“ the most important thing is not what you find at the end of a race, but what you feel inside while running”
What’s your idea about Tuscany? Yes of course, Rolling Hillsides, Sunflowers, Cypresses and Beautiful Towns, but there’s much more! Where? Go towards the “Tuscan Archipelago” islands: Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri, Gorgona and above all Elba, where I stayed for a weekend to escape into another word as Napoleon Bonaparte did! Why did Napoleon choose this Gem for his exile in 1814–15? Have an holiday in Elba and then you’ll see it or you’ll live there forever!
Elba Island is a Hidden Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea, where, according to a legend, Venus, the Goddess of Beauty and Love, lost her necklace, giving birth to the “Tuscan Archipelago”. Elba is located 6.2 miles from the coastal town of Piombino, and, with an area of 86 square miles (223 square km), it’s an unspoilt Tuscan Paradise: Clear Blue Waters, Sandy Beaches, Wonderful Landscapes, Mild Climate, and Varied Vegetation of Mediterranean type, with rich Olive Groves and Vineyards. Being a spot off the Beaten Path , Elba is not a Typical Tourist Destination, so you’ll not find Hordes of People or Lines and Crowds like in other Mediterranean Islands, such as in Sicily or in Sardinia. Elba is mostly frequented by Tuscany Residents and, if you want to avoid them too, book a trip in Spring or early Autumn to Enjoy the Silence. Moreover, Elba is a land full of History: remains of the Etruscan, Roman and Medieval Ages testify a Fascinating Past and a rich Wine Cultural Heritage . Elba is well worth being seen for the Flavours of its Cuisine too, which is made from Simple Dishes adn Fantasy. Being an Island, Elba has several Fish Restaurants. Every morning, Fishermen go offshore and fish all day; in the late afternoon, they bring their catch to the Island’ s Restaurants. If you haven’t visited Elba yet, Yyou Need to – Right Now! This Lovely small Island is destined to be turned into one of your Must-See Places !
Being inhabited since Pre-Historic Times, Elba was discovered early on to be ripe with Iron-Ore Deposits. Elba attracted a Lot of Ancient People, such as the Etruscans and the Greeks, who call it “Aethalia” (which means “Smoky Place”, probably because of the smelting furnaces). Later the Romans, renaming it “Ilva”, established a naval base on the Island.
Over the centuries Elba underwent many other invasions and dominations. In the early Middle Ages, Elba was ruled by Pisa, in 1290 by Genoa, in 1399 by the Dukes of Piombino, and in 1548 by Cosimo I de Medici of Florence. From 1596 until 1709 the Eastern Part of Elba was under the Spanish Empire controll for about 150 years, then the whole territory was conquerred first by Naples, and finally by the French in 1802. When Napoleon I abdicated in 1814, he was exiled to Elba, where he landed on May 4. Since then, Elba was recognized as an Independent Principality with Napoleon as its King until February 26, 1815, on which day he returned to France for the Hundred Days. Napoleon left his Mark with his Noble Residences in Portoferraio, Elba’s chief town : “Palazzina dei Mulini” and the “Villa di San Martino”, both of which are now Museums open to the public. Thereafter, Elba was restored to Tuscan,with which it passed to Unified Italy in 1860.
1st day ,23th July. Top Elban Winemaker Antonio Arrighi.
I’ve been living in Pisa since six years, and Elba, being so close to my adopted city, is one of those places I’ve always promised to myself I’d get to next time around! In the middle of my summer holiday my curiosity was piqued, as my Tuscan friends always craved about Elba, having a house or going sailing there! Before going to Sicily and always longing for Sunshine, Salt Air, Blue Sea, Exclusive Wine and Food, I decided to allow myself a quick three-day getaway in this beautiful Tuscan Island!
