Food & Wine

How to go wine tasting in Tuscany

I love wine and I love to travel. So what could be better than combining the two with wine tasting in Tuscany and Umbria? Just like culinary travel and adventure travel, wine travel is gaining popularity. Wine travel offers enthusiasts the opportunity to truly experience the wine production process, and if you travel at the right time of year, to actually be part of harvest and production. As a former Italian expat, I was excited to go back “home” and tour some of the luxury wineries and resorts for wine tasting in Tuscany and Umbria and experience some wine tastings in Italy.

When people think of Italian wine and wine tasting in Tuscany, their first thought might be the robust Chiantis. Having lived in Italy, I kind of felt “been there, done that.” But on my return, I was excited to learn, and taste, how Tuscany is embracing luxury wine travel.

Read more: Where to Go Wine Tasting in Tuscany

Baracchi Winery, Cortona

 

My adventure in wine tasting in Tuscany began at the Baracchi Winery, which sits high above the charming and historic Italian town of Cortona, amidst winding roads that even our GPS couldn’t keep up with. It was a constant barrage of “turn right,” “turn left,” “turn right,” as we made the hairpin turns. But the views of the Valdichiana Valley —  when we finally arrived at the top — were all worth the nauseating drive.

Read more: Italy’s Most Charming Towns

Founded by Riccardo Baracchi, the winery is a small, boutique producer of one of the region’s only sparkling wines and some fabulous blends. We were greeted by Benedetto Baracchi, son of the winery’s founder, who started our tour in the sparkling wine room where the Baracchi Brut Trebbiano Metodo Classico is produced. A single worker was painstakingly turning each bottle ¼ turn, as he does daily for 45 days, to allow the sediment from the Trebbiano grapes to settle at the top of the bottle. There, it is ultimately frozen and forced out. As a small producer, Baracchi takes great care and pride in this hand-processed production of one of the region’s only sparkling wines. Our tour ended with a tasting of the sparkling wine, paired with pecorino cheese produced at the resort. I enjoyed the Brut Trebbiano Metodo Classico tremendously, perhaps because I could really respect the great care taken in its production.

Guests can stay the luxury Il Falconiere resort,  located just beyond the vineyard. There the resort’s traditional Etruscan spa is the spectacle. This resort truly felt like an escape, perched high on a hilltop, surrounded by lush vineyards. I wanted to plant myself at the pool adjacent to the spa and just waste the afternoon sipping wine and enjoying the view. Instead, we were then treated to lunch at the resort’s outdoor café where the weather was perfect but views of the surrounding vineyards and valley were even more perfect — location, location, location. It’s one of the best places to stay if you’re going wine tasting in Italy

Read more: Where to Stay in Tuscany

Cortona’s most popular resident, Frances Mayes of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” is prevalent throughout the resort. Silvia Baracchi hosts cooking classes at the restaurant and at their cooking school, Under the Tuscan Sun. Baracchi produces a number of wines from Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet, and Trebbiano grapes, in addition to olive oil and my husband’s favorite, grappa.

Cantina Roccafiore, Todi 

I lived in the north of Italy, Milan, and saw much of the country, but didn’t truly experience Umbria until this trip. When people plan wine tastings in Italy, they don’t often think of Umbria as a region to explore. The tiny rural town of Todi is home to Roccafiore, a winery committed to sustainability and producing organic wines.

Read more: Where to Sip Organic Wine in Italy

Roccafiore features the perfect blend of technology and traditions, as the company goes to great pains to maintain the traditions of Italian virology, but also employs some of the latest technology to produce great wines, sustainably. We were fortunate to be at Roccafiore in mid-September, as grapes were being harvested – all by hand. We tasted the Grechetto and Moscato grapes fresh off the vine and watched as the workers poured barrels of grapes into the presser to extract the juice. We then moved to the main production facility underground, another Roccafiore tradition of maintaining original winemaking standards. As grapes are processed through the pressing machine, juice falls directly into tanks below ground, using gravity to move musts and skins from the upper floor to the lower floor — again, part of Roccafiore’s commitment to maintaining the traditions and best practices of wine production.

