Alghero: a DiVine Trip

“…L’ Alguer de sempre se vanta
de ésser país català,
la ginqueta me vol recordar,
a mi ella me canta…”

 

There are places where I want to go without knowing why. Alghero, in Northen Sardinia, is one of these. 

It all starts out with an urge to be somewhere that I’m  not. I travel for several reasons, but even just a short vacation to the beach or an unfamiliar city can serve as a  kind of escape.  I often loosen up, allowing for  learning. I push myself forward in new cultures, try new things, get myself into uncomfortable situations, and find out the best part of me. It is easy to get high off the sense of anonymity that can be experienced while travelling. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a weekend  or a year long trip, if nobody knows me, I  often feel free to break out of my  shell.

I remember when I started planning my first trip to Alghero, which is only 40-minutes flight from Pisa on  Ryanair , I had no idea what I was doing! 

I wanted to get lost in Alghero, but at the same time, I didn’t want to miss the most beautiful things of this unique pearl of the “Coral Riviera”. I thought it might be impossible for me to arrange everything  by simply  following  my guidebook for two days! I had to try something different. I searched the Web for information about Alghero. I just needed someone special to hold my hand and show me the way.  That’s why my first choice was Valeria Crabuzza, Managing Director & Founder of  Alghero ConciergeValeria was the first person I turned to for tips and information about Alghero, and she was always prepared to offer help and understanding. Before my departure for Alghero, I contacted Valeria by mail and then by a phone call. Valeria provided me with outstanding concierge services creating my tailor-made holiday in Alghero. She provided me  with  free advice on accommodations, holiday activities, cultural events, archaeology sites and  other services.  Thanks to Valeria, I saved a great deal of time and effort researching and comparing on the net. I simply told Valeria my  preferences and I packed my bags!  Valeria was my Good Angel in Alghero , a paradise just a few steps from home! Valeria made me fall in Love with Alghero . Now I long to return to this enchanting place!

1st Day, Tuesday , 12th June 2018

I landed in Alghero’s Fertilia Airport on the 12th June 2018.  There were only 6 kilometers from Fertilia Airport to the city centre, a short trip of less than 15 minutes drive. The airport is  well connected with the major Italian and European airports with low cost flights the whole year round. If you don’t want to drive or if you don’t want to rent a car, the city has an excellent transport service to and from the airport. 

It was lunchtime and I reached Alghero’s Old Town  where I met Valeria at Alghero Concierge, her  Holiday Counsultancy and Tourist Services Office in the heart of the city. Valeria was my “Welcome to Alghero” , the best a traveller can wish.  Valeria was charming-a true Mediterranean Beauty. The gentle nature of her soul, was reflected in her love for Life and for the History and Tradition of her beautiful Island.  After my arrival in Alghero at midday and my interview with Valeria, I was excited to  uncover and bring to light  what she reserved . It was incredible, and  Valeria did an incredible job to ensure a perfect vacation in Alghero which covered all my requests. First of all it was very easy for me to visit all the best parts of Alghero , because Valeria booked a nice room  for me in  the b&b “Benebenniu” in Via Carlo Alberto,70,  the carrer major of the medieval town: it was a Bed & Breakfast nestled in the heart of Alghero’s Old Town.  It was in a very  central location  in Alghero among its cobblestoned streets (no heels, but comfortable shoes!), few steps away from the picturesque Sea-Front Promenade, the Bastioni and the Towers. Bus station, harbour, city beach, all the best bars and restaurants were all in the immediate proximity.  After having unpacked my bags, I walked around Alghero’s main streets, having all its Beauty around me , just in the area where I stayed.  I took terrific photos of all that drew my attention and sensitivity . I explored each corner  of Alghero , in any direction from the bottom towards the top and the from left to right! I went on strolling till the afternoon, when Valeria picked me up by car , leading me out of Alghero toward a breathless itinerary : from Punta Negra, Bombarde, Lazzaretto, Cala Dragunara to the final and gorgeous destination of  the Protected Area of  Capo Caccia. I enjoyed the awesome scenery and admired the spectacular landscapes of the -North-Western tip of Sardinia. I was enough lucky  to watch the sun dipping down in the blu sea among its impressive cliffs and to hear the seagulls crying out . As soon as I ridiscovered Nature in all its glory,  Valeria remembered it  was time to go away!  On the road back to Alghero, while I was thinking about that dreamy holiday,  Valeria explained the value and the importance of those places and the story of her life!  

Valeria was born her in Alghero  where she spent the first nineteen Years of Her Life before travelling abroad to work in Hospitality.

Initial economic hardships during her childhood didn’t stop Valeria cheerful and strong  temperament, but strengthened her character and  her spirit of adaptabilty. Valeria reflected on  those hard days with a smile, because they made her grow. Valeria has got a brother, Francesco, and a sister Claudia , who eventually became a very well-known Italia songwriter. Claudia Crabuzza won the prestigious Music Award  “Targa Luigi Tenco 2016” (Minority Languages Category) for Best Album in “Algherese” Dialect . She  worked  as author and interpreter with many famous national artists such as the most popular Sardinian ethno-rock band Tazenda, Pippo Pollina, Mirco Menna, Il Parto delle Nuvole Pesanti, and others . Valeria graduated from the professional hotel school of Alghero and started working in the field of tourism in Italy, Switzerland, Egypt and on  Canouan Island (Eastern Caribbean). She was inevitably drawn back to her native land . Valeria  wished to combine her experience, her local knowledge and love of Sardinia, her passion and her positive attitude to best welcome and assist anyone coming to visit Alghero and the north-west coast of Sardinia. On her personal note: she is married and had two wonderful children. The love story with her Egyptian husband  Ehab Rashwan , a pro-active hospitality professional with over 25 years in the hospitality industry , is another incredible and long chapter of her life ! I hope you will have the chance  to listen to it , when you are her guest! 

