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This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Enjoying Italy-Bought Wine

Isn't it funny how the brain works? Not hah-hah funny, but amazing funny.

To fully understand today’s story, you have to understand that we were naughty this past weekend. Yes, we were very naughty!

Sometimes we have a sudden flash-back to some other time in our lives...it might be triggered by a sound, or maybe a smell...it could be any one of our five senses that brings back a memory, either wanted, or unwanted. My wife and I had an experience this past weekend that brought this home to us. But, it wasn't related directly to a triggering from one of our five senses. So, what was it? 

It was a wine, of all things. It was a wine which we brought back from a trip to Italy in 2014. And it was this wine that brought back memories. And those memories brought back a joy of Italy and a wonderful day in Tuscany.

This is a story about stopping to smell the roses...or if you are want for roses...the wine.

First, I'll give you the backstory for the experience which uplifted our spirits this past weekend. 


The Backstory from 2014

Our memory started as many Italian memories do -- with food. We had just finished an outstanding lunch at Ristorante La Botte di Bacco (The Bottle of Bacchus) in the hillside town of Radda in Chianti. 

 

This charming little restaurant is highly regarded by those who utilize TripAdvisor in their travels, as we do. The upstairs dining room overlooks the street and the surrounding valley below the town. That's our table in the photo at left.

The food is absolutely scrumptious. I have included a few photos below to prove this statement. As we sat down at our nice window seat, we enjoyed the Tuscan countryside on this temporarily-beautiful day.

 

See the photo to the right? When we sat, I'm like, 'Whoa...what is this?!' My wife Ellen, being an expert in such things, let me know that, 'It's like a ginormous bread stick'. And I'm like, "Man, its good!"

 [I'm happy to say that, like it or not, we've like, grown out of saying 'like' all of the time -- like heck we have]

I've never lied to you, and I won't start now as I tell you that I am now a fan of huge bread sticks. And, in the photo to the right, you can see that Ellen has quickly become a huge fan of fried pizza dough that we found in the carb-alicious basket of goodies you see below. 

 

My Instagram feed...

And here are a few photos of just some of our lunchtime treats. Please click on the images, because I want you to get a much closer look at the shaved pear and ravioli, the veal, and the bisteca con carciofo (aka artichoke). Benissimo! 

The white wine above? I don't remember what it was, but it was delicious, as you can tell by the smile on my face, below. But, this is not the wine of which I write today.

You can see the wine of which I write today in the next photo...but though it is, it also isn't. That probably doesn't make much sense, does it? So read on.

The red wine in the photo is a Chianti Classico from the Rocca di Castagnoli winery. See the black rooster on the neck of the bottle? That tells you that the wine is officially a 'Chianti Classico' wine. Chianti Classico does not in itself impart a note of superiority, but is more related to a location. The Chianti wine region is generally a Tuscan area south of Florence, and the Sangiovese grape variety grown there is the key ingredient of all Chianti. And if the Chianti region was thought to be shaped as a donut, the Chianti Classico area could be the hole in the Chianti donut. The town of Radda in Chianti, where we were eating, is located in the Chianti Classico area. You can see that the wine is a 2011 wine, which in summer of 2014 was just right for drinking...it was approachable, as one might say...so, we approached it. 

If you are want to know more about Chianti Classico and it's origins, please read my article of August 25, 2015, about the birthplace of Chianti titled, "Beautiful Places Castello Brolio".

During lunch, the formerly sunny day turned dark and stormy, as you can see below as we looked out of our window-side table. 

So after lunch, we darted from one dry spot to another as we made our way to our car. We took shelter in a couple of tourist stores, then a butcher shop, and in the tunnel-like entrance to this centuries-old courtyard.

 

Having dodged rain drops, we made it to our rented Alfa Romeo Giulia, where we sat for a bit. 

  • "Now what?", I asked.
  • Ellen offered, "That Chianti at lunch was really, really good. Let's see where it's made and go visit the winery."

Sounded good to me. So, that's what we did.

We took a bit of a circuitous route, for which we were rewarded. You might remember an article I wrote back in June, 2015, which was titled "Get Lost!". If you don't remember that article, you can read it here...it's one of my favorites.  

