Tag Archive: Italy

Too Much Chianti

New York City – I was chatting via e-mail with a friend of mine recently about my food writing adventures, and the possibility of some sort of future book. We got to talking about books like Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in Provence, and other such gems of travel writing that tend to involve a fair amount of food. I have to admit, those types of books, while interesting, tend to strike me as both over-romanticized and also a trifle vicious, usually by presenting local residents in caricature. There’s also the omnipresent attempt to define local culture in terms of one’s own background.

Now, while that’s understandable to a certain extent, it reminds me of conversations I sometimes overhear in Buenos Aires that I’ve become attuned to when I listen in on tourists. Last week when we went to Colonia, seated behind us were two young men, a couple, from Philadelphia, chatting with another young man from somewhere in Europe. The couple were bemoaning the fact that Buenos Aires was not nearly as interesting as they’d been led to expect… the conversation went something like:

“There’s really nothing to do here unless you want to go out in the middle of night to a club.”

“Have you gone to any of the museums or galleries?”

“We have museums in Philadelphia, what could they possibly have here that would match those?”

“Have you gotten out and explored the neighborhoods?”

“We’re staying in the center of town, in “Centro” [note: the downtown financial district], we’ve walked all around that area and haven’t seen anything historical except the “Pink House” and it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the White House.”

“Well what do you think of the food?”

“Who wants to go out for a steak in the middle of the night, besides we can get steak back home. We’ve just been eating in the hotel or at a nearby coffee shop.”

This sort of conversation isn’t unusual. I’ve heard complaints about the lack of peanut butter for “real sandwiches,” the lack of American or Canadian bacon to go with breakfast, the lack of Starbucks, the confusion of not having streets laid out in grid patterns, and even the old “how come they don’t learn to speak English here?” On the other hand, the vast majority of folk that I meet who are visiting Buenos Aires are fascinated by its rhythms and pace, charmed by its architecture and style, eager to seek out new food and wine experiences, and, well, just plain explore.

Too Much Tuscan SunBack to the conversation, and my friend recommended that I pick up a copy of a relatively new book entitled Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide by Dario Catagno. So, I did, and it was my reading on the train back and forth to Lancaster over the last two days. Well, for me it was more of the same. The only difference is, it was told from the perspective of the local, talking about the tourists, rather than the other way around. But it still over-romanticizes Tuscany with long homages to grapes and olives and abandoned farmhouses and country roads, and from reading it you’d think that every local person is nothing but the most charming and interesting human to walk the face of the earth.

Despite a claim at the beginning that he had no intentions of the book being a vendetta against Americans who write travelogues about Tuscany, in the end, that’s exactly what he has written. With little exception, his “memorable clients” are villified for their lack of understanding of local culture despite his best attempts to guide them through it, and rather than emphasizing the charm and interest of those clients who are actually interested in learning and exploring (whom he dismisses in a couple of paragraphs in a late chapter in the book), he focuses on those who aren’t, and who were problems to guide around. I was left with the impression that he sees Americans as little more than Diet Coke swilling, shopaholics who wear too much makeup and do nothing but complain. In the end, despite his clear passion for the Tuscan countryside and local history, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d less rather spend time with in that part of the world – and I don’t think that was his intent in writing the book!

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Chianti: Robust and Reborn

Santé
The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
November 1999
Pages 42-44, 91-97

Chianti: Robust and Reborn

I found myself more than a little put off as I read an article by a famed wine writer on the subject of Chianti. In it, he lauded the changes in denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) laws and the winemaking in the region in general. The grist for his praise was the allowance of more Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Chianti blend, the introduction of new barriques and the elimination of “that Italian character.” “Finally,” he concluded, “Chianti might become a good wine.”

In many ways, I think that the new DOCG regulations are a good thing. Tighter controls on viticulture and vinification practices and attention to quality are all positive steps for this Tuscan region. I’m also all for the freedom of winemakers to choose their own paths and to offer new bottlings of wine for all of us to enjoy. But, as the cliché goes, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The adage fits, too. We all remember Chiantis from decades past that were vaguely reminiscent of bathwater. Flooding the market, they served little more purpose than to provide a vehicle for ingesting alcohol. Chianti let us pretend to join the sophisticated world of wine drinking, and it provided wicker-covered fiaschi as candleholders for our apartments. The baby, however, has been, often is and hopefully will continue to be an elegant red wine worthy of its DOCG rating. With flavors of black cherries, black raspberries, wildflowers and smoked meats, the Sangiovese base of good Chianti makes delicious wine. There is certainly a market for the “international” style of red wine, but perhaps those are best left to non-DOCG categories.


What is Chianti?

General Characteristics
 A Sangiovese-based red wine from the Tuscan hills surrounding the cities of Florence and Siena, Chianti can contain up to 25 percent of Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, depending on the subzone. Flavors are generally those of black cherries, black raspberries, grilled or smoked meats and wildflowers.

Aging
 Most Chiantis are made for fairly youthful drinking, within a year of release; however, many are quite age worthy. Some of the best, especially riservas from the Classico and Rufina zones, can age 40+ years.

