Montalcino wine tour from Florence or Siena

Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wine estate visits

by Gabriele Monti November 28th, 2012

wine in tuscany

ash barrels with 2011 Brunello di Montalcino

Montalcino is a pretty hill top town in the province of Siena Tuscany. It takes about 2 hours from Florence and 1 hour from Siena to get there, so it makes an ideal day trip from one of these 2 main towns.
The main attraction of Montalcino is its world renowned red wine. As many traditional Tuscan wines the main grape used here is the Sangiovese variety which produces 2 main wines: Brunello di Montalcino DOC and Rosso di Montalcino. The latter is normally a younger wine with lots of freshness and berry tones. The regulation of the consortium to make Rosso di Montalcino are less strict compared to the Brunello, in fact Rosso di Montalcino will spend only one year in the wooden barrels before bottling.
The real king of the these gentle and sunny hills is Brunello di Montalcino. The wine is aged at least 5 years in large oak or hash barrels. Compared to its younger version it has more complexity and structure. Sometimes it has mineral and pleasantly bitter tones and it is the perfect match for meat dishes such as the succulent heavy weight Fiorentina but also recommended with Pecorino di Pienza, or the peppery prosciutto toscano.
During our tour we would recommend to visit 2 wineries in the area such as Abbadia Ardenga and Altesino winery. The former is an ancient 15th Century fortified abbey with secret underground passages and a passion for wine making dating back several centuries. Here at the winery you will taste 4 wines with the accompaniment of local food. Our tour will continue to another nearby wine estate namely: Altesino Winery. Here our guests will have Tuscan style lunch which will include tasting of Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello. The lunch ends with Torta della Nonna accompanied with Vin Santo.
Upon request we can also visit the town of Montalcino with a qualified guide to discover the history of this beautiful hill top fortified settlement. Our guests can also learn about the disputes between Florence and Siena for dominance during the renaissance.

20121128-173958.jpg

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Not far from Montalcino, and a easy reach from Siena it is also possible to visit wineries making vino nobile di Montepulciano made nearby in the homonymous town. The noble wine of Montepulciano is also made from Sangiovese grapes (minimum 70%) and aged 2 years or 3 years for the reserve. For those looking for a younger wine it is also possible to taste Rosso di Montepulciano, which is less sophisticated yet easily enjoyed on it own or with a light lunch.

Pecorino di Pienza.

Many foodies know Pecorino very well for its fragrant spiciness and full body. Pienza not far from Siena and Montalcino is another gourmet destination where interested travellers can visit the production of this cheese which is aged for at least 90 days in barriques of ash wood.
For those interested in food and wine tour from Florence and Siena, the area has plenty to offer. The main dedication of the area is red wine which can be matched with cheese and ham experiences. However In Tuscany the wineries are the one which should be of main interested of the food traveller, of course with the possibility to match the experience with local food such as the wonderful Fiorentina steak.

20121128-174028.jpg

vin santo grapes in Italy

The cuisine of Emilia Romagna

A short guide to the food of Bologna, Modena and Parma

by Gabriele Monti  November 8th, 2012

Tortellini alla Panna

Lovers of Italian food have labelled the Regione Emilia-Romagna as “the bread-basket of Italy.” It’s easy to see why. The historic cities of Parma, Modena and Bologna are famed  for their food, from the air cured and delicate prosciutto (Parma ham), parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese) and traditional aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) – some of the quintessential ingredients  of Italian cooking. The verdant Po Valley has given rise to agricultural practices that produce some of the most flavoursome and robust ingredients in the country.

Starters.

When visiting Parma, Modena and Bologna, the starters are most likely to be slices of Parma ham, culatello, Salame di Felino, and shavings of Parmesan cheese. Parma ham has a delicate sweet savouriness that it is unique to this air cured ham. Culatello has also a unique and distinctive savouriness and every bite keeps giving our flavour, with hints of aromas like black pepper. Parmesan cheese is the quintessential savoury flavour, unique and inimitable, due to the long fermenting ageing.

 

First courses: Pasta Dishes

Fresh egg  pasta in Emilia-Romagna is an artistic affair. Indeed, the cooks of this region are believed to be the masters of fresh pasta, producing distinct varieties of stuffed tortellini, and Tortelloni. Such pastas are recognised by their intricate and delicate shapes, as well as their rich fillings, which usually include pork or soft ricotta cheese.

