Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign . . . A new photo gallery from Italy

These weekly photo challenges could have not come at a better time. Having taken thousands of pictures during my recent trip in Italy the photo challenges give me the opportunity to share some of my favorite images with you.

I hope you will enjoy today’s selection. And as always, I would love to hear which one is your favorite.

Coffee shop in Milan

Ice cream shop in Milan

Milan

Barolo

Grissini Torinesi

City Hall of Neive

Venice

Caffe Vergnano in Venice since 1882

Fagioli and Finocchi at Rialto Market, Venice

Giuggiole at Rialto Market, Venice

Rialto Fish Market, Venice

Rialto fish market, Venice

Sarde and sardine at Rialto fish market, Venice

Wine shop, Venice

Venitian mask’ shop, Venice

Trattoria al gatto Nero, Burano

Merceria in Bellagio

Caffe Pansa, Amalfi

My two weeks in Italy: Windows and Balconies

During my recent trip in Italy I found myself taking many pictures of finestre e balconi (windows and balconies). My mom’s balcony was always full of flower pots. She truly had a green thumb, she could grow anything. She also had a small vegetable garden growing in her pots. My mom never bought a plant in her life; she would just snap off a thumb size piece of any plant she liked and before you knew it, the plant was in full bloom in a pot on her balcony. I definitely did not inherit her green thumb, however, I do love balconies!

I was already planning on sharing some of my windows and balconies pictures and then few days ago, while I was trying to catch up with some of my favorite bloggers, I came across my friend’s blog, Meg Travels. There it was, a post on windows! With her wonderful, Monet inspired, pictures she entered the CBBH photo challenge, whose October’s theme was in fact “windows“.

So I took this encounter as a sign and here I am with my answer to the CBBH challenge: these are my windows and balconies of Italy! The pictures are all mine, some taken with my Nikon DX40, some with my iphone. There is a little of everything, colorful windows of Burano – some embellished with their traditional lace curtains – architecturally ornate windows of Venice, balconies overloaded with flower’s pots, and simple wroght iron balconies.

Please enjoy and let me know which window or balcony is your favorite.

P.S. I also took a lot of pictures of gates, but they will be on another post, so . . . come back!

Don’t forget to visit Meg Travels to take a look to her windows and Margieinitaly to take a look to some of her Italy’s pics.

Also to learn more about the monthly CBBH Photo Challenge visit East of Málaga

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

Three images from my recent trip in Italy to answer this week photo challenge: silhouette.

I picked these three because they all share a water theme.

I hope you will like them!

Gondoliere – Canal Grande, Venezia

A glimpse of Lago di Como – Varenna, Lombardia – Italia 2012

Scorcio – Lago d’Orta, Piemonte – Italia 2012

My two weeks in Italy. A day in BAROLO

Coming back from two weeks in Italy I have been overwhelmed with housekeeping duties, Italian language classes, my son’s ENGAGMENT (super exciting!!!!), and a nasty cold. I am finally feeling better, I am almost back to my regular schedule and I am looking forward to share highlights of my wonderful trip.

There were two main reasons for this trip: to celebrate my 50th birthday with my family and to celebrate my mother in law 90th birthday!

Both celebrations were terrific and it was wonderful to share such special occasions with the people I love.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to discover new destinations to share on my blog and with my clients.

My travel journal will be published in several parts, I will give an introduction to each post but I will mostly let my pictures speak . . . it’s the least I can do since I have taken probably 2000 pictures! Do you know how difficult it is to sort through them all and narrow down to a manageable number to publish? Very hard!!!

I hope you will enjoy this virtual journey almost as much I enjoyed the real thing!

My first stop is BAROLO, a small community perched on a hill of the Langhe area, in the Italian region of Piemonte.

From Novara – where my trip started and where my brothers live – heading to Barolo, the landscape dramatically changes from plains of rice fields to hills and valleys where lush and ordered vineyards separate each hilltop communities.

It is indeed from these vineyards that some of the best Italian vini (wines) are produced. The charming community of Barolo shares its name with one of these wines, which also happens to be my favorite Italian vino rosso (red wine).

The town of Barolo has two castelli (castles): in the town center, the Castello Falletti  and on the ridge the Castello della Volta.

The Falletti family originally owned them both, however, the Castello della Volta is currently owned by a private winery and the Castello Falletti is owned by the city of Barolo. The Castello Falletti today houses the Wine Museum and the Regional Enoteca of Barolo. The Enoteca (wine house) is divided into three sections:  an exhibit of Barolo wines produced by the wineries of the 11 municipalities in area of origin of the wine, a tasting area, and a selling area.