Recent Vintages
 1997 – Excellent vintage, potentially as good or better than 1990.
 1996 – A bit more acidity than 1995, but similar in style.
 1995 – Deep, well structured, made for the long haul.
 1994 – Light and elegant, perfect for current consumption.
 1993 – Bold, for-ward-fruit styles, favored for drinking now.
 1992 – Simpler, lighter wines, generally past their prime.
 1991 – Lighter, more elegant style, most are fading.
 1990 – Excellent, long-lasting, big-style wines.
 1989 – Good, very forward, many starting to fade.
 1988 – Very good, well structured, drinking beautifully.



Tuscany’s Historic Wine
Chianti is a name that practically every restaurant diner recognizes, but how many customers know something about the wine? Part of our job as beverage managers is to inform our guests about wine, without making them feel stupid and without going into deep, technical detail. So here’s the basic scoop on Chianti.

First, it is an area of Tuscany in central Italy. Second, under the appellation system, it is also the name of the wine made in that place. Chianti has enjoyed a long history before the denomination system was established.

Leonardo Frescobaldi of Marchesi de' Frescobaldi oversees a vast wine empire, including the prime Chianti Rufina property, Castello di Nipozzano.

Leonardo Frescobaldi of Marchesi de Frescobaldi oversees a vast wine empire, including the prime Chianti Rufina property, Castello di Nipozzano.

In the mid-fourteenth century, the name came to be strongly associated with a specific type of Sangiovese-based wine. In the early 1700s, a Grand Ducal decree first outlined an exacting geographic region – a demarcation that was codified into law in 1932.

Chianti was one of the first Italian wine “successes,” largely due to strict enforcement of regulations by the League of Chianti. Specific blends of grapes were promoted, certain techniques of viticulture and vinification were introduced and a massive promotional campaign was put into play. The British, too, played a strong role; during one of many wars with France, wine drinkers sought an alternative to the then unavailable Bordeaux. Chianti was the drink of choice.

Chianti Classico
While there are many wines that are specifically of the Chianti DOCG, there are just as many or more that come from its subzones. There are eight subzones, each producing somewhat distinctive styles of Chianti. The most famous and largest of them is Chianti Classico, an area with its own separate DOCG that lies between Florence and Siena. The fame is largely due to the organization most of us think of as the Black Rooster or Gallo Nero. This servicemark of the Consorzio Chianti Classico is granted to wines that the consorzio judges to be of proper quality.

Not all Chianti Classico producers submit their wines to the consorzio. The judgement granted has often been controversial, with past accusations that, while the judges may wisely enforce minimum standards, they often unwisely enforce maximums as well. Simply put, some wines have been rejected as being “too immodest” to be Chianti Classico. These nonconforming producers have fought and won changes in the regulations over the last few years.

Classico also has its own unofficial appellation system, further dividing the region into eight communes: San Casiciano Val di Pesa, Greve, Radda, Gaiole, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castellina, Barberino Val d’Elsa, Poggibonsi and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, each claiming differing styles. Historically, this may be true, but the widespread changes to grape growing and winemaking practices have certainly lessened those differences. In general, the further north (toward Florence) the vineyards, the lighter the wines. Many of the most familiar and best Chianti producers come from this zone.


Not all Chianti Classico producers submit their wines to the consorzio… Simply put, some wines have been rejected as being “too immodest…”



Chianti Subzones
Less known, but not lesser in quality, are the other seven subzones. Covering the Tuscan provinces of Arezzo, Firenze, Pisa, Pistoia and Siena are the zones Rufina, Montalbano, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Aretini and the newest, Montespertoli. Each of these makes delightful Chianti; many are as powerful and age worthy as the more well-known Classicos. Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi at Castello di Nipozzano in Rufina heads the list of the many fine producers from these zones.

These regions generally have retained the more traditional blends of grape varieties, choosing to update viticulture and vinification techniques while retaining a classic style. These zones are also less well known, because many producers from these regions have opted to label their wines as Chianti; designating the subzone o the label is not required by law.

The sienese hills lie within the Chianti Colli Senesi zone, whose Chianti production is second only to Chianti Classico.

The sienese hills lie within the Chianti Colli Senesi zone, whose Chianti production is second only to Chianti Classico.

The Formula
Classically, the Chianti blend is a majority of Saniovese, from 75-90 percent. Indigenous varietals Canaiolo Nero and Colorino make up five to ten percent, and two white grapes, Trebbiano and Malvasia, comprise five to ten percent combined (two to five percent for Classico). While these standards remain the official blend throughout the Chianti DOC and seven other subzones, Chianti Classico now allows more latitude in grape choices and percentages, including Cabernet and Merlot, and even allows the wine to be up to 100 percent Sangiovese. Before release, wines must be aged 2-2½ years depending on the subzone, including three months in bottle. Oak maturation is not required. Each of the regions, including Classico and Chianti itself, allows a riserva, requiring an additional year of aging before release.

Innovator and iconoclast Sergio Manetti has dropped Chianti Classico from his label, preferring to use the Vino da Tavola designation and the Monte Vertine estate name only.

Innovator and iconoclast Sergio Manetti has dropped Chianti Classico from his label, preferring to use the Vino da Tavola designation and the Monte Vertine estate name only.

Governo, a traditional procedure in Chianti, is a proces of reserving 10-15 percent of early-harvested grapes and allowing them to air-dry before adding them into the already fermented Chianti to induce a second fermentation. A “rigoverno” also is allowed, with a further percentage of grapes used to induce a third fermentation. Most producers employ the method to make their young Chianti sweeter. Governo has become less common, as many producers believe that it lessens a wine’s ability to age. Anecdotal data suggests otherwise, and some producers maintain the practice (e.g., Ruffino’s famed Ducale Oro riserva).

