First things first: if you ever have the chance to go to Italy, do it! As people who utterly enjoy eating and drinking the best foods and wines, writing, and taking pictures of all things related, this place was a mecca. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats abounded on every corner; like they were delivered straight from some Italian farm nestled in rolling hills that very morning. And the wine? Don’t even get me started. If there weren’t already a plethora of books on the subject (my favorite: Vino Italiano-The Wines Regions of Italy) I would ramble on and on. It is inexpensive and you will predominantly find the wines of the very region you are in at every restaurant.
This leads to an entirely different rant of mine, but it’s not like around these parts where every restaurant you go to has a menu full of options from California and Europe. “Good evening folks, would you like that cabernet from the west coast, France, or Australia? Otherwise, we have a fine selection of ten different merlots spanning multiple continents and vintages.” No, while in Venice we found Prosecco, Valpolicella, Amoarone Classico, and Soave. All grown just to the west of Venice, in the mountainous Veneto region.
That’s not to say that Venice didn’t also provide more than a little sight-seeing, soaking up of historical goodness, and drinking lots and lots of espresso. Water? Ha! There is water in espresso and wine. This is an important lesson when touring Italy..
In Sorrento (Campania region), we delighted at menus and cellars full of Fiano, Falanghina, Greco, Aglianico, and Piedorosso. It was simply refreshing to be able to enjoy food and wine grown in the area we were visiting, an experience that is paramount to travel. However, we did not become snobs nor do we solely drink Italian wine now, and we didn’t smuggle back a bunch of vines in our trousers (French Kiss style), but we enjoyed the local variety and I wish there was more of a sense of that around here. Plus, who were we to deny taking in everything that the Italian culture had to offer. When in Rome, after all.
Just to the north of Sorrento and south of Naples, under the shadow of what remains of Mount Vesuvius, is the ancient city of Pompeii that archeologists have been uncovering since it was buried in ashes when the great volcano erupted in 79 AD. This is a prime example of the resilience of grape vines. On the very slopes of this mountain, and in the valleys below, grapes are grown extensively and yield amazing wines. The volcanic soil provides nutrients and drainage that only a grape vine could truly appreciate. A remarkable wine from this area is the Lacryma Christi (tears of Christ). Made of either verdeca and coda di volpe grapes (white version) or piedirosso and sciascinoso (red version), this wine is the most similar to what the ancient Romans drank back in their heyday. The name comes from an old myth that Christ cried over Lucifer’s fall from Heaven and His tears fell on the slopes and valleys around Vesuvius, giving the vines divine inspiration.
Did I mention Naples? We trekked all the way there just to try pizza where it was born. Totally worth the cramped subway ride and less than ideal conditions that are found in modern day Naples.
Ah, a classic pizza margherita. Legend has it that back in 1889, Queen Margherita tried this style pizza and liked it best because the colors represented the Italian flag. Red (tomato sauce), Green (fresh, glorious, basil) and white (mozzarella). Unlike the queen, I prefer some meat on my pizza, and that explains the extra color on my half. The only words I could get out of Katy during this experience were “best pizza ever”. It truly was.
Rome gets all the attention in Italy, and rightfully so, but the Lazio region where it sits is not known for making wine. It is known for drinking wine but it brings in wines from all the regions of Italy, without bias. Even without the allure of grapes grown within a stones throw away, we were still entertained.
The two pictures below were taken during an incredible experience: touring a the oldest cellar in all of Rome. This was a surprise stop on a food tour in Trestevere, an ancient Roman neighborhood where very important people have been known to trod, including the likes of Roman emperors and our cousin, Sioux.
What better way is there to experience a place than to be in and around it, to see it, to taste it? That’s what visiting wineries is all about. A little twirl of the glass and the aroma from the brim and taste in your mouth can tell you a story. You can walk around many vineyards and see the vines growing and the vintners at work. You can feel the same sunshine and breeze that help facilitate the growth of the vine. This is the allure of growing anything, and part and parcel of the magic of wine.
For us, Italy embodied these emotions through the food and wine, and we could actually see it. Farmers would fill food stands every morning with fresh produce. During one jaunt through an old Roman neighborhood, we tasted pizza from a wood-fire oven fueled by hazelnut shells leftover from the cookie maker next door, and mouth-watering pasta made with semolina from the bread-maker just down the cobblestone road. With most of the ingredients for all of these places coming from nearby farmers, this was a living, breathing, functional “eatosystem” where any “locavore” could thrive.. and the food was magnificent. Upon our return, we had a reignited vigor for researching at local vineyards and thoroughly enjoying the wines, with their own sense of Missouri terroir.
It is fall and wineries all across the great state of ours are harvesting the grapes that started their 2013 journey last winter during pruning, dodged any spring frosts, and were well-nourished with abundant rain all summer (just wait for the 2013 vintage!). Get to a Missouri winery or just buy some local wine and raise a glass to toast all the hard work that went into making that wine. When in Missouri, after all.
Just to ease any worries that I am in danger of becoming a sophisticated man: