Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Wine on the Riviera (Ponente)

Liguria is the Northwestern-most region of Italy, lined by a beautiful coastline featuring steep cliffs, topped by medieval mountain hamlets, and colourful fishing boat villages that reflect in the beautiful Mediterranean blue water. 
Viticulture and olives are native to area since Roman times, but the rugged terrain makes any kind of agriculture a real challenge. Vineyards with native grapes such as Vermentino, Pigato & Rossese are typically terraced on hillsides facing the South. Taggiasca olives are so hard to harvest that they are often collected by falling onto a net, making a mild olive oil that goes well with local seafood dishes. 

We've spent some time discovering the Western area of Liguria which borders to France - the so-called Ponente (west of Genova city is Ponente, and East is Levante). Apart from the more commonly grown whites, Vermentino & Pigato, here grows a red variety called Rossese. The name may have you think of something red, but in fact it's a name that has been given to a family of varieties both red and white (Wikipedia). 
The area that is best known for the variety name is the Rossese di Dolceacqua, the latter being a cute little village in one of the valleys leading up to the Alps. The Rossese di Dolceacqua variety corresponds to a French grape called Tibouren which grows in Provence and is used to make pink wines. However, in this first Ligurian DOC region it is made to make a dry red, usually released only a year after harvest. A more selected version is released under the Superiore appellation, however both are dry and moderately alcoholic with a light color (similar to Pinot Noir) and soft tannins (this makes it one of the few reds that can match sea food quite well).

Here follows some pictures of our visits with a few wine makers from the area. Most are incredibly small with just a few hectares of low yielding vineyards and such a low production that labels may never reach the other side of the border. But the passion seems to be there, and a great desire to make high quality and to develop the area into a more notorious wine making region, as the potential is certainly there! We personally think that it could be interesting for the producers to age their wines a slight bit longer, perhaps using cement vats or big oak barrels. We are certainly looking forward to following the development of the region in the future!

Starting 2017 Grape Tours is proud to present the first ever small group wine tour from Nice to the Italian Riviera every Wednesday. Don't miss it! www.nice-wine-tours.com

Dolceacqua village

Apricale village

Vineyard facing the South (the sea)

Gajaudo - a "larger" operation

View from Terre Bianche

Filippo of Terre Bianche

Our first wine tasting of Rossese (bravo Filippo!)

Vineyard at Poggio dell'Elmo

Valentina with her father

Valentina with her mum

Another enchanting view from the vineyards


Marco at his organic winery

Tasting in the living room of the most panoramic house!!

Tino & Daniela

Dolceacqua in fundo!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Florence's Wine Windows "bucchetti del vino"

Ahhh...the laziness of winter has crawled upon us and at last after watching the last episodes of House of Cards and Lost I now have no excuse but to write a little post ;)

Before retiring for the winter, I went to discover the "Wine Windows" of Florence together with a group organised by the Associazione Culturale Bucchetti del Vino, an association of people who have as their goal to discover, create awareness & protect all of the Wine Windows found around Florence.
We did a 3 hr guided tour around the city center of Florence starting by the noble Palazzo Antinori that you should certainly go see when in Florence (free entry) - you can walk straight inside the courtyard simply to see how one of these palaces look from the inside, or even go for a glass of wine at their wine bar.

So if you find yourself in Florence and you're aware of the Wine Windows, you'll start seeing them everywhere. But beware! Because not all holes in the walls are true Wine Windows. Some were holes where candles were kept to lit up the madonnas (so likely ones that are close to a madonna are fake windows!). So if you want to see a really good example head for the Antinori Palace, take a right around the corner - and there it is, "vino" written right under it - you can't be mistaken. A perfect example of a Wine Window.

Wine Windows appeared sometime around the 17 hundreds in Florence and were installed to allow the free commerce of wine (so without a middleman) - farm to table, so to say. A very modern concept and unique for the time. Typically, the noble families of Florence who possessed land in the countryside traded products, made in their farms by the sharecroppers. Fresh farm produce, and of course in particular wine, passed through these windows on street level of the noble palaces directly to the consumer.

Some Wine Windows are quite decorative, others very simple. Some have a writing with the opening times to the public. Some have been covered up, others are now being used as a mailbox! There seems to be more than 150 Wine Windows in Florence, and they are constantly being unveiled and recorded, especially now that the aforementioned Association has created some awareness about them. You may also find them in other old cities around Tuscany, but Florence is the place with the highest concentration and where you will probably pass by 10-20 just within a 15 minute stroll around. Next time you're in Florence, make sure to notice them!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Free App: Flavorful Florence

Very happy to introduce a fun little side project I've been working on collecting some really great food related places around Florence & Tuscany for you to use next time you're in Tuscany!

It's work in progress, so expect much more stuff for the future. But I really hope you'll enjoy it! And of course I hope you'll review it after using!