Our reward for taking this route to the Rocca di Castagnoli winery was beautiful scenery as the weather began to clear. Here is one of my very favorite photos of Tuscany...full of rich, weather-lifting scenery, as well as rich memories.

And a couple more photos from along the way in the 'moody weather' vein.

The Rocca di Castagnoli winery sits high upon a hill southeast of Radda in Chianti. Like a lot of wineries in Tuscany, it is housed in centuries-old buildings. 

During our tour of the winery, we particularly enjoyed the barrel-vaulted barrel vault, with row-after-row of colorfully casked wine, aging to perfection.

Want larger casks? You got it!

In the photo of the lone cask to the right, you can see the burned-in graphics indicating that it is an oak barrel from a particular forest. You can also see that it is made from grapes of the 2013 vintage.

Here's the very friendly young man who helped us in tasting the various wines behind the Rocca di Castagnoli label. 

 

And here, he has laid out several wines for us to try. 

 

We had a great afternoon indoors tasting delicious wines, while outside it was off-and-on stormy. Know what we did when we left? That is the subject of another of my very favorite articles titled, "Wild Goose Chase", which is about our ill-fated reservation at one of Tuscany's (formerly) finest restaurants. You can reminisce with us by reading here

Just a quick note about wine tasting and driving. If you haven't tasted wine at an enoteca, or Italian winery tasting room, please understand that you don't get a full pour, nor even a half pour...a taste is all you get...just a sip. So, inebriation shouldn't be in the picture. And just a bit more about drinking in Italy...as our friend Luciano says, "If you see a man who is staggering down the street after having too much wine, we say that he just hasn't had enough to eat!". Such words of encouragement for eating more in Italy are not needed...really.


Fast-Forward to 2017

So finally, now back to my story about this past weekend, and the gist of this article on enjoying Italy-bought wine. That is the whole point, after all.

To fully understand today's story, you have to understand that we were naughty this past weekend. Yes, we were very naughty!

So, there's all kinds of naughty, right? And I'm not sure what degree of naughty you are imagining right now (but of course, you can use the Comment box below to share your thoughts if you feel so obliged), but I have to say that our naughty was in the really-tame-naughty category...mostly.

This past weekend, we had planned to clean up the house. Besides the various misplaced items on our main floor, we had things in our bedroom which we had neglected for awhile, and in our basement (please don't tell anyone this!), we had not put away all of our boxes of Christmas decorations. I know...we are terrible people, aren't we?!

Instead of starting the ball rolling Saturday morning, I completely stopped the ball by suggesting that our day would be better spent laying around in our jammies in front of the fireplace reading our books and drinking wine. With hardly any sales effort on my part, Ellen bought into my program with absolutely no hesitation. So, that's exactly what we did.

I got the fire going (yes, we actually use wood in our fireplace!) and then went down to the basement (aka wine cellar) to grab a bottle of red wine. While Ellen lay on the couch reading in front of the crackling fire, I uncorked the bottle and poured us each a glass.

Ellen: "Dang! What is this? It's really, really good!"

Me: "Let me look. Its a bottle of Chianti Classico from Rocca di Castagnoli."

Ellen: "Isn't that the wine we bought that day when it was raining after we had lunch in Radda in Chianti?"

Me: "Yes, that's exactly what it is! Let's pull up the photos from that trip so we can look at 'em."

So, that's what we did...and we were able to journey back to relive almost every moment of that wonderful afternoon.  It was all brought back by enjoying our Italy-bought wine from our 2014 trip.

And, we were pleasantly surprised to see that it is the exact same wine - vintage and all - that we had for lunch that day at La Botte di Bacco.

And with the added 2 1/2 years of aging, the wine was even better than before than before...markedly better, actually.

Finally, here's proof of our wonderfully quiet day -- proof in the form of...

...our bottle of wine...

 

...our blazing, crackling fire...

 

...Ellen reading her 'book' with wine in hand..

 

...and I with my wine as I finish reading "Somewhere South of Tuscany", written by our lovely friend, Diana Armstrong (see my article "Covering for My Friends"). 

 

We had no roses this past Saturday, but we stopped anyway, smelling the wine instead...and our week will be better for it.

When you next travel to Italy, bring back a bottle of wine, and give this a try for yourself.

 

Mentioned in this article...