Tortellini or Cappelletti

These attractive little pasta dumplings are filled with the best meats of the region – prosciutto, mortadella (a local variety of sausage) and ground pork. There are many old legends as to how tortellini originally came about. The most popular tale comes from Modena, near the Castelfranco Emilia. Lucrezia Borgia checked into an inn there, and the host was so captivated by her beauty that he spied on her through the keyhole of her private room. He only got a glimpse of her navel, but was so thrilled by this sight that he immediately went to the kitchen and attempted to recreate it in the form of pasta. And thus tortellini  were born. For the real connoisseur they are only  served in the famous Emilian capon broth, but a cream version is also available in most restaurants.

Tortelloni

This is a larger version of tortellini, squares of egg pasta (in Emilia Romagna is commonly called sfoglia) are folded into triangle and folded one more time into a hat shape. They are commonly filled with spinach, ricotta cheese and a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.  They are  served with a sauce – butter and sage being a local favourite, but also with a nice tomato sauce with a leaf of basil.

Passatelli

To your surprise this time it is not going to be a pasta dish. Passatelli is the poor man meal made into an elegant and refined dish, and if you visit Bologna in the winter months, it would be a sin not to have passatelli. This dish consist of dumpling made of bread crumbs, egg,  and parmesan cheese. This is worked and turned into a dough and pressed through a die to obtain the classic shape. The dumplings are then served in a rich capon broth.

Zuppa reale

Along Passatelli, Zuppa reale is one of the less known dishes of the Emilian cuisine but well worth the hunt. Zuppa reale is a sort of spongy omelette like cake which is cut into cubes and served in the capon broth. The ingredients are flour, eggs, a lot of parmesan cheese, butter. The dough is cooked in the oven until golden crispy and spongy inside, then left to cool a little and cut into bite size dumpling.

Meat Dishes

Emilia-Romagna has a thousand-year history of raising swine – making it one of the most distinguished Italian regions for pork. Local pork dishes are layered in flavour, rich and hearty, and are perfect for chilly winter evenings. Veal is also a popular meaty option.

Zampone from Modena

Emilia-Romagna is famous for its decadent range of preserved meats and salamis. Zampone of Modena  is a unique local treat that is often eaten at Christmas time. This winter sausage was born in 1510. Modena was under siege at the time, and food had to be preserved. As a result, ground pork, rind and other cuts were salted and stuffed into a de-boned pig’s trotter. These days, zampone is served with lentils and washed down with Lambrusco DOC.

Cotolette alle Bolognese

Tagliatelle alla  Bolognese (it’s actually called tagliatelle al ragu in Italy) is not the only famous dish to emerge from Emilia-Romagna’s historical capital, Bologna. This original veal parmigiana consists of breaded veal topped with shavings of parmesan cheese. It can be  also layered with prosciutto, but for an authentic and complex speciality white truffles are added as a final touch.

Bollito Misto

As the tortellini go with the broth, the meat is normally eaten as a second course. When visiting Bologna you should ask for the Carrello dei Bolliti, literally the boiled meat trolley. The waiter will oblige and push to your table a serving trolley full of succulent boiled meats. Here you will find capon, boiler chicken, beef briskets, as well as beef tongue for the  more daring. The meats sliced thinly and served with salsa verde or mostarde. Salve verde is a condiment made with a base of parley and cooked carrots, boiled eggs, olive oil, vinegar, the recipes varies from location to location. Mostarda is more typical in the northern areas of Emilia Romagna and consist of fruits cooked in a light mustard sugary syrup.

 

Desserts

Many sweet dishes of Emilia-Romagna originated from traditional festivals highlighting the weeks before Easter. People would often indulge in sugary treats on Shrove Tuesday before the period of abstinence marked by Lent.

Tagliatelle Dolci

This sweet resemble to original pasta dish is one such Shrove Tuesday invention. Strands of tagliatelle are deep-fried, and then coated in honey. This is a popular dessert throughout Bologna. It can also be topped with sugar, cinnamon or lemon zest.

Zuppa Inglese

This directly translates to “English Soup,” but it actually refers to the Italian version of English trifle. During the 16th century, the rulers of Ferarra met with Elizabethan statesmen from England, and this contact introduced them to the delicious custardy dessert. The Italian diplomats fell in love with it, and attempted to make it using local ingredients. The Emilian version consists of pan di spagna (sponge cake), or savoiardi (finger biscuits), thick custard and Alchermes, an aromatic herb liqueur.

These are just a few of the dishes you will discover on a gastronomic journey of Emilia-Romagna. Its culinary legacy is sometimes rustic, but also elegant and refined – and is considered one of the best in all of Italy.