During my stay in Elba, I was fascinated by the Lush Natural Beauty of the Island, by its Crystal Sea, and by its People Sweetness. Though I am hardly in a position yet to recommend ‘the Best’ of Anything, I experienced enough to suggest an enjoyable Two-Day Itinerary, which will give you a glimpse of the Treasures that Elba has to offer. To begin with I can tell you that most of the Island is very panoramic, helped by the fact that there are no ugly buildings to be found (strict building regulations have been enforced since a lot of time ). Moreover, in recent years Elba has become a magnet for Visitors from all Over the World thanks to its Fine Weather from April to October. Elba, is surprisingly easy to reach as well! I took a train from Pisa to Piombino Marittima (about 40 minutes), then a short walk to the ferry and I was in Elba in 45 minutes! You can also drive directly to the Port in Piombino, and pay about 10 euro a day to park (you can bring your car on the ferry, but it might be cheaper to rent one on the Island). “Toremar” and “Moby” ferry passenger to and from Elba every day and tickets at the port office are around 32 euro roundtrip for the one-hour ride.
Approaching Elba, I was amazed at how massive and densely forested it was. After disembarking in pastel-hued Portoferrario, Elba’s largest city founded by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1548, I headed down the red pedestrian pathway towards the town with a tour of Napoleon’s Residences above mentioned. I took lots of photos strolling around the cobbled streets of the cute Portoferrario, both in the City Center and in the Old Town. I kept walking taking a hike to the “Medicean Ramparts”, which the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo l built as a defence against the Turkish attacks, and to the “Fort Falcone” , where I enjoyed breathtaking panoramic views. “Fort Falcone” has an area of 2360 square metres, and along with “Fort Stella” and the “Linguella Tower”, is one of the three “backbones” of the defence system of the town of “Cosmopoli” , which is how Cosimo l named Portoferraio. The day was really sultry, so I had to rest drinking a cold Cola in one of the many beach cafes which dotted the little port .
My Cola ice cubes turned into water, while I was waiting for the best part of my Trip: Antonio Arrighi. Antonio is a Multitalented Wine Entrepreneur , who welcomed me in Elba for my interview with him. Antonio picked me up at the bar with his car to reach Porto Azzurro, which is the second most important inhabited center of the Island. It was a fortune Antonio drove me to this quaint hamlet , where I spent the rest of my long weekend, as I preferred not to use any mean of transport to go around Elba. This was not only just because of my not brilliant driving skill, but also because it was not needed as my nice and very well-equipped “Belmare Hotel” was at my fingertips and easily available to me. By the way, for excellent “pilots” and for longer holiday periods in Elba, there are motorbikes (which are the best solutions for exlporing the whole Island and navigating through the traffic, which can be very heavy in July and August!) and cars to rent at decent rates everywhere . After I unpacked my bags in Porto Azzurro, Antonio and me had our lunch at “Sopravento” Restaurant to speak about how to arrange my time with him for my post about his incredible Winery in Elba . First my attention was captured by our succulent seafood dishes: “scialatelli” (a type of thick and short fettuccine or linguine-like pasta made in Campania) with lobsters, and a wide range of starters and crudités paired with his Fruity White Wine “Eraora”, made from Chardonnay and Incrocio Manzoni (Riesling and Pinot Blanc) grapes. Then, as he started to talk about himself, I was asborbed in his Life Story definitely!