While the expansive views from the third floor terrace of the Castello Falletti are worth the museum fee (7 euro), I did not personally enjoyed the museum.

The multimedia exhibits seemed meaningless and infantile, the static scenes with thousands of words to read were not very informative. There were no real information on the winemaking history of the region and some displays were so absurd that make my husband and me laugh. My advise is to go to the museum only if you are traveling with children, they might enjoy this “theme park” museum.

Just outside the museum is the Museo dei cavatappi (corkscrew museum), which I think I would have enjoyed better.

One of the purposes of my trip to Barolo was to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo.

Although the community of Barolo houses around 38 wine makers, I decided to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo because of their ancient history and tradition.

The history of this winery dates back to the 1806 when the Marchese Falletti di Barolo married Juliette Colbert .  The Marchesa’ s main interest was charity, however, she also showed a great interest and dedication to the vineyard and its territory. It was in fact the joined efforts of the Marchesa and the Count Camillo Benso, along with the technical advice of a French winemaker, Count Oudart, that created the first wine Barolo (the name was given by the Marchesa to honor the town). With the death of Marchesa Juliette in 1864, the line of succession became extinct and the property was left to the benevolent foundation of the Opera Pia Barolo. In the late 19th century, Pietro Abbona acquired the vineyards bringing the Barolo wine to today’s fame. Today the Cantine Marchesi di Barolo is run by the fifth generation of the Abbona family.

The winery of Marchesi di Barolo controls 110 hectares of vineyards from which it produces around 1,500,000 bottles of wine. The winery produces Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba, Roero Arneis, Gavi, Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.

Knowing that I would have been in the area during the time of the Vendemmia (harvesting and wine making), I had contacted the winery to arrange for a private tour and to assist to the wine making process. My 40 years old memories of the vendemmia in my sister in law’s small vineyard were very different from the efficient and mechanized processed that I  witnessed in Barolo. Less folklorist maybe, but non-the less fascinating.

At the winery, Ms. Cristina welcomed my husband and me. Cristina would then spend the following hour and a half giving us a very informative and interesting tour. Entering the facility we found ourselves into a vast roofed courtyard   We walked into the courtyard just in time to witness the first step of wine making: in the center of the courtyard  is a very large steel tub; into this tub, the freshly harvested grapes are unloaded from the truck. The grapes are still harvested by hand; the first grapes to be harvested are usually the one for Moscato wine and Asti spumante (sparkling wine). The last one is usually the Nebbiolo, whose harvesting often coincide with the first “nebbia” (fog) of the season hence the name Nebbiolo. 

A duct, connected to the tub, transports the grapes from the courtyard level to the lower level cellars. There the grapes go directly into a pigiatrice (crusher) where the raspi (stems) are removed and the acini (grapes) are crashed to obtain mosto (grape juice).

The juice travels to the outdoor fermentini (steel ferments vats) for the first fermentation.

Fermentini

Cristina explained that all red wines go through a second fermentation, which takes place into concrete barrels. Also into this barrels the Dolcetto wine is kept until bottling. This type of wine in fact doesn’t require aging and goes to the market in the spring following the harvest.

Following Cristina’s lead we walked through the cellars were we first passed by a row of enormous Slovenian oak barrels.

In these barrels, the Barolo, after the second fermentation, is affinato (aged) for 3 years prior to its affinamento (aging) in bottles for 2 years. These barrels hold 24,666.66 liters of wine . . . that’s a lot of wine! Cristina explained that originally the barrels held 18,500 liters, but since every 10-15 years the barrels go through a cleaning/restoration process, during which 1-4 millimeters are scrubbed off, the barrels have overtime increased their capacity.

While walking through the cellar Cristina familiarized us with the different type of wines, the variety of screw, the geographical location of the vines, and the CRU. Do you know what is a CRU? I didn’t. Now I know that the CRU indicates that a wine is produced with the grapes coming only from one geographical vine, therefore more valuable. Connubbi, Sarmassa, and Coste di Rose are the three Barolo CRUS produced by the winery.

