Saturday, December 31, 2011

Half empty or half full?

When you go to wine bars and restaurants in Italy (but I think in most other places also) and you ask for a glass of wine, the portion you get often looks like half a glass. If you receive more, you're either in an unclassy place where people have no culture for wine or you are just bloody lucky!

Having served tables for years in restaurants I've often got the dirty look from a client who maybe thought I was cheating them or being cheap! In fact, it would be completely unthinkable to serve half a pint of beer or a half a glass of coca cola - I mean, could you imagine the barman giving you half a cocktail Martini? Wouldn't you complain?

It's hardly the case to explain why wine glasses are not filled up to the rind, or simply why wine glasses have gotten bigger and the amount of wine served is no less than before. We all know it has to do with the pleasure of moving the wine around in the glass and benefitting from the aromas that are released thanks to the aerating done by swirling. So logically the explanation is that wine is a beverage that we enjoy with our sense of smell as much as with our palate.

So I smile when the question is asked by aspiring wine drinkers. But fact is that of course the first time you see a half a glass of wine you do wonder....

And that got me thinking of the more figurative "half empty or half full"...and how it applies to myself and the ones around me. Especially today - the last day of 2011 and we are looking back on a year either contently or thinking we could've done better or thinking perhaps that the world could've done us better. I think we all have a portion of each in us - it's all a matter of how you look at it - and essentially what you make of life.

I am so grateful for the events of 2011. My son was born. I married the most wonderful man in the World. Our business is surviving despite hard times. We and our families are healthy. My glass feels full if not overflowing...

And so this was a short and a bit unsignificant post, but I felt like saying a little something to toast to the beginning of a new year. Let's all set out with great expectations and goals for 2012 - hoping it be as full as we wish and doing our best to always see it that way anyways.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter in Tuscany

This year has been in the sign of the Tuscan Sun - I'm starting to understand why the Sun is particularly famous in this region. Born in the wet North and being rained on for more than 20 yrs of my life, the lack of rain this year has almost bothered my sun-longing being! The harvest of both grapes and olives was anticipated, the produce lacked water, no mushrooms have popped up in the surrounding forests and the few truffles that have been found are at sky high prices. Mistakingly I took my family to one of the Tuscan truffle festivals only to find that there was everything but truffles present at the festival. I was lucky to get a picture of the only truffle stand - and it wasn't exactly a bountiful find!

Our busy season is now over and we are enjoying a few weeks of relax and contemplation before the start of the new year. While the olive harvest is over in these parts, and our Olivoglio shipped and delivered for the most part, I attended a super interesting olive oil course in the town of Imperia (on the Ligurian coast, up by the border of France) which was week long and I've now become an official olive oil taster! If I were an olive oil lover before, now I'm probably an olive oil fanatic!

In fact, my idea is that we will create some special olive oil classes at the Tuscan Wine School for 2012:

While waiting for the cooler days to come and maybe even a few dark clouds, we're enjoying the wonderful weather and will be visiting wineries during this month to search out great wines for the wine school and to add the wineries that are great to visit to a second edition of the APP for touring wineries which is doing really well on Itunes. Here's a picture from last week that I have to share from the winery Montechiari in Lucca.

My project for this month is to work on an updated wine map of Tuscany as we've done in the past, but changing it considerably to make it hopefully easier to read and adding also the typical food products of Tuscany. Wine and food go together after all...especially here in Italy! But I won't preview you on that one yet...
What you can view is my friend Raffa's new logo for our web-site where we sell some of the wines that we love from the small producers around Tuscany:

Time to round off because I don't really have much more news (that I can share with you now!).
Happy holidays to all of you and see you in the new year with whatever the future will hold!!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I'm SO excited! Our olive oil is being made in these days and the labels will be printed in the coming week. So basically our Olivoglio should be ready by the end of this upcoming week.
For anyone coming to Tuscany this time of year Montisi in southern Siena has a lovely olive oil festival with colorful street vendors and olive oil floating onto toasted bread for the visitors.
Anyway, no need for long scribblings this time around - I would be happy if you have a look at my little video of the process filmed yesterday morning.

PS. In the video I forgot to say that the yield from 100 kilos of olive oil is about 15 liters of olive oil!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Vernaccia di San Gimignano - Tuscany's only DOCG white wine

Vernaccia is a white grape varietal from Tuscany protagonist in the Italian denomination system as it starred in the country's very first DOC in 1966. The region is San Gimignano, a town notorious for its history and beauty and consequently it has become a tourist destination in Tuscany.

