Wine Tasting

wineries in piedmont

Wine Tasting in the Piedmont Region

I think we’re in love. We didn’t think we could find a more beautiful and serene part of Italy than we’ve already seen! We went wine tasting in the Piedmont region, which is undeniably stunning!

The Landscape of Piedmont

The Piedmont region (Piemonte, meaning “at the foot of the mountain” in Italian) is set in a gorgeous location surrounded by vineyards, rolling countryside, and framed by the Alps in the distance. Situated in northwest Italy, the region borders France and Switzerland.

Tourists don’t flock to the area as they do to popular destinations like Tuscany. That’s one of the things we thoroughly enjoyed about it. Aside from the very small towns, there is sprawling farm country, home to vineyards, truffles, and family run inns. Not surprisingly, people come here to relax and gaze out at the beautiful scenery with a glass of wine in hand.

Quick Visit to Beautiful Turin

Our first stop in this region was Turin. Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region and is Italy’s fourth largest city. In addition, it was also home to the 2006 winter Olympics.

While driving, we noticed a tremendous difference from Naples right away… people here follow the rules of the road! For one thing, they stop at traffic lights! They also stop at stop signs, and yield at circles and pedestrians. Someone actually honked us when we went into a circle without stopping, which is an everyday part of Naples life.

Turin has a cultured and educated vibe. Around every corner are theaters, beautiful French-influenced architecture, and arts festivals. It’s also a very clean city, and the streets are free of beggars. We wanted more time here, but we had a weekend in the wine country ahead of us.

Making the Most of Wine Tasting

For the next couple of days, we drove to different wineries in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions. All in all, we visited eight wineries, with four of them giving us tours and tastings completely in Italian.

Our favorites were the very small family-run wineries where the families actually live on site. They were so welcoming, didn’t charge us for tastings (though we did buy a ton), fed us snacks, and let us try as much as we wanted. It seemed like they were in it for the pure joy of making wines, rather than mass-producing bottles for the public.

All in all, we’d say that our two days wine tasting in the Piedmont region was very productive! We ended up bringing back 46 bottles and a magnum. 

Lodging near Barbaresco

Our small bed and breakfast was situated just outside of the small town of Barbaresco. High up on a hill, we had a lovely view of the town of Alba and some of the region.

Luckily, we were within walking distance to a few restaurants that served typical Piedmont food consisting of pasta with butter and sage, truffles, and meats. Soft cheeses and fig jam were a staple at breakfast, which was reminiscent of our time in Switzerland.

Sad to Leave

On our way back to the train station to return the rental car, we stopped in the town of Asti. Asti is the home of Asti Spumante, which is a sweet fizzy wine, and Barbera d’Asti, a nice red.

We didn’t have much time, but we were able to walk along the narrow streets and gaze upon the medieval towers and churches.

We would have loved to have stayed longer here, and the trip left us wondering and asking each other often, “Why can’t we live here”? The beauty, tranquility, and hospitality make the Piedmont Region a must-see destination for anyone wanting to get away.

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exploring puglia

Must-See Local Spots in Puglia

Wine tasting in Must-See Local Spots in Puglia
With our new friends

The Puglia region of Italy lies in the southeast area of the country, forming the heel of the boot. Some people refer to this area as “The New Tuscany.” It’s absolutely enchanting, with rich culture and cuisine, so you can understand its reference to Tuscany; however, we honestly think it’s an untapped, unique region all on its own. The landscape, the fresh and local food, delicious wine, and beautiful architecture make this a must-see destination. It has hundreds of miles of beaches, gorgeous hilltop villages, and cities like Lecce boasting Baroque architecture. It produces a lot of Europe’s pasta, catches a majority of Italy’s fish, presses most of Italy’s olive oil, and produces more wine than any other Italian region. We were excited to visit, but the best part is that we got to see many local spots in Puglia, which most tourists miss!

Wine Tasting in Puglia

Rather than drive ourselves to try all of this regional wine, we hired a driver to show us around and help us make the most out of wine tasting in Puglia. To start, we drove to Bari, where Giovanni and Maria picked us up. Then, they took us to two wineries south of Lecce. The wineries provided us with traditional Puglia wine, cheese, crackers, and other snacks from the area.

Afterward, we had a reservation for the four of us at a restaurant in Lecce, which looked like someone’s living room. We felt right at home, as members of the family brought out their homemade specialties: ravioli, gnocchi, and eggplant. Everything that came out was undoubtedly delicious!

