaurant:


La scuola di cucina - the cooking school:


La mozzarella di bufala - buffalo mozzarella


La pizzeria - need I translate?


Il lampredotto - Florentine tripe


La pasta fresca - fresh pasta


L'enoteca - the wine shop/bar


Il pane & la pasticceria - bread & pastry shop


Il cioccolato e il gelato - chocolate & ice cream


La torrefazione / bar - the coffee shop


I tramezzini - Italian sandwiches


Il fritto e le polpette - fried and meatballs


La frutta e le verdure - fruits and vegetables:


I formaggi - cheeses


Here's the funky web-site of the market. Enjoy!
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