Digestive liquors

A meal in Italy is not finished without a shot of your favourite digestive. In Modena we have the dark and aromatic Nocino made from unripe walnuts which are steeped into pure alcohol, and sugar. The liquid is aged into oak or hash barrels for a minimum of 6 years. In Parma you will be likely to be served Barniolino. This liqueur is made from the berry of the wild growing hawthorn berries steeped into alcohol and sugar. The liquid has hints of strawberry  and cherries  with a pleasant bitterness.

Wines of Emilia Romagna.

Wines in the region and often sparkling red, this is unique characteristic of our products. In fact Lambrusco (Modena) and Gutturnio (Piacenza) are wines that in the tradition where double fermented in their bottles. This would give rise to a first alcoholic fermentation and then a second one which gives the bubbles to the wine. Lambrusco is a wine that is enjoyed young, often the year after the harvest, and it certainly lends itself to accompany the rich local cuisine. Remember that the perfect lambrusco is a dry wine, with an evanescent froth, purple in colour (Grasparossa variety) with hints of violet flowers.

 

 

A food tour in the Bologna province

by Gabriele Monti November 6th, 2012

Picture of Parma hams in Langhirano

The protagonist of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” a university student in the 1930 dines at “Pappagallo” and drinks coffee from “Zanarini,”  the same historical buildings  and establishment  that you might find in Bologna today. The City name is “the  learned ” thanks to the university funded in 1088 and “the fat” because of its agricultural wealth, splendour and culinary heritage, not to mention the sympathetic and friendly inhabitants.

The Bologna glories start from the ancient city. The two towers near Piazza Maggiore,  S. Petronio and the University are inviting you to walk under the arcades, to discover a town centre still full of charm. One of the first discoveries are  the attractive food delicacies of the area. A wealth of products which has not match elsewhere.

The local cuisine has an exclusive sense: the gastronomic tradition of Bologna is both wealthy and celebrated.  Over time the tradition has expanded, the name “Bologna”, referring to the cuisine is now a synonymous of flavour and generosity. The Bolognese  sauce along with the tagliatelle  are still the building elements of Italian cuisine. Another cornerstone of this cuisine is  the tortellini. They are still hand crafted one by one, produced according to ancient recipes  (filed at the local Chamber of Commerce). Then there is the lasagne, thick and succulent as the colours of the Baroque painters seeing in the museum galleries. There is also the “Fritto Bolognese” fried vegetables sumptuous arpeggio between sweet and salty.  Another dish is The Pinza a farmer sweet described for the first time in 1644.
Outside the city gates we have the  circle of the Bologna hills that are just there to be discovered. An extended natural park and reserve. The beautiful countryside around the town of Monteveglio is particularly recommended. An ancient walled town, where you can find  an abbey dedicated to of S. Mary.

The province of Bologna is cut in two by the Via Emilia.  To the north lies the vast Padana plain defined by the River Reno, which stretches and leads to Ferrara. In the opposite direction leading south you will find limestone hills called Gessi Bolognesi, then continuing  there are the mountain of the Apennine range. In the plain there is a  thriving farming and horticultural industry, producing one of its leading product known as  Mortadella di Bologna IGP (the of queen of  Bologna). The same area also produces the potato of Medicina and the green asparagus of Altedo IGP, as for the wine we have the  Montuno Doc produced from vineyards growing along the course of the river.

The vineyard becomes the protagonist on the Bolognese hills between the Panaro and ldice rivers. It is the area of the Colli Bolognesi Doc, which is divided into seven sub-denominations or geographical micro zones. In average vineyards are located  between 100 and 300 meters above sea level, the soils is loose and clay is plenty.
Among the white wines, we have the native Pignoletto, along with a robust red Barbera.

Towards the eastern boundary farmers grow  Albana di Romagna DOCG and DOC wines of Colli lmola.  On the west, the tourist will find the ROUTES OF CHERRY AND CASTLES which is leaving the capital Bologna and leading to Vignola where  the most beautiful places in the area can be admired.

Here the food is a mix of the classic Bolognese cuisine (fresh pasta and salami), with the attractions of autumn fruits such as mushrooms, truffles, chestnuts from the Apennines. Continuing on the mountain, an important destinations for the gourmet traveller is Savigno.  It is named “The City of Truffles (white)” with a major festival and exhibition market in autumn. Also you can visit Castel di Casio, another center for the collection of precious fungi in valley of the Reno. Another renaissance town is  Castel del Rio, in the upper valley of Santerno, from here you can also continue up from Imola Montanara along the road that leads to the impressive peaks a between Tuscany, the capital of the Chestnut (IGP) and Marrons.

