Thursday, 21 November 2013

Let's go indigenous

The subject of international vs indigenous vine varieties has always deeply interested me. In a world that is being affected every day more by a detrimental uniformity (side effect in a way of modern globalization) the wine industry makes no bigger difference.

For many years there has been in wine production a tendency to choosing 'comfortable and safe' vine varieties at the expenses of the less known local ones, this causing, in some cases, the disappearance of some the latter. Winemakers shouldn't take all the blame as a big part of this trend is definitely connected to the evolution of wine distribution. It is renown that the biggest wine retailers are nowadays supermarkets and this is not only in UK. So if the wine buying experience is as impersonal as it is in a supermarket, what do you think the casual consumer will go for? Correct: he/she will go for the names they have heard, for something they know. He will go for Cabernet Sauvignon rather than Aglianico. She will go for Chardonnay rather than Albariño.  So this partly then justifies producers trying to make wines that need to be sold! 

More recently this is slightly changing. Countries like, for example, Portugal have made a point of sticking to their local varieties, facing the adverse comments of those buyers and sommeliers that were considering these wines too difficult to sell.  And their stubbornness proved them right: now those wines are regarded as some of the most interesting in the industry in terms of good value for money and local expression.

I want to stress that, even to a (wine)hippie like me, globalization is not the Bogeyman and we should definitely make the most of it in terms of cultural free interchange but we also need to preserve the local cultures and traditions and in the specific case we should preserve the indigenous vine varieties. And this is up to the various wine professionals that have the power to educate consumers and direct them in their buys through supermarket wine selections, through articles and events especially considering that wine consumers are gaining more knowledge and consciousness every day and their curiosity is increasing.

Indigenous varieties are a great richness for a country's viticulture as they will distinguish it from the rest of the world so it is essential to preserve this diversity in order to maintain every wine countries' identity. And it is also a great opportunity.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Wine carousel

What I like most about having friends for dinner (other of course than the actual `friends`) is that everyone will normally bring a different bottle of wine, meaning that we will have a lot of different things to taste.

Often not all of them will be memorable, but at least the variety can satisfy my almost pathological curiosity for wine diversity.

Last Friday a friend was coming over but, as it was only 3 of us, we tried to keep the number of bottles under control (not sure we actually managed!). We started with a quite simple Pinot Grigio from Oddbins that was showing a very delicate nose of pear and citrus fruit but was really watery in the mouth and disappeared quite quickly. Although I was not having great expectations, it still was quite disappointing.

This was followed by a much better Gruner Veltliner from Austria that had a quite distinct citrusy character of lime, lemon and Ducan grapefruit. In the mouth the acidity was surprising and the citrusy flavours intense and persistent. 

Before moving to red, we decided to have a pink interlude with a Sancerre (some of you may have only heard about white Sancerre but, for your interest, this wine comes also in rose') that was very fresh but a bit monotone with its predominant aromas of pink grapefruit. Very pleasant as a light aperitif but a bit too weak to match food in my opinion. 

And finally we got to red. We tried something local (for me!) and fairly priced:  a red from Umbria, a region that has a lot to offer in terms of wine and so much yet to be discovered. The specific wine is a delicious example of Sangiovese, blended with international varieties, that shows a good complexity (especially for a wine of this price) of dark berries, earthy and spicy delicate notes. It has body enough to pair a rich lasagna and a good backbone of acidity to cleanse your palate after it!

I should have friends over more often!


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Corsican wines...aka la vie en rose'!

Let's start with a confession....
I don't often drink rosé wines.
And when I say not often, I mean almost never. In theory I have no prejudice but practically I tend not to choose them, not even in summer. Since I am admitting here my deepest wine bigotry, I also need to tell you that I tend to have a bit of a snobbish attitude towards those tables of ladies always quenching their thirst with pinkish fluid (and I use the word fluid to indicate the often questionable quality).

In order to win my preconceptions and to widen my wine knowledge, I have consequently dedicated myself to a bit of (purely professional) research, during my holiday in Corsica, a magnificent (no, I'm not exaggerating) Mediterranean island renown for the quality of its rosé wines.

And I enjoyed it. I really did (both the island and the wines).
Two wines especially made me crave for more. Two wines coming from different parts of this island but based on the same local grape: Sciaccarello.

The first is made in Northern Corsica by the Domaine d'Alzipratu and it is brilliantly fresh and fruity with good depth. It is a wine that offers an harmonious balance of  sweetness, acidity and juiciness; a delicious wine that goes down really well without being ordinary at all.