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Harvest time is a time of joy...and of hard work!

Time for a little 2016 harvest report from Tuscany and a few pics from the past few weeks. We had a really hot and dry summer, so quantities are looking a little scarse, but so far the grapes are looking really good and many folks have high hopes for a great vintage. Of course, only time will tell...
This is a super busy period for all, anxiety, joy & hope. You really can compare it with a birth - in this case of a new potential long-lived wine (if we all were to have the patience to wait to drink these wines!).

 Harvest coming in from the Antinori vineyards at Badia a Passignano

Sorting of grapes at Fattoria La Massa in Panzano in Chianti

Giovanni Manetti happy with grapes coming in at Fontodi, Panzano in Chianti

Stomping of grapes like in the olden days at Fattoria Corzano & Paterno, San Casciano Val di Pesa

Grape bunches being laid out on bamboo for drying at Capezzana in Carmignano

A Vermentino grape at Castello di Gabbiano, in Chianti Classico area

A couple of bunches of Sangiovese at Vecchie Terre di Montefili, Panzano in Chianti

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Portugal Port Paradise!

In the beginning of August we set out to discover the beautiful Douro valley growing region for Port wines stretching from Porto city itself all the way long the Douro river in towards the Spanish border. Our aim was to see the area and get a feeling for the geography, and surely to eat and drink our way around!
It has been a very dry year - just like in Tuscany - and on the outskirts of the wine region, dozens of forest fires were pestering the countryside making the air smoky and hazy. But half way into the Douro valley the skies cleared up and the splendour of the region revealed itself.
The long river twirls along steep banks terraced with grape vines as far as the eye reaches and as you turn one corner another stunning vista opens up just like the previous one.
It's possible to drive along the river for a lot of the way and it's rather easy to get around, but if you venture up into the heights of the hills, you end up on narrow roads without railings and at times it felt like we were floating in another dimension, like in a paradise of vineyards.
We had rented a car for our whole stay to have full independence, but in retrospect perhaps it would have been an idea to do a train ride from Porto - the train (http://www.linhadodouro.net/) runs along the river and stops often so it's possible to visit the Porto Quintas (wineries) and see the whole stretch of the Unesco protected valley with the steep vineyards and iconic white Quintas with their name brands written in black.

We spent 3 days in the gorgeous Douro valley and 3 days in lively Porto. Port is one of the oldest appellations in Europe originating sometime back in the mid 18th century. The terraces where the vines grow have been formed over centuries and are impressive as they indicate toil & trouble in order to turn such rugged terrain into a successful agricultural area. And even if successful in terms of fame, the work is still mostly done by hand as vineyards (varieties are Tintas and Tourigas mainly) are difficult or sometimes impossible to access with machines, the yield is ridiculously low (sometimes only 2000 kilos/hectare) and the price for the grapes equivalently low. The overhead of making port is huge because of the many years of ageing, so it's mainly only historical estates in the city of Port that will invest in this part of the process. This means that most wine is moved out of the Douro valley after making and into the city of Port for ageing. In the past the river was used to move the wine, nowadays trucks are loaded with the fortified wine ready for ageing into one of the many varieties of Port (white, rose, ruby, tawny, vintage, late bottle, etc).

A new generation of growers and winemakers are wanting to play, but it's almost impossible for the Port making, so an increasing number of dry reds and some whites are being made in the region. One day by chance at a local eatery we met one of these guys, an interesting wine maker who he gave us a great insight and tasting of alternative wines.

Douro was however first put on the map thanks to the fame of the Port, that takes its name from the city in which it is aged. Or almost. We made our way to Porto city, located on the North side of the gorge of the Douro river just out to the Atlantic Ocean. The temperatures here drop drastically from inland and are extremely pleasant. Perfect climate for ageing wines, Port wine is aged in the brand name houses and adjacent warehouses on the South side of the river though, and the name of the city here is in reality Vila Nova de Gaia. This is the perfect place to taste the different kinds of Port and you can practically walk into the different port houses, some of which offer an informative tour, others just a tasting of a variety of Ports.

Here are some names to look out for in the city: Quinta do Noval (tastings are rather expensive but the quality is excellent), Ramos Pintos (there's a tour into their museum and cellar which was rather informative), Niepoort, Croft (we visited at their grape growing estate just outside Pinhao), Graham's, Fonseca, Taylor's, Quinta do Portal, Churchill's & Fonseca.

Some gourmet eateries to include if you go:
Toca da Raposa in Ervadosa de Douro
Largo do Paco in Amarante
Pedro Lemos in Porto
Orangerie at the Yeatman hotel overlooking Porto

Here are some pictures - only brought my Iphone (weight restrictions on flight), but at least it'll give you an idea of what a trip to the area could look like.