The town itself contains one too many souvenir shop but the hundreds of thousands of tourists that flock to the town keep them alive. What few people may notice coming to the town is the Vernaccia wine (even if sold in most of the shops). Right at the highest point of town you'll find the Vernaccia wine museum (providing you can climb to the top) consisting of a few rooms dedicated to the exposition of this ancient wine and the products produced by all the different wineries in the region. Here it's possible to taste the widest varietal of Vernaccias in town.

Even if Vernaccia is a medium aromatic varietal (so not as aromatic as for instance a Riesling or a Sauvignon), this grape which apparently is related to the French Grenache Blanc is slowly gaining more notoriety nationally as it is being interpreted better and better by the serious producers of the region. The best Vernaccia's are fresh when young, and develop more complex flavors when aged. You may also find a reserve version which is barrel aged and undergoes malolactic (usually) and consequently is spicy and buttery with less freshness and more depth.

In the 1990'ies Vernaccia di San Gimignano was "promoted" to DOCG which makes it Tuscany's only white DOCG (there are now 10 red DOCG). And various wineries are gaining fame for this white varietal - as for example Mattia Barzaghi, a young and very nice wine producer who we visited yesterday. Look our for his wines as they represent some of San Gimignano's best! (soon available on the wine list of the Tuscan Wine School in Siena!)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Introducing our own brand of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I have to share a joke with you which I first heard the other week:
A Tuscan kitchen chef asks his eager students at a cooking class: "tell me what does extra virgin olive oil really mean"? There is a bit of embarrassing shuffling around as no one wants to say the wrong thing... The chef continues to answer by himself and exclaims: "It's logical! It's the oil that comes from the ugliest olives!!!" 

Of course, the reality is completely the opposite and many a joke has been cracked about the word Virgin in the olive oil context. In my classes and on my tours I often ask the question "what is extra virgin olive oil?" and I'm baffled that, in fact, not a lot of people realize what exactly it is and what the differences could be between the different qualities of oil - in fact, I myself believe it is quite ambiguous all together because there are a wide range of olive oils that can classify as extra virgin and there is just as huge a range of qualities between great and mediocre ones in that same classification.

What I’m trying to say is, maybe there's something wrong with the classification system?!
So, let’s see…to be an extra virgin olive oil there are 3 requirements that have to be met: 
1) mechanical press (as opposed to chemical) 
2) oleic acidity content less than 0,8% (0,1% being excellent quality and 0,8% quite scarce), and 
3) Taste: no defects should be present and it should be fruity
So all in all the requirements are quite average and suit the big industries very well. 

But what about the small producers of really excellent olive oils, who take extra care of taking their olives down from the trees un-bruised, who take the olives to the mill within a few days of picking (the fresher the better), and who get a "cold pressing" done as opposed to a more economically interesting warm press?

There is just no official commercial category in which these olive oil makers can make themselves noted, if not because of passionate consumers who go and seek them out and try to spread the word (which is what I’m trying to do here). These oils are not just super-delicious but they are also extra healthy because of the vitamins and antioxidants that they still contain. But they are hard to get because made only by the smaller producers and in limited quantities (for the few lucky who know about them), so not exported in large quantities to other countries nor availble on larger supermarket shelves....

In Tuscany we like to claim our fame to the World's best olive oil. Maybe a bit pretentious…but there's something about it... The climate is just right for a late harvest in November when it is cooler and because of our long growing season the varietals of olives are small and lean - but the flavor that we get is fresh and spicy. 

So now you may ask yourselves, why am I so passionate about this argument (wasn't I supposed to be a wino)?! Well, to tell you the truth I had no clue what olive oil really was before I settled here. Since then, a World of flavors have revealed themselves, and the most choking difference to me was the one that I find in olive oils. And once the understanding for this wonderful product comes across, there is just no going back. My food deserves the very best olive oil!

Ok, this little write-up got a bit longer than I intended it to. The point of it all, I have searched out my favorite olive oil and it will be available not just here but you can order it online on the site that I’m slowly writing for it. By the end of October we’ll be ready for Xmas orders – so you can start planning who to give this unique present to.

If I've opened up your curiosity about the olive oil stuff, read on in this very interesting article from the New Yorker in 2007: Slippery Business.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sì, Oui, YES!