The second one is produced on the opposite side of the island more specifically under the AOC Sartene, on granitic soils midway between sea and mountains in a calm and peaceful area. Weirdly enough the producer has my same surname, so I kind of feel like this is my wine! The wine I am talking about is the basic rosé of the Domaine Fiumicicoli; a wine with a pale colour, a fragrant nose and a vivid minerality. Juicy, fresh and round in the mouth.

The perfect drink for a summery night on your terrace overlooking the port of Macinaggio in the Cap Corse!

Final tip: let's not forget that rosé wine is perfect with charcuterie and Corsica produces one of the best coppas in the, check it out!!


Thursday, 10 October 2013

A life full of BUTs!

I have always thought that flexibility is the key to a good life! And I say this because I believe life is full of little exceptions. My life statements are very often followed by a BUT!

I strongly prefer self organised and possibly slightly adventurous trips BUT had one of my best holiday ever on a all inclusive package in the Red Sea. 

I adore strawberries BUT detest any strawberry based food: jam, ice cream....

I don't watch romantic comedies BUT 'When Harry met Sally' is on my top 5 favourite movies ever!

I try not to eat junkie food BUT can't resist to Nutella.

I don't like that much Chardonnay BUT can do a couple of exceptions....



Thursday, 22 August 2013

Sabor de Portugal

I have been a little bit skeptical about Portuguese wines for quite a long time.
I had read they were either greenish white wines (vinhos verde) produced with unripe and unflavoured grapes or dense, thick, excessively heavy reds. With the exception of Port, Portuguese wines didn't seem to be that appealing to me.
Then I tasted some of them. And I changed my mind.

Probably everything started that night of 3 years ago in Evora, an inland old Roman city not far from Lisbon, in the 'O Fialho restaurant where a great dinner was paired with a fantastic wine.

My first experience with a wine from Alentejo. The fact that I can't remember the name is due only to my increasing age and the consequent bad effects on my memory but the wine was impressive and perfectly matching the dish of pork with clams (yes you got it right, with clams! And yes it was absolutely ultra-delicious!) I was greedily enjoying.

Curiosity brought me to read a bit more about Portuguese wines. Similarly to the other European countries that have gone through a fascist regime in the last century, such as Spain and Italy, Portugal wine production has been strongly affected by Salazar's dictatorship. His program of cooperativization has certainly been one of the major causes of the country backwardness in viticulture and vinification techniques until recent times.
But, as most experts say, in the last decades there has been a proper revolution thanks to some audacious winemakers.
And even if, for a while these wines have struggled to get the deserved attentions the move to stick to indigenous varietals instead of choosing the 'easily approachable' international ones have proved to be the right one. Nowadays Portuguese wines are not anymore `the next thing`, they are THE thing.
They offer very good quality, competitive prices and a unique sense of place.

And here are a few snapshots of some of my Portuguese favorites...

What's the moral of this story?
Don't ever let your wine curiosity be killed by prejudices.
Just taste!


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Perfect day (or almost!)

There is no perfect day such as those Sundays when I am relaxing at home and doing a bit of cooking. 

To me Saturdays are for the things I NEED  to do (food shopping, cleaning, gym...) and possibly to see friends. But Sundays are just for myself.
This is why I always try to save these days only for the things I like: reading, cooking (while listening) to music, maybe having a walk in the park and taking everything slowly!!

Preparing pizza perfectly fits in the put together your ingredients and then just wait for the dough to rise...A few more steps and a lovely dinner is ready. 

It's comfy food. Just like your old slippers!

I also like to experiment with desserts. Last week I made some ricotta mousse with strawberries, pistachio and amaretti (on the bottom). It was very good!

Wine can't be missing on a day like this. If it's a sunny BBQ Sunday it will probably be a refreshing white....

If it's a wintery roast lunch, then a generous red....

What could possibly ruin a day like this? ......any idea?

A corked bottle!!! If you happen to be so unlucky to get a bottle that falls in that 5% statistic of corked wine, even a day of total relax like this can end up in a miserable way!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Pizza, pasta, mafia & mandolino....

I think we all know the common stereotypes on Italians.
Once it was pizza, pasta, mafia, mandolino and the legend about the Italian stallions (yes, I am sorry it is only a legend!)

More recently we also tend to be seen as bad drivers, short-tempered, loud, a bit messy and bunga bunga people. Well, as an Italian living abroad, you can imagine that sometimes being categorized this way it's not that pleasant. I definitely don’t see myself as loud, maybe a bit messy yes and not the most patient woman in the world, ok. But I can drive decently and definitely don’t want to be associated to anything Berlusconi-related. On the other hand I have to admit that we all tend to have stereotypes on other populations or different cultures. It’s human. Often these are wrong. More often they are actually right.