The Gourmet region: Emilia Romagna

by Marcelo Pinto November 3rd 2012

The Emilia Romagna, when looked on a map, has boundaries made in linear fashion, a sort of harness between the Po’ and the Apennines with the watershed that diverge slightly towards the bow of the Adriatic coast. Inside we have the two pillars that identify homogeneous parts for landscapes and traditionally run longitudinally through the Via Emilia.  It is in fact the Roman road, which separates the plain from the mountains. Roughly at the height of Imola  we have the historical border  which divided Emilia under the Roman control from  the sphere of influence of barbaric domination, in this case Romagna.

These are the elements that represent geographically and historically our cuisine, it is surprising because of the presence of so many aspects in one small relatively area.  In the same region we have the northern European ancestry. In fact it is one of the reality Emilian gastronomy mainly  based on the rearing of pigs and the use of animal fat. The region has also a Mediterranean tradition such as sheep farming and olive oil. In Romagna has an alternative to bread. The Piadina is a dumpling cooked on cast iron skillet, on also known as piada, and often eaten with ham, salami or soft cheeses. Probably eating flat breads has a Byzantine origin.

In Emilia we have  an astonishing line up of salumi, in Romagna on the other hand a pecorino cheese that acquires a unique flavour by ageing it in a pit. Emilia’s  cooking is rich and persuasive, in Romagna the flavours are a more vigorous and earthy. This is the results of centuries of history and also the differences have been diluted and new realities overlapped to create this modern geography of food.  Indeed such is the variety of products that you want to proceed in a systematic manner. It is worth to travel along the Via Emilia looking out the window with the curiosity of the connoisseur.

The first appointment is Piacenza: salamis in the Apennines (coppa, salami and pancetta) and fine wines, including red and sparkling Gutturnio. The cuisine has influlences from the nearby  Lombardy, Piedmont and Liguria regions. Parma follows: the land of a great gastronomical heritage, just think of the Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and Culatello from Zibello with an aromatic Malvasia to be their frame. It is art. A culinary tradition that has caught on all over the world. Then it was the turn of Reggio Emilia, which is the cradle of the  Parmigiano Reggiano and the beginning of Lambrusco production area, a sparkling red wine, which is dear to many Italians. In Modena again salami and Zampone are the kings. On the hills, we have the  Lambrusco grasparossa and the famous Vignola’s cherries. The sharp end of the Emilian cuisine is in Bologna, where the pasta is in the form of tagliatelle, tortellini or lasagna, and the sauce is meaty and it accompanies pasta with dignity.

In the north of Bologna we find Ferrara, with the sumptuous salama da sugo and the wines of the Bosco Eliceo. The grapes are cultivated on the sands of the Po Delta.
By the time we get to  Castel San Pietro Romagna begins, mixing the flavours of the Apennines and the Adriatic sea. Ravenna, with the olive oil of Brisighella and the first vineyards of fine Albana wine.

Forli and Cesena, where component of the cuisine are mainly form the Apennines, with meat and game reminiscent of Tuscan cuisine, and finally Rimini, with plenty of tomato fish soup with strong vinegar and pepper flavours, opening the way to Central Italy, leading to the valleys of Montefeltro in Le Marche region.

In Emilia Romagna there are  13 designated gourmet routes that the tourist can follow, they are well designed and fully operational, The Enoteca Regionale di Dozza (BO) is the headquarters of the gourmet experience with a calendar full of events, from town festivals to street food fairs.

 

The art and architecture of Parma

by Marcelo Pinto November 3rd 2012

Parma stands austere and sophisticated in the territory bounded on the east by the Enza river and to the west by the river Stírane. The city lies among hillsides and rolling green hills that inspired Verdi’s melodies and atmospheres of the nineteenth-century such as La Certosa di Parma by Stendhal. Parma is in fact like a queen with its role of prima donna at the time of Marie Louise of Austria.

To explore the city, it is like to take a trip down memory lane. You will find yourself in the aristocratic and the magic atmosphere of the glories of the Lordship and prosperity of the Farnese Duchy.

The starting point of this journey in time is the Palazzo Ducale (Tel. 0521.282861, hours: Mon Sat 9.30~12; Admission: € 3, reduced € 2).

Palazzo ducale is located north of the city; the beautiful building is built by Vignola in 1564 on the behalf of Ottavio Farnese, but today’s appearance is due to numerous alterations of Bibiena first and then Ennemond Petitot.

