Tag Archives: wine

C’era una volta

On Sunday, we drove out of Milan toward the northern lake country, for one of my favorite days of the trip, the “medieval dinner.”  Our bus barely made it up the steep gravel roads and dropped us off in front of the gates of a large stone house, where we were warmly welcomed by Elena, the owner, who immediately ushered us inside.  As we warmed ourselves in the spacious living room, adorned with interesting artwork, she recounted us the story of the house and her family’s relationship with it.

medieval house

outside i Vallicelli

Known as i Vallicelli, the house has records dating back to the early 1500s, which describe all of its past residents and their professions, although there are structural indications that the building existed since the 1000s.  Elena had moved into the house with her husband when she was younger, and the historic building and the surrounding natural beauty inspired her.  The property was almost a miniature natural preserve, with various wildlife and fruit trees, and when her children were born, she began making homemade jams.  This hobby has since expanded, and our tour of the house next led to the modern kitchens and storerooms, where the incredibly delicious preserves are now concocted and packaged.

also raspberry jam on the side, yum.

orange tart, the final dessert

After our introduction to the charming property was complete, we began the real business of the day–a feast.  The marathon meal (which would last about 4 hours in total), began with light appetizers: breads, regional cheeses and salami, tomato and olive pastes, and some of the homemade preserves.  Each course had been paired with a specific wine selected by a sommelier, and we clinked glasses for our first brindisi with a sparkling rosé.  Moving to the table, we began the first course, two types of quiche, one onion, and the other ricotta and spinach, accompanied by Pinot Bianco. We switched to red wine for the main course: beef, marinated in wine and spices for a week, and polenta, which had been cooking in an iron pot over the open fire since we had arrived.

polenta

polenta on the fire

By the time the vegetables arrived, we were all wondering if we would physically be able to survive the massive meal, but the cheesy cauliflower was too good to pass up.  Finally we were served a dessert wine, and made it to the final course, but there were two different desserts to finish: spiced wine-soaked pears, and an orange tart. Despite the fact that we finished off the meal with espresso, everyone was asleep about 5 minutes after we settled onto the bus…exhausted by the portions, and dreaming of polenta.

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Nuoro

Nuoro was an unexpectedly fascinating stop. After the blue waters and white sand beaches of Santa Teresa teased me in the morning, I wasn’t all that excited to be heading back inland, and as we pulled into the town on the bus, it looked much more modern–with high rise apartments–than the some of the other charming and crumbly island towns. I had heard that there wasn’t much in the way of budget accomodations in the city, so I had made reservations at another B&B. The owner, Mario, came to pick me up from the bus station, and take me to the house, located outside of Nuoro, in the township of Monte Ortobene, which overlooks the city from the mountains.
Mario was instantly helpful, talking me to about Sardinia on the ride up the mountain, as soon as he heard about my research project. His two dogs greeted us as we pulled into the driveway and I discovered that I was the only visitor, so I had the whole guesthouse, a separate building attached to his house, by myself. From the terrace attached to me room I could see the whole valley, and in the distance, the sea.

looking down from Monte Ortobene

looking down from Monte Ortobene

I hadn’t been settled in long when Mario returned to tell me that his girlfriend and her mother had arrived and that they were all going to take a ride to see some “interesting houses” on the mountain if I wanted to join. I guess there are benefits to being the only guest.  I soon discovered that the two women were actually French, from Paris, and had grown up in the 15th arrondissement/rue Cambronne area, which is exactly where I’m going to be living this summer. As they said, “C’est un petit monde.”

goat cheese farm in a cave

goat cheese farm in a cave

The first place Mario took us was a little further up Monte Ortobene, and was a small goat cheese farm. What made it remarkable was that it was based out of a rock. A cave had been carved, over the course of thousands of years, into the giant toadstool-shaped rock on the mountain, and a local family had decided to set up their small farm around it. The rock was now outfitted with a little door, and inside was a simple fridge, table, and some beds, along with racks of cooling cheese. I felt a little bit like I was in The Hobbit as I ducked the rocky ceiling to step inside the small abode. Around back there were the goats, who roamed free on the mountains by day and returned at night to sleep and be milked. A small pony ran to the fence to say hi as we walked by. As we tasted the local red wine (apparently many families here have their own tiny vineyards so they can make their own table wine) Mario talked to the men who ran the farm in Sard, the local language, a non-romance language, that is not related to Italian. As we were leaving, Mario explained that since the farm is based around a rock, it doesn’t really exist in the eyes of the local government, so the family doesn’t really own it, or have to pay any taxes.

Not much further up the hill, we stopped at an agriturismo, another family farm that hosts gatherings, food tastings, and campers at times, and were greeted by a 900-year-old tree (or so the plaque said). The owner took us into his “rock kitchen,” where ancient looking hams were aging and dusty bottles of wine lined the walls. Here we got to try to the local white, sweet wine and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see the many traditional Sardinian carnevale masks that were hanging on the walls.

Nuoro is reputed to be the “cultural capital” of Sardinia, and it certainly seems to be true. The next day I went to an archeological museum and an ethnographic museum (where I saw many more carnevale masks), and as he said goodbye Mario encouraged me to return, saying that he could help me find more contacts to explore the island, which he described as “a little continent,” in the future.

 

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Albemarle County Adventures

view from the top

view from the top

Midweek, Josh and I decided to hike Humpback Rock, a few miles west of Charlottesville on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I had done the hike years before, and the 40 minute ascent didn’t sound so bad, but as the trail immediately rose sharply, I realized that it wasn’t quite as easy as it had seemed the last time…when I was 10…  Nevertheless, we made it to the top, which was completely worth the sweat for the incredible view.  Had a picnic on the rocks and headed back down, which of course took less then half as long as the climb.

accomplishment!

accomplishment!

Naturally, to relax after the hike, we decided to stop at some of the many wineries we’d passed on the drive there.  It was my first time on the local Monticello Wine Trail and I was pleasantly surprised (not that I’m an expert).  We stopped at Afton Mountain Vineyards, Veritas, and Pollak…our favorite being Veritas, pictured below, which had an incredible complex and view of the countryside.

view from the Veritas porch

view from the Veritas porch

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