 

Finally, on a photographic note, each of the final 4 photos above that were taken this past weekend were captured on my iPhone 7 using the new "Portrait" mode. This mode is meant for photographing people: rendering a person in sharp focus, whilst the background is blurred. I like the way it was able to accentuate the wine bottle tableau, Ellen's glass of wine, and my book. Give it a try if you have this new equipment.

Ciao for now,

Steve

Stay Here: Borgo San Felice

We thank our lucky stars that Hector steered us toward Borgo San Felice. You’ll thank your lucky stars that I steered you there.

When you visit Tuscany, here is a gem of a place for you to stay - right in the heart of the Chianti Classico area! We were encouraged to stay at Borgo San Felice by our good friend, Hector Galice, former manager of our favorite Il Fornaio restaurant. Hector extolled the virtues of this beautiful property, and I hereby echo his extollations. 

The Borgo

Just part of the beautiful grounds of Borgo San Felice

This former village was purchased by a visionary hotel-development group several years ago. The village was compact and had the basis for the amenities that would be needed for a world-class hotel. They did a fabulous job in their conversion, and on the two occasions that we have stayed at the Borgo San Felice, we have been very pleased. 

[click an image for a larger view]

One of my digital paintings of rooms at Borgo San Felice

 

Borgo San Felice is the only Relais & Chateaux 5-star hotel in the Chianti Classico area of Tuscany. It is about 9 miles from Siena and you can reach it from Florence in an hour. 

The Reception entrance where you will be warmly welcomed

It is just a few miles from Borgo San Felice to historic Siena, as seen here.

Siena is just a short drive from Borgo San Felice

The town that preceded Borgo San Felice was founded in the 8th century and hasn't changed much since that time. Here are some photos of the 'village' location of Borgo San Felice.

The Rooms

The rooms are, of course, charming - as one would expect of such a property. We found the rooms to be well appointed and had everything we needed, including a very nice bathroom.

Here is the early morning view from one of our lovely rooms.

Here are a couple of photos showing rooms that you could experience yourself. 

The Vineyards

The Borgo is surrounded by acres and acres of vineyards that supply the grapes for the excellent San Felice Winery. Here are some photos that I took very early in the morning from within the vineyards. 

Here is the San Felice Sunrise taken within the vineyards 

Here is the San Felice Sunrise taken within the vineyards 

Ristorante Poggio Rosso

There is plenty from which to choose for breakfast

OK, the food is outstanding at the Poggio Rosso restaurant. We really enjoy the breakfast which can be taken on the patio of the restaurant. Here is a sample of breakfast treats.

 

The interior of Poggio Rosso is comfy-cozy, as you can see in these two photos from the Borgo San Felice website.

The piano player adds special charm to your evening

The real jewel is the dinner, often served while a very talented piano player (seen here with my wife, Ellen) adds to the charm of your evening. 

 

Scott selects a Chianti Classico to go with our meal

Poggio Rosso's wine list is extensive, and is weighted toward Italian wines -- and of course, those of the San Felice Winery.

Here is our friend Scott making the decisions for the first red of the night.

 

I'll now torture you with numerous photos of the scrumptiousness that awaits you at Poggio Rosso, ending with desert and a nice cup of coffee. Click on a thumbnail image to get a closer look.

The Gardens

Finally, here are a few more photos showing you the lovely gardens at Borgo San Felice.

We thank our lucky stars that Hector steered us toward Borgo San Felice. You'll thank your lucky stars that I steered you there.

Click here for the San Felice website.

And here for the San Felice Winery.

 

 

I will close with a photo of two very satisfied Borgo San Felice patrons -- my wife and me.

My wife Ellen and myself, enjoying a glass of Perolla Vermentino

 

Ciao for now!

Steve

Beautiful Places: Castello Brolio

Today I want to tell you about a beautiful and important Tuscan castle in Italy -- Castello Brolio. What makes this castle so important? Well, read on.

The Castle

Here is a photo of Castello Brolio as it sits today in mid-eastern Tuscany. 

Castello Brolio today

Castello Brolio today

This still-inhabited castle is owned by the Ricasoli family, who has lived in the castle for almost 900 years. Though the first stones of the Brolio Castle date back to the middle ages, the castle did not pass into the hands of the Ricasoli family until an exchange of lands in 1141. 