But if we are talking about Italian wines instead, what are the stereotypes and is there any truth in them?

Let me start destroying a couple of the old cliche'....First of all, Italy does not only produce Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Lambrusco as some may think. There is much more out there. One of the greatest characteristics of wine production in Italy is its diversity. Wine is produced all over the country and each regions has indigenous varieties and traditional techniques, so be adventurous and next time you are about to choose a bottle of wine, try something different even if you can't pronounce the name!!

Second, Chianti is not just a cheap wine sold in traditional fiascos. 
Have you ever tried some Fontodi, Selvapiana, Felsina or Isole e Olena for example? Well if you haven't yet, it's really time to do it. Get out, find a bottle of one of these, taste it and think about what people say about Chianti. It ain't right, uhm?!

And for those considering themselves Italian wine conosseurs because they happen to have tried some Super Tuscans and are now convinced that these wines are the maximum (or the only) expression of this country wine production, well...I am sorry to disappoint you but I think you need more exercise. When the first Super Tuscans appeared in the late 70s they could have possibly been some of the best wines on the market but now this is not true anymore. Get a taste of Barolos, Aglianicos, Brunellos, good Soaves...and many more....

Last but not least, if the only wines that pop up on your mind when thinking about Italy are those coming from Tuscany, let me tell you that Italy is divided in 20 regions and as said before, they all produce wines, so why don't you explore other areas? 
Maybe some wines from Southern Italy, maybe Friuli Venezia Giulia or will be pleasantly surprised.

There is definitely much yet to be discovered on Italian wines and plenty of wrong beliefs. The common stereotypes are not doing them justice.
Maybe we should all revise our stereotypes and be more open minded....not only for the Italian wines!


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Ready for wine partying?!

For those who haven't been on holiday yet or are just packing now, Winehippie has great news!!
August is a perfect time of the year for traveling around Europe.

Ok, right, it is high (very high, actually the highest) season which means that beaches and tourist destinations are crowded and it is impossible to find a cheap flight or place to stay, but is also festival time!!

Especially if you are staying in the Mediterranean area you will find plenty of little local feasts celebrating patrons, local products or just summer. And if you are lucky enough (or if you chose your destination based on wine interest as well) you can possibly find a wine festival going on....

I have made a bit research for you and found out some interesting things.
Let's start with France....

On August 14th in Rasteau, Southern France, from 5pm onwards there will a Nuit de Vin, where all wine producers will be showing their wines in the town streets, together with other local products and some musical bands. The night will end up with a ball in the main place. For more info you can email the tourist board at

On August 31st, in Avignon, the winemakers will celebrate the Harvest Proclamation with a traditional feast that dates back to the Middle Ages. You will find plenty of food and wine stands, tastings and music  all around this beautiful historic city of the Rhone Valley. And all for free!

Let's move to Italy...

The main summer event for wine tourists will be, for sure, Calici di Stelle which goes on between the 5th and 11th of August. A  lot of wineries all around the Bel Paese will be open to visitors during these dates but the event will culminate on the night of the shooting stars with an exceptional late opening of the wineries that will organize tastings or dinners. Here you will find all the wineries that are participating.

In the Tuscia Viterbese, north of Rome, the Feste del Vino della Tuscia will continue until the 18th of August with different events in different towns including Tarquinia and Montefiascone.

And if you are in Southern Tuscany today or tomorrow, you can't miss the little festival of theater and wine in Scansano called Teatro nel bicchiere. A mix of free tastings and live performances among the streets of this medieval little countryside town with young Italian artists and a lot of good Morellino!

Hope you will enjoy and....salute!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Pure class in a glass

Some wines are pure expression of the outstanding beauty of the places they are coming from.
Some wines don't need any food to give their best.
Some wines stand out for their class and delicacy.
Some wines can show staggering purity and intensity of flavours.

I think that Olivar Cesconi falls in all these categories.
This white wine, produced from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon on the hills around Pressano, in Trentino Alto Adige, has the power to recall the atmosphere of this beautiful region.
The undulating green fields, the clear sky, the fresh breeze and the shadow of the magnificent and stately Dolomiti mountains.

All this in a glass of wine, together with aromas of white flowers and stone fruits, a touch of melon and a hint of vanilla. In the mouth it is distinguished with the mix of aromas coming back. A good minerality and a long, lingering finish.

Some wines should be drunk more often.
The Olivar Cesconi is one of them!


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Drink as a local

It's no secret that my second passion after wine is travelling. And maybe sometime  it also overtakes wine! Sometimes I feel like I have a sort of travelling!

