“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”

Is it any wonder that an Italian said this? And not just any Italian, but Galileo Galilei. Because wine would make stargazing a lot more interesting, I expect. 😉

Having lived in Sonoma County, California, I’ve been on a few wine tastings. But a wine tour? I wasn’t exactly sure what a wine tour even entailed until meeting Positano native and professional sommelier Cristian Fusco. The idea is not simply fork over a few dollars to swirl, sniff, sip and spit, but to completely immerse yourself in the vintner’s world from cultivation through production to consumption.  And at Swirl the Glass, a tour culminates with a tasting experience including the art of complimenting wine with food.

On a recent trip to the Amalfi Coast, I joined Cristian on a tour to boutique winery Tenuta San Francesco in Tramonti. Just a 45 minute drive outside of Amalfi, we began our journey wandering through the vines themselves while Cristian discussed the benefits of pergola cultivation, the weather and seasons dictating the conditions of a great wine, and the requirements for DOCG and DOC wines in Italy. Cristian also discussed the lack of synthetic irrigation and the necessity of dry soil to produce a complex and flavorful wine. This concept harkened me back to one of my favorite quotes from the movie “Bottle Shock” (a fabulous film telling the story behind the famous 1976 Judgement in Paris):  “‘A comfortable grape, a well-watered well-fertilized grape grows into a lazy ingredient of lousy wine.’ ‘So through hardship comes enlightenment.'”

After meandering in the vines, we came inside the winery building for a look at the modest if only in size, not in technology, fermentation room before admiring the beautiful French and Austrian oak barrels in the cellar. Cristian’s explanations were not overly technical but instead explained the life cycle of a great wine, which only built my thirst to try some. 🙂

Cristian conducted the tasting over a superb homemade lunch cooked for us in the winery kitchen and served at a communal table with a huge open window overlooking the vines. We started with Tenuta San Francesco’s Spumante, or sparkling white wine, “Alta Costa”. The crisp white “Tramonti Bianco” accompanied our first course of panzanella (Italian bread salad with fresh tomatoes), fior di latte mozzarella and ricotta. Our pasta course was a local specialty, gnocchi alla Sorrentina, served with the lovely “4 Spine” or “four thorns” red. Finally, it was roasted chicken with Mediterranean vegetables served with the “E Iss” – “This is it” in Neapolitan dialect – red made from just one grape varietal found only in the Tramonti region. For dolce, a tiny tiramisu-like custard cake.

My favorite part of the Swirl the Glass experience was this delicious lunch, clearly made with love by the women of Tenuta San Francesco, accompanied by great wine and conversation with fellow travelers. That day, I shared the table with an Australian journalist living in Dubai, her mother who lived in Indonesia, a couple from Dublin, and another couple from Brisbane. Our afternoon was luxurious and unhurried and was conducive to our understanding and enjoyment of the wine.

Cristian’s gift is not only his passion and knowledge for wine, but the way he makes it accessible to even a wine novice like myself.  My friend Emily once said, when describing her knowledge of Italian wines, “I know about prosecco. And when I say I know about it, I mean I know I like to drink it.” Cristian whole-heartedly agrees with this sentiment. For him, Swirl the Glass experiences facilitate the most important factor to any wine tasting – knowing what you like and enjoying it. Salute to that!

Swirl the Glass
phone: (+39) 329.42.19.392
email: info@swirltheglass.com 
www.swirltheglass.com

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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In fair Verona where we lay our scene…

In Mr. Massart’s 9th grade English class, we had to memorize the prologue to “Romeo and Juliet.” Turns out, 18 years later after a couple of glasses of wine, I can still recite about half of it. Then again, maybe I was just inspired by Verona. 🙂

My fellow London-based American world traveler and friend Alan and I took a painfully early flight from London to squeeze the most out of our weekend. We arrived in Verona, wandered through the huge Piazza Bra, the most open piazza I’ve seen outside of Rome, and not long after went to forage for pizza.  Juliet could wait.

Our search took us to Pizzeria Du de Cope in a small galleria off of the main shopping street Via Mazzini. After munching on delicious brick oven pizza with that superb crispy-outside, chewy inside dough and a couple of glasses of Valpolicella, we were off to orient ourselves with this little town.