Antonio Arrighi was born in the room number 13 of my “Belmare Hotel” in Porto Azzurro, which belonged to his father, what a happy coincidence! Antonio was raised in a family of experienced hoteliers and restaurateurs with a long tradition of hospitality in Elba. In 1960, when tourism was booming in Elba, the Arrighi Family started the hotel business, and in 1970 run a farm for its hotel clients producing different types of meat (pork, rabbit, etc), flowers, peaches and grapes. As a child Antonio was always involved behind the scenes. In 1980 Antonio became a Sommelier (he is still being part of the Elba Delegation of “AIS Toscana”) not only to take care of his vineyards, but also for making excellent Wine! In 1995 a great opportunity knocked on his door , when Antonio undertook an ambitious project in collaboration with the Tuscan Region and with Paolo Storchi, Senior Researcher at CREA (Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural) of Arezzo. It was about understanding which International Grape Varieties along with the local ones could grow in Elba. The answer for this question was: Syrah, Sagrantino and Tempranillo for Red Wines and Incrocio Manzoni, Chardonnay , and Viognier for White Wines. Antonio went on with planting these selected International Grape Varieties in his land, being drought and diseas resistant, they complied with high quality standards and delivered consistent results time after time. Since 2000 onwards Antonio was fully dedicated to his Winemaking Passion, which turned into his main activity helped by his supportive and close family. Antonio is very proud of his partner Giada, his two daughters Giulia and Ilaria and his son Matteo, and they represent a point of reference not only for himslef but also for the family business future. Antonio had his cold limoncello and went away for his job tasks and I went back to my hotel to sleep a little bit. Late in the evening after my little nap, I wandered through the narrow streets of Porto Azzurro, along “Via Solferino”, “Via dei Martiri” and “Via XXV Aprile”, which were coloured by the balcony flower pots, by the souvenirs shops and by the moon which had risen over the harbour. I admired the main square called “Piazza Matteotti”, this is a magnificent meeting point for the locals and the heart of social life in Elba. I relaxed ther having a delicous “apericena” in the nice “Bar Corinto” with a tasty Seafood Sandwich and a wonderful Spritz ! From “Piazza Matteotti” I continued down the main streets of the harbor “Via Vitaliani” and “Banchina 4 Novembre” , looking all around and noticing how much Beauty was in every corner of this old fishing town. Nothing was left to chance, like a terrific Brazilian pub “All’ Arco Antico” , where I had my last drink, a sparkling local White Wine. I was a little bit tipsy to remember its name, sorry!
2nd Day. Arrighi Winery and Wine Tradition in Elba: Vinification in Amphora
Being Sicilian, I am used to waking up in a Mediterranean Islet with a Delicious Breakfast and a Black Hot Coffee! My morning buffet with fresh bread, marmellade and my Espresso at my cheerful “Belmare Hotel” in Porto Azzurro stirred up my homeland memories!
I set outside on the terrace looking out to see the first light of the day, while the sea-gulls were playing with the wind and the fishermen where spreading their nets. I was embraced by a warm and Mediterranean Atmosphere, and soon after , as the heat was closing in on me, I took a refreshing dip in a small cove near Porto Azzurro city center. Nothing better than this, it set me up perfectly for the upcoming Wonder of my Your in Elba, my visit to “Arrighi Winery” !
At about eleven o’ clock Antonio collected me from the hotel to see his estate in “Piano al Monte”, an area in the eastern hills of Porto Azzurro, within the Tuscan Archipelago National Park . We arrived at his Winery after only a few minutes drive, then Antonio and I rode on a Quad to go around his Amphitheatre of Grapevines and his Trekking Wine Paths in “Piano al Monte”. While we rode he talked about his tremendous existence! From what he said it’s clair that Antonio is very fond of his Family and of his “Arrighi Winery”, whose secret ingredients are Passion, Tradition, and Innovation. With a production of about 40,000 bottles per year Antonio‘s property extends over 12 hectares, of which 7 are vineyards with 300 olive trees. The Goal of Antonio‘s Enterprise is to produce Wine from its Own Grapes and to experiment with New Ones, which are best suited to the Elba Terroir, an Island which is made from Iron (Elba has always been a font of Iron Ore, and while extraction ended in 1960, it’s still the richest source in Italy for Iron), Clay, Sea, Sun and Mild Climate all the year long (the average annual temperature is around 17° C with relatively limited precipitation, generally concentrated in autumn and winter). Elba is full of Wineries and Vineyards , which occupy different terrains from distinct geological formations, and because of these varied soils Elban Wines flourish with unique organoleptic characteristiscs.
