Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
We’re big fans of Japan and were thrilled to bring the story of Koshu wine to our community back in 2011. We think the Japanese wine industry has tremendous potential and we’re very happy to help Japanese winemakers in anyway we can. So after we heard about this CNN story we reached out to our sources to be able to bring it to you on our blog. Grace Vineyard is a great little winery and we wish them all the best. We’ll be following along with their progress.
If a wine region can claim to have a first family in its midst, then no doubt the Tasca d’Almerita family would find itself among the top of Sicily’s list. In the 1830s, the two Tasca d’Almerita brothers bought the Regaleali estate, turned it into their home and launched the family business. But, it wasn’t until the 1950s that things began to really change. Choosing to become a pioneer in shifting the conversation about Sicilian wine from quantity to quality, it was Count Giuseppe Tasca d’Almerita who focused on improving Sicilian wine through experimentation in the winery and the vineyard.
Among Giuseppe’s first successes was Bianco Regaleali, a white blend of Inzolia, Cataratto, Grecanico and Chardonnay, which sports an unusual bottle shape –similar to a flute d’Alsace – immediately becoming well recognized for its quality and establishing the Tasca d’Almerita’s reputation as producers of fine wine. This was joined by the Rosso del Conte – a special reserve of Regaleali Rosso, produced from 40 year old Nero d’Avola vines. His Nozze d’Oro was first crafted as a gift to his wife in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary – a true labor of love – blending Inzolia and Sauvignon Blanc. When the wine was met with such critical acclaim, he decided to continue to produce the wine beyond the anniversary celebration and it remains a company flagship.
Guiseppe’s son, Count Lucio, followed his lead, looking to plant vines at different and higher altitudes, where it was much cooler. Lucio was also the first to plant international varieties, namely Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, during the 1980s, a choice he initially hid from his dad. It wasn’t until the wines were crafted and bottled that he gave Giuseppe a taste, still not revealing their origin until after Giuseppe had offered his seal of approval. The Chardonnay made its debut in the family’s portfolio in 1985 and continues to garner high praise as does the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Today, while Count Lucio remains president of the family-run winery, his two sons, Giuseppe and Alberto, serve as vice president and managing director, respectively. When Giuseppe and Alberto joined the family business, Lucio made it clear that if they began to fight, he would immediately step in and tell them what to do. The threat seems to have worked since they continue to work in harmony to this day.
Regaleali now stretches over 500 hectares in the heart of Sicily and I reached the historic estate in the late afternoon, with time to rest before dinner. But, if I thought that the remote location would mean peace and quiet, I was sadly mistaken. A German restaurateur who is a client of Tasca d’Almerita had brought his all male group of friends to visit the winery, coincident with my stay. While I was warned that the group was there, it didn’t prepare me in the least.
The light teasing, which I could easily handle, began with the appetizers, eaten in the courtyard, while enjoying the Tasca d’Almerita Brut sparkler. Later, we moved indoors to escape the evening chill and bawdy jokes were told. But, like the appetizers, this, too, was only a taste of what was to come.
The next incident involved a fox (no, really!). At some point, during the meal, Regaleali’s Hospitality Manager, Sasha Stancampiano, asked me if I wished to see a fox. A bit perplexed by the question, I followed him outside, where, to my surprise, a fox was hanging out in the courtyard. It turned out that the fox visits regularly and, given that they’ve taken to feeding her, I am sure she will return.
After dinner (and many glasses of wine), the Germans began to sing. An impromptu game of Name That Tune was scrapped when the internet connection proved to be too slow to stream music on Yoni Annet Westerndorp (Brand Manager Europe)’s iPad, but the Germans continued to sing. Suddenly, there were four middle-aged German men belting out Bye, Bye Miss American Pie and dancing around the table. I wasn’t sure which was more surprising – their eagerness to sing or the fact that they even knew that particular song. Other songs and similar renditions followed (as did several more glasses of wine). I tried to decline at least a few glasses, but eventually gave up trying and simply took fewer and smaller sips. As midnight approached, it appeared that the dancing was about to shift from AROUND the table to ON the table, at which point Yoni, Rossella Marino Abate (an intern at Tasca d’Almerita) and I said goodnight to the gentlemen, half expecting to find them still there at breakfast, and headed off to our respective rooms.
After breakfast, which was blissfully song-free (save for the iPhone video of last night’s antics), winemaker Laura Orsi, who has been with Tasca d’Almerita since 2004, led me through a formal tasting. She shared that careful attention is paid to replanting the vineyards, with 15 hectares removed and replanted annually. However, she further emphasized the need to work well in the winery to maintain quality and included an analogy regarding zucchini. Unfortunately, as my notes simply read “zucchini example,” this wisdom is now lost to me.