The great thing about visiting Italy in the winter is that the other tourists are scarce. As we wandered the Via Mazzini to the main Piazza Erbe, we were partaking in passeggiata with all of the locals, which, for me, an elementary Italian student, is a feast for the ears.  We rambled to the river and then over to find a coffee shop and a gelateria. Sadly, gelato is not a big seller in January so the recommended Gelateria Ponte Pietra was closed, but we did find the warm and comfortable Caffe e Parole. This quickly became my favorite spot in Verona with exquisite creamy cappuccinos, fresh spun vegetable juice concoctions and pastries to die for. My favorite were the little “frittelle” doughnuts filled with cream.

Buzzing a bit on good Italian espresso, we continued to wander the town, getting our bearings and planning our tourist adventures for the next day. We wanted a little apertivo before heading to concierge recommended restaurant for dinner and as we wandered the Corso Porta Borsari, we found a great wine bar, Osteria del Bugiardo. It was a bit quiet around 4pm on a Friday, so we sidled up to the bar, ordered some 2.50 Euro glasses of Valpolicella classic and soaked up the scene. This is clearly a local favorite, but being in a tourist area, the staff is welcoming, English-speaking and friendly.  The osteria got increasingly busy as we sat there while the town got off of work and got ready to party. While we sipped the house red, everyone around us was drinking a sparkling rose. It was obvious that we needed to try this, and after one glass of the lovely Vigliacco we were hooked. We dragged ourselves away to dinner, but knew we would be coming back later.

And return we did. The clientele was notably younger and clearly starting the weekend right. We squeezed into a tiny corner near a group of attractive Italian guys celebrating a birthday. They were drinking the bubbly first but then changed to a beautifully decanted red. And this is why I love Italians. A birthday party in London or New York would likely involve a teetering tray of Jager Bombs. In Verona? A bottle of fine vintage.

The shots came later. But more on that shortly. 🙂

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Nostra Terrazza della Coppa di Vino

When we first discovered our little terrace at the end of Via Fieschi in Corniglia, we were the only people there. That’s probably why we had no shame in drinking red wine from licked-clean gelato cups. (Who are we kidding, we would do that anyway.)

There were a few more people this time and we were glad we classed it up a little with a bottle of prosecco and proper cups, but it was still as beautiful.  Corniglia’s main drag ends at this terrace with its spectacular views so I suppose it’s impossible to miss it, but it still surprised us.  It’s certainly a popular place to watch the sun set, but when dusk falls, it gets remarkably quiet. Becky and I made it a point to stay until the people thinned out and it was just us and the local cats enjoying the view.  It’s a must for us in Corniglia after our obligatory perusal at the fabulous Fanny Bazar ceramic shop (yes, that’s the real name). Really, this little terrace is a piece of paradise in Cinque Terre. We haven’t yet befriended the little nonna who lives in the last house before the terrace, but I’m convinced one day she’ll invite us in for dinner.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

“I could house another meat and cheese board” and other Cinque Terre culinary adventures…

Walking along a popular shopping street in Monterosso, a beautiful creation caught my eye: A platter of antipasto including cured meat, cheese and vegetables served to a couple sitting outside what appeared to be a tiny charcuteria. I knew immediately that I wanted whatever that was. We commandeered the table next to our fellow guests while I popped inside and ordered “una otra” and pointed to the platter, and “due bicchiere di vino rosso.”

A sign on the outside of the shop, Da eraldo, advertised “tigelle,” a pita-like flat bread the size of your palm, a basket of which were served with the platter. We used them like pita, ripping them in half, opening them up like a pocket and filling them with the paper-thin charcuterie and cheese. This fortuitous little find turned out to be one of our most memorable dining experiences in Cinque Terre. I can also attest to the fact that we ate every scrap of the antipasto, which was evident by the engraved outline of Italy on the top of the wood cutting board after we munched it clean.

The five towns of the Cinque Terre have no shortage of amazing eateries and my previous posts give a snapshot of my favorites. Here I’ve compiled a summary, separated by town and encompassing a wide variety of choices from takeaway focaccia to fine dining. Two I haven’t mentioned up until this point:

  • Bar Centrale in Riomaggiore is a great spot for coffee or a drink but their breakfast is also fantastic. The pesto omelette is delicious and even better when you order a breakfast dessert of strawberries in lemon and sugar.
  • Il Pirun is an enoteca in charming Corniglia. We didn’t eat there but it’s also a great wine bar eponymous for the unique wine carafe with a long anteater snout-like pour.
  • Gelateria Cinque Terre is home to the incredible “Loveria” gelato, I’ve deemed “what peanut butter wishes it tasted like”. Pistachio crème combined with chocolate and vanilla. Don’t order any other flavors, this is all you need.