The tasting room is housed in a modern, industrial building, where they host special events from art exhibitions to winemaker dinners to weddings. Roccafiore produces a number of wines from Sangiovese, Grechetto, Sagrantino, and Montepulciano. The winery’s luxury resort, Roccafiore Residence, and its famed Fiorfiore restaurant are located on a hill, just a quick drive from the winery.

Giorgio Lungarotti Winery, Torgiano

Our next stop was Lungarotti, near one of my new favorite towns, Torgiano. Our hostess, Grazia, actually visited the winery with her school when she was only six years old and today leads the company’s hospitality efforts. It’s these types of personal stories and connections that fuel my love for travel.

Lungarotti produces a number of wines — Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Colorino, and Syrah as red varietals with Trebbiano, Grechetto, Vermentino, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio as the whites. The highlight of the tour was visiting the winery’s safe, where vintages leading back to the winery’s opening in 1962 are stored. Some years, there were only four bottles remaining (a good year), and in other years, there were dozens of bottles in the bin. They’re stored, sold, and enjoyed for special occasions, with some bottles commanding upwards of $1,000 a bottle.

I was surprised by how different the wines tasted between Umbria and Tuscany, despite using many of the same varietals. I still think of Lungarotti’s Aurente (derived from the Latin word for gold), a deep and rich gold wine with 90% Chardonnay, and 10% Grechetto.

What to See and Do Near Torgiano, Italy

After our wine tasting, we enjoyed a decadent lunch at Le Melograne, the restaurant at Lungarotti’s five-star spa resort, Le Tre Vaselle.  Our time was limited, so we missed a visit to the Wine and Olive Oil Museums, but will definitely visit on our next trip. We also took a short drive to Poggio alle Vigne, the country house set among the Lungarotti vineyards that is a popular destination wedding spot.

Torgiano is a popular shopping destination for cashmere, so Lungarotti also arranges cashmere shopping tours as part of their packages. (Note to self: don’t miss the cashmere next time.)

While living in Milan, I spent many weekends exploring the small enotecas and private vineyards throughout Tuscany. On this visit back, I was interested in seeing a boutique winery, enjoying a few wine tastings in Tuscany and learning more about how Tuscany is embracing luxury wine travel and wine tourism.

If you’re looking for an authentic Tuscan wine tasting experience, I recommend the Baracchi winery and resort. The Baracchi family is very passionate about their wine business but also about ensuring that guests have the most luxurious experience at their resort. The drive up to the Baracchi estate reminded me a bit of the Road to Hana as we winded and twisted up the narrow roads to Cortona. The GPS was a constant barrage of “turn right”, “turn left”, “turn right”, as we made the hairpin turns. But the views of the Valdichiana Valley when we arrived at the top were all worth the nauseating drive. We were greeted by Benedetto Baracchi, the son of the winery’s founder, Riccardo Baracchi, and joined a small group tour. Baracchi is a small, boutique producer so the tour was brief but offered us a very personal glimpse into this family’s pride and passion. We first visited the sparkling wine room where the Baracchi Brut Trebbiano Metodo Classico is produced. A single worker was painstakingly turning each bottle ¼ turn, as he does daily for 45 days, to allow the sediment from the Trebbiano grapes to settle at the top of the bottle where it is ultimately frozen and forced out.

As a small producer, Baracchi takes great care and pride in this hand-processed production of one of the region’s only sparkling wines. Our tour ended with a tasting of the sparkling wine paired with pecorino cheese produced at the resort. I enjoyed the Brut Trebbiano Metodo Classico tremendously, perhaps because I could really respect the great care taken in its production.

