What We're Drinking, Part 2: More Outstanding Italian Wines On Our Table

Fall seems like the perfect season for wine, perhaps because the crisp evenings call for cozy fireplaces and warming reds, and perhaps because wine is so closely linked to the months of September and October, when most vineyards in the northern hemisphere are harvested and the delicate process of fermentation begins to work its magic on the crushed grapes.

wine-barrels-chianti-tuscany-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Which is why we thought we’d take a fresh look at our domestic cantina, which we last did almost two years ago, and share some of the great bottles we’ve discovered (and stockpiled) during the last few trips to Italy. Read More...

Italy's Bottle of Truth

Winemaking, like all agricultural processes, has a long chain of “moments of truth”. The most satisfying for the imbibing consumer is, of course, the final moment, when corks are popped and the finished product carefully poured and sipped.

grapes-fall-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

But vintners know that this is just one of many important links in the chain. Before the pouring comes the bottling; before the bottling, the aging; before the aging, the fermentation; before the fermentation, the harvest.
Read More...

On the Plate and In the Glass in Piedmont's Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato

Though arguably all destinations in Italy could be considered a Shangri-La for lovers of excellent food and wine, nowhere is this more true than the Langhe-Roero and Monferrato wine country of southern Piedmont, just an hour by car from the bustling metropolis of Turin but worlds away in both pace and scenery.

castello-grinzane-cavour-langhe-italy-cr-brian-dorePhoto by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr

Le Langhe-Roero and Monferrato have recently gotten a bit of press, as they were added to the UNESCO’s register of World Heritage Sites in the first half of 2014. Citing the area’s uniquely beautiful landscapes—including five rolling wine growing districts, the Castle of Cavour, and pretty stone hilltowns of Serralunga, Nieve, Barolo, and Bra—and the long history of local winemaking—which has probably flourished since the time of the Etruscans five centuries before the birth of Christ—the UNESCO nomination only highlighted what lovers of Piedmont have known for years: this corner of Italy offers some of the most memorable meals (and photo-ops) in the entire country. Read More...

Bringing Food and Wine Souvenirs Back From Italy

You’ve traveled through Italy, enjoying the art and culture, trying out your newly-acquired Italian phrases on the locals, slowing down over a cappuccino or drinks in the piazza, and—most memorably—savoring some of the best meals of your life. It may be hard to recapture the Italian vibe at home, but you can try to recreate some of the Bel Paese’s iconic dishes. The easiest way, of course, would be to bring a sample of Italy’s excellent quality food back to the US with you, but it’s a good idea to be aware of which foods can and can’t be imported to avoid confiscation or hefty fines at the border. Read More...

So You Want to Go Shopping in Italy

shopping in italy strolling the galleria
Photo by Flickr user Dajan

Besides enjoying the scenery, the food, the arts, and the people, shopping in Italy is one of our favorite activities.

What You Need to Know: The Basics


First and foremost, prepare at home to spend abroad. Call your banks and credit card companies to confirm your travel dates and avoid getting your accounts locked for fraud.

Once in Italy, you may find that intriguing shop you’ve got your eye on always looks closed. Shops in Italy often close for a long break for lunch at 1 PM. So while you’re often out of luck at 2 PM, late afternoon openings mean you can shop more or less from 4 PM until dinnertime at 8 PM.


shopping in italy specialty food store
Photo by Flickr user Roboppy

In the shop, start off with a “buongiorno” (good day) or a “buonasera” (good evening) if it’s afternoon to the shopkeeper to get things going on the right foot. Shopping in Italy is a rather collaborative experience; often, the customer isn’t even supposed to touch things.

Discuss, point, or otherwise indicate what you are looking for, and your salesperson will take care of you. In the more popular tourist destinations, the shop personnel generally speak English. In smaller towns or off the beaten track destinations, try out your charade skills.

If you’re making a substantial purchase (more than 155 euros in one shop), consider getting a partial refund on your 21% value-added tax (IVA) payment. You’ll need to start the paperwork at the time of purchase and then visit the customs desk at the airport before leaving Italy.

What Should You Shop For?


Everything?

