Monday, December 21, 2009

St Emilion panoramic and wine class


St Emilion is probably one of the most picturesque towns in the Bordeaux region. It is placed among some of the most famous vineyards of the right bank that specializes in the growing of Merlot. See the video above for a panorama of some of the wineries surrounding the town.

In December the town is a typical ghost-town with only a few tourists and lonely shop-keepers. However, it could be a good time to visit, too, as there is definitely personal attention. No need to say that the town is packed with wine shops, a useful tourist info, nice little restaurants, etc. Personally, I had a lovely lunch at L'Envers du D├ęcor which offers a nice variety of local dishes(from cheeses, meets & omelettes to tripe sausage) and a wine list to make the richest of us feel poor! I recommend taking wines by the glass in France and try different varietals, vintages, regions. They are numerous and fun to discover!

One afternoon we had a wine class scheduled with Jean-Louis of http://www.ecole-vin-saint-emilion.com/. A two hour presentation of the wine regions of Bordeaux and explanation of the appellations and cru systems. The class includes tastings of 3 wines and with them, an guide to how to taste wines. I would highly recommend beginners and intermediates to do something similar in loco as it promotes the general understanding of the region, and its a fun activity! The cost was very reasonable, 29 Euro per person.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wine tasting in Paris, London, & leave a review for Tuscany Wine Events

If you are reading this blog, there's a probability that you might be a little bit like me...
Where ever I travel I try to weave in a couple of wine related experiences - just to get a flavor for the place that I'm visiting.
Lately, I had the opportunity to revisit Paris and London, and I'll tell you about my best experiences (and worst), and finally I would like to encourage any one of you to help me create a
- Tuscany wine FORUM -
for travelers who are headed to one of Italy's most accredited wine regions. So if you have any experiences to share, or a review of a hotel, an event, a tour or anything else, please take a few minutes out of your day to share it with others on the forum "WINEINTUSCANY" http://wineintuscany.forumattivo.com/forum.htm

Paris
Since I started to do wine tours in 2004, I have followed fellow initiater Olivier Magny's start-up in Paris through his excellent web-site and blogs. Finally, a few months ago, I had the opportunity to try one of the classes offered, the "Tour de France". The class takes place in a historical cellar underneath the busy Paris streets, in a very central location and is very easy to find (once you locate the right door within the courtyard).
We sit down in a medieval cave, scarcely lit, at class tables already set up with glasses, spittoons and crunchy French bread. About 20 people from different nations show up for the tasting, and the class begins on time. With just a map as a reference, our wine professor, a fluent English speaking French Canadian wine maker, starts explaining the regions of France, and the educational entertainment carries on for about 2 and a half hrs. Each region is demonstrated with a tasting of a typical wine of the area, starting with Champagne and covering both the East, the West and the South of France. The class was interactive with comments and questions always welcomed by our "wine professor".
All in all, I can highly recommend the experience. Here's the link to the class we did: http://www.o-chateau.com/select-your-tasting.php#TDF
Sorry, I forgot to take photos of this event...

London
Ok, so you might be bewildered by the fact that I wanted to do a wine event in London... The UK is not really famous for wine making - at least not yet! But the Brits are big wine affacinados, so the culture of wine has been present in their own culture for hundreds of years.
In going to London, I had heard of Vinopolis, a huge exposition building on the South bank, close to the renowned Tate museum. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but in retrospect I thought it would be a series of halls of quite interactive and informational activities and tastings related to the World of wines and wines of the World. In fact, I was hoping to have fun and learn something - perhaps by having an expert of the museum show us around or something like that. But, on the contrary, the experience was quite the opposit of expected. The base ticket was around 20 pounds per person, to include a 20 minute tasting session (of 1 obviously sponsored wine) with a lady who sounded more like a tape than a person (!), a free tasting of 5 wines to choose from either Old World or New World to be done at tasting tables served by personnel who didn't have a clue of what the wines were (no kidding!), and a general walk through (not accompanied) the halls, each dedicated to a different wine producing area of the World, but with very scarce information if any.
I kept thinking all the way through, "had I known nothing about wine when I had entered, I would probably have exited even more confused!", so how insignificant and confusing the whole experience would have been. Perhaps I'm penalized by not being very easily impressed, but the whole setup seemed to me much more commercial and only beneficient to the few commercial producers actually publicizing their products there - than actually a true educational experience for the visitor. At the end of the visit (we stayed no more than an hour, because it was agonizing), it was obligatory to pass through the wine shop which I'm sure is placed to tempt the unaware visitor with the wines for tasting in the museum part - providing that the visitor might comprehend what he or she has been tasting...

