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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

A Sense of Place

Index of Blog Articles

Well, I'm back from a bit of traveling: England, Scotland, Ireland, Texas and New Mexico. I'm ready to resume my blog articles for you. But, I'll be working my way in slowly with a short article today.

Her response: “Now you tell me!” Well, yes, now she knows.

This week I'm just letting you know about a change I've made to my list of blog articles, and why I've done that.

Last Thursday, I was visiting with a friend who had just returned from Italy. She expressed a bit of disappointment in some of the restaurants they chose in Venice. I let her know of my Italy Our Italy blog and the fact that it contains personally evaluated and recommended restaurants, hotels, and other helpful information on certain places within Italy. Her response: "Now you tell me!" Well, yes, now she knows. And I want you to know, too. That's why I've made changes to my list of blog articles.

What I have done is to take the Index of Blog Articles to another level by creating another series of headings in the right-hand column (which is labeled, "By Subject"). You will now find three new subheadings for 'places' within Italy -- specifically 'Places: Venice', 'Places: Amalfi Coast', and 'Places: Tuscany'. This will give one a greater sense of these wonderful places.

Now, if you are traveling to one of these fabulous places of Italy, you will have all of the resources that I have previously published about those fabulous places in one place. 

That about sums it up for today's very short article. 

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

Under the Tuscan Fog

Last weeks article on Banfi was admittedly a bit long...but I hope you enjoyed it.

 

Just so you know, the fog did lift and we were able to negotiate the winding Tuscan roads to reach our appointment to tour the Banfi winery

So this week, primarily a few photos from a dreamy Tuscan morning. It was dreamy because of the layers of fog that blanketed the countryside as we headed toward Montalcino.

Our first hint of the morning atmospherics was at sunrise. We were staying at the beautiful Borgo San Felice (see my past article on staying at Borgo San Felice), and as we strolled the vineyard in the early morning, here is what we experienced.

[please click on an image for a larger view]

San Felice Sunrise

As we began our drive for a day in southern Tuscany, we were treated to villas peeking out through the low lying fog.

Just a hint of a Tuscan villa shrouded in fog

Many of the farms have chapels, like the one set off to the right, below.

A villa with its ubiquitous on-property chapel

Our road seemed to be mostly high-and-dry as we drove along the spine of the hills. So, rather than give us angst as we drove, the atmospherics actually lifted our spirits and made our journey more memorable.

It was the month of October, and the hillsides had been recently harvested.

The hillside farms had recently been shorn

After admiring this gorgeous farm estate, if you look closely at the photo below, you can see a hillside village in the distance, as it catches a few morning rays.

A beautiful farm with chapel

We felt fortunate that the fog was not thicker, as we had an important appointment at Castello Banfi winery, just south of Montalcino. On the other hand, the foggy conditions did cause us to drive just a bit more leisurely than we might have driven, giving us more time to admire the scenery...like the cypress-lined drive leading to this magnificent estate.

Tuscan cypress line the drive to this charming farm compound

Sometimes we had a slight, sunny break in the fog as in the photo above, and then once again, we would travel into the enveloping, blue-cool fog as the sun was blotted out.

Vineyards move down the hillside of this grape producing estate

I feel that this last photo somehow captured magic...one moment we saw just a fog bank above a small valley...the next moment two villa-clad hilltops seemed to float up out of the clouds. Magic...His magic, no doubt.

This photo is titled, 'Islands in the Sky'

I am sure that days like this occur often in Tuscany; however, we felt that it was our special day, and that there never had been, nor ever would be, such a day again.

You can see and purchase most of these foggy-morning photos in the 'Print Store' part of my website by clicking right HERE, or by clicking that link in the menu-bar, below.

Just so you know, the fog did lift and we were able to negotiate the winding Tuscan roads to reach our appointment to tour the Banfi winery.  

Ciao for now,

Steve

Wild-Goose Chase

I'm not sure where the term 'wild-goose chase' originated, but it seems to be fairly descriptive of predicaments I've found myself in. And its not limited to chasing wild geese here in the U.S. either. My wife, Ellen, and I found ourself in an Italian version of a selvaggio inseguimento inutile.

Traveling conversation: ‘What are you going to have, Sweetheart?’ ‘Ummm, I’m thinking about a ribeye. How about you?’ ‘I’m going with a sirloin, but if the ribeye looks good, I’ll get what you’re having.’ ‘Do they have baked potatoes in Italy?’ ‘No idea.’

Some wild-goose chases are pretty innocuous, as you were just following your nose so to speak and weren't really going anywhere in particular anyway. But this one was important -- and this is what made it so frustrating. That's because we were on our way to a highly rated restaurant for dinner in the northern part of Tuscany. And it was to get a great steak! And we hadn't had much in the way of red meat for a couple of weeks -- that's the way it often is in Italy. 