As with much of the landscape of Tuscany, the base soil of Chianti is schistose clay. Depending on subzone and commune, there are various additions of flint, limestone, fossilized marine shells and sand. Sangiovese is a fairly hardy vine and is well adapted to these hard, mineral soils. In my view, the mineral elements add something to the flavor of the final products as well. Generally, the best vineyards contain a flaky marl known as galestro that is easily cracked and crumbled into fragments.

A landmark in the Chianti Classico zone, the abbey at Badia a Coltibuno (Abbey of the Good Harvest) is home to fine Chiantis made by integrating traditional with modern techniques.

A landmark in the Chianti Classico zone, the abbey at Badia a Coltibuno (Abbey of the Good Harvest) is home to fine Chiantis made by integrating traditional with modern techniques.

Back to the Future
The many changes in the Chianti vineyards and wineries and in the wine laws have raised the standard of this Tuscan classic. It’s only my opinion, but I say let’s keep Chianti traditions that make sense; Sangiovese and small amounts of local grapes; perhaps a bit of Cabernet here and there, but not in large doses; a little governo now and again; and maybe even an occasional fiasco covered in wicker. Chianti doesn’t need to taste as if it came from Napa.


Reviewer’s Choice

Cennatoio / 1995 Chianti Classico Riserva, O’Leandro
Cinnamon, black cherry, dark chocolate fudge, very intense. Possibly the best Chianti tasted. Stunning on its own or with game meats.

Lilliano / 1997 Chianti Classico
Earthy, dark fruit, smoky and spicy, well balanced; long finish. Perfect with grilled meats.

Renzo Masi / 1996 Chianti Rùfina Riserva
Blackberries, dark chocolate, light spice and oak. Perfect with roasted venison or wild boar.



Chianti

VALUE

Badia a Coltibuono / 1997 Cetamura
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Fruity style, with black raspberry and lightly smoked meat flavors. Mildly spiced Mediterranean fare. [Winebow, Inc., 201-445-0620, $96/case]

Castello di Querceto / 1997
85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 5% Malvasia & Trebbiano
Black raspberries, pepper and clove and light oak aromas and tastes. A nice match with light pork dishes. [Prestige Wine Imports Corp., 212-465-1857, $58/case]

Cecchi / 1997
75-90% Sangiovese, 5-10% Canaiolo, 5-10% Trebbiano & Malvasia
Aromas and tastes of cherries, with a note of salami. Perfect as a lunch/sandwich Chianti. [Banfi Vintners, 800-645-6511, $74/case]

Col d’Orcia / 1996 Gienprone
95% Sangiovese, 5% local grape varieties
Earthy, with bittersweet chocolate and light cherry fruit. A good choice with grilled dishes. [Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd., 212-355-0770, $66/case]

Spalletti / 1997
90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Trebbiano
Aromas and flavors of cherries and slightly smoked meat, with light floral notes. A classic “spaghetti” Chianti. [Kobrand Corporation, 212-490-9300, $80/case]

Straccali / 1997
85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 5% Malvasia and Trebbiano
Wild cherry cough drops, with light spice. A good house pour candidate. [Palm Bay Imports, Inc., 800-872-5622, $60/case]

MODERATE

Cantina di Montalcino / 1995 Riserva
100% Sangiovese
Aromas and tastes of mortadella, cherries and spice, with a touch of oak. Very nicely made. Perfect with roasted pork. [Winewave, Inc., 516-433-1121, $102/case]

Gabbiano / 1997
87% Sangiovese, 6% Canaiolo, 5% Trebbiano, 2% Colorino
Black raspberries, oak, cocoa and floral overtones. Perfect with pork dishes. [Beringer Wine Estates, 707-963-7115, $110/case]

Fattoria di Piazzano / 1996 Rio Camerata
Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Cigliegiolo and Casentino
Black raspberry, milk chocolate and light spice aromas and flavors. The standout of the basic Chiantis. Great with roasted pork. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $104/case]

Fattoria di Piazzano / 1995 Riserva Rio Camerata
100% Sangiovese
Medium-bodied, with amarene cherries, dark chocolate and cinnamon. Roasted game birds. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $144/case]

Chianti Classico

VALUE

Ottosanti by Briante / 1997
75-90% Sangiovese, 5-10% Canaiolo, 2-5% Malvasia and Trebbiano
Earthy and slightly oaky, with dark fruit, spice and bittersweet chocolate. A great choice with game. [Angelini Wine, Ltd., 860-444-7888, $96/case]

Castello di Querceto / 1996
88% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 2% other
Well balanced, with black cherry, grilled sausage and light spice aromas and tastes. Perfect with grilled meats. [Prestige Wine Imports Corp., 212-465-1857, $79/case]

MODERATE

Banfi / 1995 Riserva
80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Rather tightly wrapped anda bit hot, with some black raspberry fruit showing. Needs time. This will be a superb game wine. [Banfi Vintners, 800-645-6511, $128/case]

Bucciarelli / 1996
80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Malvasia
Aromas and flavors of dark cherry, black tea and a touch of salami. Perfect with cured and smoked meats. [Panebianco, 212-685-7560, $144/case]