Barone Ricasoli winery is the fourth longest-lived company in the world in the same place. Barone Ricasoli is the oldest winery in Italy.

Castello Brolio is on the border between the former city-states of Sienna and Florence and has been the stage for numerous disputes, with the heavy-weight Florentine city-state duking it out against fearsome Sienna. In the photo below, taken from the ramparts of the castle, you can see Sienna in the distance to the right of the photo. [This photo has been made into a tile backsplash which sits behind our kitchen range] 

View from the ramparts of Castello Brolio looking toward Sienna at top right

Battle-scarred brickwork of Castello Brolio

Being a castle, one would expect it to be attacked, right? And it has been, as through the centuries the castle has suffered attack and destruction in numerous historical battles; from Aragonese and Spanish attacks during the 15th century, disputes in the 17th century, to bombings and artillery attacks during the Second World War. Evidence of attack can still be seen today, as in this photo.

 

 

Here are a few more photos of this well-built castle. As always, click on an image to see a larger view.

And the expansive views from the Castello Brolio are magnificent.

Panorama from the ramparts of Castello Brolio

My wife as she sketches a beautiful contryside

An on-site villa for rent

The Baron

Here is photo of Baron Bettino Ricasoli. 

Baron Bettino Ricasoli

What he lacked in looks he made up for in money. At 3,000 acres, the Ricasoli vineyards are the largest in the Chianti Classico area. Because of his integrity and austerity, he was known as 'The Iron Baron'. 

This elaborate family tree, reproduced in a print dated 1584, is also one of the first paintings depicting the Chianti area.

 

 

 

 

The Baron as the Creator of Chianti

Besides being the second and then seventh Prime Minister of Italy, Baron Bettino Ricasoli was a far-sighted wine entrepreneur. As a matter of fact, it was the Baron who created the age-old formula for Chianti wine.  After more than thirty years of research and experiments, he divulged his formula in a letter in 1872, where he wrote, 

...I verified the results of the early experiments, that is, that the wine receives most of its aroma from the Sangioveto [today’s Sangiovese] (which is my particular aim) as well as a certain vigour in taste; the Canajuolo gives it a sweetness which tempers the harshness of the former without taking away any of its aroma, though it has an aroma all of its own; the Malvagia, which could probably be omitted for wines for laying down, tends to dilute the wine made from the first two grapes, but increases the taste and makes the wine lighter and more readily suitable for daily consumption…
— Baroln Bettino Ricasoli in a famous letter addressed to Professor Cesare Studiati at the University of Pisa

 

You've probably seen wine labels with the designation "Chianti Classico". The geographical location of Castello Brolio puts it in the Chianti Classico region. And note that the 'Classico' extension does not designate more quality per se, but means that it is produced within the classic region of the official Chianti region. If the Chianti region were a donut, Chianti Classico would be the donut hole.

Here you see the neck of a bottle of Barone Ricasoli's Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva (And how do I know that's what wine this is? Because I drank it!).

This seal with the black rooster is your guarantee that you will be drinking Chianti Classico. It is also a DOCG wine, which stands for 'Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita' and is your guarantee that the wine meets the government's control standards for Chianti Classico. 

Since 1993, Baron Francesco Ricasoli, 32nd Baron of Brolio and Bettino's great-grandson, has taken the hundreds of years of wine experimentation and experience into the plantings of new varietals and newly created wines. 

Our Favorite Barone Ricasoli Wine?

How many times have you been at the wine store and seen a pretty label and you turned to your partner and said, "Hey, this wine looks good"? 

With our favorite Barone Ricasoli wine, you can have a pretty label and a pretty wonderful wine. Pictured below is the Rocca Guicciarda Chianti Classico Riserva that we consumed at a little restaurant in Radda in Chanti one fall afternoon. 

And hey, there are several. yummy Barone Ricasoli wines. You can see all of them on their website.  

And if you happen to be in Tuscany, our instant-friend Barbara here can help you put together a selection for shipment back home. The wine shop is located just below the castle.

And, if you join the Friends of Ricasoli Club, you will get discounts and other special offers. 

 

So, I hope you enjoyed a tour of one of Tuscany's classic wineries, it's creator, and the castle that still guards the ancient vineyards there.

 

Ciao for now,

Steve