That one hour drove to Alghero with listening to all  Valeria‘ s tales  astounded me, because it seemed so familiar. 

The  sunset was unforgettable . The artificial lights of the lamps adorning Alghero transformed this noble city in an elegant living room. The closed shops were making the way for the night-loving people. I felt the infinity poetry which emanated from this peaceful and ordered city, but at a certain moment all that enchantment was suspended by my rumbling tummy that looked forward to the dinner time. Soon after  Valeria and me seated  comfortably on a terrace of   the casual “La Botteghina” restaurant . She said it was the right place for tasting local fresh Food &  Wine and it was true!   A friend of Valeria, Carlo Deffenu, a very polite person did the honours. He was a lovely worker there and an Italian writer as well, who proposed a vast range of pleasures! I had typical Sardinian Food & Wine:  a sparkilng  “Vermentino” called “Sessantaquattro” paired with a mussels soutè,  “fregola “ (it’s a type of semolina-based pasta) with seafood,  and “culurgiones” (pasta filled with boiled potatoes, extra olive oil, pecorino cheese, garlic and  mint ) with tomatos sauce and parmisan, best new dish I ever had in the last period! The night was flowing slowly while Valeria was entertaining me with all her knowledge  about Alghero . I was totally immersed in all those stories: a journey in the past of  Alghero, and an understanding of its present, a multifaceted world of an island within  the island that is trying to grow and to improve despite the cumbersome Italian Political system and the closed-shop mentality of the major part of its  inhabitants. By the way, I realized  that Alghero  is considered one of the most charming towns of Sardinia. Ryainair flies  at least here twice a day. Take this as an opportunity to explore some of the amazing Art the city has to offer. Alghero is the perfect blend of History, Gorgeous Beaches, lovely Food & Wine, Traditions and so much more. The town provides excellent hospitality for a constant flow of tourists, with a range of entertainments, facilities and nightlife that is ideal for young and old alike. 

Alghero was inhabited since prehistoric times, and  was founded by the Genoese in the 11th century. For many years, it was controlled by the dynasty of the Doria family, despite a brief period of Pisan domination in 1283 and 1284. Many different conquerors launched assaults on Alghero  until the Catalans expelled everyone in 1372 and created a home away from home. From then on, the town came to be known as “Barceloneta”, or “Little Barcelona”, and maintains its Catalan identity to this day. Control of Alghero passed to the House of Savoy in 1720 and this marked the start of a long period of steady decline. This continued right up until the Fascist Era which resulted in heavy damage to the town during Italy’s participation in WWII. The removal, from the surrounding countryside, of malaria in the 1950s and the growth in package holidays during the 1960s saw the start of a transformation in the fortunes of Alghero. A large number of hotels and restaurants have been built on the investment in the town and development has spread northwards alongside the city’s sandy beach. Today, tourism has not completely overtaken Alghero and the town still retains its distinctive Catalan identity with the local fishing industry an important contributor to the local economy. 

2nd Day, Wednesday , 13th June 2018

It was late in the night. I opened the window of my room that overlooked one of the main square of Alghero

There was nobody outside, but few tables scattered among cafes and restaurants and a  silhouette of a  bell tower that raised above the rooftops of houses and churches. My thoughts wandered and I couldn’t sleep for the excitement of what it happened, but I was tired and I fall asleep. The following day I woke up late in the morning, and the weather was awful.  I thought it was  perfect to visit Wineries in Alghero.  I sat down at my table for eating something.  I took a look  in blogs and travel forums about  all the Top Wines. In the meanwhile ,  Valeria and her friend Katya attended my breakfast with  a  homemade lemon cake, hot coffee and orange juice. Katya is another fabulous character of this Sardinian Novel. At first sight Katya, so pretty with big green eyes, seemed to be an easy going person. Actually, Katya is a  romantic bohemian, a very deep fellow, a strong worker with the soul of an artist  in sewing technique. She said she was from Pesaro, Marche. She met Valeria on the Caribbean Resort 20 years ago. Since that time they were not only colleagues , but above all close friends. After having travelled a lot,  with a long stay in Peru, that changed her mind placing greater emphasis on the “being” and not on  “having” in this life, Katya wanted to help Valeria in her aim to create something unforgettable in Alghero, with the intent of promoting this area in Italy and abroad. What a marvelous and spiritual conversation! Katya withdrew, bidding me farewell, and saying I was in  a good service with Valeria about my trip in Alghero. Of course she was right! I glanced at the clock on my phone and a last great moment awaited me to complete my journey: visit the best Wineries in Alghero. The weather promised to get worse, far more than I could expect! Never before had I seen so much rain in summer . Before my  appointment with Valeria and with the divine nectar of Sardinia in the early afternoon , I had little time to visit the old churches of the historic core, that provided sufficient protection against rain and wind: “San Francesco Church”, the Alghero’s  Cathedral, and the  “San Michele Church”. The churches were unadorned, the simple churches of a simple  fishing village. I liked these types of churches- built solely as a religious sanctuary for the towns people with no more boisterous intent. Alghero’s Old Town was large enough to be interesting and small enough to tackle in a day of exploring. Walking around Alghero, I didn’t feel like I was in Italy, but in a foreign land with such an atmosphere you had to live. Colorful facades, an almost derelict elegance , all complete with beautiful sea views from any given angle.

It was lunchtime and to my surprise,  Valeria came to take me to a luxury Hotel called “Carlos V” in Alghero to attend a Wine Tasting organized by  “Tenute Delogu “ .  

