Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wines of Italy: The Great Indoors of Benevento

The night of my birthday I had a strange dream about being stranded in the hotel and stuck in the elevator; when the doors opened I saw Diane Arbus like twins standing foot deep in a sea of blood red merlot. It was right out of The Shining. No wonder I had that dream, with artwork like the one above in the hotel lobby, the red bar, and the snow outside, it did not take much for my subconscious to conjure a scene from the Overlook Hotel. REDRUM TOLREM REDRUM!

Red Bar at Hotel 

Around 5am I was snapped out of my dream state by the sound of gunshots cracking through the eerie muffled silence of the pre-dawn. I looked out my balcony window to see our bus partially camouflaged by snow. Then I heard another gun shot and realized it was just the sound of tree limbs snapping under the weight of the snow.

I took a quick look at my twitter stream to make sure no one in our group had repeatedly tweeted  “All blogging and no wine makes Jack a dull boy.” Considering the circumstances it would have been appropriate.

My dream proved to be slightly predictive of what the day held. Due to the weather we were temporarily stranded and our visits to TerreDora, Mastroberardino and Cantina Feudi di San Gregorio were canceled. This was a huge disappointment to all of us, but probably no more so than for Daniela Mastroberardino who was eager to show us her winery and the Iripina region. But no amount of snow or disappointment could keep the irrepressibly bright and cheerful Daniela down or prevent her from coming up with some creative alternative plans for the bloggers. First up was an informative overview of the Campania region by Daniela, who in an inspired bit of super-meta-Italian-creativity used a bread stick as a pointer in the presentation.

When the going gets tough, the professionals break out the breadsticks! 

Following the presentation we made our way through the empty halls and a darkened dining room to the kitchen where Chef Angelo D'Amico and his staff gave us an impromptu cooking demonstration followed by a wine tasting.

The Hotel il Molino used to be a factory for the Rummo brand pasta so it all came full circle in the kitchen.

Potato Pasta with black pork and a touch of Anchovy

The dishes Chef D'Amico whipped up for us were so simple but so satisfying. First he made a traditional Campanian pasta dish with potatoes, tomatoes, some black pork, and anchovies.

Next, he made use of some day old bread mixed with sautéed garlic, onions and browned vegetables to create a savory dish I could of happily eaten everyday! Topped with some grated caciocavallo cheese it was like an inside out vegetable pot pie.

The Greco di Tufo TerreDora, an unoaked white with a bright acidity and a peachy/apple nose, paired surprisingly well with the potato pasta.

One of the reds we sampled was a Moio Maiatico Primitivo that really snapped my head back. I took a sip and did a double take! The Primitivo grape is supposedly the Italian version of Zinfandel and I found this wine to be full of flavor but not overly jammy or sweet. There were notes of blackberry, black pepper and a touch of green olive. It had full body, nice soft tannins, a long finish and it was a even a bit salty too in a very good way. I was ready to grab the remaining bottles on the table and head back to my room for more, um, research on this wine. But a few other bloggers quickly caught on and the wine was finished in an instant. Oh how we pine for the ones that get away....

UNA Hotel il Molino
I was quite impressed with the cooking demo and my hat's off to Daniela and her team for turning a possible disaster of a day into a fun learning experience. Turns out the Hotel il Molino is a great place to get stranded. The rooms are large and comfortable and the staff is most accommodating, especially in the kitchen. You can find the recipes for the dishes Chef D'Amico made here.

All Aboard the Wine Bus

Later in the day we were able to board the bus and head to Naples. We were only 40 minutes away, but the trip took hours due to the snow and traffic. Luckily Mr. Wine Bus passed out tiny cups so we could hold an impromptu tasting as we inched along the highway. It's not a wine bus without wine!

Links to all Posts in this Series:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wines of Italy Series: Birthday on the Wine Trail

All I can say is if your birthday happens to fall within the dates of an International Wine Tourism Conference do absolutely everything in your power to get invited on the trip! Once again I had the supreme pleasure of celebrating my birthday on the IWINETC FAM trip. Last year in Portugal was a delight, but Italy proved to have charms and surprises all its own. 

