Archives for category: Wine

Or, the ten best…in Italian.  Here’s our top ten list from our Italian honeymoon.

10.  Our Itinerary:  Milan – Venice – Florence – Tuscan Countryside – Rome – Amalfi Coast.  I received some great recommendations from my cousin’s wife when I asked for her “ultimate itinerary” if she were to have 3 weeks in Italy.  She did not disappoint.  In most cities, it felt like the right length of time; and in Tuscany and Amalfi, we wished for even more.

Venice

A Typical Venetian Scene

9.  Old stuff.  Duomos, cobblestones, the Colosseum, ruins.  What better way to reminisce about all my art and architectural history classes than to see these places and pieces of art in person.

Ruins

Really old stuff, Rome

8.  Traveling by train.  What a way to go.  No security lines.  Watching the countryside fly by.  I wish the US had a train system like Europe (and that SF had a metro system like Milan!).

Stazione Milano Centrale

7.  Cappuccino.  Every morning.  And I don’t even drink coffee.  With only one exception, everywhere we stayed included breakfast, and I just could not resist saying, “Un cappuccino, per favore,” when the nice waiters came by.

Breakfast at Villa Podernovo, Tuscany

6.  Meeting up with familiar faces.  Our friend Nicco took us on a walking-eating-drinking tour around Florence, his home town, complete with childhood stories, and Chris’ cousin Melissa and her Italian boyfriend, Vincenzo, took us out for an amazing dinner in Rome – we didn’t have to order a thing.

familiar faces in far away places

5.  The wine.  Whether it was a Brunello di Montalcino in Tuscany or the glass of Prosecco every night before dinner at our hotel on the Amalfi Coast, we were never disappointed.

Vino in Firenze

4.  The food.  I think we ate our weight in prosciutto and salami, more than our fair share of pizza, some amazing Risotto Milanese and a couple kickass sandwiches from the Mercato in Florence, but…we had some standout memorable meals – particularly our dinners at Trattoria Quattro Leoni and Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco in Florence, and our honeymoon finale at Le Sirenuse in Positano.  Huge thanks to our friends for the recommendations!

Happy Hour at Enoteca Gola e Cantina, Florence

3.  Gelato!  Favorite flavors were definitely pistachio for him and hazelnut for me, but we never met a flavor we didn’t like.  It became our daily ritual.  Walk around until we’re hot, get gelato, repeat.

Our very first gelato in Italy; would not be our last

2.  Villa Podernovo in Monticiano, Tuscany.  It was a beautiful villa (found via Agriturismo.it) in a teeny tiny village, but a perfect home base for exploring the nearby hill towns of Siena and San Gimignano.

Villa Podernovo

Villa Podernovo, aka heaven – our apartment was upstairs in this building

1.  The Amalfi Coast, by scooter… When the road is really only about one-lane wide, you definitely want the smallest, most agile vehicle.  We were so glad we rented a scooter for three of our days on the Amalfi coast.  Zipping to Positano or Amalfi for dinner, from our centrally located hotel in Praiano, was not only convenient, but so much fun!

Sunset from Praiano, looking towards Positano

La dolce far niente – “the sweetness of doing nothing” – really the best thing we learned in Italy, and what we hope to maintain, at least a little bit, in our lives back home.

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As predicted, the wine club theme was just a jumping off point, and while everyone asked about the theme when they arrived, we all quickly settled into eating, catching up, and deciding which wines were our favorites.  I had four to compare – a burgundy from France with a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and a French Bordeaux blend with a Napa Valley Cabernet (see the end of the post for details on the wines*).  I think the California wines won out, but there were a few girls pulling for the French terroir. There were also a few favorites among the recipes.

Here’s the menu –

~ miso-glazed bacon wrapped asparagus (From Tyler Florence’s book, Family Meal, which I picked up for 20% off at our local Borders store that’s closing) – everything’s better with bacon, right?