Once the tasting was over, Yoni and Rossella provided me with a comprehensive tour of Regaleali, visiting a number of vineyards including the vines planted back in the 1950s. The self-sufficient estate also boasts one of Italy’s best culinary schools established by Count Lucio’s sister, Marchesa Anna Tasca Lanza and, during our brief visit to the school, we had the opportunity to sample some tuna sashimi.
Beyond Regaleali, the Tasca d’Almerita family owns Tenuta Capofaro on the Aeolian island of Salina, which is focused on Malvasia; the Tascante estate on Mount Etna, home to Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio; and has expanded its production through joint ventures with the Whitaker Foundation in Mozia (close to Marsala) where they grow Grillo, and with Sallier de la Tour at Monreale, which is situated near Palermo and particularly suitable for Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
The Tasca d’Almeritas also maintain the 15th century Villa Tasca in Palermo, where Giuseppe and Alberto grew up. Here, former owner, the Duke of Camastra (then governor of Sicily), built a beautiful Italian garden on the estate. Later, the garden was reconstructed in the French style, with irregular paths and scenery designed to inspire artists and composers such as Wagner who composed the third act of “Parsifal” there in 1881. While vines were previously planted near the estate, they were removed during Palermo’s urban expansion of the early 1900s.
I met with Giuseppe Tasca d’Almerita at Villa Tasca that afternoon. Taking me on a behind-the-scenes tour, Giuseppe led me around the stunning garden, stopping to show off the manmade grotto where he used to bring girls when he was a teenager thinking that they would snuggle closer to him due to fear of the dark. Then, we headed inside so I could see the beautiful architecture and furniture of the villa.
Although the Tasca d’Almeritas still live at Villa Tasca, an area within the villa, which sleeps up to 8, is available for rent. A quick internet search reveals a rental price of $19,000-$25,000 per week, depending upon the season, which is not only completely out of my budget (ever!), but is even more laughable given that my own selection of accommodations in Palermo cost only $60.00per night, inclusive of breakfast.
I departed Villa Tasca and prepared for my final night in Palermo, where I had the pleasure of dining with Simona Governati and Salvatore Spatafora from Gran Via Società & Communicazione. They had been encouraging my use of Italian, but offered their assistance with the menu if I needed it. I spotted an interesting menu item and could translate all, but one, word in the dish description – fasolari – choosing to order it anyway. Once I was served, Salvatore pointed out the fasolari on my plate, which, at least to me, resembled a large clam. Since my dish already had small clams known as vongole in it, I borrowed the skills learned regarding suffixes (“-one” makes things bigger) to invent the word “vongolone,” which Simona and Salvatore found to be hilarious. Either way, dinner was delicious and I had a lot of fun before we walked back to my hotel and said goodbye. The next morning, I was off to the airport, where it was tears in place of last night’s laughter as I bid arrivederci to Sicily.
Most storms developing out at sea in the Pacific Ocean eventually come ashore along the Chilean coast, but the towering Andes Mountains block these winds and rain from traveling further east. As a result, Argentina remains dry and sunny, nearly all of the time. And with 320 days of sun annually, I truly mean nearly all of the time!
Argentina has a long history of grapegrowing, dating to the Spanish conquistadors who brought grapes with them when they established colonies in the New World. From the 1500s through the 1800s, Argentine viticulture remained essentially unchanged. While a handful of today’s winemakers may still cling to the old ways (cow hide fermenters anyone?), most of Argentina’s wine industry has entered the 21st century, with temperature controlled fermentation, drastically improved sanitation and other modern conveniences.
Argentina is home to many European immigrants from Spain, Italy and France, so it is not surprising that many of these grapes landed on Argentina’s soil. Malbec, originally from Bordeaux, took incredibly well to the climate of its new home, especially once it was discovered that growing it at high elevation could significantly influence the outcome.
Though white wine plays a much smaller role in Argentine viticulture, the Torrontés grape has become its signature white. Torrontés handles the heat well and although it had been previously used exclusively for sweet, bulk wine, the variety has been repurposed to create a heady, aromatic wine that is now dry on the palate with floral and tropical fruit notes. Even within this taste profile, several styles have emerged from the restrained to the more flamboyant versions. Additionally, winemakers are experimenting with blends such as Amalaya’s Torrontés-Riesling.
Thankfully, there is more to Argentina than these two varieties and the range includes Barbera, Petit Verdot and the other usual Bordeaux suspects – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – as well as Pinot Noir. The latter thrives in Argentina’s cooler, southern areas such as Patagonia as evidenced by Bodega Humberto’s Canale Estate Pinot Noir 2010, produced from 40 year old vines. Given that Argentines consume 8 oz. of meat per person per day, reds dominate the vineyards.