We then walked by rows of stainless steel barrels, these are for the Moscato d’Asti. The Moscato d’Asti is a white, sweet sparkling wine low in alcohol (5 %) To preserve the low alcoholic grade, the temperature in the barrels is kept at 0 degrees celsius (32 F) to prevent fermentation. The temperature is raised just before bottling and going to the market. I found very funny that on the wine catalog the Moscato is described as “ thirst-quenching wine at any time of the day, especially after sport activities”  . . . I guess I would hit the gym more often if I could have a glass of Moscato d’Asti afterwards! Now I understand why the waitress at the winery’s restaurant told us that the owners refer to this Moscato as “our mineral water”, but the staff refers to it is as “our Gatorade” !

Back to our tour, the next stop was in the Historic cellars, dating back to the 1820. Here is where the most important wines, from Barbaresco to Barolo, age.

Here is also where the “Botti della Marchesa” are located. They are 5 historic barrels, 150 years old; it was into these barrels that, under the Marchesa Juliette supervision, the first Barolo was born.

Botti della Marchesa

In 2003 these barrels went through an extensive restoration process, which brought them back to the old glory. Click here if you would like to see pictures of the restoration process.

These historic barrels unlike the new one, present an exterior frame to support the pressure from the wine.

In the new barrels, the concave shape of the front provides the support to the pressure from the wine.

The Brenta, the historic basket used to transport approximately 53 kg. of grapes from the vineyard to the cellar.

Interesting fact about this winery is that the bottling takes place in a nearby cellar; 800 meters of underground pipes transport the wine from the cellar to the bottling location.

Back to the courtyard, Cristina took us to the Barriques cellar.

Barriques is a term to indicate small barrels (225 liters) used for aging particular wines (Estates) and to enhance distillates such as grappa.

The Barriques are made from French oak, medium toasted. The lifecycle of the Barriques is only 3-4 years, which is when they stop releasing their aroma.

Our last stop is into the private collection and the “enoteca storica” (historic enoteca or wine library).

The enoteca houses about 35.000 bottles including a bottle of Barolo “Connubbio” 1859, the first bottled Barolo.

Our tour with Cristina was wonderful and to top the day a lunch tasting menu with wine pairing was expecting us! The winery’s restaurant, Foresteria, has two rooms, both elegant and finely furnished. Our table, tastefully prepared and adorned with grissini Torinesi, was set across the large window overlooking the Barbera vineyard.

We had the full attention of our waitress, Celina, who was delightful and knowledgeable of both the dishes and the wine.  The menu featured typical dishes from the region (Piemonte). Each one tasted as amazing as it looked and it was perfectly paired with some of the best wines I have tasted. Just a wonderful experience!

MENU

Antipasto (apetizer):

Girello di Fassone scottato sotto sale e servito con salsa tonnata vecchia maniera (Fassone is a cattle breed native of the Piemonte region – served with traditional tuna sauce)
&
Flan di carote (Carrots Flan)

Wine: Madonna di Como – Dolcetto d’Alba

Primo Piatto ( First Course):

Agnolottini del Plin ai tre arrosti conditi con burro di malga e salvia.

Wine: Paigal – Barbera d’Alba

Secondo Piatto (Second course):

Brasato al Barolo con contorno di stagione

Wine: Cannubbi – Barolo

Dolce (Dessert)

Panna cotta – Salame dolce – Pera cotta al Moscato

Wine: Zagara – Moscato d’Alba

Time for caffè and schiaccia-caffè (expression used to refer to digestive coming after coffee), the house digestivo (digestive), Barolo Chinato that is produced from a base of Barolo wine aged at least 4 years and the maceration of aromatics including quinine bark (in Italian, china).

The aromatics for the production of Barolo Chinato

After lunch we took some time to visit the wine shop where Ms. Ivana offered us a bicchierino (shot) of grappa di Barolo . . . of course my husband couldn’t refuse!

The wine tasting room is also located here where friendly and knowledgeable staff will make sure you truly enjoy your experience. Along with the wine, the shop also sells local specialties like canned vegetables, fruit jams, cookies and chocolates.

Of course I could not leave without bringing home a bottle of Barolo and Ms. Ivana, kindly, also gifted me with a bottle of Moscato d’Alba.

Waiting now for the perfect occasion to enjoy them both. Uhm . . .  I guess my son’s engagement party would be a perfect occasion!

Many thanks to the staff at the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo for a wonderful day!

CIAO DA BAROLO!!!

Remember that if you visit Barolo in October will also enjoy the superb Tartufo bianco d’Alba (white truffle)!

Which one is your favorite Italian wine?