So, my question is, what is the London Vinopolis really about??? I thought that nowadays the matter of wine was to be demystified with endless information to the consumer in an educative way, not just made more fashionable through cool images and so forth...
I suspect that Vinopolis is about something else...
And so, in disappointment of having spent a few hrs of the holidays, we went to a recommended wine bar, Gordons.
This time around I was pleasantly surprised. Lots of wines by the glass, no explanations here either, but at least you don't expect it to be more than what it is. We did a flight of whites and reds by the glass, had a sit down and talk about them in a great location, and ended up getting a fabulous buffet lunch at a quite reasonable price inclusive of a British cheese plate (very intriguing to me - and ended up being one of my favourite dishes during the trip) http://www.gordonswinebar.com/
Definitely recommend this wine bar in London.
Happy travels, fellow winos!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Launch of new project: The TUSCAN WINE SCHOOL!

It's, of course, with huge joy that I announce the birth of a new project for 2010, the Tuscan Wine School (http://www.tuscanwineschool.com).
In fact, this idea is a result of a growing desire to launch a complimentary activity to the wine tours, and the moment has finally arrived!
Not to worry, I will still be giving wine tours even if I'll be reducing the amount...
I'll still make sure to be your Tuscan host, so when you'll need advice on anything you can still count on me and email me for information. In addition to this, my network of wine tour guides has enlarged and has proved itself to be the best Tucany has to offer so by now I'm surrounded by increadible professionists that I can highly recommend! So let me know, and I'll give you the name of the perfect host for you!
So, I hope to see you the next time you come to Italy, and make sure to tell your friends who might be coming to make sure to come see me and experience this phenomenal new wine event in Tuscany!
I wish you all a happy Holiday Season!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Italians and their bidet


So this is what cracks up most Western visitors when they visit Italy for the first time. The bidet. It’s not an uncommon question that I get during the tours, as it reflects a cultural difference and the curiosity of understanding its usage is given by the frequent exposure to these objects when in Italy. In fact, bidets can be found in all Italian accommodations, both private and public.

Other European countries, just North of the Alps, don’t commonly have this phenomenon of bidets in water closets. This apparently useless device wouldn't logically have any right to take up space in the Northern countries’ often space-deprived bathrooms. As other Europeans, Italians also suffer from space restrictions. But as it is, the Italians would by no means question the importance of the bidet. In fact, they are terrified when travelling abroad to find no such thing as the bidet and most oftenly conclude that the rest of the World must be living in a deprived state of hygienic primitivity.

So this posting comes from the fact that I often get the question of, “so what’s that extra object we keep seeing in the bathrooms”? Some suggest it’s to wash feet in, others that it might be a mini bathtub for kids, or to hand-wash clothes in. That’s not far off from a reality some years ago when a friend of mine had to wash her dishes in the bidet because she had no kitchen! However, the bidet is intended to provide for personal hygiene, on a daily basis.

Having talked to many Italians about it, I have come to understand that it is common to use the bidet several times a day. I’ve been explained that it might not be necessary to do an integral cleaning (like a shower or a bath) every day, so the bidet helps to spot-clean on non-bathing days. A lot of my friends couldn’t possibly shower every day, as it would take too long, especially if they consider washing their hair…

I’m personally from the primitive North, so this logic was quite new to me. However, I’ve come to see the functionality of the bidet, even though I scandalously have a tendency to fill it up with useless toiletries that have no business in the bidet!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Terroir in Monte Bernardi

On Saturday excursions we are so lucky to go and see enologist (wine maker) Michael at Monte Bernardi who is a biodynamic fundamentalist (positive annotation of the word) and a very attentive-to-detail wine maker in his own estate near to Panzano in Chianti, where it is possible o try some of the best wines that the region has to offer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Tuscan Wine Society

Harvest is happening in these days and the grapes are looking beautiful this year. Here's a photo from the harvest last week at San Polino in Montalcino.

And now for some big news that I would like to share with you all. I have decided to transform the company into a cultural association with the new name of Tuscan Wine Society (translated from its Italian name "Associazione del vino toscano"). This means that whoever wants to join an excursion to the Tuscan wine regions now will become a member of the association and also the farms visited during the trips will be associated to the Society. This opens doors for more cultural and in-depth exchanges of agricultural practices and a deeper understanding of the Tuscan viticulture and eno-gastronomic traditions. So I am very happy to announce this transformation and with it believe that the true nature of my educational activities have been defined in a more appropriate manner.