Villa Cafaggio / 1997
predominately Sangiovese
Dark chocolate, black cherry and slightly smoky scents and flavors. A choice for lighter red meat dishes. [F&F Fine Wines International, Inc., 201-935-5935, $128/case]

Casavecchia di Puiatti / 1995 Il Sogno
100% Sangiovese
Bright blackberry fruit, mixed spices and lightly oaked; long finish. Red meat dishes. [Vin DiVino, Ltd., 773-334-6700, $140/case]

Castelli del Grevepesa / 1997 Clemente VII
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Black cherry, milk chocolate and light spice. Works nicely with poultry dishes. [Angelini Wine, Ltd., 860-444-7888, $104/case]

Castello d’Albola / 1997
90% Sangiovese, 8% Canaiolo, 1% Trebbiano, 1% Malvasia
Scents and flavors of black raspberry soda and fruit, with bright acidity. Spicy seafood dishes. [Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., 707-942-3400, $120/case]

Castello di Brolio / 1996
90% Sangiovese, 8% Canaiolo, 2% Malvasia
Scents and flavors of dried fruit, dark cherries and black tea; long finish. Perfect with lighter game. [Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, 502-585-1100, $144/case]

Castello di Monastero / 1997
85% Sangiovese Grosso, 15% Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
Penetrating nose of ripe black cherry, with vanilla, cocoa and floral notes. Well balanced, good structure, with mostly soft tannins and excellent, ripe cherry-berry fruit, persistent and pleasing finish. Tomato-based pasta dishes. [Vinum International, 707-224-9601, $135/case]

Castello di Querceto / 1995 Riserva
88% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 2% other
Black raspberries, pepper and clove, oakey and somewhat light. Venison would be a first choice. [Prestige Wine Imports Corp., 212-465-1857, $144/case]

Castello Vicchiomaggio / 1997 San Jacopo da Vicchiomaggio
90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino
Still young, with bright, black raspberry fruit and spice scents and flavors. Just right for roasted pork. [The Hess Collection Winery, 707-255-1144, $129/case]

Dievole / 1996
65% Sangiovese, 15% Malvasia, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Colorino
Soft, with milk chocolate, pepper and moderate oak. Grilled red meats. [Terroir Brands, 727-787-0099, $120/case]

Isole e Olena / 1997
Sangiovese and Canaiolo
Dark cherry fruit and grilled meat, with earthy notes. Venison or boar. [Martin Scott Wines, Ltd. (New York only!), 516-327-0808; In other regions call Paolo de Marchi, Isole e Olena, Italy, 011-39-55-807-2763, $144/case]

Lilliano / 1997
80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo
Earthy, dark fruit, smoky and spicy, well balanced; long finish. Perfect with grilled meats. [Premium Brands, Inc., 718-263-4094, $104/case]

Nozzole / 1994 Riserva
91% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo and Colorino, 2% Trebbiano
Juicy, dark cherry fruit, earthy and nicely balanced. A nice choice with roast beef. [Kobrand Corp., 212-490-9300, $118/case]

Podere Le Cinciole / 1996 Le Cinciole
90% Sangiovese, 8% Canaiolo, 2% Colorino
Earthy, with dark chocolate and black cherry scents and tastes. Young, but drinking well. A steak wine. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $144/case]

Querciavalle / 1994
80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo
Black raspberry and light spice, with toasty, yeasty notes. Poultry dishes. [Tricana Imports, Inc., 516-935-4080, $128/case]

Teuta di Riseccoli / 1995
98% Sangiovese, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon
Light cherry and spice aromas and flavors, simple. A good choice for poultry. [Vias Imports, Ltd., 800-936-6125, $128/case]

Fattoria di Rodano / 1996
100% Sangiovese
Black cherry soda and a touch of pepperoncino. Young. A great pasta wine. [Summa Vitis, 415-922-3241, $132/case]

PRESTIGE

Antinori / 1996 Peppoli
90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot
Medium-bodied, with dark chocolate, gravel and clove aromas and flavors. A classic match for osso buco. [Rémy Amerique, 212-399-4200, $180/case]

Badia a Coltibuono / 1997
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Dark raspberry and cherry fruit flavors, with light spice notes. Pasta, with cream or mushroom sauces. [Winebow, Inc., 201-445-0620, $164/case]

Badia a Coltibuono / 1997 >Roberto Stucchi Signature
100% Sangiovese
Very floral nose. Smooth, dark raspberry and cherry fruit flavors. Pork roast. [Winebow, Inc., 201-445-0620, $152/case]

Borgo Salcetino / 1996 Salcineto
95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo
Black raspberry, spice and fairly tannic; long finish. Needs time. Perfect with game. [Angelini Wine, Ltd., 860-444-7888, $176/case]

Bucciarelli / 1994 Riserva
80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Malvasia
Scents and flavors of spearmint, dark cherry, white pepper and a touch of graham. Definitely a lamb choice. [Panebianco, 212-685-7560, $180/case]

Castellare / 1997
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Moderately floral nose. Cherry fruit and spice flavors. Roasted veal chops. [Winebow, Inc., 201-445-0620, $160/case]

Castello dei Rampolla / 1995 Riserva
90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Spicy and very floral, with dark chocolate and a touch of dark cherry fruit. Lighter game dishes. [Vias Imports, Ltd., 800-936-6125, $288/case]

