21 October 2010


After our great day in wine country in Sicily, I was feeling especially confident about making my other Italian dream winery visit come true. The day we arrived in Bologna we had two tasks: securing opera tickets and a visit to Ca de Noci. I sent them an e-mail to which they responded quickly, saying that they would love to have us; and we scored tickets to La Traviata at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna for our last night in town.
By the time we had figured out the best day to visit the vineyard through talking back and forth, it was late Saturday afternoon. We headed out into the rain to a car rental agency which was, as we had sadly expected; closed. Everything is closed on Sundays and in order to make it to the vineyard at the time we had agreed on we would have to find and secure a rental car by 9am on Monday. Since we don't have a credit card many places won't rent to us so it is never an easy task to rent a car. We decided after deliberation to take public transit which meant a train to Reggio-Emilia followed by 2 city buses and a 30 minute walk through the countryside. We would leave the apartment at 7am and catch the two tight bus transfers, as the buses only ran once per hour.
When the alarm went off on Monday morning rain was beating the rooftop and I was stuffed up with a sore throat. We contemplated canceling for long enough that we missed the train, but decided to take the next one and hope for the best. We were determined to make the visit. During the 30 minute wait for the next train and sleepily realizing we'd kind of blown our plan and train tickets were more than quoted online, we decided to try our luck with a rental agency down the street from the train depot. We got the car in no time and decided to hit the road without stopping by the apartment to check on driving directions. We had written down precise directions to the vineyard, but they were all by way of bus. We planned to stop and use the internet along the way. We never found an internet kiosk and instead found ourselves winding through the country roads outside Reggio-Emilia after a pay phone conversation between Nialls and Alberto (one of 2 brothers who own the vineyard) resulted in the vaguely correct spellings of 3 towns that the vineyard was located between. We knew the street name from the walking directions and that was it. We were almost an hour late when I tearfully declared that I had given up on finding it and was too embarrassed to show my face. With a rush of last minute hope I insisted we pull over at a tobacco stop. The two men running the shop were so helpful that they actually pushed their own customers out of the way to help me. We pulled up the website and it turned out we were about 3 blocks away. We arrived at the winery to a warm welcome; they were kind and understanding and we didn't bother them with any of the finer details of our disastrous morning (we saved that for the blog).

bottle aging

Alberto and Giovanni are brothers and partners and have taken the property over from their father. Alberto went to school for architecture and Giovanni for enology. their father never produced wine, but planted the vineyard in the 1970's. It is a somewhat hilly property and had never been a vineyard before. Most all of the vineyards of the area are on flat land. The brothers are a unique team; there is love, tension, and sparkle (no pun intended!) to their family operation. The property is beautiful, the older vines forming a thick and gnarled canopy. The cellar is petite, as most of the aging here is done in bottle. There seemed to be no end to the surprises and various projects at play on the property.

Spergola, drying for passito

You can't tell, but this is the smallest cellar ever.

After a tour, we were invited into the house and greeted with the warmth of a wood burning stove, soft Serge Gainsbourg on the stereo and a delicious home cooked lunch. We started with 2007 and 2009 Querciole, a slightly sparkling wine made with malvasia and spergola. Then the 2008 Sottobosco, a lambrusco. Then onto the 2006 Notte di Luna, a still wine made from spergola, moscato, and malvasia. The 2008 Gheppio was a blend of malbo gentile and cabernet sauvignon, the least interesting and most powerful wine they make. They then served us the reserve sparkling, Riserva dei Fratelli with dessert which they sweetly said was "incorrect" but we all agreed; a happy mistake. For dessert we had creamy gelato drowned in nocino, a walnut liquor that their father produces with the walnut trees lining the property. They then treated us to the Aresco, a rather savory dessert wine of moscato, spergola and malvasia.
I will spare the details on lunch except to say that it was stunning, and that we tasted a cured meat made from the little brown pigs down the street and some 25 year balsamic that Giovanni makes. Both of these products absolutely blew my mind.

Il Grifo Salumi

After lunch we went upstairs to see where he makes balsamic. His balsamic is DOC and is nothing like any I've ever tasted. A pint of it sells for over a hundred euro, but he yields less than a liter a year. That was something very special about all the products they make; there seemed to be no pressure or rush on production and they were entirely comfortable with the pace that nature moves. He also makes saba, cooked down spergola grapes; that sells for a handsome 10 euro, so we brought some home.