Here's the new logo of the association, hope you like it!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summer salute

It's got pretty hot in Italy. In fact, as every summer, I feel a little uncomfortable serving reds (Tuscany being famous for these) that in a few minutes warm up to the out-door temperature that hits the 34 degrees… And, as the wine, the heat has made us all warm, a little slow, lazy and perhaps a bit more crazy...
However, the tours are going strong all the same – except for a week’s pause in August when I will be taking my little girl Louise to the sea-side. I’m sure I’ll give you a reportage of that since we will be residing for a whole week in an exciting wine region right on the Tuscan coast; Bolgheri from where you get important Tuscan wines such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Masseto, Grattamacco, Paleo, etc.
My personal life has seen some changes in recent times, however, to the positive I do hope. In the meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed meeting the most interesting people through the tours from all parts of the World. My job is truly fantastic and (quietly in my mind) I thank you all every day for having the possibility of doing it!
My best summer regards to everyone!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Additives in wine?

The many kinds of additives in wines is alarming, especially because they are never listed on the label. They are all used as a way to improve an inferior product. The result is a wine-like beverage, not natural wine. Scary enough, most wines available on the market today are merely beverages made from grapes because businesses are failing to do the work to make them a true wine, which takes its time.

Here is a list of 5 additives used frequently in industrial wines:
1. Cultured yeast.
In healthy vineyards with living soils there are plenty of natural yeasts. These native yeasts are also present on the grapes at harvest. The majority of winemakers add commercial yeasts either because their vineyards are not part of a living ecosystem (because they've sprayed too many chemicals on the vines) or because commercial yeasts can add particular flavors to a wine.
2. Enzymes.
Enzymes are proteins added to industrial wines to improve the color, improve the aroma and to make filtration easier.
3. Tannin.
Tannins are often added to industrial wines in the form of powder. Often used in combination with things like oak chips or oak staves.
4. Tartaric acid or malolactic bacteria.
Used to adjust the acid levels in a wine out of balance. This manipulation really would be unnecessary in wine as it is possible for wine to proceed through a malolactic fermentation without manipulating it, but again that requires time.
5. Enhancing the product further.
Many industrial wines are still made with the addition of sugar. Arabic gum is another additive used in industrial wine making (see video below). Many industrial winemakers pump oxygen into the wine, ostensibly to speed the aging and maturation process to make a wine more approachable.




Monday, June 15, 2009

Italians versus other europeans

I don't usually blog about Italians or Italy as such - just because I think there's enough written about it in other sites and blogs. I, however, live right amongst Italians, my boyfriend is Italian and my daughter was born here and goes to Italian school. I very much love my life here in Italy and find the Italians to be warm and wellcoming towards foreigners. However, there's always a "dark" side to any place in the world, and this film underneath describes it very well - LOL!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Should the word "organic" be on the label or not?

In Italy, when a winery officially becomes organic certified - which (like in most countries) takes several years -, it has the right to advertise the words "wine obtained from organic viticulture" (translated from Italian words) in the label, but the labels might not necessarily have this writing on them. I already know a few vintners who couldn't care less about certifications, or for that sake think that the opposit is necessary: the farms that do use chemicals should declare so in the label - since the chemicals sometimes could be life threatening! At this point in time, that is not the case with vintners nor with other producers of vegetables and fruits.
Here's the opinion of an organic winery in Montalcino, the spokesman is a good friend of mine Federico:




Friday, May 29, 2009

Biodynamic - the future of viticulture?

So, have you heard of "biodynamic" wines before???

You've surely heard of organic wines...so, shortly, biodynamic agricultre is sort of a step further from organic - in the direction of being "natural", that is.

In recent years there has been a search for more natural produces including wine, and vineyards are indeed sprayed with many interesting substances that the consumer often is not even aware of.

Basically, biodynamic agriculture follows certain cycles of nature and cosmos such as the moon and position of the planets. Sounds a bit like witch-craft, but actually ancient agriculture always followed the phases of the moon and somehow this knowledge was forgotten about during the industrial revolution in modern agriculture. Today this forgotten knowledge has been rediscovered, tested, and proved to improve farms without having to use any sorts of chemicals, so creating sostainable farms.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Castello dei Rampolla - what a winery!

One of my favourite places in the Chianti region is Castello dei Rampolla. The estate is in the Conca d'Oro valley just South of Panzano. The winery was one of the first in the area to turn organic and biodynamic back in the 90s. Maurizia is a dedicated host and takes time out of her day to wander through the vineyards and answer all the questions of the visitors. The tasting includes some of the best Tuscan wines such as Sammarco and d'Alceo, the latter is a blend of Cabernet and Petit Verdot and quite singular in its class - possibly one of Tuscany's finest wines.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Wine is fun!