Aquapetra Resort in Telese

I woke up on the morning of my birthday in a private villa-ette at the Aquapetra resort. I’d have liked nothing more than to spend the entire day relaxing in the park-like setting and partake of the many Spa offerings, but the weather had turned quite harsh and it was starting to snow.

On schedule that day were several wineries at higher elevations including TerreDora, Mastroberardino and Cantina Feudi di San Gregorio in the Irpinia region, but it became clear as we waited in the cozy lobby of Aquapetra that our plans would have to change. Our intrepid organizers led by Daniela Mastroberardino, president of Moviemiento Tourismo e Vino Campania, swapped some days around and arranged for us to visit Villa Matilde, located in lower elevation Cellole, instead. We were now in the grape land of Aglianico, Fino, Greco, Falanghina and Falerno-- many of them new to me. 

The wine and food parings presented by Villa Matilde were perfection. I liked how Export Manager, Giorgio Imparato guided us through the tasting twice--first without food and then with food to highlight how well they paired and how much the wine was enhanced by the paring and vice versa.

Clockwise from upper left: Pasta sfoglia,
Sausage and broccoli dumpling,
Angello meat pie, and Arancini  

Each pairing was freshly made in the on premise kitchen. These simple small bites were some of my favorite food of the trip. Pasta sfoglia, a delicate empanada-esque pastry filled with ham and cheese; a broccoli and sausage filled dumpling; a savory meat pie of agnello (lamb); and and then there was arancini! Oh yes, the fried rice ball arancini is a veritable cupcake of hearty flavor! My childhood comfort food, this arancini was made with peas just the way my Italian Nonna made it. I was in a food-induced state of bliss.

Tasting Notes

My notes--handwriting is not my forte

Villa Matilde vineyards have a rich volcanic soil spread across several micro climates that experience temperature extremes from warm, hot sea breezes to cold dry air from the mountains.  

100% Falanghina. Light floral scent with some hints of pineapple. Nice round mouth feel with fruity notes of pineapple and green apple. Very refreshing and a steal at 8-9 Euros.
Pairing: Pasta sfogia

100% Falanghina. Straw yellow color. Medium body and flavors of peaches bananas and vanilla. Rich mouth feel. Pairing: Sausage and broccoli dumpling

Aglianico 80%, Piedirosso 20%. Deep garnet color. Scent of rich dark fruits, blackberry and plums with a distinct hit of sea air! Full and smooth on the palate with balanced tannins. Paired great with the arancini. Scrawled on my note sheet--Me Likey!

Aglianico 80%, Piedirosso 20%. Deep dark purple color. Floral and toasty nose. Big flavors, almost like a liquid blackberry pie. Pairing: Agnello meat pie

100% Falanghina. Ohh la la! Golden honey amber color with an apricot and rasin honey nose. Flavor like pancakes with smoky raisin maple syrup. 

Left: Ms. Smarty Party-- Diane Letulle
Right: Giorgio Imparato

Later Giorgio quizzed us on what we learned that day in a Jeopardy style speed round of questions with some lovely wine books as prizes. Ms. Diane Letulle (@Diane_Letulle) proved to be a quick study and more important quick on the buzzer to answer most all the questions correctly. Good for you, Ms. Smarty Pants! I was not as quick or smart, but thankfully it was my birthday and the extremely generous Giorgio presented me with a copy of Le Donne in Vigna (Women in the Vineyard) as a special gift.

More delicious food was presented as part of an informal lunch and we were able to meet owner Francesco Avallone ( shown in right top corner below) and also the talented ladies behind all the cooking and take a quick group photo.

Ladies of the kitchen front and center

What a great birthday gift Villa Matilde turned out to be. I loved their wines and apparently so did many of the bloggers-- practically all of us purchased wine afterwards, particularly the Eleusi a Passito of 100% Falaghina. You have to remember we are not just wine blogging fools…we are consumers too, and you know a wine has made an impression when we all line up to buy more before we go. Especially wines that may be difficult to find stateside.