The  terrace of  the 5 stars Hotel  “Carlos V was magnificent , it  afforded panoramic views that encompassed everything from the Capo Caccia promontory (which has a silhouette resembling a sleeping giant) to the costal road that conceals the town of Bosa. The grey of the sky made visible exceptional views that resembled a Monet canvas,  with a mix of rough and soft colours and sparse and evanescent  brushstrokes. That landscape inebriated my senses just like the Top Wines  did in the tasting room. A  light seafood buffet accompanied the Wine Tasting that included the best labels of the  “Delogu Winery”: “Die”, “Ide”, “Geo”, “Ego”, “Cagnulari”, and  “Chelos”.“Tenute Delogu “ extends across approximately 60 hectares, encasing a modern Winery, vineyards, a prestigious Wine Resort and dining options. Amongst palm and olive trees, the vineyards are immersed in Sardinia’s Mediterranean scrub. This is where the “Tenute Delogu “ arises and from where its Wines derive.  I had the honour of knowing personally the owner of the “Tenute Delogu “ Mr Pietro Delogu. Pietro was present at that event to increase potential with his own customers . He was busy to give interviews to the Japanese press about his Wine production, then he was able to spend a little time  with us. We had lunch in that exclusive hotel and talked about that pleasant moment relaxing over glasses of his bubbles. After a while  Valeria had to go away to  collect her children from the residential home and Pietro invited me to spend a couple of hours at his estate “Tenute Delogu “ . We arrived there after an hour’s drive under that heavy rain! Pietro was very proud of all he did in his life, and this was the feeling I perceived during our conversation before to reach his estate.  Finally we arrived at his  “Tenute Delogu “, and we  had no guided  visit from outside due to the standing rain.  We took  refuge in the estate’s restaurant , where he  made me feel at home. That place was lovely and the grey overcast made us long for drinking good Wines! At the very moment when Pietro was describing last lable of his Wine collection, foreign clients entered the reception despite it being closed. As an Islander and a business man, Pietro opened the door . I helped him with attending to them. He regarded my attitude  as polite, but I explained it was a pleasure for me.  It was also  a way to thank him for his dedicating time to me.  We ended our time in the barrique cellar of his Winery , where I finished my friendly interview writing down as much as I could. Pietro’ s passion and love for his job and land emerged from his words.  Pietro wants to pursuit his dream to get better and better.  If only one day the Italian government , in Sardinia as in the rest of the nation, could provide financial and legislative  support for the development of enterprise policies. Pietro and Valeria are strongly attached to their  native land but open minded by nature . I hope their courageous choice to invest all the necessary efforts in ensuring the implementation of their projects and ideas   will find support in a fair and  effective  policy  at local and national level, as soon as possible.  His was the sort of honesty  speech that does one good and it was lightened with a glass of Canonau . Valeria returned to take me back in Alghero. So, I said goodbye to Pietro, a smart and multi-faced man. I knew that this was not a farewell. 

Sardinia is an island that strikes its visitors with natural contrasts, the lights and colors of a region that boasts old traditions and a wild and pure nature.  Sardinia is a land full of archaic Wine Traditions.  Sardinia offers fascinating Wines, it merits to be considered as one of Italy´s most unique wine regions.  There are international varieties and  indigenous grapes, such as Bovale, CagnulariMonicaCarignano, and others. All this  makes it worth to go for a Wine-Discovery tour as I did  at “Tenuta Sella & Mosca” .

“Tenuta Sella & Mosca” was a nice place to visit, they offered a free tour in their estate and I liked it a lot despite the rain. “Tenuta Sella & Mosca” was  founded in 1899 and it is the second largest contiguous vineyard in Italy and one of the largest wineries in Europe – it is a 1,600-acre property with more than 1,200 acres of Wines. From vibrant whites to nuanced reds, “Tenuta Sella & Mosca” has a Wine for every mood and meal. My favourite one is Torbato: a grape originally from Spain with only about 200 acres left in the world. Torbato produces refreshing, pale-straw wine marked by white flowers and hints of sea minerals. The sparkling version is a must as an aperitif but there are also still versions–ranging from gentle, mid-low body to richer, creamier versions. All are definitely worth trying with light fish appetizers, oysters, and clam spaghetti! 

 

For my last night in Alghero , I spend long hours meditating the goods things in Life with Valeria, then after a drink  and an appetizer in a bar , I went to bed .

When the alarm clock rang at 5 o’clock in the morning, I realized I had to leave Alghero. Before to get the airport, I relaxed at the harbor edge while I was investigating  the best picture angles for my  last photos. As I sat on the bench gazing at the rocky faced hills across the harbor, a local fisherman jumped down from his boat and strolled past. His nutty brown skin indicated a life on the sea, his complete lack of self  consciousness as he sang aloud. I lapsed into a fantasy of a  simple  village life. Give me a week here, and I’m quite sure I’d sing along!

I didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s safe to say this city far , exceeded my expectations. 

Ti amo Alghero.

Enjoy it !

Stefania

Thanks to the  travel writer Paula Cullison for her precious help

 

 

 

 

 

 

AIS of Lucca: “Italian Sommelier Association”

AIS of Lucca: to be a Sommelier. A Life Experience to enjoy at its  fullest.

If you love Wine, a  Sommelier Experience with the AIS of Lucca, Tuscany,  is a chance of a lifetime:

  • to  explore the world’s wine regions; 
  • to learn how to build your own cellar:
  • to study Food &  Wine pairings and take part in  tasting analysis so you can identify any Wine simply by smell and by sip; 
  • to share your passion and enjoy life with friends! 