I like the whole process of preparation and the expectation of the departure but most of all I like to get completely absorbed in other peoples culture and traditions. I like to discover and learn. And on top of this I have an almost insane curiosity for local products.  I always need to experiment traditional recipes. I like to drink local and if it's wine I prefer indigenous varieties and possibly small realities. Not only for the clear ethical purpose of supporting the local economy and to minimise any environmental impact but also because I believe this is part of the bigger process of experiencing the place.

So, since I'm just back from a (too) short vacation in the Ionian island of Ithaca I thought Id share with you some of my memories....
Ithaca is quite a small island characterised by pristine waters and secluded pebbly beaches. The water is so transparent that snorkeling among fishes is all you want to do during the day!

But after sunset, when the refreshing breeze cools down the evening and you are having dinner on your terrace or on a nice little restaurant by the harbour, there is nothing better than a crisp, light and refreshing white wine.

The vineyards in Ithaca are situated mainly in the southern part, around the little village of Perahori but, although there is a well attended wine festival in August (that unfortunately I won't be able to enjoy), you cannot find that much of the wine produced on sale. The most popular wine is without any doubt the Robola of Kefalonia. The two examples I have tasted were both produced by the Kefalonia Wine Cooperative that was opened in 1982.

The first one (in what looked like a tourist-targeted packaging) was quite simple and light. Fresh with nice citrusy fruit, but totally lacking of depth in the mouth. A bit ordinary but with a good acidity. Good as aperitif with some kalamata olives!

The second wine was instead much more interesting. A deeper intensity of citrusy notes followed by aromas of grapefruit and white flowers. In the mouth it is richer and fuller than the first one. An incredible good acidity and some flinty notes. A wine to be matched with seafood. Very good! And cheap. You can have it for around 8€!

But of course, since I have been there for a week I also have tasted something else, a bit less local (meaning that it was not coming strictly from the Ionian archipelago but from other parts of Greece) such as the un-pronounceable wine in the picture below...

...that was absolutely dull and almost watery in structure. I've later found out being made from an indigenous variety (not everything that is local is necessarily good!).

Or this Sauvignon Blanc (which I have ordered by mistake since it was in Greek on the menu)...

I have also tasted a house wine coming from Patras, and based on the local Roditis, which was nothing special but it was fresh and light and perfectly fine for an house wine sold at €10 per liter.

But if wine is too alcoholic when the temperature rises, then Greece has to offer you a couple of good lagers: Alpha & Mithos...(which was my favourite and was going down so quickly that I never had enough time to take a picture!)
Now...enjoy your holiday and SALUTE!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

S.P.Q.R. (or `what have the Romans ever done for us?`)

Can I also add fish and chips to this famous Monty Python's list?
Because...I have to tell you: England is not the only place where battered fish is an institution.
Honestly, I'm not sure if the dish dates back to Roman time but deep fried codfish fillet is a well known local recipe back home.

You can find it on the menu in any pizzeria but if you want to taste its top expression you need to go in a little piazza called Largo dei Librari half way along Via dei Giubbonari, just behind Campo de' Fiori, a beautiful little corner of Rome (and a personal favourite) where people stop to enjoy a bit of al fresco life.

Here under the simple sign 'Filetti di Baccala`' a little and extremely rustic trattoria family run makes the best battered codfish of the whole eternal city! No wonder why the place is always crowded at dinner time!

And since I am a supporter of `drinking local` I feel the urge to suggest a local wine with this dish.
In general, wine production in Lazio is often not that exciting but there are few exceptions of nice good wines that match perfectly the regional cuisine.

My personal choice, for tonight, is a wine produced by a very good cooperative in Cori, south of Rome. The Castore Cincinnato is based on the indigenous Bellone. It has delicate fruity aromas of pears and apples and a hint of vegetal. It's surprisingly fresh with the acidity needed to match a frittura and cleanse your palate. A medium body and some savory notes to finish.

Salute! (and never forget what the Romans did for you!!!)

Friday, 28 June 2013

Women prefer bubbles

No, no, no Marilyn....I totally disagree!!
`Personally I think it'd be tacky to wear a diamond before I'm forty`!!...I'm more a Holly Golithly kind of woman... 

And in the few years left before getting to the `big date`, when I feel girlish or a bit foolish, when I am celebrating something or just want to treat myself, my best friend are bubbles.

Fine bubbles delicately tickling my throat.....                                                                              
....with that elegance that uplifts my cheap sushi on a long tasting day....

...with that sparkle that matches my music on a Friday evening at home....

...and that backbone of acidity that cleanse my palate after a salami plate (when I'm not on a diet!)....

If I only I could say as Madame Lilly Bollinger used to....

`I drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty. `