Lasting memories of autumn's wine and food in Italy and Sicily »
By host Peter Scudamore-Smith MW of Uncorked and Cultivated
Contributed articles and stories
Uncorked and Cultivated are regular hosts to small-group Italian tours with two in 2013 – Tuscany-Piedmont and afterwards Sicily. Guests get to know their coach drivers; see starred chefs serve their plates; winery owners and guides make them welcome and they discover charming views in their hotel suites. All this makes for special memories, long-lasting friendships and exceptional experiences.
On their last tour in 2013, guests (including some VisitVineyards.com subscribers) met in Rome and left for a mission to Tuscany, home of terracotted medieval hill towns and their gripping sangiovese wines. In the next ten days there were many bites to be had – just for a start savouring crumbly aged pecorino or sliced white truffle wafting across buttered pasta or wild boar sauce coating monstrous pappardelle coils.
First evenings were informal. Just climbed down a monster staircase into a 300 year-old trattoria to the welcoming face of the owner, Mauro. His solidly-built enclave of a ristorante is the traditional rustic fortress which never changes over decades.
The long white table cloth was stiff, as our dozen guests relaxed and engaged in dry crusty bread and olive oil dipping. This flat Tuscan pane, made into bouncy bread slices turns to mush when wiped with the residue of pasta ragu. Crumbs on the starched cloth mean a successful meal, and some blue-black red Chianti stains add to the story too.
This Sienese restaurant makes location-specific pasta each morning. The shape tells us a lot, and each village’s time-respected staple carbohydrate-laden carefully-formed shape will differ. Often the owner’s mother (nonna) hand-kneads the durum flour to dough, pinching it as if it were a passport. Pasta occupies a labyrinth of Italian diets and our posse eats as the locals do.
Funnily enough, rarely do Italo-Australian restaurants hit the pasta peaks found on these tour lunches. A curious thought truthfully recorded.
In the walled city of Siena: the Palio (the famous horse race) had just been won by a nearby rider. In the still night air a single young drummer belted his celebration of the result while his equally agile companion swirled with a solitary streamer dance. The ribbon colours represent the victorious suburb as do the flags festooned down each narrow suburban street of the winner.
Welcome to Tuscany – sniff this ancient environment gasping at its modern visage for the hip, the conservative and tourist-embracing folks.
Guests quickly connected with Uncorked’s tour patterns of slow mornings, cappuccino moments (never served very hot) before a brief escorted drive through forests and hillsides towards a patchwork of unruly sangiovese in staggered rows.
Down the dusty white track lined with pencil shape cypress was the welcoming winery owner who waited. Vintage was underway but the pace of the harvest here provides windows of time to visit, taste, ogle over the view, or when lucky, sit at a hewn long table for a vineyard meal. It can be in Montalcino, Chianti Rufina, Maremma or Chianti Classico.
And there are many reasons to visit this former Etruscan land of prior Roman and Greek occupation. Past dynasties remain in the architecture, just walk over the uneven cobbled streets, proudly repaired by the locals to respect the history, and often they pray amongst it. (Florence hosts over 100 museums.)
About fifty kilometres east of the Franco-Italian border near Torino is the continental cold climate vinescape of Piedmont: home to nebbiolo vines, Ferraro-Rocher’s hazelnut trees and the under-root delicacy, the white truffle.
Uncorked tours coincide with Alba’s truffle festival and its season opening. Truffles at the time seem to be the most highly respected meal ingredient in this town. And I agree. Providores displayed rows of the small grey-white bulbous tubers, priced, waiting for potential lovers to engage in price haggling, aroma sniffing (heady stuff) and ultimately some satisfaction of eating.
Here, truffles are religion and the festival is of over 90 years standing. Uncorked tour guests participated: eating a plainly-sauced pasta topped with precision-shaved white (gold) truffle.
The pairing drink is a glass each of well-decanted Barolo and Barbaresco, both smelling earthy, fungal, tarry and obscenely decadent as nebbiolos are. Though highly acidic, finely divided on tannin and texture, they flush out the last whiffs of truffle and grain.
The next tour started in Catania airport, in Sicily. This large island is the natural home to a pair of remarkable red grapes now shaking palates in many international cities and restaurants.
Uncorked is an Australian pioneer in placing reverence on Sicily’s dominant wines from the hot region, loving nero d’avola. The wine savouriness makes it food relevant as well. You see, Sicilian dishes are heavily influenced by the eleven diverse races which have occupied this wonderland of taste through twenty-seven centuries (such as Muslim, Spanish, German, Greek, Roman, French, and more).
Mount Etna holds the key to the second grape – nerello mascalese – as it is grown on elevated slopes to give a subtle, lithe, high-acid, superlatively shaped texture to enjoy.
As a nation adorned with its fish cooking culture, Arab spice infusion, chilled bottles of Etna Rosso DOC (the local wine denomination) are the natural second ingredient to lunching under a Sicilian sun.
But it can be hot there so Uncorked tours converge on this blue, green and brown island during the autumn.
Dates and itineraries for Uncorked and Cultivated's 2015 tours to Italy and Siciliy coming soon. VisitVineyards.com subscribers receive a special offer.
- Italy - all (IT)
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