~ sauteed Brussels sprouts with carmelized shallots, pecans and lemon zest (my own recipe)

~ “pigs in a blanket” – mild italian, spicy italian, and spinach & feta sausage with tarragon mustard (Also from Tyler’s book.  We’re on a first-name basis now, you see.)

~ macaroni and cheese with swiss chard (From Bon Appetit) – this one ended up being much better the next day, and the next…

~ jamaican banana bread – an old favorite that is, surprisingly, a Cooking Light recipe.  Not so surprisingly, I prefer to make it with real butter instead of margarine, real rum instead of extract, and about twice the amount of topping.

~ bittersweet chocolate pecan tart with bourbon whipped cream – from thekitchn.com.  I made it with pecans and Sharffenberger Semisweet Chocolate (62%).

The definite winners were the Brussels Sprouts, the Banana Bread and the Chocolate Pecan Tart.  The other big winner wasn’t edible or drinkable, it was our new sweatshirt!  Our “Director of Apparel” (we’re trying to come up with titles for everyone) came through with our new hoodies.  I must say, they’re so soft and comfy, I’ve already worn it several times.  Thanks R!  And thanks to all the girls/ladies for being what really makes wine club so great.

*  Here’s the list of wines:

1)  2008 Domaine Chicotot Bourgogne Rouge, $16.99

2)  Cazar 2009 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $18.99

3)  2008 Reignac, Bordeaux Supérieur, $18.99

4)  Textbook 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon “Fin de Journee”, Napa Valley, $18.99

I bought all of them from K&L Wine Merchants here in San Francisco.  The gentleman there was SO helpful and very knowledgeable  – he could rattle off the details of just about everything in the store!  I explained what I was trying to do with my theme, and he had my wines selected within minutes – all while the power was out!

I have this great little circle of friends.  It’s one of a few circles, as I’m sure we all have.  The one I’m talking about tonight is one I call “wine club,” aka, SIP.  (Fear not Studio, I’m sure I’ll write about you someday.)

A few years ago, my friend M decided to start a monthly get together of women – like book club, only without the books. There are twelve of us, and each of us only hosts once a year.  So for eleven other Thursday nights, we just have to show up, no pressure, and enjoy some good wine, great food, and even better company.  It’s really evolved into such a wonderful event that I look forward to every month, with an extremely supportive group of smart and funny women.  The conversations always vary widely, and I never feel “stuck” talking to any one person, because there’s no one with whom I feel “stuck.”  It’s comforting.

There are only a few rules to help keep things running smoothly – like sending out invites two weeks in advance, and rsvp-ing at least a week before – common courtesy type things, but when it comes to the theme and what to serve, it’s wide open, as long as you can somehow relate it to wine.  We’ve had organic wines, specific varietals, specific regions or AVAs, sake, bubbly, France vs. California, wines all from one winery, blind tastings, South American, Italian, Eastern European, “Pink,” …the list goes on and on.  We’re in our third year, so it has become increasingly difficult to think up a new theme.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter, as we all just talk about which ones we each like best.  And, as we’ve discovered, it’s not really about the wine anyway, but still…I guess the designer in me likes to have a concept around which to organize myself.  Last year, I chose wines purely based on labels I liked.  Judging books by their covers, if you will.

This month is my turn again.  I first considered a “party like it’s 1999” theme, where I’d buy wine all from the same year.  If I couldn’t find 1999 wines, then perhaps we’d be partying like it’s 2004, but then I read on wikipedia that the concept of good vs. bad vintages may be up for some debate.  I suppose I could try a blind tasting of a good year vs. a bad year, but oh well, maybe next year.  What I’m leaning towards now is more like “everything old is new again.”  I can compare a specific varietal from an “old world” style with the same grape or blend done in the “new world.”  The food can be new twists on old favorites.  It seems to fit well with the current atmosphere of reinvention – doing more with less…

My goal this year is to actually photograph some of the process and the festivities.  If all goes as planned, I’ll be back with a follow-up.  Cheers!