Castello della Paneretta / 1994 Riserva
100% Sangiovese
Still young, with black cherry, white pepper and a touch of tannin. Excellent choice for grilled red meats. [Summa Vitis, 415-922-3241, $180/case]

Castello di Brolio / 1994 Riserva
100% Sangiovese
Very ripe and fragrant bery fruit, with clove, toasty oak, leather, tar and chocolate notes. Full-bodied, with lush and round berry fruit, great acidity and black pepper notes; long and lush finish. Rich, fatty roasts of lamb or beef. [Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, 502-585-1100, $153/case]

Castello di Fonterutoli / 1995 Riserva
90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Closed, with spicy, ginger and dark fruit scents and tastes. Great with game meat. [Empson USA, Inc., 703-684-0900, $359/case]

Castello di Querceto / 1994 Riserva Il Picchio
88% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 2% other
Black raspberries, salami, light spice and floral elements. Serve with grilled or smoked dishes. [Prestige Wine Imports Corporation, 212-465-1857, $265/case]

Castello di Verrazzano / 1996
85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and Mammolo, 5% Trebbiano and Malvasia
Dark cherry, very spicy and well balanced. Will work well with sweet fruit sauces on meats. [Palm Bay Imports, Inc., 800-872-5622, $200/case]

Castello di Verrazzano / 1995 Riserva
85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and Mammolo, 5% Trebbiano and Malvasia
Very spicy and slightly smoky, with intense raspberry fruit. Braised beef dishes. [Palm Bay Imports, Inc., 800-872-5622, $312/case]

Castello Vicchiomaggio / 1994 Riserva La Prima
92% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 3% Colorino
Chocolaty, dark cherry fruit and spicy aromas and flavors; long finish. Lamb is a prime choice. [The Hess Collection Winery, 707-255-1144, $290/case]

Castello Vicchiomaggio / 1994 Riserva Petri
88% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Cabernet, 2% Trebbiano
Floral, with dark cherry fruit and light spice; nice finish. Perfect with game birds.. [The Hess Collection Winery, 707-255-1144, $225/case]

Cecchi / 1995 Riserva Villa Cerna
75-90% Sangiovese, 5-10% Canaiolo, 5-10% Trebbiano, 2-5% Malvasia
Smoked meat, dark chocolate and black raspberry aromas and flavors; great length. Anything off the grill works here. [Banfi Vintners, 800-645-6511, $148/case]

Cecchi / 1993 Riserva Messer Pietro di Teuzzo
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo and Colorino
Graham and honey, with wildflowers, dark cherries and light earthy tones. Perfect with roasted veal chops. [Banfi Vintners, 800-645-6511, $108/6 bottles]

Cennatoio / 1996
90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo, 3% Colorino
Rich and full, with black cherry, ginger and bitter chocolate. Just right with game birds. [Panebianco, 212-685-7560, $180/case]

Cennatoio / 1995 Riserva
90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo, 3% Colorino
Full and rich, with five spice powder, black cherry and dark chocolate aromas and flavors. An incredible choice with braised beef or game. [Panebianco, 212-685-7560, $300/case]

Cennatoio / 1995 Riserva O’Leandro
90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo, 3% Colorino
FCinnamon, black cherry, dark chocolate fudge, very intense. Possibly the best Chianti tasted. Stunning on its own or with game meats. [Panebianco, 212-685-7560, $348/case]

Dievole / 1995 Riserva
65% Sangiovese, 15% Malvasia, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Colorino
Full-bodied, with dark chocolate, juicy cherry fruit and sweet oak. Beautiful with lamb. [Terroir Brands, 727-787-0099, $176/case]

Dievole / 194 Novecento
65% Sangiovese, 15% Malvasia, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Colorino
Dark cherry and “stewed” fruit nose, with vanilla and citrus rind notes. Excellent balance, rich and full-bodied, with lush black cherry fruit and great acidity; long, pleasing finish. Elegant wine for beef tenderloin. [Terroir Brands, 727-787-0099, $232/case]

Il Vescovino / 1996 Vigna Piccola
85% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, Malvaisa and Colorino
Mature, sweet aromas of black cherry, with citrus rind topnote. Well balanced, medium-bodied and silky, wiht ripe black cherry flavors, a hint of smoke and a pleasing sharpness; good finish, with fruity notes. Spicy Mediterranean fare or grilled meats. [Winebow, Inc., 201-445-0620, $148/case]

Monsanto / 1995 Riserva
90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo, 3% Colorino
Well balanced, with aromas and flavors of smoked meat, dark cherries and spices. One of my favorites. Perfect with steak. [Cliquot, Inc., 212-888-7575, $168/case]

Monsanto / 1995 Riserva Il Poggio
90% Sangiovese, 7% Canaiolo, 3% Colorino
Highly perfumed, wiht dark fruit and great structure. Roast shoulder of veal works here. [Cliquot, Inc., 212-888-7575, $345/case]

Podere Il Palazzino / 1995 Grosso Sanese
100% Sangiovese
Complex nose, with mature black cherry, clove, chocolate and cedar aromas. Outstanding balance and finesse, with rich, ripe berry flavors on a mantle of new oak; long, silky finish. A wine in harmony. Beef tenderloin or lamb. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $280/case]