I had checked on TripAdvisor for a nice place for dinner. Ristorante Becattini came highly rated for both its food and the view. Here is a photo captured from the TripAdvisor site that defines what we were looking forward to this fine evening.

Looks good, doesn't it?! i mean, we do love our Italian pasta, veal, etc., but after a couple of weeks of that, we were really looking forward to dinner at Becattini.

Ristorante Becattini is located high on a ridge in the small (very small) town of Poggio alla Croce. If it had been close to our beautiful Borgo San Felice (see previous article on this super nice hotel here), it wouldn't have been so bad. But it was an hour drive to get there...and that was using the A1 rather than the charming, winding Tuscan roads (Hey, we were hungry!). 

During the afternoon, I called ahead to make a reservation. It went something like this:

  • Guy on the Phone: 'Pronto'  ['Yeh, what do you want?']
  • Me: 'Buona sera'.    [Good afternoon]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Buona sera'.     [Good afternoon]
  • Me: 'Prenotazione per la cena, per favore'     [Reservation for dinner, please]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'    [OK]
  • Me: 'Due persone per stasera alle venti'.     [Two persons for tonight at 8:00]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Mi chiamo Senore Burkett'.     [My name is 'Burkett']
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Vicino alla finestra'.     [We would like to sit by the window]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Si'.     [OK]
  • Me: 'Grazie'     [Thank you]
  • Guy on the Phone: 'Prego'     [Your welcome]

Hey, I think I did pretty good, right? We have a reservation for dinner at this fine restaurant tonight! 

After spending some time at the Castagnoli Winery, we plotted our fastest route to Poggio alla Croce using our trusty iPad. Traveling conversation: 'What are you going to have, Sweetheart?' 'Ummm, i'm thinking about a ribeye. How about you?' 'I'm going with a sirloin, but if the ribeye looks good, I'll get what you're having.' 'Do they have baked potatoes in Italy?' 'No idea.' 

Like I said, its a really, really small town. That's it right there in the photo. After negotiating the winding road and driving back-and-forth on the only street a couple of times with no luck finding Becattini, we asked the locals where where we would find the Ristorante Becattini.

  • Me: 'Scusi, do you know where we can find the restaurant Becattini?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'I'm sorry sir, they closed in February'. 
  • Me: 'What?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'They closed in February'.
  • Me: 'Do you think they will be open tonight?'
  • Nice Woman on the Street: 'No, they are closed for good'.
  • Me: 'But we have a reservation!'
  • Nice Woman on the Street Who is Starting to Irritate Me Now: 'I don't see how that could be -- they've closed down'
  • Me: [sotto voce] 'You've got to be...'
  • Nice Woman on the Street Who's a Bit Defensive Now: 'Sorry, sir'.
  • Me: 'OK, thank you'

Arrrgh. An hour and no food to be found. But there was this little bar that we passed at the other end of town. We backtracked to Pizzeria Trattoria "Zia Emilia". After we parked and got out of the car, what a fine sight we had for a sunset! Maybe the trip was worthwhile after all.

And how charming was Zia Emilia? Super. This was Italian comfort-food heaven!

We had a simple appetizer of pear and honey with fried zucchini blossoms.

This appetizer is not to be confused with the one to the right that we had at Ristorante Poggio Rosso at our Borgo San Felice that I showed you a couple of weeks ago.  I just wanted to make that clear, OK?

 

My pizza was cooked in a wood-fired oven. 

Ellen had this wonderfully gooey pasta dish whilst I had my very tasty pizza.

All was accompanied by a small pitcher of house wine. 

Dessert? Well, if you look at the photo of Zia Emilia (above) again (go ahead, I'll wait), you will notice a small, colorful poster next to the entrance door...see it? That shows you the standard selection of popsicles, push-up pops, drumsticks and other frozen confections that are available. I think I had one of those red, white and green frozen 'bomb' thingies, and Ellen had an ice-cream sandwich. 

So we never caught the wild goose. That's OK, because what we found was a small-hill-town Italy, occupied with some very charming people who welcomed us with open arms.  Simple food. Tasty food. Yummy wine. Beautiful companion. Fun local fare. I'm glad it happened just the way it did!

Meet you there for dinner? 8 o'clock OK?

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

p.s. But hey, how about that reservation that i made? What was that about? Your guess is as good as mine!

p.p.s. I updated the TripAdvisor website so others won't make a 'reservation' at Becattini.

p.p.p.s. Go Broncos!

 

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