Exhausted and with a bad cold, I'm now relaxing after a wonderful but stressful weekend with family and friends from multiple countries. 
Saturday was the day. We got married by a civil ceremony in the town hall of Colle di Val d'Elsa by the mayor who is also a professor of Oenology at the University of Siena, so very appropriate for us!
What an emotion it was to say yes for a life-time to the person you love! "Sì, Oui, Yes" in the 3 languages that we speak...
Later the Prosecco Cartizze bottles popped and we had a light lunch and then it was off to the party where we were to meet with everyone invited. Our dear friends Ilaria and Matteo from Officina della Cucina Popolare in Colle donated the whole organization of the evening as a wedding gift (thank you!) and arranged for live cooking an unforgettable evening all together. So we could just enjoy the perfect settings with a beautiful San Gimignano in the background and the wonderful guests who had come from close and far to celebrate us.
I would like to extend a big thank you to all the guests who contributed to a delightful evening, and in particular to my sisters who made my heart melt with their songs....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Vendemmia 2011 - from plant to barrel in a few hours...

This morning we harvested. Or should I say "they did", because I was leisurely carrying around the baby while documenting this culminating moment of the year with my camera, being nothing more than a moral support (and hopefully not a nuisance) to the hard working harvesters.
The harvest moment is truly magical as it is not just the picking of the fruit, but the togetherness and result of all the events through the year; so the pruning, the selection, the green harvesting, the weather conditions, the wild boars, and what not... That's what makes it so important and such a joyful moment - especially if the year is a good one like this one has been.
The most relaxing moment is lunch under a tree consisting of simple panini (sandwiches) with porchetta and a glass of red. Nothing tastes better and no moment is more peaceful. A few Tuscan jokes are thrown around between the elder and the younger and lunch finishes with a classical schiacciata all'uva (grape cake only prepared this time of year).
We follow the grapes to the cantina (cellar) where they get destemmed and then are hosed into the barrels. Finally these grapes will start braking and the natural yeast will start to eat the sugars....can't wait to see the quality of the wine over the next few weeks.
Enjoy this 3-minute video of our morning....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

App on Tuscan Wine Touring is available on Itunes for Ipad and Iphone

It took a little while to write the App, but I'm proud to announce the release of this first version. Please check it out and tell wine friends who are planning a trip to Tuscany. The App is intended to help the individual travelers heading to Tuscany and wanting to go visit the Tuscan wine regions. There are tips on which wineries are the best to visit with info about where they are located, when they are open to visit, whether you need to take an appointment or not, and price per person for tastings and tours.
Happy travels with Tuscany Wineries with Rebecca Wine!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A wine for a son

And so it happens when you don't expect to become a parent and then suddenly the blessing hits you. Your life suddenly extends further than yourself to a future that you will not even be part of... And actions are hence done not just for yourself but for that generation that will carry it all on.

Our project of the wine started in this manner with the birth of Julian. It seemed only obvious to make a wine that he would be able to celebrate with when he reaches adulthood, especially because we have a wine maker in the family. The idea would be to call the wine SuJu which in phonetic Italian would mean UpDown, symbolizing life's path, and the importance of the vineyards elements; sun (up) and soil (down). Too deep?! Never mind....the wine will hopefully be great.

Right now the grapes are benefitting from a hot summer with numerous hrs of sunshine. The wild boar and deer have also found out how delicious the grapes are so we have a little problem of grape reduction :-(

Harvest is predicted to the second half of September. Let's just hope it'll be before our wedding and not on the day. Otherwise all the guests will have to help picking!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Isola del Giglio - for the food and wine lover

Isola del Giglio is a tiny granite island outside of the Southern Tuscany half-island called Monte Argentario. It’s a touristy place in the summer but apart from the summer months it’s a local community of a bit more than a thousand people that live in harmony with their isolated island culture.
The reason why the island attracted me wasn’t much the sandy beaches or the clear blue Mediterranean Sea, but more so the ancient grape native to the island called Ansonica.
This grape that resists warm and dry temperatures along with salty winds from the sea, turns out to be the same as the one in Sicily called Inzolia. Sicily has recently got a better reputation for its deep reds, but prior to this the ancient Inzolia was the queen of the island – going into for example Marsala.

So to get to this marvelous island, one needs to take a small ferry over from Porto Santo Stefano. The ferries depart every hour or so, and it’s possible to bring a car if you think you’ll need it (probably not as the public transportation on the island is great). The distance covered in one hour is no more than 15 km, but it’s enough to feel far away from the main land and you find yourself tuning into lazy island mode. 
In fact, the very first thing we did when we arrived at midday was to find our lunch restaurant. La Paloma was right on the harbor so we went straight in and placed ourselves in the comfortable courtyard. This restaurant is rated in the Slow Food guide as a good spontaneous kitchen. We couldn’t wait for an unpredictable meal!
In fact, the menu seems to be non-existent – just what the chef has found fresh on that day.
See some of the pictures to see how wonderful it was…

Later I read on Tripadvisor that the place is criticized for being expensive. I would probably agree of the fact that it’s expensive, but on the other hand it’s not a place I would go to fill my tummy. It’s a place that tells the story of food culture of an island. Everything is locally sourced and home made. That’s already what makes it totally worth it for me. And I have never had such delicious fish! So, expensive is relative...