But the real highlight was our visit to the luxury Il Falconiere resort located just beyond the vineyard where the resort’s traditional Etruscan spa is the spectacle. This resort truly felt like an escape, perched high on a hilltop, surrounded by lush vineyards. I wanted to plant myself at the pool adjacent to the spa and just waste the afternoon sipping wine and enjoying the view.

We were then treated to lunch at the resort’s outdoor café where the weather was perfect but the views of the surrounding vineyards and valley was even more perfect. Location, location, location. Being in Cortona, the Baracchis have capitalized on the success and recognition of “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. Silvia Baracchi hosts cooking classes at the restaurant and at their cooking school, called Under the Tuscan Sun. The resort’s restaurant also boasts a selection of dishes inspired by “Under the Tuscan Sun.” We tasted the winery’s most popular wines with each course of our meal. We started with the Ardito, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, a great peppery wine to wake our tastebuds. Throughout the rest of the meal, we tasted the single grape Smeriglio wines include a Syrah, Merlot and Sangiovese. A beautifully prepared dessert plate was presented at the end of the meal but we opted for espresso instead of grappa, especially given the winding drive home.

I’m an adventure traveler. Or I should say a foodie adventure traveler. I love exploring new places through the food. So when I was invited to spend a week in Burgundy France at a cooking school, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d be learning classic French cooking techniques, including all those classic French mother sauces, along with exploring the local foods and wines of the region. And in true empty nest style, my husband, a non-cook, tagged along.

Now that our kids were out of college, it was a great chance for the hubs and I to explore a new country. Despite living as expats in Italy, we had not spent much time in France so this was going to be an excellent mid-life adventure. We’d be staying in a tiny hamlet in Burgundy, Marigny le Cahouet, as guests of Katherine Frelon, in her gorgeous chateau, La Ferme de la Lochere.

We flew into Paris and rented a car for our drive to Marigny le Cahouet. We drove through the bucolic Bourgogne countryside, passing sleepy little villages and miles and miles of farmland. I could not imagine what the next few days had in store for us, but I was never more excited.

Our itinerary for the week can best be described as perfect, exposing us to food, flavours and sites of the Burgundy, France. Each day would entail a local foodie adventure – to a goat farm for cheese-making, a local artisan bakery and the famed Dijon market, designed by Gustav Eiffel.  And to fully appreciate the delicacies of the region, the week included a visit to Burgundy’s only snail farm, complete with its electric fence to keep the critters from escaping.

When we returned in the afternoon, we cooked alongside Katherine in her gourmet kitchen and learned the intricacies of French sauces, artfully butchered meats and elegant cheese platters. At night, we’d enjoy a multi-course dinner paired with a selection of Burgundy’s best wines. Perhaps my favorite meal of the trip was Katherine’s Beef Bourguignon, a homey, comforting dish iconic for this region of France.

Our menus for the week included multi-course selections such as these:

soupe e l’oignon
boeuf bourguignon au joue
pomme de terre dauphinoise
et carottes
plateau de fromage
regal de Bourgogne, chaource et valençay

or this:

terrine de fois gras
poire poché au sirop d’éspices
pot au feu
légumes de automne
plateau de fromage
fleur de maquis, bleu des causes époisses
crépe sujette et soufflée de crépe aux chocolat

La Ferme de la Lochere offers true luxury accommodations for up to 10 people. You can also rent the entire villa and hire Katherine as your personal gourmet chef for your stay.

Brendan, of Wine Liaisons, is the perfect guide for exploring the wine of Burgundy. His humour, coupled with his knowledge of the region and relationships with local wineries, is an experience not to miss. Brendan says, “there are no winemakers in Burgundy, only farmers.” The farmers of Burgundy tend to their grape crops unlike any others. Brendan teaches his guests how to truly enjoy wines, saying, “The wines are not prepared for you. You must adapt to the wines.”