Podere la Cappella / 1994 Riserva Querciolo
100% Sangiovese
Well balanced, with grilled meat and cherry aromas and tastes. Perfect with steaks. [Selected Estates of Europe, 914-698-7202, $170/case]

Podere Le Cinciole / 1995 Riserva Valle del Pozzo
90% Sangiovese, 8% Canaiolo, 2% Colorino
Aromas and flavors of black raspberries and spice; great length and finish. Roasted pork would be a first choice. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $196/case]

Poggio dei Poggi / 1995 Le Bolle
85% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
Chocolate, cherries and a touch of mint. Quite well made. Delightful with lamb. [Fedway Imports Co., 516-74-6850, $160/case]

Poggio dei Poggi / 1994 Riserva
100% Sangiovese
Black raspberry jam, toast, yeast and bright acidity. Just right with roasted pork. [Fedway Imports Co., 516-74-6850, $168/case]

Querciavalle / 1993 Riserva
80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo
Milk chocolate, red cherries and light spice, with moderate oak. Veal would be a great match. [Tricana Imports, Inc., 516-935-4080, $192/case]

Rocca delle Macie / 1995 Riserva Fizzano
90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
Bright raspberry fruit, with lots of earthy tones, light spice and herbal touches. Perfect with game birds. [Palm Bay Imports, Inc., 800-872-5622, $200/case]

Rocca di Castagnoli / 1996
95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo
Pleasing, ripe black cherry nose, with floral, spice and clove notes. Medium-bodied and well made, with silky black cherry flavors; long finish. [Vias Imports, Ltd., 800-936-6125, $160/case]

Rocca di Montegrossi / 1997
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Big and bold, with black cherry, dark chocolate, spice and floral scents and flavors. Game meats. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $148/case]

Fattoria di Rodano / 1995 Riserva Viacosta
100% Sangiovese
Very young, tannic and closed, with dark cherry fruit, bitter chocolate and pepper aromas and flavors. An excellent choice for a roast. [Summa Vitis, 415-922-3241, $216/case]

Ruffino / 1995 Riserva Ducale
100% Sangiovese
Deep, dark cherry aroma, with clove, floral and smoky bacon notes. Medium-bodied, with lots of dark, almost sweet, fruit flavors balanced by acidity; hot finish, with a black pepper note. Grilled steaks. [Schieffelin & Somerset, 212-251-8200, $162/case]

Ruffino / 1993 Riserva Ducale, Gold Label
100% Sangiovese
Beautiful nose of pure, ripe black cherry, with some leather, citrus and floral notes. Medium-bodied, wiht black cherry/raspberry flavors and chocolate, citrus rind notes; sweet fruit and zippy acidity in the finish. A crowd pleaser. [Schieffelin & Somerset, 212-251-8200, $333/case]

Ruffino / 1996 Santedame
100% Sangiovese
Fragrant, with ripe black cherry and malted chocolate aromas. Medium-bodied, soft and round black cherry flavors and a good crispness; pleasant finish. Easy drinking. Tomato-based dishes or spicy vegetarian fare. [Schieffelin & Somerset, 212-251-8200, $126/case]

San Leonino / 1995 Monsenese
90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
Aromas and flavors of chocolate-covered cherries in liqueur and spice, with soft tannins. Perfect with roasted pork. [Wilson Daniels, Ltd., 707-963-9661, $180/6 bottles]

Fattoria di Vignamaggio / 1995 Riserva Monna Lisa
100% Sangiovese
Classic style, light, elegant and well balanced, with black cherries. Great with mushroom dishes. [Parliament Wine, 609-348-1100, $200/case]

Chianti Rufina

VALUE

Renzo Masi / 1997
92% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 3% Colorino
Lovely, clean and fragrant nose of black cherry fruit. Medium-bodied, with soft tannins, ripe, sour cherry flavors and good balance between fruit and acid; modest and clean finish. Simple, direct and very pleasant. Tomato-based pasta dishes. [Premier Wine Merchants/Rémy Amerique, Inc., 212-399-4200, $72/case]

Renzo Masi / 1996 Riserva
93% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 2% Colorino
Blackberries, dark chocolate, light spice and oak. Perfect with roasted venison or wild boar. [Premier Wine Merchants/Rémy Amerique, Inc., 212-399-4200, $80/case]

MODERATE

Colognole / 1995
95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino
Well balanced, light and floral, wiht black cherry fruit. Excellent choice for veal. [Vin DiVino, Ltd., 774-334-6700, $114/case]

Spalletti / 1993 Riserva Poggio Reale
90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Trebbiano
Earthy, black pepper, leather and dark fruit scents and tastes. Any roasted game. [Kobrand Corp., 212-40-9300, $106/case]

PRESTIGE

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi / 1996 Riserva Montesodi
100% Sangiovese
Elegant and spicy, with amarene cherry; long finish. Always a favorite. Venison or lamb is perfect. [Paterno Imports, 847-604-8900, $212/6 bottles]

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi / 1996 Riserva Nipozzano
90% Sangiovese, 10% minor varieties
Well balanced, with dark chocolate, black cherries and gravelly aromas and flavors. One of the “greats.” Perfect with lamb. [Paterno Imports, 847-604-8900, $180/case]