Visits to Lecce and Ostuni

Soon after, we walked around the city of Lecce. Lecce is commonly referred to as “The Florence of the South” because of its stunning Baroque buildings. The monuments and churches are built with a soft limestone that reflects gold and ivory in the sun.

On the drive back to Bari, Giovanni and Maria insisted that we see the town of Ostuni. We had actually never heard of it, but we were excited to see a town that the locals boast about.

Ostuni is known as the “White City” because its white houses and buildings reflect the sun so brightly that you can see the city from afar. The city is perched high on a hill, overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

We walked the narrow streets and browsed the chic stores. We passed fancy bars and restaurants, and listened to locals playing traditional folk music.

At the end of the day, Giovanni and Maria took us to their friend’s bed and breakfast for some drinks and coffee. The Italian hospitality that we experienced on this trip was amazing. Above all, I think that was the thing we’re going to take away from this day the most.

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views of tuscany

Wine Tasting in Tuscany

We had to get back to Tuscany! We booked a room, wine tasting, and cooking class all at Torciano Winery in San Gimignano. In September, we visited this winery only for a wine tasting, and we loved the atmosphere, wines, and food. It is family-owned, and they genuinely care about their business, image, and wine. The grounds of the winery are picture-perfect, and the small cottage like accommodations we had were fantastic.

Sipping Wine and Cooking Italian Favorites

When we arrived on Friday, the owner welcomed us with big glasses of wine, a small tour of our accommodations, and a peak at where we’d take our class, have dinner and taste wine.

About an hour later, we met the owner and his cousin in the kitchen. Another glass of wine in hand, we learned to make dishes such as ragu, saffron risotto, lasagna, steak with green peppercorns and sauce, ribolitto (a typical Tuscan dish made with vegetables and bread), and crepes. All of these dishes were then brought out for us to eat while we tried eight more wines.

Afterward, we thought we were going to burst from all of the food! This was undoubtedly an amazing experience that we’ll remember and treasure forever.

Exploring Tuscan Towns (and Wineries) at our Leisure

The next day, we woke up with no set plans for the rest of the weekend. Since we had been to the town of San Gimignano before, we drove to a different town in Tuscany: Volterra. This is about 30 minutes away. We made frequent stops to take pictures of the beautiful landscape.

On the drive back to Torciano, we stopped at two wineries. The first winery overlooked endless valleys and San Gimignano. They were very hospitable and welcomed us without hesitation when we showed up at their door. They, too, have nice grounds and accommodations with an outdoor pool. We felt like we couldn’t wait to come back (and later, we did!).

After we came back from exploring, we bought a bottle of wine from Torciano, enjoyed the wonderful weather, and played a game of Bocci ball. That night we went to dinner in San Gimignano. We walked the empty streets and picked a random restaurant that looked good… and it was! You can’t go wrong in these beautiful towns of Tuscany.

 

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The Most Beautiful Part of Sicily: Taormina and Castelmola

For our last weekend on the island, we stayed in what everyone told us was the most beautiful part of Sicily: Taormina and Castelmola. We’re so glad we did! At one point, we could look out to the Ionian Sea, snow-capped Mt. Etna, rolling mountains, and old towns built into steep mountains. The whole scene was reminiscent of Jurassic Park!

Hotels and Hot Spots

Since we were there in the off-season we were able to stay at a very luxurious hotel! The rooms were decorated with Arabic patterns, and colors and the view from our windows looked out to the endless sea and Mt. Etna.

We went to the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater), which is the site to see while in Taormina. It was built in 7th century B.C. and is the second largest in Sicily (with Siracusa’s being first). It is the most celebrated ruins in Sicily, not only because it is so well preserved, but because of the remarkable scene it looks out to.

Etna Wine Tour

We designated Saturday as our wine tasting day. We hired Gaetano from a tour company to drive us to three different Etna wineries. While we could have done this ourselves, we wanted to enjoy ourselves completely without worrying about driving. These wineries had some amazing Sicilian wine grown with the soil from the volcanic site.

Wine tasting is just a little different here than in the States.

First, instead of standing at a bar, you sit down at a table while someone pours you tastings. Second, the tastings are not a little sip each. They fill your glass halfway! Third, many places will leave the bottles on the table and tell you to take as much as you want. All of this was true when we went wine tasting in Tuscany, too.

So needless to say, we had a very good time with the wine (maybe too much??), although the following pictures were taken before we had even one sip of wine.