AIS of Lucca is one of the several “Italian Sommelier Association” branches  in each region of Italy. The “AIS” or “Italian Sommelier Association” is  an Italian non-profit organization founded in Milan on July 7, 1965, officially recognised and legally acknowledged by the Italian government on April 6, 1973. Its founding members were : Gianfranco Botti, Jean Valenti, Leonardo Guerra  and Italian Sommelier Ernesto Rossi. The “Italian Sommelier Association” is part and founding member of the “Worldwide Sommelier Association” (WSA) which is officially recognized across the world. The AIS is one of the oldest and actually the largest Sommelier Association in the world, featuring more than 30.000 members only in Italy! The aim of “Italian Sommelier Association” , as stated in the third article of its charter, is to qualify Sommelier’s role and profession, therefore adding value to Wine, Traditional Specialties and Gastronomy culture. Its aim is also to promote, even in the legislative branch, the introduction of its didactic approach in Hospitality related schools, as well as to endorse the Sommelier’s professional role, international recognition and esteem. An educational, Experience with AIS of Lucca will ensure you have all you need to take your passion to a high  level.

My  graduation as a Sommelier with the AIS of Lucca was an unforgettable moment. I worked hard for that exam. It was one of my Growth Days: we all have days that mark special life milestones, all events that allow us to celebrate, to reflect, to learn. It was last June I went to “Berlucchi Winery ” in Franciacorta (Brescia Area)  to get  a Sommelier Certification offered by the AIS of Lucca after a three year course recognized by Wine industry and Restaurant Professionals throughout the world. It was an incredible journey for : rounding out my knowledge ,  expanding  my  palate, making a professional assessment on Wine. It was something more than  connecting the dots between a flavor, such as clove and vanilla in a sample Pinot Noir!  There are two types of Certified Sommeliers: those who currently work in the industry, and those who go through the certification process to learn much more than Wine, that is the area in which is produced. That’s me!  I started my adventure with Wine by chance, because  dealing  with Tourism, attending a Sommelier Course in Lucca (the best in terms of organization and preparation in Tuscany) was the right way to know  better Tuscany with all its Beauty, Art and Culture. I recognize that to be a Sommelier  without working in the industry  is much harder,  since you’re not working with Wine every day, you have to carve out time in your schedule to practice and to dedicate to Wine. One option isn’t better than the other–you just need to know which category you’ll likely fall under before you become a Sommelier. In order to make it through the long class schedule and nerve-wracking final exam, you should have an ultimate end goal in mind from the beginning. Some Sommelier students drop out before the courses are complete, sometimes because they underestimate the amount of studying required to pass the exam, and sometimes because they only liked the idea of being a Sommelier, without having a plan to use their education for a specific purpose. You need to have a purpose in mind when you receive Sommelier Certification! Becoming a Sommelier is only the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that Wine Education never ends, even for those who are fully certified with every program. Getting certified is only one method for growing a greater understanding of Wine, and it’s not necessary for every Wine ‘fan’. Before you pressure yourself into becoming certified, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to go through the experience, and whether it’s truly the right choice for you!

My fortune was to have clear ideas why to be a Sommelier and to run into AIS of Lucca for my certification. 

Studying for being a Sommelier meant to meet Wine Professionals  who loved exploring the best about Wine & Food Tradition in Tuscany . The AIS of Lucca was absolutely essential for me, because they gave me the chance to practice what I  learned in their classes  about the Wine Education and  Tuscany Culture . Nowadays, I ‘m really able to give useful tips for visitors who want to experience Italian Life Style and who want to discover this awesome region  with my services in www.WeLoveItaly.eu

 

 

Recently, a friend asked why a person should invest in a Wine Class instead of purchasing a few bottles and having a liquid study session at home. I think it’s a great question! 

Learning about Wine seems a foreign concept to many,  but it’s actually a great deal of fun as well as financially rewarding – the more you know about Wine, the better your Wine purchases will be. You need to know at least enough to understand what makes you happy. I know, Wine makes you happy. But, which Wines make you happiest? Until you try a well-curated selection, how do you know? Learning the  “AIS” Systematic Approach to Tasting will give you great insight into how your palate works. In the  “AIS” course, I tasted Top Wines from different parts of and from all over the word. I got  great tasting experience there. Of course, I could taste Wine at home, but the difference  is that in the “AIS” course  my  tasting was  focused and guided. It was tasting with a purpose and  even after a one day class,  my tasting abilities  and my appreciation of what I tasted was considerably greater.  I can guarantee that “AIS” is not only a  a great place to get all your answers about Wine with other like-minded Wine Lovers, but above all a possibility to make frienships with interesting people.  My Sommelier Experience is not only made of books, of Wine glasses , restaurants, and now My Wine Tasting Events in Pisa and its province, but above all of it is about all  my friends I share my passion about Wine and travelling with.  My family  and my friends describe me as an explorer, enthusiastic, adventurous,  dynamic, optimistic, sociable person and it is really who I am. I love life and that’s why I love Wine because it represents all that I love about life.  To me, Wine is like a friend. Through Wine, you:

  • Meet great people:  Yes, there are so many great people behind and around Wine, people who enjoy having Wine,  the Winemaker, the Wine-Seller, the Cook, and the Sommelier of course! 
  • Celebrate life: Yes, don’t you have Wine when you’re celebrating a birthday, a wedding, Christmas, or a graduation?
  • Eat great food: Wine without Food is not really Wine, don’t you agree with me?
  • See the world:  Yes, Wine is International, with it you discover new Countries and Regions, along with their History and Culture. 

 

I’m a Passionate Traveler and wherever I go, I always try to find the most unique vineyard, meet with the winemaker and also to find the best restaurant in town, or wine bar and, living in Pisa, my starting point of course is Tuscany !  