I’ve always associated Burgundy with deep red wines, but was surprised to learn that Burgundy is really regarded for its whites. Burgundy’s Aligoté wines are crisp and light. What was once a “throwaway” grape planted on undesirable land has now been refined as the perfect lunch or early afternoon wine. Burgundy’s Chardonnay grapes produces some of the finest Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines in the world. The king of whites, Meursault, is produced in the commune of Meursault in Côte de Beaune.

Brendan offers a number of specialised tours covering the entire region of Burgundy. He prefers to take his guests to the family wineries for a truly authentic experience.

Don’t let this year’s summer road trip be “the one that got away.” Opt for a throwback Southeast road trip, kicking back at a few fish camps along the way. Originally a place for fishermen to hang their waders for the night and fry up their daily catch, today’s fish camps . still offer some of the best fishing, but also the best eating. Their no-frills accommodations are often overlooked as great places to stay, offering a place to commune with nature and enjoy some true R&R. If watching a cork bobble on the water isn’t your cup of tea, there’s plenty to do including boat and kayak rentals, hiking and biking trails, and just chilling in a hammock.

Conway, SC

Let’s kick off this backwoods fish camp tour with a stop at Luvans Old South Fish Camp Restaurant, just 25 minutes from Myrtle Beach. As you arrive, don’t worry. This isn’t someone’s rundown backyard shack — you’re in the right place. Just pull on up and park in one of the restaurant’s five parking spaces. Most nights, it’s a one-man show as the owner serves as host, chef, waiter and chief dishwasher (be prepared for a leisurely evening). Luvan’s only serves the best of daily catches so opt for the Seafood Platter, broiled, to truly enjoy the freshness. If you read the reviews, don’t be scared off by the references to the movie “Deliverance” — it’s worth the trip.

nope, this shack doesn’t even have a website

Cross, SC

Here’s where the “camp” portion of this Southeast road trip comes into play. Head on down to Canal Lakes Fish Camp located between Lakes Marion and Moultrie, known as the Santee Cooper Lakes Region, and stay in one of the camp’s full-size houses. These lakes span five counties and are a nature-lover’s paradise with towering Cypress trees and vast swamps. Mac Daddy’s Restaurant, voted Berkeley County’s best restaurant, claims the best steaks and seafood on the lakes. Schedule your stay for a Thursday night to enjoy the famed Chef’s night featuring everything from surf and turf to crab legs. The lakes are dotted with dozens of great restaurants, most accessible by boat, with every type of cuisine from Thai to barbecue, and of course, fresh local seafood. Be sure to visit Harry’s Restaurant in nearby Pineville for their famous Santee Cooper Fried Catfish Dinner. They also serve the best full breakfast in the region and will make boxed lunches if you’re headed out for a day on the lake.

canallakesfishcamp.com

Darien, GA

On the banks of the Darien River, Skippers’ Fish Camp offers shrimp so fresh, you can watch it being unloaded from the boat. Local shrimpers dock at Skippers bringing in wild Georgia shrimp daily. Inside the restaurant, make note of the wood used on the bar and tables. It was salvaged from Brunswick’s famous Oglethorpe Hotel in the late 1800s and floated down the Altamaha River to its new home. Skippers serves Coastal Georgia seafood at its finest including Collards & Q, a combination of barbecued pork and collard greens. Most seafood dishes feature sweet Georgia shrimp, your choice of fried, blackened or broiled. Don’t miss a chance to try Georgia Blue Crabs, second only to Maryland blue crabs.

skippersfishcamp.com

Jacksonville, FL

You won’t find rustic accommodations here, but you will be surrounded by wildlife. Clark’s Fish Camp is rumored to be one of the largest privately owned collections of taxidermy in the country with lions, tigers, monkeys, bears, giraffes, deer, bobcats, and birds donning the walls. (All of the animals died a natural death according to the owners. No animals were harmed in the making.) Don’t be alarmed by the “Do Not Feed the Alligators” signs on the docks and walkways surrounding this Jacksonville restaurant, but certainly heed their advice. Clark’s features an authentic taste of backwoods Florida including the Swamp Fest Platter piled high with alligator, frog legs, and catfish. But you may have to stay two days to try Clark’s twist on New Orleans seafood, especially the Boudin Stuffed with Crawfish.