Giovanni and his balsamico

Then we jumped in the car and they took us up to their more recently acquired site where we scuffled around and admired the view of the valley.
As the sun began to set we took off for Modena feeling very happy to have found Alberto and Giovanni, their home and their hospitality.
As we drove we spoke about their candid nature and love for what they do which is summed up by the moment we were eating the local salumi their friends at Il Grifo produce that melted in the mouth, tasting of savory warmth and earth with their own Querciole sparkling, it tasted so perfectly right that Giovanni laughed; saying in his charming accented english, "...and for now the world is finished!". We all laughed, because it was.

the walnut harvest

20 October 2010


It was soggy and cold and Sunday. Shops were closed, streets mostly deserted, but Ferrara burned with charm. It didn't care if we were there to witness it or not. The few citizens moping about did so on a bicycle. We stopped in for lunch at a small trattoria, the food good as always in its simple and homey way. We ate 2 traditional Ferrarese dishes that are found nowhere else.

Maybe it was the weather, but we were a bit melancholy too. Stopping in for wine at Al Brindisi, the oldest wine bar in Italy; window shopping through the cobble-stoned brick building streets; admiring the bikes that all seemed to be older than the inhabitants riding them.

In the castle

17 October 2010


Walking out into the crisp, cool morning air of Bologna the stark contrasts to Sicily shifted about as fashion-forward urban dwellers dashed towards their jobs. The weather was colder, wetter. The abundance of cafes and restaurants lined the streets, punctuated with high fashion stores selling dresses, leather shoes, and eye glasses. The Bolognese know about design and they know about food.

Our first day we had a long lunch at Trattoria da Gianni. We were a little unprepared. I was hoping for the dying custom of a 5-course meal, Lauren wanted a bowl of pasta. We compromised, but ended up ordering a rather funny combination of foods, and the waiter was not shy to let us know. We started with passatelli in brodo; a fresh pasta noodle of sorts made out of bread crumbs, egg, nutmeg, and lemon, then set in brodo, a poultry based broth. The noodles were soft, warm, comforting. We were excited by all the new dishes and decided to have a second pasta course, tagliatelle alla Bolognese (a rich pork sauce known as ragu) and an artichoke lasagna, followed by a large plate of grilled mortadella (a cured meat of the region made with pork, spices, pieces of fat, and pistachios) drizzled with balsamico.

Passatelli in brodo

Grilled mortadella with balsamico

After lunch we headed for the Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, where a show on Dino Gavina was being exhibited. It featured the relationships Gavina had over the course of his career, with both individuals as well as companies, and the phenomenal pieces of architecture, furniture, and design that came of these collaborations. In a stroke of luck, as we wandered around Bologna in the evening, we stumbled upon his old office (now housing a toy store) that's design still appears sharp and fresh, even with colorful children's wares inside rather than Gavina's striking design concepts.

That evening we headed out for a late night dinner at Drogheria Della Rosa. It was an interesting situation to find ourselves in. We loved the restaurant, but the servers kept bringing us food before we even received our menus, and since we didn't want to be overcharged, we continuously turned things away. When I finally asked for a menu, the waitress sent the owner over instead: Emanuele Addone. He rattled off a few items that he said were available, so we ordered some pastas and a pork in cream dish. He offered us wine, but we requested a list, and he finally obliged. We found a bottle of 1999 Radikon Ribolla Gialla for cheap! He laughed when he brought it to the table, explaining it was the last bottle he had and inquiring how we knew about Radikon. The wine was rich and funky, and when our pork dish came and Emanuele offered to shave truffles over the top for us (we are in the middle of truffle season here..) we couldn't resist, and the pairing was delicious. He seemed to take a liking to us, returning to our table often to chat about wine and the restaurant business, giving us warnings about working with spouses, and let us explore his vast cellar under the restaurant; bottles piled on top of bottles, many without lables. He brought over an unfinished bottle of 2006 Vadopivec, a wine unknown to us, smelling of anise and candy, rich in the mouth, a younger cousin to the Radikon we had just finished. As the night progressed, we found ourselves to be the last customers, sipping our glasses of Marolo Monriondo grappa and espresso, Emanuele happily refilling our glasses, we talked well into the night.

Tortellini stuffed with ricotta topped with sauteed squash blossoms

Ravioli stuffed with pureed eggplant and topped with a tomato sauce

1999 Radikon Ribolla Gialla

Pork entree with cream sauce, covered in shaved truffles!

2006 Vodopivec

The next day we found this great shop while meandering through the open market, Antica Aguzzeria Del Cavallo, which sold knives and kitchen gear, a large part of it organized in floor to ceiling cabinets with the utensil contained inside attached to the drawer covers.

We stopped in for a light lunch at Diana. Considered to be a shadow of its former glory, we were still impressed with the white jacket clad servers, the old world style of the roasts being carved at the table, boiled meats being plated from large push carts, prosciutto being sliced in front of an admiring crowd. The food was simple and good, the charm and antiquity being the pull here.

That afternoon we ventured into the Biblioteca Comunale Archiginnasio, a palace that was the Bolognese Studium for over 200 years, part of the old university here, where lectures and studies were taught ranging from Roman law to anatomy. The lower level has a large courtyard surrounded by porticoes that lead up to a large public library and lecture halls on the second floor, the ceilings tiled with over 7000 coat of arms of previous students and teachers.

