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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

Eat Here: Ristorante Antico Martini

This restaurant has been in continuous operation since 1720, which means that it is approaching its 300 year birthday!

One of the charms of Italy is its food. With one exception, I've always enjoyed every meal. Today's article is about one of our favorite Venetian restaurants -- Antico Martini.

Here is a photo of the restaurant late at night. The photo shows one of the four dining areas -- this one the Terrace -- and it was taken from the campo that Antico Martini shares with the La Fenice opera house.

[click an image for larger view]

Like most Venetian restaurants, Martini is open late for dinner, because that's when Italians tend to eat. This makes it an ideal place to eat after an opera, which we did after a fabulous performance of our favorite, La Boheme. 

Any idea who the first party to make an Antico Martini reservation via the internet might be? We have that distinction! Long before restaurants created their own systems or began to use those such as Open Table, we used just plain, old email. The owner at that time, the charming Emilio Baldi, had a table set with a nice bouquet of flowers and the prosecco was on the house to celebrate the occasion. 

Here is a photo of the main entrance to Antico Martini, on Calle Veste, just over a small bridge.

Like most all of the Venetian restaurants, seafood is the predominate fare. And the seafood is fresh and delicious. Local chefs visit the Rialto Market each morning to gather the makings for the day's meals. You can read more about The Rialto Market in one of my previous articles.

Here are a few photos of our times at Ristorante Antico Martini, starting with a prosecco toast.

I've mentioned the seafood served in Venice before...and I will continue to do so. Here is an appetizer of very thinly sliced fish, caught just the previous evening. I'm not a sushi fan, but I had no trouble with this outstanding item. Notice how the candle light shows through my next bite!

One of our favorite things is having the fish presented, then de-boned, and then set before us. Here you see our server de-boning one of our dishes.

 

And here is our prize!

Antico Martini also has an excellent wine list. Here is a bottle of Valpolicella I enjoyed one evening. Note the 'legs' on this glass of red!

Here are a few photos of other dishes we've enjoyed at Antico Martini.

Always save room for dessert! 

We have eaten at Antico Martini six times and for sure, the next time we go to Venice it we will make our seventh visit. 

Here is the web link to Ristorante Antico Martini.

And here are two very happy patrons of Ristorante Antico Martini.

We are always happy to introduce friends to Antico Martini...so join us?!

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

Staying in a Convent Retreat

The Grand Hotel Convento Amalfi -- Ahhhh.

I hope that you have a ‘place’ you can go when you are feeling a bit out of sorts. A place of escape from sometime and somewhere that has comforting memories for you.

The convent from which this hotel sprang was originally an abbey of Cistercian monks beginning in 1223

I do, and I want to share it with you in hopes that you might think to dwell on such a place from your own life. And if you don’t have such a place, staying at this fabulous hotel will give you a place where your mind can go to settle for years to come.

In September, you saw the article titled ‘One Fine Day’. That article was about a fabulous day on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Today’s article is about our base of operations while we were in Amalfi.

History of the Convent/Hotel

That's the Grand Hotel Convento at the top left

First, you need to understand that in modern English usage since the 18th century, a convent refers to a community of women. However, in much earlier times, it referred to a community of either brothers or sisters. The convent from which this hotel sprang was originally an abbey of Cistercian monks beginning in 1223. In 1583, it passed to Capuchin Friars who were there for two centuries until they were expelled in 1813 (I’m sure there’s a great story in there somewhere). It wasn’t until 1885 that it began to be used as a hotel, and it experienced a series transformations to keep up with an increasing tourism demand.

Here are a couple of photos of what remains of portions of the old convent. White plastered walls with intricate stonework make for a contemplative scene.

Getting There

The Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, sits at the end of, and high above, Amalfi Town. You can see the hotel in this old photograph that seems to pre-date elevators and today's roadway, which you can see in the next photo.

To get to the hotel, one parks their car in the right lane of a two lane road just as that road enters a tunnel (and the Italian drivers give your parking in the roadway not a second thought -- its just the way its done along the Amalfi Coast), as that’s where the hotel entrance is located. You can see the tunnel entrance along the main highway in this photo, taken from the hotel pool.