clarksfishcamp.com

New Smyrna Beach, FL

I can vouch for many of these fish camps but J. B.’s Fish Camp & Seafood Restaurant is one of my all-time favorites, for the scenery and the food. New Smyrna Beach is one of Florida’s most beautiful, white sand beaches. J.B.s is across from the beach on a quiet portion of the Indian River, a haven for manatees and dolphins. Rent a kayak or paddle board for the day and head back to The Drunken Clam Over Flow Tiki Bar for a cocktail. J.B.s catches blue crabs right off the dock and serves them steaming hot in buckets. Or try the Oyster Stew served in a broth of corn, cream, and savory seasonings. Be sure to save room for the restaurant’s specialty, authentic Florida Key lime pie.

jbsfishcamp.com

 

DeBary, FL

Now it’s time to experience a true campresort (that’s not an oxymoron). Further down the St. Johns River on the western edge of Volusia County is the “Camelot on the River,” Highbanks Marina & Campresort. This 25-acre, wooded RV campground also includes resort amenities — a large swimming pool, clubhouse, and even laundry facilities. The Swamp House River Front Grill and the Happy Snapper Tiki Bar are the perfect spot to unwind and enjoy the views of the historic St. Johns River. If you haven’t drummed up the nerve to try fresh Florida alligator, this might be the place to do it. The restaurant’s Tropical Gator Tacos are made with citrus marinated gator topped with mango sauce and shredded cheese, served on flour tortillas.

campresort.com

Santa Rosa Beach, FL

You might not think of gourmet seafood at an establishment called Stinky’s Fish Camp, but that’s what you’ll find here on South Walton Beach on Florida’s west coast. Recently named “Top 10 Places to Eat Like a Local” by USA Today, Stinky’s is a haute cuisine fish camp with one of the widest selections of oysters around at The Chum Line Oyster Bar. Local seafood stars in all of the dishes including Stinky’s Stew of shrimp, mussels, oysters, fish, snow crab, potatoes, corn, and tomatoes in a basil butter broth. And if you’re craving fish for breakfast, don’t miss Stinky’s Sunday brunch and order the Rock Star Crawfish Pie with two shirred eggs.

stinkysfishcamp.com

This article was originally published in The Local Palate in 2015

Ever since I got home from Mexico, I can’t seem to stop thinking about Mexican food. And making Mexican food. And eating Mexican food. I was in Puerto Vallarta on a press trip with the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board for five days of pure bliss (more on that in another post). As part of our tourism program, we took a cooking class with Chef Julio Cesar, owner of Gaby’s Restaurant, who would teach us how to make authentic Mexican recipes.

We’d be preparing a 6-course Mexican menu with three different salsas, Ceviche Vallarta (raw fish marinated in lime juice), Sopa de Tortilla (Aztec soup or stone soup), Mole Poblano (with more than 25 ingredients!), Guacamole (of course), and Chiles en Nogada (stuffed poblano chiles in walnut sauce, the national dish of Puerto Vallarta). For dessert, we’d enjoy Atole – a warm, sweet beverage made with masa and Tamales de Dulce (sweet tamales).

The morning started with a trip the market, where Chef Julio would teach us about the ingredients for the Mexican food recipes we’d need for the day. We made a brief detour to the beach to gather stones for our Sopa de Tortilla. There are a number of stories about where and how Stone soup originated but here’s one I like best from Saveur Magazine. We arrived at the market where the smells of fresh mangoes and pineapples filled the humid morning air.

Chef Julio explained the ingredients and how to properly select the freshest. We selected and weighed numerous kinds of peppers, staples of most Mexican recipes. We gathered fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, and found our shopping bags overflowing with the freshest produce.