Inside, a spectacular staircase leads to several rooms in which we have mythological representations. In the large park, the trees are alternating marble statues creating a perfect “French Style” backdrop, distinguished by the temple of Arcadia and the Fountain of Trianon, which represent the rivers Taro and Parma. The main entrance is dominated by Silenus, a marble made complex created by the Parisian Jean Baptiste Boudard copy of the original sculpture. Along the hallway there is a line up of numerous mythological statues.

A lovely example of architecture and geometry of late fifteenth century. Il Palazzo Eucherio Sanvitale (info: Tel 0521.230267; opening hours: winter 10~13 and 14~16, entrance free).

Often used for exhibitions and cultural initiatives, the building has a quadrilateral plant of which the four towers are joined by two arcades and frescoed interiors. Some of the art work is attributed to the Parmigianino. In the former Serra degli Aranci, has now been turned into a café and a bookshop.

In the vicinity of the Ducal Park on Via Borgo Tanzi 13, we find the the birthplace and museum of Arturo Toscanini (Tel. 0521.285499). Here you will find the collected memories and the main collections of the great conductor.

While leaving the Parco Ducale in a straight line and crossing Ponte Verdi you will reach the Palazzo della Pilotta (tel. 0521.233309, time: 8.30~14 Closed Monday and Sunday). It is one of the most emblematic buildings of the city. It has been  conceived as a place of service and linked to the Duke Palace. It has been concevied in 1583 by Ottavio Farnese as a  connecting link to the  Palazzo Ducale over the bank of the river. In reality it is a complex of several buildings, which has  remained unfinished. The  name derives from the Basque game of ball (Pelota) which was taking place in one of the courtyards.

In the interior of the complex you will find  the National Gallery,  National Archaeological Museum,
ta in 1752 by Don Philip of Bourbon, the, the Palatine Library,  the Teatro Farnese and museo Bodoni, the first museum of Printed art in Italy. The complex has  been renovated in the eighties, and you will find work of Italian masters such as  Fra Angelico, Correggio, Parmigianino, Guercino, Tintoretto, Canaletto and Tiepolo.

The National Archaeological Museum, established in the eighteenth century to accommodate Roman artefacts found in Parma. It was enriched later by the collections
Farnese and Gonzaga families. However  it was Maria Luigia to increase collections with rare coins and ceramics from different backgrounds.

The Farnese Theatre (info tel. 0521.233309) Located on the first floor
the palace of Pilotta and built in 1618 by of Ranuccio Farnese it had  scenic innovation for its time, such as the possibility of flooding the Cavea during performances. The interior reveals a large theater hall completely made of wood painted with imitation of marble. It has been refurbished and partly rebuilt after the bombings of World War II, according to the project of the Ferrarese architect  Aleotti. l’Argenta.

 

 

 

Planning a vacation in Emilia Romagna, Italy?

by Marcelo Pinto November 3rd 2012

A region such as Emilia Romagna can offer the discerning and demanding traveller a perfect vacation, not just something, but everything: art, culture, nature, history, leisure, wellness, relaxation, sea, mountains and good food.

Only a few other regions in Europe can boast all of this this: from the splendid city of art, dotted with monuments that trace back to ancient origins, small medieval villages clinging to the hills, The churches in the middle of green scenery, the myriad of castles imposing sumptuous amongst the green countryside.

It is not just for those seeking relaxation and tranquillity, there are dozens of places that offer health, beauty and activities. The Adriatic sea, equipped with beach resorts for the summer tourism catering for young people who are attracted to the vibrant night-life of the beach. The coast also has other jewels to offer, just think of the Regional Park of the Po’ Delta, one of the most important wetlands in Italy with unique flora and fauna and amazing scenery.

The hinterland and the Apennines, with miles of trails ideal for hiking or excursions into the woods, lakes and waterfalls, some are protected areas where nature is still intact. If that was not enough, the region boasts the best eno-gastronomic scenario, in fact one of the most sumptuous in the world: Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di Modena, Culatello, Felino salami, Cotechino di Modena, all awarded the PDO and PGI. They are also accompanied by robust and sincere wines such as Lambrusco, Albana, Sangiovese. These are just some of the delicacies that made the Emilia Romagna the kingdom of taste and good food.

Last but not least, we are in the land of motor sports, home to the factories of famous brands that have made the history like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati. It is also where where major events are hosted at the Imola circuit in Misano Adriatico. Is this enough for a vacation?