Antonio pointed out that Elba’s Geography was very interesting, as it was the largest remaining portion of land that once connected the Italian Peninsula to Corsica. Elba boasts a wide variety of Terrains and Landscapes with High Mountains, Valleys, and Small Costal Plains. A third of the surface area is above 200m, and the Highest Point, “Monte Capanne”, is 1019 meters above sea lavel. Elba can be separated into distinct growing areas with varying soils, which is why such a vast array of grapes are grown on the Island, each one suited to its distinctive Terroir. The West part of Elba is quite Mountainous, while the Central one has Sandy and Clay Sedimentary Soils. It’s here that most of the Beaches and Flatter Plains lie. In the East part, there are two Mountain Chains separated by a plain called the “Mola Plain”, which stretches for about 2 km until the beach resort “Lido di Capoliveri”. This area is largely cultivated; in fact along the main road that crosses the plain you can meet various stalls where you can buy fruits and vegetables. The area of “Mola” takes its name from its gulf, a natural and shining bay, which is always crowded with coloured fishing boats.
Arrighi Winery’s Philosophy
Antonio reminded me that the origin of Elban Viticulture was very Old, and this sector together with Farming, Fishing and Iron and Granite Mining Activities made up a significant portion of the economy before Tourism’s environmental and social affected the Island. Antonio‘ s best quality is Creativity. He has the Imagination to create in his Mind a Wine and later he knows how to realise it in his Winery. That’s because as Antonio says: ” Winemaking is an Art as well as a Science, and having the ability to think outside the Box and to Improvise, when needed, are Critical Skills to be successful”. Antonio is intuitive and perceptive enough to be able to understand Elba ‘s Terroir and coax out its Maximum Potential, so that his Wines reflect their Origin and have their Own Personality. As Antonio‘s aim is to produce Wine from his Own Grapes and to experiment with the New ones, which suit better the Island Terroir, it has led him to develop two lines of Wine Production:
- One Line based on the Historic Grape Varieties of the Island, which are Procanico (or Trebbiano), Ansonica (or Inzolia), Biancone, Riminese (or Vernaccia) for the White Wines, and Sangioveto, Tintiglia and the famous Aleatico for the Red Wines;
- A Second Line based on the International Grape Varieties, which are Chardonnay, Incrocio Manzoni (Riesling and Pinot Blanc) and Viognier for the White Wines, and Syrah, Sagrantino and Tempranillo for the Red Wines.
Listening to Antonio tall about his Passion for Elba makes you wish to return again and again. I absolutely believe it , especially after tasting his labels in his Winery with other Wine Lovers , all there aiming to grap Elba‘s Spirit. Besides Antonio‘s Aleatico Winegar “Ace di Ale” , his liquors “Limoncino” / “Arancino”, and his Olive Oil, here my Top 9 Reasons for your Next Travel to Porto Azzurro :
- “Ilagiù Elba White D.O.C.” : it’s a mineral and fruity Wine, which is made from 80% Procanico and a small amount of Biancone, Ansonica ; its fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperature ;
- “Era Ora White IGT”: it’s a round and dry White Wine with good acidity, which is made from Chardonnay and Incrocio Manzoni; its fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperature , and part of this Wine has been aged in French oak barriques ;
- “Mattanto D.O.C.” : it’s made from 100% Ansonica (5000 plants per hectare ), and its flavour is dry, full and soft, and it’s one of the most important label. Its fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperature ;
- “V.I.P. Viognier White I.G.T. “: it’s one my favourite one! It’s a mineral and fruity White Wine, which is made from 100% Viognier (6000 plants per hectare); its fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperature with 3 months of bottles aging;
- “Hermia Vinum in Amphora White I.G.T.” : it’s a particular White Wine made from 100% Viognier , which is elegant and light due to a Natural Winemaking with Terracotta Amphorae made by “Artenova” from Impruneta (800 litres )-with a 20% of the grapes skins and a 6 months bottles aging, . Its name recalls a “Hermia”, an ancient slave, who was a cellar master for a Roman Villa found in “San Giovanni”, an Elban village near Portoferrario;