Other Chianti Zones

VALUE

Cantina dell’Aretino / 1997 Chianti Colli Aretini Vasari
75% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 5% Malvasia, 5% Trebbiano, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
Earthy, graham, black raspberry and cocoa flavors and aromas. Poultry or pork. [Tricana Imports, Inc., 516-935-4050, $88/case]

Tenuta di Capezzana / 1996 Chianti Montalbano
80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% other varieties
Bright, black raspberry fruit, light spice and yeasty, with higher acidity. Perfect with poultry and vegetable dishes. [Cliquot, Inc., 212-888-7575, $93/case]

Falchini / 1997 Chianti Colli Senesi Titolato Colombaia
85% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and other varieties
Well balanced and lightly oaked, with salami and black raspberries. A niche choice with veal. [Bedford International, 914-833-2725, $84/case]

Geografico / 1997 Chianti Colli Senesi
85% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 5% Trebbiano and Malvasia
Nicely balanced and fruity, with fresh cherries and a touch of oak. A perfect fish Chianti. [Matt Brothers, 212-587-8147, $80/case]

Fattoria di Luicgnano / 1997 Chianti Colli Fiorentini
Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Trebbiano
Nicely structured, with cherry, milk chocolate, light spice and oak aromas and flavors. Works well with veal dishes. [Michael Skurnik Wines, 516-677-9300, $88/case]

San Luigi / 1995 Chianti Colli Senesi
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo
Earthy and highly perfumed, with raspberries; slightly acidic finish. Great choice with poultry. [MPM Wine Imports, 212-989-8046, $96/case]

Fattoria Sovestro / 1997 Chianti Colli Senesi San Domenico
75% Sangiovese, 15% Malvasia, 10% Canaiolo
Good depth and nicely balanced, with moderate to heavy oak, black cherry and vanilla aromas and flavors. Lighter pork dishes. [Vias Imports, Ltd., 800-936-6125, $96/case]

MODERATE

Poggio Salvi / 1997 Chianti Colli Senesi
90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, Colorino, Merlot and Malvasia
Full-bodied, with soft tannins and aromas and flavors of green olives, dark cherries and a touch of mortadella. For a Senesi, this is a great choice for roasts. [Panebianco, 212-685-7560, $114/case]

Vagnoni / 1996 Chianti Colli Senesi
80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Trebbiano
Very well balanced, with juicy black cherry fruit, cocoa and spice. Excellent, a favorite. Pork dishes. [Tricana Imports, Inc., 516-935-4080, $100/case]

Vagnoni / 1995 Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva
Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Trebbiano
Young but balanced, with rich, bitter chocolate, black cherries and spice. Lamb dishes. [Tricana Imports, Inc., 516-935-4080, $112/case]


Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.

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ROME: The Eternal City

Q San Francisco
January 1999
Pages 26-30

ROME: The Eternal City
Images Brett Kaufman

roma1

The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Imperial Fora, the Circus Maximus, the Sistine Chapel, the Borghese Palace, the list goes on and on. These are the ancient places you’ve read about since you were a kid. Welcome to The Eternal City!

Over the course of western literary history, more has been written about Rome than about any other single city on the planet. For the inveterate traveler, wanderer, amateur archaeologist, poet or artist, it is, perhaps, the one “must visit” city. It is hard to imagine a more fascinating assemblage of the ancient and the modern in one place.

During my years of reading about Rome two things always stood out. First, I was led to manifest visions of a city overrun by feral cats. Somehow or other there seemed to be more denizens of the feline variety than the human. When I arrived, I did find cats, scattered here and there, and indeed they do run free, but they tend to remain in small, localized areas of some of the older ruins dotted throughout the city.


“I should like to see Rome,” she said; “it must be a lovely city, or so many foreigners would not be constantly arriving there. Now, do give me a description of Rome. How does the city look when you enter in at the gate?”
– Beauty of Form and Beauty of Mind, Hans Christian Anderson


Second, I was led to believe that Rome existed as a city of fountains–which turned out to be absolutely true. Fountains are everywhere. Most of them are small, not quite nondescript. But the major ones are truly awesome. The foremost spouting water attraction in the world is undoubtedly the Fontana di Trevi, a massive, amazing sculpture of water and marble. A photo in front of this fountain, preferably in the evening when it is beautifully lit, is a must for tourist and Italian alike.

My fountain of choice is Fontana delle Tartarughe. Located in Piazza Mattei, this 16th century fountain has been modified by several major sculptors over time. The graceful sculpture depicts four young boys in the buff assisting four tortoises on their climb into the top of the fountain. The Tartarughe is also located near one end of one of my favorite streets in Rome, Via Giulia, the main street of the old Jewish Ghetto, now home to great little art galleries and design shops.

One of the most popular places to hang out and people watch is Piazza Navona. Crowds of locals and tourists gather round to watch artists and performers do their thing around this multi-block open space.

For myself, Piazza del Popolo is where I go to sit, soak up some sun and watch the world pass by while surrounded by four massive lion fountains that guard the space. Popolo is also known, by those who apparently know such things, as one of the piazzas where gay men and women congregate. Popolo makes a great starting spot for a day of sightseeing, equipped with gothic churches, ancient ruins and a fascinating Italian art museum.