If only there were enough time and luggage space. These are some of our favorite things to bring home:

Clothing


shopping in italy clothes store
Photo by Flickr user Sifu Renka

Look up how your usual size translates into European measurements for both clothing and shoes (Italy is simply the best place for fine leather goods), but don’t be surprised if you need a larger size. Italian clothing is cut slim. Try everything on before purchasing, as returns are often not possible.

Food & Wine


shopping in italy specialty food panforte
Photo by Flickr user Gashwin

Food stores are where the “look but don’t touch” ethos is most paramount. Let the salesperson give you samples and guide you to something special. But be forewarned: anything fresh – and to U.S. Customs that includes cured meats – can’t come home. Enjoy it while you’re there! Aged cheeses can be brought back so if you want to bring a small wheel of Pecorino from Pienza back home, just ask them to vacuum pack it (sotto vuoto in Italian). Olive oil and wine are ok as well. If you do plan to do some food shopping in Italy, be sure to bring a few ziplock bags with you from home - they are great for keeping any breakage during travel under control.

Linens


shopping in italy linens
Photo by Flickr user Bart Hanlon

With access to stunning handmade linens like those at Brozzetti (highlighted earlier this month), it’s impossible to resist bringing one of a kind household linens home. Linens make great gifts - they don’t take up a lot of space and aren’t breakable. Brian’s mother advised us long ago to never leave home without a notebook of all of our table measurements. We pass along her wise words.

Pottery & Glassware


shopping in italy pottery
Photo by Flickr user Andrew Batram

If you love painted pottery, you’ll be in heaven. But before you fall in love, ask about shipping. Some of our favorite shops charge (thankfully) by box size not weight, but usually international shipping rates apply and they aren’t “cheap”. You may also receive a bill from US Customs for duty on shipped ceramic items.

brian maria gabriella signature

Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

48 Hours: Firenze (Florence)

In a city with more than 70 museums and 2,000 years of history (much of it concentrated in the just under 2-square-mile centro storico UNESCO World Heritage Site) forty-eight hours is just enough time to get a taste of Florence’s charm . . . and start plotting for your return.

FRIDAY


48 hours in florence duomo
Image © Concierge in Umbria

4:00 p.m. Greatest Hits


Start in the Piazza del Duomo, where the sheer mass of the cathedral and its Renaissance engineering masterpiece, the largest brick dome constructed to this day, dwarf the surrounding medieval streets. Continue down Via dei Calzaiuoli and work your way through Piazza Signoria to the Arno River and back east to the Basilica of Santa Croce.

6:30 p.m. Stop and Smell the Vino


Rest your feet and feast your eyes on the Florentine passeggiata, the evening stroll in one of the many medieval tower houses that’s been converted into a wine bar. Where to begin? We’re partial to Antinori’s wines and their restaurant outside the city, and their in-town Cantinetta Antinori is an ideal spot to sample both.

8:00 p.m. Dine like Dante


You’ll find that beyond all of the art and architecture, one of the best things about Florence is its residents. Trattorias showcase both traditional local fare – think pasta with rabbit sauce, 30+ oz. steaks, and hearty vegetable soups – and a vibrant swath of the local population. We love Trattoria I’ Parione, where we had one of our favorite meals of 2011.

SATURDAY


48 hours in florence palazzo pubblico
Image © Concierge in Umbria

7:30 a.m. A Café with a View


At Rivoire, founded by the personal chocolatier of the Savoy family when Florence was the capital of newly united Italy, you can grab a signature hot chocolate or a café and pastry and soak up the local gossip and the singular view of Piazza della Signoria, a site which has hosted the rise and fall of Florentine regimes for centuries.

8:15 a.m. Medici Morning


Dive in when the doors first open to get Florence’s famed Uffizi Gallery more or less to yourself. The museum is organized chronologically and grouped by artists, so it offers the perfect chance for a morning’s education on Florence’s pivotal role as a setting for Renaissance artistic development. And what better setting than the place these great artists learned their craft! During the early Renaissance, the Medicis invited artists to study and work among the collection to hone their skills.

48 hours in florence arno river
Image © Concierge in Umbria

11:00 a.m. On the Wild Side


Though it’s just a one-minute walk across the Ponte Vecchio, the Arno’s south shore, the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno) is largely overlooked by tourists. Grab lunch in one of the great-value, locals-oriented trattorias or piadinerias (like a pizzeria for flatbread). Walk it off touring some of the artisans plying ancient trades on the back streets, from bookbinders to furniture makers to stationers. Begin your second Medici encounter of the day at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence’s answer to Buckingham Palace. After all the opulence, treat yourself to a well-deserved respite in the ducal gardens attached to the palace, the Boboli Gardens, or the adjoining, recently reopened Bardini gardens terraced on the hillside.