Salute ! 

Stefania

Buon Appetito & Learn Italian: 20 Rules about Italian Food

There is much more to Italian Food culture than many people outside Italy realize. Mastering the art of Italian Cooking is not just a matter of learning recipes but rather requires coming to understand a whole approach to the preparation and eating of Food. 

This approach can be understood, among other ways, through a series of unwritten “rules” that guide most Italians’ culinary habits. Here are 20 basic rules explained, some of which may surprise you.

General Rules

Rule 1Eat in season. This ‘rule’ is valid anywhere, but is often observed only in the breach. Italians still do follow it by and large. Asparagus is for the spring, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers for the summer, mushrooms for the fall, cabbage and hearty stews in the winter, and so on. Order a “risotto ai funghi porcini” in a restaurant in mid-summer and you may get some strange looks.

Rule 2Eat locally.  Each region in Italy  owns  its culinary and wine tradition. A  short train trip from Milano to Palermo could  be like a visit to a foreign land in culinary terms, even if , these days as elsewhere, regional differences are beginning to blur. A number of local specialities have become national dishes and are eaten most everywhere (eg, pizza). But they are still best experienced in their native territory.

Rule 3Look for a harmonious combination of ingredients and avoid clashing combinations. Generally speaking, Italians feel that fish and cheese do not mix. (Never put grated cheese on “pasta alle vongole“!)  But there are various exceptions to this rule. For example, mozzarella and anchovies are often paired. It is also not unheard of to combine fish with cream and with some milder cheeses, so perhaps more accurate to say that fish and aged cheese do not mix. Mushrooms and cheese are another dubious combination, but here, too, there are exceptions like mushroom salad with parmesan shavings.

Rule 4There is no such thing as a ‘main course’ in a proper Italian meal. Rather, a true Italian meal is a series of courses of varying number, depending on the occasion, but usually including a primo (first course of pasta, soup, polenta, rice, etc.) and a secondo (meat, fish, vegetable), often served with a contorno (vegetable side dish). Fresh fruit usually serves as dessert. Or more formal occasions, an antipasto comes before the primo, and a proper dessert may close the meal. In the old days, formal dinners could also have an ‘intermezzo’ between the primo and secondo. It is possible to double or even triple-up primi and/or secondi at elaborate dinners as well, in which case the portions are reduced accordingly. But having two pasta dishes, or a soup followed by the pasta, is a common mistake made by non-Italians. The notable, and increasingly common, exception to this rule is the piatto unico, or ‘single dish’, that serves as both primo and secondo.

Rule 5: The courses of a meal should provide variety without clashing. A delicate egg pasta would not generally be followed, for example, by a spicy dish like fettine di manzo alla pizzaiola. And it is preferable not to repeat key ingredients from course to course—a pasta with tomato sauce, for example, would best not be followed by a meat dish that features tomatoes. (Although it is quite common in southern Italy to follow a pasta and meat ragù with the meat that was used to make the ragù.) At the same time, a dinner that begins with seafood often continues with seafood in later courses. A rule of thumb for beginners: try to stick to dishes of a single region for the various courses; they are more likely to go well together.

Rule 6: Pasta, risotto, gnocchi and the like are not served as side dishes but as a separate course. The exception would be for like ossobuco (braised veal shank) and risotto alla milanese, often served together. Polenta is often served with meats as a piatto unico, as in polenta e osei (polenta with roasted birds) or polenta and sausages.

Rule 7: Salads are most often served as contorni (side dishes). Certain salads, in particular composed salads like an insalata caprese can serve as antipasti. The Italian immigrant custom of serving green or mixed salad as a separate course after the secondo and before the fruit is not generally followed in Italy.

Rule 8: Pasta should be eaten ‘al dente. Most people know, or think they know, this rule by now. But it is possible to overdo it. Generally speaking, pasta secca, which is made with durum wheat flour, will have a much firmer consistency than pasta fresca, which is (or should be) made with soft “OO” flour. In the US (and perhaps elsewhere) however, commercially sold tortellini and other egg pastas are often made with durum wheat pasta, giving them an excessively firm consistency. These pastas should be cooked well to achieve the right consistency.

Moreover, what exactly al dente means in practice is highly personal. Generally speaking, northern Italians will consider ‘al dente’ a relatively softer consistency, and southern Italians a relatively firmer consistency. In no case should pasta be chalky to the bite, nor should it be mushy or soggy—the pasta should provide resistance when you bite into it. Within these general limits, the issue is basically one of personal taste.

In his excellent book Cuochi si diventa, renowned Milanese gastronome Allan Bay says that ogni italiano ha il suo punto di dente, parlare di questo è del tutto inutile”, which is to say “every Italian has his or her own definition of the point when pasta is done al dente, so talking about it is useless.” Do be aware, however, that pasta will continue to cook for a while after it is drained, even more so if you mix it with its sauce over low heat, as is so many recipes call for. So drain your pasta while it is still just slightly ‘underdone’ for your taste.

Equally important, in my mind, to cooking pasta al dente, is making sure that the pasta is cooked in abundant, well-salted water. The general ‘rule of thumb’ is one liter of water for each 100g of pasta, which is easy to remember. (NB: 75-100g is the normal portion of pasta for one person.) But you really can never have too much water, so err on the side of more rather than less water. And don’t be too shy with the salt or your pasta will turn out sciapa—insipid. The water should actually taste salty, like a soup.