The hospitality at Villa Matilde was not a special arrangement just for the bloggers, wine tourists can visit Villa Matilde and experience the full wine pairing menu for around 35 Euros a person. I recommend you put them high on your list of places to visit in Campania. You won't want to miss it. 

When we left Villa Matilde the rain and snow began to increase and the roads became quite interesting to navigate. We slowly made our way to Benevento and the Hotel il Molino our lodging host for evening.

Birthday Dinner at Hotel il Molino

Top: Andrew Barrow, Birthday Girl and Gaetano Petrillo
Left Corner: Chef Angelo D'Amico with Birthday Girl

I have to admit I was a bit nervous as to what the evening might bring. The night before at AquaPetra it was David Lowe's (@bigpinots) birthday, and Ms. Melba Allen (@WineProfilers) gave a sensational performance delivering her rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday, so I figured anything was possible. Perhaps the @wine_scribbler , Andrew Barrow would come waltzing out wrapped in nothing but a Terre Margaritelli apron and give a little show. Or maybe the ebullient Gaetano Petrillio  (@thewinebus) of The Wine Bus might juggle corkscrews and show off the twins. But it was a wonderfully elegant and understated fete. Chef Angelo D’Amico’s creations and the local wines that were served needed no performance enhancements.

Although it sounds odd, the squid sausage (second row left above) with the TerreDora Greco di Tufo was my favorite combination of the evening.

* Polenta with Polpetta di Manzo (pictured above)
* Salsiccia di Calamaro (Squid Sausage!) on a Crostone with Pizzaiola Sauce (pictured above)
* Tortello of Caciocavallo Cheese with Carciofi (artichoke) Cream
* Guancia di Marchigiana a lenta cottura con Cipolle Caramellare e Patate (Slow Cooked Marchigiana Beef Caramelized Onions and Potatoes – No photo for this as I practically inhaled it as soon as the plate was set down.
* Biscotto Ghiacciato con Ricotta Mantecata agli Agrumi a Caramello (center photo above & below right)

Kleos 2010, Maffini
Fiano di Avellino 2010, Terre Dora
Fiorduva 2009, Marisa Cuomo
Fiano di Baal 2010 Casa di Baal
Greco di Tufo 2007, Terre Dora
(Since it was my birthday, I took a break and did not write down any formal tasting notes) 

While we dined the snow continued to fall and speculation about what the next day would bring was the main topic of discussion. Perhaps a blogger snowman building competition would be held? We’d have to wait and see. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wine Tourism Does Not Exist-- IWINETC 2012

"Wine tourism does not exist."

Well you can imagine the bewilderment hearing that caused for an auditorium full of tour operators, winery owners, media and tourism professionals at the 2012 International Wine Tourism Conference in Perugia, Italy. Many of the attendees were expecting to hear just the opposite. But that was the opening volley posited by Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications & Marketing. 

IWINETC 2012 Perugia, Italy
Michael went on to explain that aside from a small minority of wine tourists (and wine bloggers of course) visitors do not plan their vacation or travel days around visiting wineries. They are focused on where they will stay, where they will eat, what historic or cultural sights they will see. Visiting a winery is usually low on their priority list.

Wine tourism is essentially a very American concept pretty much created by Robert Mondavi. And except in a very few places like Napa, wine tourism does not exist. It’s just tourism.

Tourism is not a panacea for winemakers looking to sell more wine, nor is it an imperative for all wineries. But wineries that are seeking visitors and want to create more tourism must get on the radar (or on the map literally) in terms of choices that visitors make when planning a trip. That's why wine alliances and collaborations with tourism regions and local tour operators are key to promoting the industry as a whole. It’s important to make it easy for visitors to find you, know what your hours are, and what kind of experience they can expect when they visit.