Cinque Terre – Dining in Review

Riomaggiore:

Manarola:

Corniglia:

Vernazza:

Monterosso:

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Cinque Terre Oasis: Buranco Winery

“Don’t come here. It’s terrible. And crowded…Just kidding, it’s heaven.” This was Becky’s caption as she posted a photo of Buranco Winery and I couldn’t agree more.

On the morning of her birthday, I found Becky sitting in the window of her room in our little Riomaggiore flat looking at the ocean. While I got ready for our day, Becky went to our favorite focacceria Te La Do Io La Merenda, and picked up some focaccia for breakfast on our terrace.  Fortified for the day, we headed out on the train to Monterosso, the largest of the five Cinque Terre towns, to locate Buranco Winery.

It turns out the vineyard wasn’t too hard to find, just a quick walk uphill from the center of town.  A cheerfully painted wine barrel greeted us at the entrance, and when we walked in, we saw the main house and a spacious patio looking over to the valley below and the vines on the hill above. When we arrived, there were only two other people visiting the winery: an American couple who departed shortly after we were served our first glass of the tasting. After that, it was just Becky and I soaking up the sun, looking out over the vines, and enjoying a generous wine flight and little plate of complimentary bruschetta. We then decided to sample Buranco’s olive oil and honey, and finally, one more glass of wine as we watched paragliders soar over the Ligurian hillside. The local wine was lovely, but instead of a bottle of red, I had to take home what turned out to be a very large bottle of grassy olive oil.  Well worth it to add the extra weight to my suitcase.

All told I think we were at Buranco a grand total of four blissful hours. The great thing was that the helpful staff had no interest in ushering us off – they were quite happy to have us visit as long as we wanted. And as a result, we really didn’t want to leave!  Becky and I really couldn’t believe our luck to have this incredibly beautiful place all to ourselves – such a great birthday present for Becky!  Buranco is also an agriturismo – a local inn on site of a working farm – and if the service for a tasting is any indication, I’m sure it’s a welcoming place to stay. I will have to try it on my next visit!

As the afternoon wore on, we decided it was probably best we continue Becky’s birthday in Manarola, as we wanted to have dinner at the home of the tastiest pesto we found on our last trip, Trattoria Il Porticciolo.  This was the point at which we decided it would be a great idea to take a boat to Manarola as opposed to the train. And this is when we ended up hitching a ride on a boat to Vernazza instead, refreshing ourselves with gelato at the other fabulous Il Porticciolo, the best gelateria in Vernazza. After a lovely afternoon in Vernazza, we made it to Manarola, only to find that Il Porticciolo was closed. We enjoyed the “magic hour” and sunset in Manarola, maybe the most picturesque of the Cinque Terre towns, before heading back to Riomaggiore. Dinner was at another of our favorite spots from the last trip, Veciu Muin, for a trio of spaghetti. Tasty and reasonably priced, this place is no frills but good quality, and easy stumbling distance from our Riomaggiore apartment.

I think it would be hard to have a bad day in Cinque Terre, but this was a pretty incredible day, to say the least. 🙂 Grazie, famiglia Buranco!

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

I didn’t intend to spend 50 Euro on olive oil, it just happened…

My schedule for Saturday in Paris began with a food and wine tour called Paris Treats in the 17th arrondissement. I arrived at the meeting place, Boulangerie Nature de Pain, to meet my guide Michelle.  There were only two people sitting at tables and as it was about 15 minutes before our meeting time, I got myself a pain au chocolate and wandered the area.  Apparently my broken French fooled Michelle, because she was there waiting for me, her single tourist!  Michelle is an American ex-pat originally from Boston, married to a Brit and living in Paris.  So needless to say, we had a lot in common and my being her only client of the day didn’t bother us at all. 🙂

We started there in the boulangerie, going behind the scenes of the bakery to watch Louis, the boulanger, in action. I learned that it can only be called a “boulangerie” if the bread is made on the premises, which is exactly what I got to watch.  The second nugget of awesomeness I learned is that each boulanger has a signature in the vents they make on their baguettes.  Louis’s was five small slits across the top.  I got to perform the signature myself though it took me about five tries before Louis pronounced my work okay. 🙂 After touring the bakery, I sampled a few breads and the most delicious éclair I’ve ever had.  I cut into the éclair cold, and the chocolate filling felt dense and rich.  But upon tasting it, the crème melted softly in my mouth surrounded by a choux with a crispy inside and icing so rich and glossy it was more like ganache.  Amazing.