5:00 p.m.: A Sunset fit for a King


Michelangelo’s David (or at least one of the four versions displayed around the city) enjoys the best view of the city from Piazza Michelangelo in the Oltrarno. As the day cools off, you can reach this spot via car, bus, or foot – the steep steps up the riverside to the piazza are not for those out of shape – for a picnic or aperitivo as the sun sets on the River Arno.

7:30 p.m. Dinner Theater?


No other spot in Chef Fabbio Picchi’s Cibreo empire can compete with Teatro del Sale in terms of pure entertainment value. The dining room is itself a theater, and a performance – from circus acrobatics to lyric opera to stand-up comedy – ends every dinner. But the show is only half the show. Dinner itself, announced with a verbal drumroll from the windows of the adjoining kitchen, is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Only after gorging yourself on the buffet of vegetables, salads, and grilled meats does the soup begin, followed by course after course after surprising course.

SUNDAY


48 hours in florence vista
Image © Concierge in Umbria

9:00 a.m. Small Blessings


Begin in one of Florence’s smaller museum gems. Just behind Piazza Signoria, the Bargello (open the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month), named for its former function as a prison, is a wonderful alternative to the Accademia with its broad range of sculpture including works by Donatello and Michelangelo. The Museo dell’Opere del Duomo, which houses all of the original art and sculpture from the cathedral, offers an opportunity to get up close with a version of Michelangelo's Pieta. For fashion lovers, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo tells the story of how one man's quest to make perfect custom shoes launched an empire.

11:00 a.m. Sweet Rewards


Reward yourself for an early morning among the maestros with a café and pasta (pastry) at one of Florence’s top bakeries in the eastern part of the city. Try I Dolci di Patrizio Corsi on Borgo Albizi or Dolci & Dolcezze in Piazza Beccaria, home to one of the city’s remaining eighth-century gates.

12:00 p.m. Spoil Yourself


Stroll back through some of the city’s best boutiques on Borgo Albizi as you make your way back to the center of town and Florence’s supreme shopping around Piazza Repubblica, particularly on Via Tornabuoni, home to the family palaces and fashion houses of the Puccis, Guccis, and Ferragamos.

2:00 p.m. Arrivederci Firenze


Refuel on some light fare like the legendary sandwiches at nearly-130-year-old Due Frattelini before bidding your final adieu to the city from its premier panorama spot – the top of Brunelleschi’s dome.

brian maria gabriella signature

Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

So You Want to Visit Vineyards in Italy?

Getting out into the Italian countryside, driving through the perfectly-aligned rows of grape vines capped with rose bushes at each end, and sampling little-known wines with the families who have been making them for generations – what could be a better way to spend an afternoon in Italy?

Young travelers at a vineyard, Tuscany(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We have had unforgettable experiences and made life-long friendships while visiting small vineyards in Italy, while also discovering wines that we can’t wait to share. (You can see our favorite spots from 2013 and 2014.)
Read More...

What We're Drinking: Some of the Outstanding Italian Wines On Our Table

pouring italian wines
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Wine is much more than something to sip, an accompaniment to a meal, or a gateway to an evening of merriment.

Great wine can transport you to places you’ve been – that enchanting pasta you can’t get out of your head or the calming view from the terrace of your favorite hotel – and places you want to be – that villa rental you’ve had your eye on or that bistecca fiorentina you can’t wait to sink your teeth into.

That’s why we like to keep a stock of excellent, hand-picked bottles of wine on hand. But if you’re anything like us, your stock may be hurting after the holidays. Over Christmas, we drained one of our favorites, a double magnum of Fanti’s Brunello di Montalcino, and can’t wait to stock up on some more.

With the new year come so many new reasons to celebrate, from the friendly rowdiness of a super bowl gathering (we’ve found that Italian wines work surprising well with chicken wings!) to the alluring calm of an evening together for Valentine’s day.