- “Valerius White I.G.T. “: it’s a great White Wine made from 100% Ansonica (6000 plants per hectare) with Vinifcation in Terracotta Amphora (220 litres)-with its grape skins and 3 months bottles aging. It’s a very soft , harmonious and persistent White Wine with a good sapidity;
- “Isola in Rosa Rosé I.G.T. “: it’s a delicate Rosé Wine made from 100% Syrah (5000 plants per hectare), which brings to mind thoughts of Southern France with its pale coral hue; it’s aged 4 months in bottles;
- “Centopercento Elba Red D.O.C.” : it’s a full-body and fruity Red Wine made from 80 % Sangiovese and 20% Syrah (5000 plants per hectare); Its fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperature with 6/8 days maceration and aging in bottles for 6 months;
- “Tresse Anfora Red I.G.T.” : it’s a spicy and rich Wine made from Sangioveto, Syrah, and Sagrantino. It’s the only Wine from 2016 (all the other Tasting Wines are from 2018), because before this date it was vinificated in oak barriques. In 2018 thanks to the help of “Arrighi Winery”‘s Enologist Laura Zuddas, Antonio vinificated the “Tresse” in Terracotta Amphorae, like the old Romans did! Antonio likes this kind of vinification, because Terracotta is a simple and natural material comparable to wood, which allows Wines to breath without releasing any flavors to them. That’s why “Tresse” is a full-bodied Wine that passionately embraces the palate preserving refinement, revealing itself chromatically with the illusion of a berry syrup, and so touching the glass and softly marking it;
- “Siloso Elba Aleatico Passito Red D.O.C.G. “ : This straw Wine is the first to have gained recognition in the smaller Italian islands. What makes this Wine a product so valuable? This wonderful raisin Wine is made exclusively from 100 % Aleatico grapes and its intense ruby red colour, and its cherries aroma is the perfect pairing with sweets like the traditional Elban “schiaccia ubriaca”, a round and soft Christmas cake with the peculiarity of having red wine in the dough.
Sometimes you just start to wonder if you actually want to recommend a place, because it will become even more popular and lose some of its authentic charms. However, “Arrighi Winery”‘ is just too good not no be mentioned! The Wines were as fabulous as their reasonables prices. Besides providing very Good Quality Wines, Antonio was highly professional in helping me and all the other guests with the organisation and customization of the Wine Tasting. Each of us was very satisified with all. Antonio is such a gorgeous Person and you can just feel the Passion that he puts behind his work. His stories about the Wines and the different tastings were just brilliant. Please, make yourself comfortable, relax, and breathe normally, that’s not all! Antonio is undoubtedly facing another exceptional challenge to which I dedicate a short comment here below!
Arrighi’s experiment with Old Greek Wine in Chio Island
Antonio has always been a Visionaire. In 2018 he organized the “Elba Aleatico Day “ , a Wine and Oil Exhibition supported by the “AIS of Elba” and by the “Ministry of Agriculture”. Professor Attilio Scienza, an Agronomist at Milano University, was assigned as Rapporteur in order to speak about his Wine Knowledge and Experience to the attendees. After the Event Antonio and Professor Scienza made friendship and whipped into shape a Great experiment: to make Wine how Greek did in Chio Island 2500 years ago! This Ancient Greek Wine had to be a full bodied, sweet and high alcohol Wine able to undertake long journeys on the sea, and then to be diluited with water during the banquets and celebrations . Antonio fulfilled Professor Scienza‘s desire to plow himself in this direction in Elba , after several failed attempts in other small islands in Southern Italy. In collaboration with Pisa University and Professor Scienza , Antonio revealed the Secret of this Old Greek Wine with his personal innovations! First of all Antonio reproduced this Ancient Technique using Ansonica grapes, which are similar to the Old Chio ones. Then, he pulled down Ansonica grapes, held in Sardinian Wicker Baskets, into the Sea Water of Porto Azzurro down to approximately 7 meters for 5 days. After Antonio took Ansonica grapes out of the Sea Water, these grapes were dehydrated, dried on mats and finally vinified in Terracotta Amphorae. For this Wine is allowed some maceration between the Skins and Must. What are the most important aspects of all this ?
- First: Sea Water dissolves the characteristic wax bloom layer that covers the grapes; in this way grapes maturation becomes faster;
- Second: Sea Salt is ideal for preserving Wine in a natural and gentle way!
After many centuries Amphora found its place once again in Winemaking with minimal interventions. I cannot scientifically state if history repeats itself, but what I can say with certainty is that the Amphora has returned to the Winemaking front almost after 2000 years and as it seems it came to stay for long! Certainly, the Result of Antonio‘ s Adventure is a Strong and Sapid Wine. Previewing this “Old Greek Wine” at “Arrighi Winery”, before it’s improved year after year and released to retail, makes me feel real Special, !
There is also a documentary film called “Vinum Iinsulae” shot by the Elban register Stefano Muti , which immortalizes Antonio’s undertaking . This is a 15 minutes trailer, which was awarded at the Marsille’s Film Festival “Aenovideo 2019” . In October 2019 Antonio is going to collect his prize personally at “Luxenbourg Palace” in Paris!
I could not believe what I experienced and how a Strong Passion for the Territory and Wine drove Antonio to make his dreams come true becoming an Execellent Winemaker. Antonio cultivates Vineyards with Care and Dedication, and he is enthusiast and resourceful , animated by the desire of producing Wines interpreting the typical characteristics of Vineyards where he plaid as child. Wine is a Magic World, combining the Patient Work in the Vineyard to the Wise and Careful Pocessing in the Vinery. It connects Past with Future. “Arrighi Winery”‘ is the consequence of a Strong Winemaking Passion that combines Past and Present to affect the consumer transmitting him the deep bond between this Wine Company and Elba.
After the superb Wine Tasting, I wallowed in a Turquoise Sea at “Barbarossa Beach” on the way back to my hotel on the last day of my holiday. “Barbarossa” is one of the most beautiful and popular beaches of the of Porto Azzurro. You can get there on foot from Porto Azzurro harbour thanks to a path that runs along the coast, passing under the prison’s walls. Walking along this beautiful scenic path you can arrive at the “Barbarossa Beach” in about 15 minutes. “Barbarossa Beach” has a sandy shore mixed with multicolored pebbles ranging from red to gray and brown; it has both free access and beach clubs, offering rental services of umbrellas, sunbeds and paddle boats, as well as dressing cabins, shower and lifeguard.
It was pleasant to stay at the “Barbarossa Beach” till my stomach rambled! I went away to have a shower in my hotel dreaming for my last dinner in the Island. I booked at “Locanda Cecconi” as Antonio suggested! Federico with his mother run this cosy and friendly Restaurant in the heart of Porto Azzurro. I had the Best Grilled Octopus of my Life, which was served on a creamy potato and on home-made bread. My friend Walter joined me for the dessert time, and he entertained me finely with his anecdotes about Elba and about his delightful “Scoglio Bianco Hotel”, which is situated in the appealing bay of Viticcio.
Antonio never cease to amaze! When he doesn’t work at his Wineyards, he Jogs early at 5 o’ clock in the morning. In this way he proves his fidelity to have been an excellent Triathlon Runner in the past, when he also used to cross the Desert or to get lost in Giordania ! Due to lack of time, Antonio cannot travel so much, but being ambassador of his island, he does not have a moment of rest! By the way, he partecipates in the most important trade fairs, visits the Companies of Producers Friends, holds conferences, and attends University Lectures Halls as a Teacher.
I have Fallen in Love with Elba . I cannot wait to return! Go to Elba if you want a Good Life, and let me know if you need my Assistance !
Drinking Good Wine with Good Food in Good Company is One of Life’s most Civilized Pleasures
thanks to my friend Kim Harris for editing it!