A bellman comes out to greet you and unload your bags. They then maneuver your car into that small lot you see in the photo -- if there is a space, that is. If there are no spaces, who knows where your vehicle winds up? 

The hotel entrance is a cave-like opening in the cliff through which you walk to an elevator. That elevator takes you up a couple of hundred feet where you disembark (the glass elevator structure can be seen in the photo) to another elevator within the hotel proper where you then go to the lobby on the fifth floor.

A prosecco awaited our arrival...and you can tell we needed it!

Now, if you had been smart, you might have arrived in Amalfi by boat. Or maybe you arrived by car driven by a professional. And then there’s a bus. But we drove ourselves from Salerno along the most terrifying road on which we have ever been. When we arrived, we were given a complementary prosecco as seen above, complete with goose berry, to calm our nerves. See that guy in the background? He’s an Australian who said after learning that we had driven ourselves along the coastal road, “I admire you!”

The Hotel

Our room, with balcony and lovely whitewashed walls and ceiling, looked out over the blue Mediterranean.

An evening view of the Mediterranean from our balcony

The grounds were dreamy. Bougainvillea arbors covered the dining patio, where we had both breakfast, lunch and dinner whilst eating at the hotel. And the weather was superb!

The Amalfi Coast is noted for its lemons and its limoncello. Almost everywhere you look along the coast, you will see arbors of lemon trees, like these in the hanging gardens of the hotel.

 

The reach the pool, you walk along this loggia for a bit.

This loggia leads from the dining veranda to the pool

And then you come to the most dramatic pool setting that we’ve ever seen.

A dramatic cliff-side pool location

The infinity pool, with an infinite view of the Med

The view from the hotel’s terrace is spectacular, whether it be sunrise, midday, sunset or evening. The town of Amalfi sits just below. In this photo, you see the sunrise we experienced from the roof of the hotel.

Sunrise comes to the Amalfi Coast

Here is a view during the day of Amalfi and its harbor. The pool cabana can be seen in the middle-left of the photo. And the ever-present lemons can be seen along the lower edge.

Lush vegetation and Amalfi Town

The view towards Sicily 

I’m not sure if ‘what goes down, must go up’ is part of Newtonian physics, but if you’re staying at the hotel and want to go into town, that’s the reality of the situation. The good part is you don’t have to walk all the way up – just to the roadway where you can go to the hotel entrance and then up the rest of the way to the hotel by elevator. But still, there are plenty of steps to negotiate for you to get your exercise. 

It's a long way up to the GHCA

Want to go to the beach? Here is what you find just below the hotel…with crystal clear waters.

The beach below the hotel...a nice place to relax and get wet

And this shot from the hotel shows the ‘beach’ of the hotel just past the exit of the tunnel mentioned earlier. The Italians make creative use of their resources, don’t they?!

An architects dream...a stone workers nightmare

The Food

Now, if you’re like me, and I certainly know that I am, you are probably wondering about the food at the hotel. Rather than me telling you how scrumptiously delicious it is, just take a look.

The breakfast buffet – scrumptious.

Poolside lunch – scrumptiouser

Dinner – the scruptiousest.

And of course, at each meal we had either our favorite ‘Coca Cola Lite’ or wine – or sometimes, both.

A nice bottle of Amarone, all the way down from the Veneto

And how did the food get to our table? Well, it was usually Alfonso who took care of us, and he did a marvelous job!

Our outstanding waiter, Alfonso

After our evening meal, with this being Amalfi and all – home to the world’s best limoncello -- Alfonso brings us a bit of the yellow liquid to finish off a perfect evening.

The end to a perfect evening

 

I hope that you have your own special place where you can go to dwell on happy times whenever you need such a diversion. If you don’t, feel free to borrow ours!

Here is a link to the website for the Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi:

http://www.ghconventodiamalfi.com/en/

 

Ciao for now,

Steve

 

 

 

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