After a very filling lunch and some wonderful wine (Senti Oh! – means Listen Up!) we went up the island to the Castello (medieval town on top of the island) to walk the lovely streets and do some souvenir shopping. Here we met up with Francesco who is one of 3 wine makers in Isola del Giglio.

We hopped into his truck and headed South on the island down a highly improbable road. At the end of road (which ran along a cliff) we had to climb down a rocky path and there were the Altura vineyards. The sun was already heading for the horizon and the light on the vineyards was stunning. Francesco showed us his vineyards with mainly Ansonica but also varieties of red native grapes. They are all grown to Alberello (Gobelet) because of the hefty winds and dry climate. Very extreme vineyards in my opinion because grown on terraces and would have to be looked after entirely by hand. Each vine carried just a few bunches of grapes.
The sun headed further down the horizon and we sat and enjoyed some fresh Ansonica. The table was dressed with tomatoes and home made olive oil. We made bruschette and then came the calamari...
We were there till midnight in great company until the fresh winds told us it was time to go to bed. We headed back on the scary road and by a miracle we found the hotel on the other side (the inhabited side) of the island. By this time we were all completely in love with this wonderful little island – and so, of course, I felt it was my duty to share the place with you!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rick Steves at the Tuscan Wine School

Life in Tuscany is rather unpredictable, but it doesn't happen every morning that Rick Steves calls and says "hey Rebecca? - This is Rick Steves calling". Of course, right at that moment my little one was having a fit and was screaming his head off so I could hardly hear what Rick had to say. Luckily Rick had time to come to the wine school, so I packed the little one up and got into the car as soon as I could and drove into Siena just in time.
How exciting! Through all these years in the wine tourism sector I had always hoped to meet Rick one day...and now the day had come!
The Tuscan Wine School is already in the 2011 guides, but he had come to verify all the inserts in his book.
Rick sat in on a little part of our Italian Wine Class and tried some Prosecco di Valdobbiadene that we serve as a welcome to the school. Of course, he couldn't stay for the whole deal as he's a busy guy. But I dare say that he was very enthusiastic about our wine school initiative so I believe we are confirmed for next year's edition when Rick Steves readers will also receive a special student discount at our school!
Viva Rick Steves!!!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

New Logo! For application coming up about Tuscan Wineries...

Isn't this "ape" cute??? So, I'm happy to announce that I am working on an I-phone / I-pad application to the very best Tuscan wineries....After more than 15 yrs in Tuscany, touring the country-side learning about the local products, getting to know the colorful characters behind the scenes...I'll now finally be sharing my Tuscan acquaintances with all of you! So check back soon for the final result! The application will give access to all the special Tuscan places with a lot of advantages that I can't reveal yet... 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A future winemaker is born!

Just a short announcement of personal character to introduce you to the recent addition of a new family member, Julian. He's really fond of milk at the moment, but we are definitely hoping he takes a liking to wine (much later on) as he may follow in the footsteps of his father and become a winemaker!? Too early to suppose, but one may have ones dreams...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Free guide to touring the Chianti Classico wine country!

The days are getting longer and the sun is getting warmer...spring is on its way...and so are the 2011 wine tourists!
The vineyards are still standing bare and leafless, but within the next month the plants will awake and start the growth that by fall will turn into the 2011 harvest. Wineries are still hibernating, but also they will start opening up to the curious wine tourists within the next month.
A lot of people choose to come to Tuscany for its wine wonders and to do some wine wandering...and so I have started writing a mini guide to wine touring on one's own. A bit self-destructive, one should think, since my livelyhood involves selling guided wine tours - however, I'ld rather share than keep it for myself.
All depending on your timing and disposition, you can easily rent a car and drive through the wine country on your own. But it's good to get some hints on where to go. So here it is...hopefully it will be of good use to some of you out there! Let me know if you have modifications to make or other comments!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Year - New Projects... Making our own wine...

Time for a little update on what's going on in our lives... 2011 will be very special for us as we are about to grow in a family member (little boy expected any time now), so we've decided this would be the perfect year to start making our own wine!!!
Together with Dante and Helena of Colombaia, Pierre has started pruning the shared vineyard in the red soils of Pievescola. The plot is only about an acre, but the vines are around 30-40 yrs old and should give some very good fruits.
The future wine is going to be made according to organic standars, so everything will be hand-made in the vineyard.
And since I'm currently not in the state to help actively I thought it would be fun to film the others working and share how to prune a vine with you!