We stopped at the Tortilleria to buy masa dough for the tortillas as Chef explained that like gas, masa prices are controlled by the government (yep, there is actually a Tortilla Price Stabilization Pact). Our final stop was the meat and seafood section of the market.

Chef Julio’s staff had arranged the outdoor kitchen into several work stations while we were at the market. I volunteered to char the poblanos over the gas stove (which proved to be a bad decision on a hot day, but the margarita helped). There were tortillas to be rolled and cooked on the flat-top and tomatoes and avocados to be mashed in the molcajete (mortal and pestle), while others busied themselves chopping ingredients.

We prepped and cooked away listening to the sounds of the mariachi band, all the while sipping margaritas. As a person who loves to cook, it was shaping up to be the perfect day!

Chef Julio is famous for his Chiles en Nogada, the national dish of Puerto Vallarta, paying homage to the colors of the Mexican flag. This is his actual recipe. You’ll need to prep the poblano chiles yourself. Here’s a link on how to do it: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/to-roast-and-peel-bell-peppers-or-poblano-chiles-15157. As for serving size, we stuffed 8-10 poblanos.

CHILES EN NOGADA (STUFFED POBLANO CHILE IN WALNUT SAUCE)

12 ounces (340 gr) ground beef tenderloin
Salt to taste
3 tablespoon of lard
4 ounces(180 gr) tomatoes
3 ounces of white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
1 pound dry and sweet peaches
1 pound apple, dry and sweet
1 pound of raisins, dry and sweet
1 pound of ripe plantain, peeled and cubed dry and sweet
1/3 cup of pecans
8 poblano chiles, charred, peeled, seeds and veins removed

To decorate:
1 cup pomegranate/ or strawberry
½ cup of flatleaf parley or cilantro, finely chopped

Nogada sauce:
About 60 pieces of pecans, roughly chopped
About ½ cup sour cream or whole milk (raw if possible)
1 once of Jerez or Oporto wine (Port)
125 gr goat cheese or cream cheese
2 tablespoons of sugar

Put the meat into a large, heavy skillet and add the water and salt. Cover and cook over low heat until tender, about 25 minutes. You may need to add a little more water, depending on how tender the meat is. The meat should be moist but not juicy. Add the lard and fry over medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the chiles and cook over low heat, covered, for the first 10 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid sticking and continue cooking for about 20 minutes. The fruit should be tender but not mushy. Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, stuff the chiles with about ½ cup.

For the sauce, blend the pecans or walnuts with the milk, sugar, Oporto wine and cream cheese.

I also wanted to share the recipe for Atole, because it’s such an unusual, but delicious drink. It would be perfect for drinking on a chilly evening. I’ve since seen other Atole recipes where you add other ingredients like chocolate. Here’s a link to another version: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-mexican-atoles-champurrado-hot-chocolate-drinks.html

ATOLE

1/2 cup of masa
5 cups water
1 stick of cinnamon
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place the masa, water, cinnamon and sugar in a blender. Blend until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Pour the contents of the blender into a sauce pan and bring the mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture reaches a boil, turn the heat to low and continue to whisk for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into mugs and serve hot.

Gaby’s offers cooking lessons on a regular basis and I highly recommend it for your next trip to PV.

If there are two things my husband loves, it’s golf and wine. Or wine and golf. I’m not sure what order he’d choose them in. Me? I just like to drink wine. So when I was trying to think of a great getaway for the two of us, I thought about combining the two.

I scoped out golf resorts located among vineyards where I could sip wine while waiting for him to finish his round and join me at the 19th hole. I found great destinations including the Algodon Resort in Mendoza, Chateau Elan in Georgia (yes, Georgia!), Hotel Peralada in Spain, Dolce Campo Real in Portugal and the Silverado Resort in Napa Valley (we visited this one recently – the location is amazing!).  They’re all such great destinations with luscious wines so it’s a toss up where we’ll go next!

Read my article on Orbitz here: 5 best golf resorts that happen to be in wine country