During Michael's session and through out the conference, Twitter was a fire with the many views being debated on the subject. With a slate of speakers tilted rather heavily to the American view of tourism, there was bound to be some controversy. Some sessions got quite heated, arguing the point. A seemingly lopsided view of wine tourism was prevalent this year, and I think were I not an American, I too may have felt rather defensive if I repeatedly heard how to cater to the American wine tourist.

But I think many sessions proved there are several small but important steps that can be taken and still remain true to your culture and regional practices. It's a balance. 

I believe that Italian wineries looking to increase tourism need look no further then to their compatriots who are already doing an excellent job. Family wineries like the Lungarotti, Arnaldo-Caprai, Terre Margaritelli and Goretti (to name just a few in Umbria) are creating environments and programs for their visitors and working with the region to promote tourism. And the outstanding efforts of regional Wine Tourism Movement organizations such as Movimento Turismo del Vino Campania, Movimento Turismo del Vino Puglia and the Associazione Nazionale Le Donne del Vino (Women of Wine) are setting new standards in promoting and creating regional branding strategies for wine tourism throughout Italy.

Collaborating with those who have well-established programs and working to cross promote regional wine tourism with local organizations is the key. And in the less defined wine regions, it seems relationships with local guides and tour operators are even more important to facilitate the interaction between the wineries and visitors. 

I think there is much to be learned from Wine Tourism Italian Style, and it certainly exists! The winemakers and family winery owners I met were the most convivial group. Each demonstrated in their unique way how wine tourism can be grounded in family traditions and also incorporate modern marketing techniques and practices including using new media such as FaceBook and Twitter.

As the concept of wine tourism continues to grow, more people will seek to gather and discuss the merits and the issues surrounding it at conferences such as the International Wine Tourism Conference by Wine Pleasures and the Wine Tourism Conference organized by Zephyr Adventures. All sectors of tourism and wine tourism in particular can benefit from sharing ideas and learning from one another, and most important of all, a growing segment of tourists with an interest in wine will benefit from awareness campaigns that cultivate the desire to travel to regions that are also wine destinations.


Hotel Gio, Perugia

The host Hotel for this years IWINETC was the Hotel Gio in Perugia. @hotelgio on Twitter. The Gio with décor and accents that highlight both Jazz and Wine is a good example of a how a hotel can promote the concept of wine tourism with their Camera Cantina (Wine Room) program. I stayed in wine theme room devoted to one local wine producer – Terre Margarettili --which turned out to be a delightful coincidence as I’ll explain later. 


Croatia to host 2013 IWINETC
Next year from March 18-20th the IWINETC conference will be held in Croatia-- a place that’s become very near and dear to my heart and palate too! I have a special post about the wine of Croatia tasting held in Perugia coming up soon. 

Part 6- Wines of Italy: Terre Margaritelli - Torgiano

Friday, February 17, 2012

International Wine Tourism Conference 2012 --PREVIEW

I'm back! It was cold, wet and snowy!  But the weather did not dampen the enthusiasm or the flavor of the fabulous wines in Italy. I have so much to tell about my whirlwind tour of Italy's wine regions and the 2012 International Wine Tourism Conference held in Perugia in Umbria. I also took a side trip to Puglia after the conference and sampled some of the wines there too. But for now, here is a sneak peak-- just the tip of the ice(wine)berg of posts to come in the following weeks:

Kick-off Dinner in Orvieto

Pasta Making at Arnaldo - Caprai Winery

The International Wine Tourism Conference

Regal Dinner at Castelo dell' Oscano 

Grand Tasting of Italian Wines led by Jane Hunt

The Awesome Wines of Puglia

The Amazing Wines of Croatia

A Night Out at Terre Margaritelli

The Real Houeswives Wine Bloggers of Umbria

The Food and Wine of Campania at Terre del Principe

The Sublime Wine and Food Parings at Villa Matilde

Under the Volcano at Grotta del Sole
There's much much more to come about all the people, places, stellar birthday celebrations, and of course the stay tuned or better yet sign up for posts to be sent via email.

Ciao ciao--

Part 6 -Wines of Italy: Terre Margaritelli - Torgiano


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