Rule 9It is important to pair the ‘right’ pasta shape with the ‘right’ sauce. It is difficult (impossible, actually) to give hard and fast rules—this is something that you get a feel for over time and with experience. But some general rules of thumb are possible. For this purpose, it is useful to group pasta shapes into three broad categories: ‘long’ pastas like spaghetti, bucatini or linguine; ‘short’ or ‘stubby’ pastas such as penne and rigatoni; and ‘soup’ or ‘spoon’ pastas such as ditalini or stellette. Long pastas tend to go well with tomato and other smooth sauces, as well as garlic and oil based sauces like clam sauce. Short pastas, especially those with a concave shape or with holes in them, tend to go well with chunky sauces. Spoon or soup pasta, as the name implies, go well with soups and soup. Beware: the names of pasta shapes can vary across regions, like bucatini, which are called perciatelli in Naples.

Another important distinction is between pasta secca, factory-made durum wheat pasta, and pasta fresca, eg pasta made with soft “OO” flour. Generally speaking, oil based and ‘rustic’ sauces from southern Italy go with pasta secca, and delicate, cream- or butter-based sauces from the North go with pasta fresca. But there are many exceptions to the rule. Carbonara, for example, is typically made with spaghetti, but can also be made with short pasta like penne or rigatoni, or even with fettuccine. If you are new to Italian food, it would be a good idea to stick to classic combination; on this site, recipes will indicate the specific type(s) of pasta that go with a particular sauce, together with suggestions for alternative pasta shapes where appropriate.

Rule 10: It is equally important not to over-sauce your pasta. You should ‘dress’ the pasta with just enough sauce to flavor it, just as you would dress a salad. In fact, the verb condire in Italian is use both for dressing a salad and for saucing pasta. The photographs that go with the recipes on this site provide an indication of how the dish should turn out.

Rule 11Don’t assume that grated cheese goes on every pasta dish. In general, as mentioned above, cheese does not go on pasta with fish sauces. Nor does it go on ajo e ojo or other garlic-and-oil based pasta dishes. Spicy dishes call for ‘spicy’ cheese like pecorino, not parmigiano, or even more often, no cheese at all. 

Rule 12Pasta salads are made with pasta secca, although there are some egg pastas such as garganelli that lend themselves to pasta salad. There is no such thing in real Italian cooking, for example, as a ‘tortellini salad’. More popular in Italy than pasta salads are dishes where hot pastas are mixed with a cold ‘sauce’ such as raw tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and olive oil. Pasta salads are rarely (if ever) made with mayonnaise.

Rule 13: Except in the fanciest of restaurantsvegetables are not there for garnish. They are meant to be eaten.

Rule 14Salad dressing is made from oil and vinegar (or, less frequently, lemon). Do not expect to find ‘blue cheese’ or ranch dressing—or any other kind of bottled dressing, for that matter. Dressings are not prepared separately and poured on the salad, but oil, vinegar and salt are added sequentially and each mixed with the greens.

Rule 15Cappuccino is drunk only in the morning, and never after a meal. Coffee (always an espresso) is drunk after you’re finished eating. It does not accompany dessert or any other part of the meal.

Rule 16Mineral water and/or wine are the beverages of choice to accompany your meals. Beer is becoming increasingly popular, especially with pizza. Avoid soda pop, milk and, as mentioned above, coffee. 

 
 Rule 17Use a knife and fork! Even pizza is generally eaten with a knife and fork when part of a meal, although it is fine to cut up your pizza and eat the individual slices with your hand. Some exceptions: pizza ‘a taglio’, a single slice of pizza sold at stands, tramezzini and panini, ice cream cones, all of which are eaten with the hands, but even some of these are eaten with a napkin wrapped around the food to avoid direct contact.

Rule 18Do not cut your spaghetti. Twirl it on your fork. And unless you are 6 years old or younger, do not use a spoon.

Rule 19Do not eat bread with pasta. But you can (if eating with friends informally) fare la scarpetta, i.e. sop up the extra sauce that’s left after you’re finished the pasta (or another dish with a sauce). Unless you are at home among friends, use a fork. Except in some regions of northern Italy, you will not find bread served with butter. If you ask for it, you may get some odd looks. Nor is dipping bread in olive oil as you wait for a meal an Italian custom. (It’s not clear where that got started.) There does exist an antipasto called pinzimonio consisting of cut fresh vegetables that you dip into olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper.

Rule 20: If you leave food on your plate, your host may wonder if you didn’t like it. Your host may ask you if you liked the dish, just to make sure nothing was wrong. Of course, it is fine to explain that the food was delicious, but you are full—except, that is, if your host is your Italian mother or grandmother…

A final word of advice: 

Finally, let us close this primer on Italian food culture not with a rule but an attitude, summarized by the expression: “a tavola non s’invecchia”, meaning “at the table you do not age”. In other words, don’t rush through your meals, don’t eat them in your car while driving or at your desk. Sit down with friends, take your time ! 

Enjoy it ! 

Stefania

Vinitaly 2018

 Verona, “The City of Love & Wine”.

There is no world without Verona walls
But purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence “banishèd” is banished from the world,
And world’s exile is deat” (Shakespeare, Act III, Scene III
 
 
There are thousands of reasons to visit  Verona : not only for  Juliet’s balcony, but also for Vinitaly
 
During the Vinitaly I spent a weekend in Verona by friends of mine . Of course this “City of Lovers” has much to offer travellers beyond the famous, dramatic love story.  Verona is a beautiful town with great history, and  most of the sights are very close to each other, so it was possible for me to stroll trough almost all of the town’s must-see places. The best way to start exploring Verona was to go to the Piazza Bra, where you can find many restaurants to have lunch or dinner, and then towards  the famous  Arena of Verona, which resembles the Colosseum in Rome. Nowadays this Roman amphitheatre is used like a concert hall. A further must-see step was  Piazza delle Erbe: a Market Square surronded by elegant buildings (the Old Town Hall,  Torre dei Lamberti,  Palazzo Maffei, the Casa dei Mercanti , etc), with the Madonna Verona Fountain in the heart of the square. It is the central and most beautiful square in Verona, so there are always a lot of tourists drinking coffee in cafes and buying souvenirs, vegetables, and fresh fruits at the market. I  went on crossing the bridge Ponte Pietra through the Adige River then I reached the top and stopped in the little garden near the castle Castel San Pietro. From here the right side of Adige River, with the historic centre of Verona, is clearly visible. Here you can enjoy one of the best panoramic views of the town! Of course, I  couldn’t  forget about  Juliet’s House. The balcony from which Juliet supposedly talked to her Romeo is famous all over the world. It is also believed that if you write the declaration of love or leave the lock with your names on the special wall in the yard, your relationship will be happy. Touching the statue of Juliet in the yard is a sign of good fortune as well!
 

From Piemonte to Veneto, from Tuscany to Puglia to Sicily. Let’s explore together what modern Italian Wines are all about!

Located in the unforgettable city of Verona in Northern Italy, in the heart of ValpolicellaVinitaly is the biggest exhibition about wine in Italy and for sure one of the biggest in the world . Thousands of producers and distributors from all 20 regions of Italy  and from  all over the World present their Wines at the trade fair of Verona (Veronafiere). For Wine Lovers, this is an experience not to be missed! Prior to 2018, I had always heard of Vinitaly, but I had never experienced the wonder myself. I attended Vinitaly, in April, 2018, and and I have to admit I liked  what I saw. Vinitaly is an event of international importance, and it is very big  in terms of products, distributers, and actual surface area. I walked kilometers in one day from one hall to the next and It required not only  a strong passion for wine, but even research , planning and money! With over 4200 vendors from all around Italy and other areas of the world, I  realized I couldn’t  scratch the surface of Vinitaly – above all if attending in only  1 day! I feel like I barely tried any Wines! I would have flown into a couple regions of Italian Wine, but I was able only to  try only a few Wines above all from Sicily (my homeland) , the ones I had in my mind since a lot of time. Here below  my tour! 

Castellaro Winery, Lipari . 

As fate would have it, my first stop was “Tenuta di Castellaro” Winery, Lipari, 

The Estate of Castellaro has its headquarters in Quattropiani, the highest village on the island of Lipari. The owner of the estate is Massimo Lentsch, entrepreneur from Bergamo (Milan area), who fell in love with Sicily and Sicilian Wine. Massimo Lentsch was already producing wine in Dubrovnik, but after a holiday in Lipari,  realized the high potential of this terroir and created this new company. The estate consists of several plots scattered all over the island of Lipari: “Vigna” “Maggiore”, “Lisca”, “Lisca Alta”, “Caolino” and “Gelso” are the main. The greater area is located in “Castellaro” and from this vineyard is after named the estate. A very important event was the meeting between Massimo Lentsch and the winemaker Salvo Foti, founder of the Consortium of Vigneri, who has put his great experience to produce wine in the Eolie islands in the service of the new winery. The goal of the Consortium of Vigneri is to produce wines of excellence, in full respect of the nature and island traditions.  In 2013, after four years of work, in Lipari was inaugurated the cellar of the estate, with a solemn ceremony in which, in addition to local authorities, was attended by a delegation of Japanese operators. This is the largest winery of the Eolie Islands, modern with very low environmental impact, all geared to the natural production of wine, where the wine making process takes place by gravity, without the use of pumps, where the musts are fermented on indigenous yeasts. In volcanic soils rich in pumice and obsidian have found an exceptionally habitat grapes varieties such as Malvasia di Lipari, Carricante and Nero d’Avola, and the wines produced, almost a tribute to the nature of the soil, bear the names of stones.

 

Benanti Winery, Catania, Mount Etna.

Last summer I wanted to go to Mount Etna to visit the “Benanti” Winery, but I couldn’t for several reasons and I promised myself to find a way to do it once in my life!

It’s easy to imagine I dashed for this unique Winery at Vinitaly, that gave me the possibility to meet the producers in person. First thing, I was impressed was for their elegance: their manners, their way of thinking, their personality and their kindness to tell me the story of their family. Antonio Benanti, a charming Sicilian entrepreneur, started talking about their Top Red and White Wines. I tasted them and they are stunning. These wines are unique, because they are produced from three local noble grapes variety you cant’t find nowhere in the world: Carricante (white), Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio! They are so special, because they are located in Mount Etna that is an insane place to produce wine: volcanic soil, wildly unpredictable weather and steep slopes. This  is the reason why Etna has become one of Italy’s most exciting wine regions, creating wines with intense minerality and effusive flavors.  I asked Antonio the secret of their success and he answered simply : “passion, hard job and professionality”. Antonio with his brother Salvino belongs to the new generation of ambitious winemakers that are pioneering the potential’s of Etna vineyards focusing on what it does best.  Twin brothers Salvino and Antonio Benanti, 42,  spent their lives side by side: growing up in Sicily, studying at business school, working banking jobs in London and then returning to Sicily to take over the family winery.  In 2012 their father, Giuseppe Benanti, handed them the “Benanti” Winery . Giuseppe Benanti, now 73, is a third-generation Catania pharmacist who built a successful international ophthalmological products company. In the late 1980s Giuseppe began investing in a dream of making great wines in Mount Etna reviving a family old passion with an extensive and selective study of the Etnean soils. But it was with the twins that there was a qualitative leap. In the past  “Benanti” Winery had lost some of its identity, producing too many wines of varying quality. The brothers knew what they wanted to do and wasted no time:  the day after Giuseppe transferred ownership to his sons, they started a revolution!  The brothers sold off vineyards in southeastern Sicily along with mediocre performers on Etna, dramatically slashed the number of bottlings from more than 20 to 8,  and eliminated use of international varieties. Their idea was to invest in their core wines. Those that “Benanti” Winery  does best are its elegant, single-vineyard Etna flagships: including the Etna White Superiore Pietramarina 2012,  made from the ancient native variety Carricante, and two reds—the Etna Rovittello 2012 and Serra della Contessa 2012 made from local grapes Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. Today the “Benanti” Winery  farms about 30 acres, producing close to 13,000 cases annually. Benanti Wines—which five years ago were exported only to Japan, Norway and one U.S. state—now ship to 30 countries. American distribution has expanded from New York only to 11 other states.  Today Benanti is a prestigious winery and its wines are some of the most awarded in Sicily.