As you've probably noticed approaching fancy restaurants with extensive, uncomprehendable (to normal people) wine lists, some people take wine very seriously, some even get snobby about it. But in my opinion, wine is just about the funnest thing I know! It's a bit like art in that sense that there are multiple ways of experiencing it, but we all enjoy it. We had this discussion on the wine tour today, and the discussion resulted in a fun little video that you'll find here below.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Doing the wine tours

How many of us can go: I love my job and couldn't imagine my life without it?!
So, I've been doing the wine tours for 5 yrs now and I haven't got bored doing it yet - on the contrary; every day is like a new challenge and I just love to have the close contact with the wineries and to watch the progress through the year culminating in the harvest in the fall.
Here's a little clip from a wine tour this past week - thought you might enjoy a taste of the tour. Jackie owns a small organic vineyard in the Chianti Classico region and is here talking about the "green harvest" which is done in July to concentrate the grapes.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cracking the bottle open with a classy touch!

May has come - and it's got to be one of my favourite months, even if it usually passes by in a second because it seems to be one of the busiest months of the year (I'm probably not the only one who's caught on to this beautiful month in Italy!).

This post is dedicated to a little bottle-opening trick that you can soon learn to do (just practise on a couple of bottles before you do it in front of your friends). The important things are 1) that you get a hold of a proper waiter's cork screw (the only proper wine opener if you ask me) and 2) that the wine you are opening has a foil cover (so not plastic).


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Judy Witts at Officina della Cucina Popolare!


Cook, teacher, blogger and author Judy Witts and her Tuscan husband came to visit Officina della Cucina Popolare this week. She's just out with her new cook-book "Secrets from my Tuscany Kitchen - Divina Cucina's Recipes" which is also the name of the cooking school run by Judy for many years in Florence. She still does special cooking classes and trips, for example small tours to the markets of Florence.
We're proud to have a her books for sale at our restaurant. Thanks Judy & good luck with your book!
Please see the link above for Judy's impressions of her meal!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Life in a Tuscan town (Colle Val d'Elsa)

Bound to the spot a bit more, I'm experiencing the joy of living in a small Tuscan village and being part of its heart-beat. I'm getting to know the townspeople much better and enjoying the banal everyday events that I was so longing after before. From the noisy street-cleanings in the morning to the observation of the people passing on the streets at the same time of day during every single day. Usually the recognition of you comes with a loud "buon giorno!" even if the weather doesn't always promise the day to be that great this time of year.
All in all, the restaurant is really going quite well and we are so pleased. We fill up with locals in the evenings (late, because Italian only eat after 8 pm).
I hope some of you will come and experience our cuisine! Every Sunday and Monday we organize a tour of our town before lunch. Here's a taste of the tour of yesterday:


Tour of Colle Val d'Elsa from Rebecca Christophersen on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Restaurant "L'Officina della Cucina Popolare" finally open!


We have opened!!! I can't believe it! Finally, after months of frustrating and prolonged renovation, we finally opened the restaurant this week. But the relief of actually having guests coming for lunch and dinner and having a delicious meal is just enormous!
So, if you pass by Colle Val d'Elsa in the future, I hope you'll come see us - even just for a glass of wine!
Here's an initiative that we're running all summer:
Every Sunday and Monday starting at 11.20 am in Piazza Arnolfo in Colle Val d’Elsa.
The tour will go through historic Colle, on a trip that will take you through the Middle Ages and all the way up to recent history, including the back ground of the crystal industry.
An hour and a half later, we will have lunch consisting of samples of typical Tuscan foods at “Officina della Cucina Popolare”. Lunch will be accompanied by a fun wine tasting of two wines of the territory.
Please call ahead to reserve:
(+39) 0577-921796 (Officina) or (+39) 333-7229716 (Rebecca)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

2009 - great first tours


Nothing better than ending a long wet winter season with a couple of wonderful tours.
Actually the weather has gotten much warmer and the buds on the trees are the proof; they are sitting there ready to boost open with the first rays of the serious spring sun!
Here's a photo from the other day - it's still lots of fun to do the juming photos. The person who seems to be flying to the left, is Alan and next to him his wife Joan. They were really interesting to get to know as they are spending some years travelling the Mediterranean in their sail boat. What stories - I wish there had been more time to hear them all. Anyway, I have been peeking at their web-site and there's now a really nice review with pictures up from the wine tours last week: http://www.alanjoanhere.com/2009_Italy_Florence3.html
The other exciting news is that we are really close to opening the restaurant. We believe the opening date will be the 14th of March. I will make sure to post lots of pictures both on Facebook as on this blog so that you can see what it looks like. We've got a restaurant blog as well, but so far it's only going to be in Italian: http://cucina-popolare.blogspot.com/ But you can enjoy the pictures there as well. The wine list is what excites me the most (find the link to it here: http://www.cucina-popolare.com/cucina_vini.htm) and is made up by mainly organic certified and biodynamic wines from wineries that have a heart, so to say. What I mean by that is that I've selected the wines both by their goodness but also because we know the vintners and how well they work.
I suppose that's all for now. I better get back to one of my jobs; these days are full of important things to do but it's just so nice to sit down and reflect...