That night we were spent. We settled into the warm apartment we were renting and cooked up some dinner. We had purchased some porcini and ricotta stuffed tortellinis at the market, dressed them with olive oil and a giant fresh porcini sauteed with garlic. Some zucchini roasted and covered with parmigiano-reggiano, a bottle of Carra di Casatico lambrusco. The great thing about Italian food is that the restaurants here are not made to blow your mind. They give you the same food your grandmother makes at home. Its simple and nourishing. Its comfort food at its best.

13 October 2010


We rented a car in the early morning and drove out to Occhipinti and COS wineries. The rental agency was a great find. We arrived at 9am when he said he opened. Around 9:15 he came ambling down the street in dark sunglasses and continued to wear them inside his fluorescent lit storefront. He had one large motorcycle parked in the middle of the office that was for rent. He casually smoked a cigarette and took down my credit card number in barely legible handwriting. He showed us to the car which was filthy inside and out and the passenger side mirror was busted off. We arrived a bit late as we had missed it and found ourselves in the small town of Vittoria where Arianna Occhipinti is from. Nialls turned around and just as we were back on our way the small car in front of us lurched to a stop in the middle of the road in front of the grocery store. The driver stepped out with a big smile and wave and entered the supermarket leaving his car in the middle of the street. This is old Sicilia. We drove around him and laughed as we slowly scanned the highway.

We found the small plain sign off highway SP68 and turned down the rambling driveway where Paco, her husky lab met us at the gate and we were shortly whisked off to the vineyard. Arianna grows all of her own fruit and her vineyards are, for the most part all visible from the estate. She also produces olive oil and a line of home grown products under the name Sciá.

young frappato vines

After checking out the frappato and nero d'avola vines we headed to the cellar and tasted a few wines from tank including the frappato/insolia sparkling she is experimenting with (!) and the SP68 white which is a blend of insolia and grecanico. After the cellar we stepped inside her home which is the casings of an old winery. We tasted both the red and white bottlings of SP68 that are being released (2009) and 2008 Frappato and some local pecorino fresco with whole black peppercorns.

dipping bottles in hot wax to seal the cork using a saucepan and burner

Tasting the sparkling experiment, she bottled the next day


personal cellar

Then we headed to lunch at COS (The initials of the 3 partner's surnames). Giusto is Arianna's uncle, and we dined with he and his partner Titta. We drank a freshly bottled sparkling (so fresh in fact the carbonic acid level caused the bottle to explode in the sink where Titta was in an apron trying to finesse the cap off; it hasn't even been corked yet) 2009 Pithos white, 2007 Frappato, 2000 Scyri, and 1999 Cerasuolo. We ate caponata and pasta alla norma and talked politics (traditionally Giusto represents the left and Titta represents the right!) and passions late into the afternoon, then headed down to see the amphora and taste wine in barrel. After a long day filled with conversation, wine, food, and beautiful vineyards surrounding us it was time to say goodbye and head to Noto.

Nialls and Giusto

The art deco facade of COS

Tasting from the one amphora of mondeuse (a grape native to Savoie, France). Giusto is trying it out because he loves mondeuse.

lots of wine

We didn't have much time in Noto since we stayed for hours at the vineyard, so we arrived in the early but dark evening to a city perched on a hill with a magical light pink glow and impressive architecture. We parked the car and strolled the long main street filled with people. We stopped for gelato at Caffe Sicilia because everyone says Noto has the best gelato; and I think it's true. The Caffe has been open since 1892 and makes theirs with egg whites. We sat at an outdoor table and had the tiniest most delicate scoops of sorbetto di cedro and 'oro' a gelato of lemon, almond and saffron. They are also an amazing bakery and we were tempted to take a cannoli for the road. We went back to Siracusa and got stuck on the winding one ways of Ortigia. We finally parked the car at the rental agency and got soaked on the rainy walk home. We walked past Fontana Aretusa which is a beautiful fountain right by the apartment that houses a giant papyrus tree. Papyrus paper is produced all over the area.


Caffe Sicilia

At COS there is a wine (blend of cabernet and merlot) called Maldafrica. I asked what it meant and Giusto described it to me as a word Italians use for the feeling of longing for a place you love that is not your home. I knew immediately that Sicily would leave me with a severe case of Maldafrica. As our bus carried us across the green island full of crumbling ruins and small misty mountainscapes with moonlight over us the next evening, it set in before I even left Sicily's rich calciferous soil.

10 October 2010


In Sicily eating seems to be the #1 pastime, especially with all the rain right now and abundance of fresh and new foods, it feels unavoidable as it is such a huge part of life here. We did most of our restaurant exploration in one day and went out to lunch and dinner, and drank epic bottles of wine with both meals. It surpassed our budget for the day, but was well worth it.