As a very large country, Argentina’s wine growing regions are vast and spread out from Salta in the north to Patagonia in the south, but most of the production is centered near and north of Mendoza, which lies west of Buenos Aires. Although certain regions within Argentina are becoming known for specific varieties – Salta’s Cafayate Valley for Torrontés, for example – Master Sommelier, Keith Goldston, suggests that the aspects of terroir are still being worked out and for now, come down to three things: distance from the Andes Mountains, elevation and vine age –some vineyards today are 100 years old. Of course, regardless of these three elements – we know it will be sunny.
With its beautiful beaches, easy access and laid-back vibe, Waiheke is a popular weekend getaway for Auckland residents, much as the Hamptons are for New Yorkers. And, similar to Long Island, Waiheke boasts a small, but high quality wine region.
Accommodations on the island are varied with backpacker options at the low end and five-star, luxury lodges on the other. We had the good fortune to secure one of the four rooms at the Te Whau Lodge, located near Rocky Point. Its elevated position provides guests with an amazing view of Putiki Bay. Hosts Liz Eglinton and Gene O’Neill pamper you from the moment you dock, arranging for transportation from the ferry terminal and greeting you upon your arrival at the lodge. Although it is optional, choosing to dine with your hosts is highly recommended.
Guests who opt to partake in dinner are invited to meet at 7:00 PM in the guest lounge for wine and hors d’oeuvres. Gene is an amazing chef, well regarded on the island. Scallops, gouchères and chicken rolled in fresh herbs from the garden were served with complimentary (and complementary) wine – SoHo Wine Co’s Carter Chardonnay from across the island.
After the appetizers, guests are welcomed into the dining room for a three-course meal and can choose to order wine from the lodge’s selection of local wines. We chose a Montepulciano from Whispering Sands, Obsidian’s second label.
As our visit was coincident with Valentine’s Day, a single red rose adorned each place setting, adding to the festive atmosphere. Post-dinner, Port and Cognac were offered as was coffee. At $60.00 NZ/person, it was not only a fabulous meal, but it was a terrific bargain.
Te Whau Vineyards is a short walk from Te Whau Lodge and a perfect place for a relaxed, al fresco lunch, featuring locally-caught fish. In fact, our server’s husband was among the local fishermen. The restaurant’s wine list features wines from throughout the island as well as more international selections.
After lunch, we tasted through the line-up of open wines, all of which were Bordeaux-style blends, but from different vintages. Unfortunately, our visit on the island was too short to visit any other wineries, but I have tasted wines from Waiheke’s Stonyridge and Man O’War at trade tastings in the U.S., further attesting to the quality of the island’s wines.
- The chance for the average American traveler, in the course of their lifetime, to die in an airplane crash is 1/5,552 . The chance they die in a car crash is 1/247.
- According to the US Transportation Secretary, flight delays cost the US economy $15 billion annually.
- The travel and tourism industry in the United States is valued at $1.6 trilion
- This industry generates anywhere from 7-8 million jobs in the United States
- The Washington Post did a study in 2001 of airline delays. Over 1/6 million passengers were delayed at least 15 minutes that year- an accumulated time of 170 years
- On an average 7 night sailing aboard the Disney Magic Cruiseline, the following food items are consumed:
- Beef – 5,000 pounds
- Chicken – 10,000 pounds
- Salmon – 1,200 pounds
- Shrimp – 1,300 pounds
- Lobster tail – 1,000 pounds
- Pineapple – 3,300 pounds
- Melon – 12,800 pounds
- Individual eggs – 71,500
- Coffee – 57,820 cups
- Soda – 3,125 gallons
- Wine and Champagne – 2,700 bottles
- Beer – 12,385 bottles/cans
I’ve come to the conclusion that you drink wine with more than just your nose and taste buds – your memory also plays an important part in the process.
That’s why people often gravitate towards the same grapes, the same terroirs and the same brands when they choose their wine. Certainly, for me, memory is the primary reason I’ve developed a mania for wines from La Rioja, in Spain.
This February, I was lucky enough to travel with Jody Ness and the crew of Wine Portfolio to experience the wines of this venerable region first-hand; and it’s colored my experience of drinking them ever since.
Just a whiff of the earthy combination of mountain-grown Tempranillo and old oak is enough to whisk me back to the amazing food, stunning scenario and warm hospitality I experienced on my trip to Spain.
But there’s more to it than that.
For example, when I bought a bottle of 2005 Marques de Riscal Reserva today, I chose that wine because I’d been lucky enough to visit the Bodega where it was made. While there, I witnessed every step of the journey that turns a plump, juicy grape into a rich, rewarding drop of wine.
It’s knowing that journey – and the passion and precision which went into it – which makes every mouthful so flavorful.
Let me share the journey my wine went on with you. It makes it taste just that much better: