Piedmont, Italy: Monferrato’s Slow Food, Wine & Truffles

Motoring through Italy’s Piemonte or Piedmont region, I sometimes felt as though I’d been whisked back in time a few decades, perhaps even centuries. The dramatic hills of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato districts were wrapped with rows of grapevines and orchards, crowned with handsome fortresses, and dotted with villages wearing terra-cotta rooftops. Large-scale industry was largely absent from this swathe of the Northern Italian landscape, and that’s much of what made it so visually-appealing.

With just weeks to go before the 2015 grape and white truffle harvests, the enthusiasm among the locals was already palpable. Together with our local guide, Marco from Meet Piemonte, Shawn and I would spend two days exploring pockets of Piedmont. This article highlights our time in the Monferrato district, to include the city of Asti, home to the famous Palio horserace, plus wine-tasting and truffle hunting excursions in the countryside. An upcoming post in this series will focus upon the nearby Langhe-Roero hills, including the elegant city of Alba.

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Tasting Central California: A Paso Robles Wine Tour

Six decades ago, my grandparents and their then-eight children piled into the family car and drove to San Luis Obispo from Minnesota. My grandfather was to begin a teaching position there. Though the family’s chapter in San Luis Obispo (SLO) ended up being a short one (frankly, I don’t know how they bid farewell to charming SLO and its wonderful weather) my relatives left with sunny memories of playing at the beach and in the hills, and a now-iconic photograph of my father sporting golden-brown curls, pushing a 1950s-era wire stroller.

With that personal connection as well as the knowledge that fine wine country exists not only in San Luis Obispo, but also nearby Paso Robles, Shawn and I made a point to stop in SLO as we made our way along California’s coastline from Monterey to Santa Barbara. We were also lured in by SLO’s designation as the ‘Happiest City in America’ and felt that vibe the moment we took to the walkable downtown, past quirky eateries and shops, and the city’s 18th century Spanish Mission church.

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A Land of Hidden Gems: Moldova’s Wine, Food & Monasteries

On a quest to discover Moldovan wine, food and culture, we embarked on an adventure in the countryside, having just left the small European country’s capital city of Chisinau. Roadside merchants sold their wares: wicker baskets, colorful mums wearing autumnal hues, and large bowls containing green grapes fashioned into a pyramid shape. Farmers picked apples in orchards, a grape-harvesting crew took a break by lounging in a vineyard, and cows and goats grazed on the expansive golden plains.

If ever a swathe of land could be called ‘wine country,’ Moldova would be one of the most deserving to wear the label. Nestled between Ukraine and Romania, the country is abstractly shaped like a cluster of grapes. Winemaking accounts for 7% of the country’s exports, and when you go there, you get the sense that every family has an amateur winemaker in its ranks. Though family-made wines are common, the country is also becoming increasingly well-known for its high-quality, commercial wine, which is now made with adherence to international, modern standards. A National Office for Vine & Wine was established to help regulate the industry and promote Moldovan wine abroad.

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Soaking up the Details (and the Wine) of Saint-Emilion – Bordeaux, France

saint-emilion-bordeaux-france

Enclosed by vineyards producing some of Bordeaux’s most esteemed wine, it’s no wonder that the village of Saint-Emilion is one of the region’s most alluring destinations. During a weekend there earlier this year, I found myself effortlessly charmed by Saint-Emilion’s graceful limestone buildings, its window-boxes brimming with beautiful blooms, its almond-flavored macarons, and elegant wine culture. By day, Shawn and I ascended the 196 steps of the village’s church-tower and explored its vineyards, and by night, we shared exemplary bottles of wine with Shawn’s parents. One night, a generous winemaker sitting at a table beside us even invited us to share a glass of one of this creations. What a way to welcome us!

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Grape Diplomacy in the Moldovan Countryside

 

In the late-afternoon light, the gingerbread homes of the Moldovan village, Rosu, were bathed in golden hues. The homes’ green and periwinkle-blue fences, and wooden adornments on their gables cast frilly shadows on the dirt road, as Shawn and I embarked on an evening stroll.

The wire arbors over the homes’ driveways were brimming with grapes wearing muted amethyst, plum, and seafoam-green hues. They ranged from smaller clusters to plump specimens, calling me to spirit away a bunch or two. They looked so tempting.

As I stopped to photograph a green trellis studded with grapes overhead, two women chatting on the street, called out to us in Moldovan.

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Hvar Island: A Croatian Odyssey of Music, History & Wine

The Croatian island of Hvar is renowned for its 2,800 hours of sunshine, intensely-blue water, luxury yachts, and summertime nightlife. Visiting there during an early spring weekend, however, Shawn and I encountered something quite different from the Hvar of postcards: refreshing rain showers, landscapes that appeared to be wearing a sepia filter because of clouds overhead, and quiet lanes via which to explore the paradisiacal island. After we’d had a picnic at the Hvar Fortress and spent countless hours aimlessly strolling Hvar Town and Stari Grad’s streets, we had the great fortune to mingle with a talented winemaker and his lifelong chums, who together with our friend from mainland Split, painted an idyllic picture of life on the real Hvar.

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Photo du Jour: Georges the French Bulldog – Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux

Saint Emilion Bordeaux France Wine Shop French Bulldog

Georges, a regal French Bulldog, stands guard at a wine shop in the village of Saint-Emilion France, situated in Bourdeaux wine country. We recently met Georges, who spends his days sunbathing and greeting wine tasters at his master’s shop. A firetruck-red likeness of Georges also sits in the entry way, but laid-back Georges garners most of the attention of the passersby.

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Amore for Amarone: A Springtime Wine Tasting in Valpolicella, Italy

Among the verdant, rolling hills of Italy’s Valpolicella region near Verona, winemakers have been turning out wine since ancient Greek times. Once we’d soaked up Verona’s architectural splendor, and had seen Verona’s Arena and Juliet’s Balcony, we traded city life in fair Verona for a wine-tasting excursion in the countryside, replete with the region’s famed Amarone and Valpolicella wine.

Our escape took us to the Massimago Winery in the village of Mezzane di Sotto, situated in one of five valleys of the Valpolicella region. As we left Verona, the city’s pleasant hustle and bustle gradually gave way to lush green vineyards recently awakened from a winter slumber, slopes occasionally dotted with lacy cherry-blossom trees, cypresses stretching to the sky, and graceful estates.

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