  

Fina Winery, Marsala

Fill your glass with “Kikè” (white,  Traminer and Sauvignon Blanc)  of “Fina” Winery once in your life  ! Can you imagine ?  During a starring summer evening in front of the sea, while having a cosy fish meal somewhere in the Mediterranean! 

It happened to me and finally at the Vinitaly I met Bruno Fina,  the gentle owner of this beautiful and modern winery in Marsala,  who dedicated a little time to me for tasting his gorgeous wines. Fina’s wines are the result of a land in the territory of Marsala that is loved and fought for, they have the taste of the passion and of that grapes that have been wisely turned into wine, thanks to the dedication of the work in the vineyard. They have the familiar warmth and the experience of who has always done wine and has always know how to narrate it. This is how you transmit the hereditary character of the territory and the harmony of the men that search for excellence on a daily basis. Those are the fundamental element of Fina’s winery and for this reason Brunoconsiders his wines as part of his family. Aiming to get the best from the surrounding territory “Fina” Winery has a modern and efficient structure transferring all the passion in rational organization of spaces and processes, in the maximum respect for the integrity of the grapes.

Finally some useful Tips, if you decide to go to Vinitaly next year: 

  • Book Vinitaly tickets in advance on line: they were € 80 per person for a 1 day pass and €145 for all 4 days. If you are affiliated with a Wine-Related Trade (sommelier, restaurant owner, shop owner, blogger, etc.), it is possible to have a discount. If you know someone  who is somehow involved in the Wine Business, they can sign up for a free entrance.  The reason why  Vinitaly is so expensive was because of issues with drunk people in the past.  Lastly, if you are  a journalist, a blogger  and so on, you can request a Free 4-days Pass to Vinitaly;
  • Stay Overnight in Verona: If you have the chance to stay in Verona during the festival, do it! The city comes alive with all sorts of dining and wine events. BUT make sure you make reservations for any dinners in advance, as most restaurants are sure to fill up
  • Stay longer than 1 day:  and figure out a plan; 
  • Go on One of the Last Two Days: If you have to pick a day, pick one of the last two days of the festival. By then, the crowds have died down; 
  • Spend time on Vinitaly’s website:  that offers a plethora of useful information about the philosophy, logistics, and wineries at the festival,  conducting some preliminary research for your visit;
  • Get the Vinitaly App: it lists every single vendor by country, region, and type of wine. the Vinitaly App also has a map of the Event and a location capability that can help you find saved wineries once you arrive; 
  • If you want to get to Vinitaly consider public transport: if you’re coming from outside of Verona. I  caught a train to Verona Porta Nuova (main train station), then immediately hopped on the Vinitaly free shuttle bus. It dropped us off right in front of the event, and it took only 3-4 minutes to drive. There are multiple free shuttles running all over the city. See theVinitaly website for more info; 
  • Go Early: plan to arrive right at 9:30 when the doors open. Your chances of peacefully enjoying some wine are much higher earlier in the day; 
  • Wear Comfortable Shoes: I’d recommend choosing somewhere in between from casual to formal dress , but please  comfortable shoes for walking around the event itself!
  • Be smart: this event is huge and there are thousands of wines you can try.  You don’t have to try every single wine from every winery. Another strategy? Sip and spit. Really. You can try WAY more wine if you can manage spitting out much of the wine. That’s literally what the dump buckets are there for. No one will look at you weird!; 
  • Bring lots of Business Cards: If you are in a wine-related business in any way, bring lots of business cards. This event is a wonderful opportunity for networking and getting to know people; 
  • Food brought from home:  there are multiple places you can eat at the event, that means an endless queue and an additional cost . Anyway, there are lots of  cafes around the event in case you need something strong to awake your self from sleep! 

Vinitaly is the Wine-Education Experience of a Life Time: You can get an amazing wine education experience at Vinitaly.

 

Enjoy it! 

Stefania

 

Calici sotto le Stelle 2012, Marina di Cala del Sole, Licata, Sicily

 

On the 6th of August 2012, a hot summer day, me and the chef  Elena Curzio  met each other in Licata, my home town in Southern Sicily for a job meeting in the the tourist harbour “Marina di Cala del Sole”. 

We talked about our passions and we worked together realizing  a special Wine Exibition “Calici Sotto le Stelle” , a National Wine Festival that takes place in Town Squares and Wineries  on August 10th  every year, the night of the shooting stars:  Wine Lovers raise their glasses for the most-anticipated toast of the summer! Movimento Turismo del Vino and Città del Vino, the Association of Italian Winemaking Cities,  give life to an Exibition  that extends form North to South. 

Elena had the brilliant idea to prepare star-shaped biscuits with the Top Re Wine of a Local Top  Winery “Estate Barone La Lumia” with the help of some  collaborators  and here below a video about that great night

 

 

Learn Italian and Buona Visione. 

Stefania