For lunch we decided to try an osteria that had caught my eye the day before with it's warm and homey facade and it's abundance of Slow Food stickers in the window. Vite & Vitello was empty when we walked in, but I was set on it. They had a concise wine list. Just as I was about to order a local rosé, I flipped the page to find one lonely Sardinian wine made by a producer I have had the pleasure to meet and love his wines; Alessandro Dettori. It was the 2004 Chimbanta, a wine I had never heard of. It was soft and lush, earthy and smooth without being too rich. It is 100% Monica di Sardegna and was made in celebration of his father's 50th birthday. 'Chimbanta' means fifty in Sardinian. It is aged in cement and unfiltered.

2004 Chimbanta

As for food, we ordered local white mushrooms stuffed with buffalo mozzarella. The mushrooms were flavorful, the cheese creamy but refreshing, topped with olive oil and parsley like I've never had before- it tasted green, and spicy in the way only parsley can.
Then we had 2 pastas. Ravioli with pork sugo and spaghetti with what the waitress called "black clams". Interesting! I thought, I've never had a black clam before! Haha... as it turns out, a black clam is what we call a mussel, and I'm so glad I ordered this dish. I don't generally love mussels so I may have changed my mind, but they were fresh and peachy-pink, tasting just the proper amount of the sea along with saffron. The sugo was absurdly good; just one tiny morsel of tender pork on the bone (it was so flavorful that any more would have offended) in a rich tomato sauce swimming with soft, swollen fennel seeds and ravioli simply stuffed with a thin pillow of ricotta. We finished with pistachio mousse dusted with cocoa which was barely sweet and espresso. By the time we finished eating the dining room had filled and cleared, and a straggling couple came bursting through the door at closing time, her fur shall flying off one shoulder and him begging for "...at least just a salad, and maybe a filet!" (That's what I understood anyway, and about 10 minutes later a salad and a filet of perfectly cooked meat appeared in front of him, she just sipped her espresso and collected herself).

We spent the afternoon shopping around, reading, and walking along the sea. I picked up a new publication called Domus which is a totally rad magazine of architecture, design, and arts; every article is published in both English and Italian and Nialls got a short novel by a Sicilian author, To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia.


To Each His Own; both with a view of our lovely flat

In the later evening we decided it was the night for seafood. We started with a Camparisoda- a small soda bottle filled with fizzy Campari, so you don't have to dilute your Campari with tired old soda water. After a walk around the harbor we took a seat at L'Ancora where we ate the freshest seafood. We ordered the seafood antipasti, which was a generous array of small dishes filled with tiny fish, miniature shellfish, razor clams, head on prawns among many other things; some known to me, others entirely new; like the fruity and vibrant fasolari. They have a wicked wine list that is not printed so I went inside and started poking around the shelves and coolers. I asked about a Jermann wine. He is a great producer from Friuli and I wanted to order the Vintage Tunina, which turned out to be out of my price range. I kept looking around in an entirely different cooler and saw a brightly colored but torn up label that appealed. I asked the price of the wine and no one knew, so they called their boss. Thankfully this was a nice price and I figured after the run around I may as well just order the wine and stop pestering them. It was an '03 and was the only bottle they had. It was opened and poured and was a shockingly bright yellow. I grabbed the bottle and as I read the fine print on the back of the label I saw it was a Jermann wine! 2003 W....Dreams....is chardonnay and is aged in oak, but is surprisingly fresh and interesting. It stood up to our strong bluefish pasta (Strigoli mascolino e mollica) and the spaghetti of tomatoes, capers, and swordfish eggs (Fine Fine con uova di pesce spada).


2003 Jermann W....Dreams.....

The next morning we woke up and headed to Neapolis Archaeological Park; home to the ruins of a Greek amphitheater, a Roman amphitheater, the Ear of Dionysis (a large cave with amazing acoustics where the painter Caravaggio claimed Dionysis kept prisoners in order to eavesdrop on their plottings), among other ruins in a lush green valley in the new Part of Siracusa. We also visited the strange conical shaped church, Madonna delle Lacrime which was constructed with acute 1950's sensibilities after the mass-production pop madonna which is now it's centerpiece allegedly cried for 5 days. It's a vast church and is smart in it's unique appearance.
Greek Amphitheater

Ear of Dionysis
Roman Amphitheater

Madonna delle Lacrime

We came back to Ortigia and went to meet the winemaker I mentioned before, Arianna. She co-owns the store with Francesco and selects all the wine and food products they have available in the shop while he chooses the inventory in regard to books and design. She recommended the 2007 Girolamo Russo 'A Rina from Mt. Etna so we spent the evening relaxing at home and eating leftovers with this exciting blend of 2 vineyard sites that to me is a raw and perfect representation of Etna wine.