So here are seven amazing wines to top your table and fill your cellar, wine fridge, and belly:

Bubbly


Giulio Ferrari - Extra Brut


Though you’re not allowed to call it champagne outside France (in Italy it’s just metodo classico) Giulio Ferrari’s dry, crisp Extra Brut is our favorite Italian champagne. And it’s built to last! You can cellar this Extra Brut for up to twenty years. The highly flavored Extra Brut can range from brioche to chocolate to almond to cherries and cream depending on the year. As an added bonus, you don’t have to go to Trentino to try the whole Ferrari product line. The Lunelli family, owners of the Ferrari brand, recently started producing Montefalco wines just outside of Bevagna in Umbria and their sparkling wines are available for tasting.

White


Arnoldo Caprai Grecante Grechetto


When a renowned red wine producer in a primarily red-wine-producing appellation puts out a white wine, it’s worth a second glance. Grechetto has been grown in Italy since ancient times, but this Umbrian specialty is now regarded as one of Italy’s top white wine grapes. This excellent (and affordable) Grechetto bursts with fruit flavors and has a touch of sweetness that is well balanced by zesty crispness.

Antinori Cervaro della Sala


Antinori is literally a legend. The family has made wine for nearly 900 years and helped pioneer the Super-Tuscan revolution. But their Cervaro della Sala is, quite simply, one of the great white wines of Italy (perfect for cheering up a friend or brightening any occasion). Made in Umbria from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto grapes, the Cervaro seems light, but it’s built to age as well.

Ca Lojera Lugana


We first became acquainted with Ca Lojera because their owner is a huge opera fan whose stand at Vinitaly is decorated with a giant photo of Maria Callas, but we’ve put their Lugana into regular rotation during the summer because it’s a good everyday white. Produced on the southern shores of Lake Garda from 100% Trebbiano di Lugana grapes, the Lugana’s floral and fruity nose makes it a perfect pairing for a subtle pasta primo, such as the goat cheese and pumpkin ravioli we served it with for our first expat Thanksgiving dinner.

Reds


Podere la Cappella Corbezzolo


We also popped open a 2003 Corbezzolo for our first expat Thanksgiving, but unlike the light, crisp Lugana, this wine is meant for hearty food. We served it with mashed and roasted root vegetables that night. Podere la Cappella is a small vineyard that makes Chianti Classico in the bad years and standout Super Tuscans in the good years. Our clients love visiting this estate because it is the absolute embodiment of a hidden gem.

Allegrini Palazzo della Torre


We discovered this wine in 2006 on a visit to Verona in a simple osteria. (Where, by the way, Maria was a bit put off by the sheer amount of horse meat on the menu.) A blend of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Sangiovese, the Palazzo della Torre stands out because 30% of its grapes are harvested late. This unusual technique lends a surprising sweetness to this red. You can find it readily in the U.S. It saved our dinner in Verona for Maria.

Fongoli Rosso di Montefalco Riserva


italian wines fongoli rosso di montefalco

Image: © Concierge in Umbria

The Fongoli family is among our oldest friends in Italy. They are also one of the oldest commercial producers in Montefalco and we've spent many holidays and special occasions with them. It doesn't hurt that they produce stellar wines. Their Rosso di Montefalco Riserva combines the best characteristics of Montepulciano, Merlot, and Sangiovese grapes, with depth and richness from Umbria’s darling, the Sagrantino grape, that has catapulted the region’s wines to global status.

Hard to Find, But Worth a Look


Castel del Monte Rosso Vigna Pedale Riserva 2008 – Torrevento


Some of our favorite dining experiences in Italy have been spent at our dear friend Salvatore Denaro’s highly-acclaimed, but now-shuttered Il Bacco Felice. While Denaro maintains close relations with many local wineries, the 2008 Castel del Monte Rosso Vigna Pedale Riserva Torrevento he served remains one of our favorite reds. This wine comes from Puglia, is affordable and was a staple at many a dinner party when we lived in Germany. It might not be available in the U.S., but grab it if you find it.

And if you’d like to visit vineyards, vintners, and their vintages in person to select you own house wine, let us know. Italy has so many hard-to-find-in-the-U.S. wines that can make your cellar stand out. And we know many of Italy’s most prestigious wine makers personally. It’s our pleasure (and theirs) to share these wines with you.

brian maria gabriella signature

Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy