Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A volcano between Tuscany & Lazio

On this blog I probably often give the impression that wine and food is constantly on our mind, and admittedly it usually is our primary of activity. But we also love simply to travel and discover places, and of course that also means to get a sort of "feel" for the region by simply drinking and eating it whilst travelling.
This past weekend we decided to head South in Tuscany and across the "border" to Lazio to discover the lands of the ex vulcano Monte Amiata, also Tuscany's third highest mountain. 
The trip went through the early spring of picturesque Val d'Orcia valley between Montepulciano and Montalcino and onwards until the road leads up to the snowy top. The top is covered by beautiful beech and chestnut trees, and there are even a few slopes for skiers. Monte Amiata is the Northernmost of a many Italian volcanos and last erupted around 170.000 years ago, but still fuels a good amount of thermal springs around it.
Soil's volcanic around it and hence quite a few historic villages scattered in the foothills have been partly or entirely built with the tufo stone. 

A decadent Porcini soup...

Bagni San Filippo

Civita Bagnoregio

White wine from Montefiascone, just South of volcanic lake Bolsena - enjoyed on the terrace of a nice slow food restaurant.

View of lake Bolsena from the top of village Montefiascone

Signs of spring in Montefiascone

Parco dei Mostri - the 16th century grotesque monster park

A rare picture of Pierre and I taken by our 5 yr old son, Julian.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

How to get your wine back home from Italy - safely!

Planning a trip to Tuscany and going on a Tuscan Wine Tour? (preferably with Grape Tours, of course!) One of the things that might cross your mind is how to get the lovely vino back home...and of course, there are several solutions all depending on how much wine you intend to bring back.

Just a few bottles?
Stick them in your suitcase - right in the middle, tightly wrapped in dirty clothes. That's what we did on a recent trip back from South Africa and we made it back with quite a few lovely bottles (but not enough as they are almost gone!)
If you are nervous about breaking the bottles - I sat checking if a careless airport worker tossed my suitcases around - maybe it's a good investment to get a few Wineskins that are reusable so not a crazy investment (they are usually less than 5 euros) - if the bottle breaks (God forbid!) the wine stays inside the Wineskin and doesn't ruin your clothes. Wineskins can be bought at some wineries and wineshops so you don't have to decide until you decide to buy those bottles.
Notice that each country may have a max allowance for alcohol as for example in the US where it is 2 bottles per person, but of course if you declare your wine you can bring in as much as you like. Last time I was informed the Customs tax on a bottle was around 1 dollar. At the same time I was told that nobody ever checks and that most people can smuggle in an extra few bottles no problem!

A few more bottles?
You may end up loving the wine so much that you'll end up shipping a larger amount. Shipping from Italy to for example to the US usually works out to around 10 euros per bottle in shipping cost if the shipping is of a dozen bottles. Ship less, and the per-bottle-price is higher. So you are looking at around 120 euros to ship a case which may seem a little steep, but that includes styrofoam shipping cases, Customs fees and door to door delivery. So perhaps it's not so silly if one considers that wines are usually sold at a lower price at the wineries and you may be able to do your own import of wines that you've actually tasted, and that perhaps are not even available at home.
If traveling with wine is something you do often, it may be a good idea to invest in a wine check luggage as for example the one made by Lazenne. It's a one time cost and then you can use it again and again, bringing back home wine from wherever you go in a fairly easy way.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pop it or age it?!

To age or not to age…
Quite an existential question, which often comes up when discussing wine; how long can I age the wine and when should I ideally drink it?The idea that wine is best when aged is a myth that belongs to the olden days, or better yet, these days it's relevant to very few regions in the World.Reality is that most wines produced in the World today were best drunk yesterday! The market has become (as for many other things) one of instant satisfaction and hence many wine producers must make wines that are decent to drink fairly young and that don’t necessarily benefit considerably from further bottle ageing, perhaps the contrary!

So how to know when a wine could improve from ageing?
As you may have noticed, wine – even though being an alimentary product – doesn’t contain a “best by” date. Yet, it will not last forever… Remember that wine is essentially the "state of suspension" between a grape and vinegar. wine is more or less stable depending on the components that make it last. This state of suspension could be a few years or a few decades...eventually all wines will lose their verve and even their color and will inevitably turn brown and unappetising.
When we taste wine, amongst other things we look for hue of color and sniff the aromas. Both are effected by time (thanks to chemical changes in wine due to oxidation, even if slow) – the color will slowly tend towards orange/brown and aromas will turn from fresh & fruity towards tertiary aromas and eventually to walnut towards the maximum state of oxidation.
What may slow down this process is the structure of wine in terms of alcohol, tannin & acidity – all preservatives (together with of course - the much feared - sulphites, without which it would be impossible to store wine for very long, let alone shipping across the world). The aforementioned balance of elements that give structure to wine can be influenced by a series of different facts, as for example choice of grapes, climate, vinification methods and if a specific vintage gave exceptional fruit to start off with. This is the reason why people who collect wine craze over great vintages, even if an excellent vintage is still no guarantee of a long-lived wine.
In any case, a good connubial between tannings, acids & alcohol may slow down the ageing process, all depending on how the wine is stored (low temperatures slow down the breakdown of elements, lack of oxygen and light is also favourable for storing wine – and that’s of course why we are encouraged to lie down our bottles in cellars or similar conditions). 

Carpe Diem...
One thing's for sure, we don't live forever and neither does wine. Most wines meant for ageing don't benefit from an ageing longer than 10-15 yrs, so if you give your wines longer time be aware that you are risking doing yourself a disservice. At the end of the day, aged wines are not for everyone's palate anyway. Aged wines often have aromas that are very earthy like leaves, truffles, mushrooms and leather - aromas that not all of us will associate with something pleasant. Usually the tannins have broken down giving us less astringent wines that feel smoother, but however keep their acidity and alcohol. If you're not used to tasting older wines, you may be disappointed...
Life's for the living - and so is wine! So I guess the moral of the story is to drink and enjoy at the best possible occasion!