Unusual Things to See in Castelmola

Warning: the following pictures are not suitable for work!

The next day, we went to a town called Castelmola. Castelmola is perched way above the area below, and consists of narrow, winding roads to get to the top. It has an old-world charm to it with panoramic views of Taormina, the sea, and Mt. Etna.

One of the biggest and most unusual places to see in this town is Bar Turrisi. Tourists have named this bar “Dicks Bar,” “Fertility Bar,” or “The Penis Bar.” The inside of the bar is decorated with… hmm, how do I say this? A lot of penises!

They are present in different shapes, lengths, and materials like wood, ceramics, terracotta, worked iron, and pasta. There were penises everywhere… even the faucet in the bathroom was a long and curved penis with the knobs representing… well you get where I’m going with it.

The reason behind this was that the penis is not a vulgar symbol, but instead represents fertility, freedom, fortune, life, and beauty. The bar has been passed down from three generations and the owners also used the penis to symbolize the happiness of their era.

Everyone reading this knows that we behaved like the mature 31 year olds that we are.

Afterwards, we took a walk and climbed up to the Norman Castle where again spectacular views awaited us.

This was a fantastic weekend in Taormina and Castelmola, Sicily!

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wine tasting in tuscany

The Perfect Tuscan Getaway

Sometimes, taking a couple’s getaway is exactly what you need. We planned the perfect Tuscan getaway to the towns of Siena and San Gimignano. Since we brought our Husky, Maya, with us, we booked a room at Hotel Sovestro, a pet-friendly establishment in San Gimignano. Maya traveled well with us, but we’re on the hunt for a reputable boarding facility (no easy feat here) or pet sitter!

Visiting Siena, Italy

We began our Saturday morning with a 30 minute drive to Siena. A cute, quaint town, Siena has that old European feel, with narrow cobblestone streets and tall, stone buildings.

Piazza del Campo is the main area where you can sit and watch the world go by. Also, this is where they hold the city’s horse races in the summer.

While in Siena, we climbed the Torre del Mangia, a tower that was built in 1338-1348. You can see this tower from all points in Siena. It consists of tiny, narrow steps going up in a circular fashion. They were challenging to climb! But, we persisted and reached the top after 10 minutes or so. There, breathtaking views welcomed us. We could see the city and well beyond it.

Afterwards, we walked around for a while and stopped in a pizzeria off of the main area to have lunch and much needed water!

Food and Wine in San Gimignano

We also visited the small town of San Gimignano, about five minutes from our hotel. This is a walled medieval hill town, best known for its architecture, especially its towers. Here, we had two excellent meals.

This authentic Tuscan cuisine was very different than the Neapolitan cuisine we’ve been eating. The food in Naples focuses on seafood with light sauces, but Tuscan food is more hearty, meaty, and cheesy. For example, some of our favorite Tuscan dishes included wild boar, prosciutto with figs, rabbit, and gnocchi with truffles. Yum!

Of course, the perfect Tuscan getaway has to include a day of wine tasting. Jon reserved a private wine tasting at Tenuta Torciano, about 15 minutes north of San Gimignano. This family-owned winery consists of 13 generations of wine producers!

We sat at a huge table set for two. Ten wine glasses stood in front of each plate. Included in our tasting was a three course lunch. Our ten tastings complemented the food. As Pierluigi, our wine connoisseur, poured each glass, he explained the proper wine tasting technique and gave a description of the grapes used and the aging process. 

The huge goblets were filled almost halfway for us to taste. It took us the whole two hours to finish it all! At the end, Pierluigi even said, “Take your time and pour yourselves more of the wine if you want.”

Needless to say, Jon and I were a little giddy when we left. At least we had the food to help offset some of the alcohol. The food was spectacular – like spoonfuls of heaven! Pierluigi’s sister made all of the dishes for us, using their grandmother’s recipes. We especially loved the ribollita and lasagna!

All in all, we ended up buying 11 bottles of wine, one balsamic vinegar, and one white truffle olive oil. But, the delicious wine and food, was only part of the overall experience. We felt a wonderful sense of hospitality here, making this an experience we will never forget. We felt like visitors in their home and it was just perfect.

Our Tuscan getaway is just what we needed!

An Unforgettable Getaway

Sometimes, we just need to get away. Living in Italy gives us the perfect place to do just that, and we feel so fortunate to have this experience! Who could ask for more? Food, wine, culture, and beautiful views!

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