Our next stops included a deli where we sampled some cheese quiche fresh out of the oven and a fromagerie where we chose a chevre and comte to have over wine at a cave later in the tour.  My favourite stop was a shop specializing in artisan products from Provence where the 50 Euro in olive oil comes in. We sampled olive oils of different stages of production from green to black. Then came some flavoured olive oil, including truffle and tangerine, and the best balsamic vinegar I’ve had maybe ever. As everything was from small producers and unlikely found anywhere else, I had to take advantage of the no liquid limit on the Eurostar and stock up.

We had our cheese in a small wine shop, or cave, again stocked with producers the owner knew personally.  With a bit of white wine, the chevre and nutty comte went down a treat.  Our final stop was a champagne shop called Bulles.  The premise behind Bulles is making champagne fun and accessible, as evident by the packaging and price point: only 18.50 Euro for a bottle of their Brut. The other distinguishing quality is that instead of a cooperative which most producers use to have enough supply to make their brand, Bulles is made from grapes all on their own land.  A bottle of the Brut rounded out my shopping for the day.

All of that before 1pm and I had to take a little disco nap before heading off to do more exploring.  I ended my day on the Ile St. Louis, beating the rain in a café over more champagne and writing in my journal.  Finally, I had to have a little taste of the famous Berthillion ice cream I first tried back in 2007, although I chose a rhubarb sorbet this time.  Superb.

Dinner Saturday requires its own post, so stay tuned for that. 🙂

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Wine on the Rhine

This is such an overdue post!  I meant to blog separately on the Rhine Valley after my Munich post, but as usual, life gets crazy and this is quite delayed.

After the madness of Munich during Oktoberfest, we headed to the Frankfurt area, specifically Wiesbaden, to visit our friend Sara and her husband Jim who are living there.  We knew we wanted to explore the Rhine Valley and luckily Sara did her homework and we were recommended a great boat tour up the river on KD Tours.  We drove to Rudesheim where we caught our boat.  We had some time to look around the town which was so quaint and quiet in the early morning. Once on the boat, we say amazing castles at every turn.  We first disembarked at St. Goar for a very brief little jaunt around the town, with the massive castle in the background.

We then got back on the  boat, passed Loreley with its famous rock before disembarking for a couple of hours at Bacharach.  Such a beautiful town!  We stopped at Bastian’s Weingut zum Gruner Baum for a 16 Riesling tasting – yes 16 – and a plate of German specialty munchies.  The wine was served in pretty little glasses with green ribbed stems and with a key so we could decipher the vintner and vintage.  We were entertainment for the couple that was sitting behind us as we swirled and sampled some incredible Rieslings, dry, sweet and rose.  Shockingly, the bottles we liked the best were only about 6 Euro each!  We each left with at least one bottle to take home.

We walked through Bacharach a bit more until we stumbled on a little gelateria that Emily remembered was recommended in her Rick Steve’s guidebook.  We had to partake of the incredible Riesling gelato!  Absolutely delicious and so refreshing in the warm German sun.  Licking our cones, we traipsed back to the boat for the ride back to Rudesheim.  All in all it was an incredible day.

When you’re in Germany, I highly recommend a Rhine tour for lovers of wine and scenery alike.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2011.

Positano Perfection

It’s just as wonderful as the last time I was there. 🙂  I am struggling with anything else to write in this post because that’s pretty much it. 🙂

But, as that does not make good blog reading, I’ll say that I did try a new place in Positano, the bar at Le Sirenuse hotel.  It’s probably the most famous hotel in Positano, where the fancy and monied stay, and features prominently in the movie that introduced me to this heavenly little town, “Only You.”  The drinks are definitely spendy, but worth it when you factor in that you also get served dishes of beautiful plump green olives and warm, salted marcona almonds while taking in the most spectacular views.  I went back two nights in a row. 🙂

I also visited my favorite restaurants, Le Tre Sorelle and Mediterraneo, as well as the little Latteria up the hill near my hotel that makes the most amazing and huge panino with tomato, mozzarella and prosciutto for about 4 Euro. My favorite shop is Profumi di Positano, up the hill from Le Sirenuse, which makes lovely fragrances and lotions.  I stocked up with plenty for me and gifts for my friends.

I think it’s essential while I live in Europe to visit Positano at least once a year, though I’m already thinking about when I can visit again in the Spring. 🙂

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2011.