Sightseeing is the major reason to vacation in Rome. There is, of course, the necessary visit to the Vatican Museums, especially the Sistine Chapel. If you don’t want to wait in line forever, get there early, take a walk through the Chapel first, and then go back to the Museums later. (Major tip: Don’t wear shorts or sleeveless shirts when touring Rome, especially in religion related places–Romans are notoriously conservative about mode of dress and will bluntly refuse you admission to most churches, and definitely Vatican City. The same is true of many restaurants.)

roma2If, like me, you are into really ancient ruins, a stop by the Largo Argentina for a look at the four Republican temples is well worth it. This square block area is also home to an amazing number of cats that have overrun the sacred grounds and are now considered kind of sacred themselves. A morning at the Imperial Forum and the Colosseum is impressive, however, access to the latter, and whole sections of the former, is limited because of crumbling rock and restoration attempts.

For the truly classical-oriented, a short train trip out to the 1st century city of Ostia Antica is an absolute must. I spent an entire day there exploring the ancient ruins. Some of the most fascinating mosaics, including a gym floor laid out in black and white tile pictures of naked athletes and an anatomical invitation floor mat at the local bathhouse, are a couple features sure to catch your eye.

Speaking of bathhouses, if you want to see what they were really all about, drop by and spend an hour or two at the Baths of Caracalla near the Circus Maximus. When operational, the Baths–equipped with gym, solarium, sauna, whirlpool and private lounges–handled 1600 people per day. You’ll never look at a modern “health club” the same way again!

If you want to be awed by a monument, go to the Pantheon. Incredibly well preserved and beautiful, it will take your breath away. Dating over two thousand years old, it is in better shape than many buildings built in the last century. While you’re in the neighborhood, you can drop by Piazza Minerva and see one of my favorite statues, a really cute little elephant.

The impressive Spanish Steps (with a great little fountain at the bottom, the scene of much cruising) is also, of course, a must visit. I prefer to start at the top, from where you get a full view of Rome, and walk down, though the fitness buffs among us will want to walk up. From the base of the steps you can hit the major shopping district where you will find every fashion designer in Rome along Via Condotti and Via Borgogna.

If you just want to relax and see some beauty, drop in and wander around the nearby Borghese Park where you can see everything from old villas to statuary, to a small lake, to the stunning Galleria Borghese (by appointment only).

DINING OUT

Food in Italy is, of course, a major concern. Let’s start simply. Coffee. More specifically, espresso. Two places serve exceptional espresso: Sant’Eustachio (82 Piazza Sant’Eustachio) and La Tazza d’Oro (84 Via degli Orfani), both near the Pantheon. Personally, I am a fan of the latter, but try both and decide for yourself. Also, in the late afternoon, La Tazza d’Oro serves a great espresso ice with whipped cream.

Ice cream, well, gelato, is an Italian passion. The most famous and most popular spot to get some frozen heaven is Giolitti at 40 Via Uffici del Vicario; with their array of flavors that makes Baskin Robbins look like amateurs, it’s tough to do much better. There is one exception, San Crispino. With two locations (56 Via Acaia, in the southern suburbs, and 42 Via della Panetteria, by Fontana di Trevi), they serve the most amazing ice cream you will ever have. The owners use only the absolutely best ingredients they can find: their house flavor uses honey from their own bees, their zabaglione flavor uses a twenty year old reserve marsala wine, their scotch flavor uses an eighteen year old single malt–an ethereal experience to say the least.

roma3You’re in Italy, so pizza, right? Not quite what you’re used to at home, but you’ll find the real thing here. Hands down, the best pizza I’ve ever had is from a little hole-in-the-wall called Da Giovanni, at 39 Piazza Campo de’Fiori. Piazza Campo de’Fiori is also one of the coolest places to hang out. There are several coffee bars, several wine bars (including one of the best, La Vineria, at #15), and one of the best open-air food markets you’ll ever visit. The other must see food markets for those who, like me, like to visit them, are at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and, if you’re in the area of the Vatican, Piazza dell’Unità.

Now back to pizza; rather, Pizza Bianca–which is basically what we call focaccia. Simple, oiled, salted and sometimes herbed pizza dough baked light and delicious. Romans slice these open and fill them with a variety of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The secret spot to acquire some has no name on the door, people just usually call it the “you know, the no-name focaccia place.” Owned by Salvadore Paladini, and located at 29 Via del Governo Vecchio, this is the one snack place you can’t miss in Rome. Have a Bianca filled with stracchino cheese and arugula while you sip some mineral water and stand around. Then take another one to have with you for when you get hungry later. Maybe stuffed with mortadella and cured Sicilian olives?

Few restaurants in Rome are really great, but almost all that I’ve eaten in are quite good. Here are the four that I would recommend you check out if you have little time and want to sample the best.

For lunch, Sora Margherita, at 30 Piazza delle Cinque Scole. This is a bargain priced osteria serving serious Roman-Jewish fare. Watch for owner Margherita Tomassini to serve you, with a twinkle in her eyes and a casual “signorine” (“ladies”) as she sets your food out.

For a simple dinner and great people watching, head over to the area around Piazza Navona. Hang for a bit and watch the world walk by, then walk down the little side street off the west side of the piazza to the corner of Via delle Pace, #25, and have a drink and dinner outside at Bramante. This savory little place is owned by friend Giuseppe Pecora. Tell him I said, “Buona Sera.”

For a great dinner and an incredible wine selection, you must visit Al Bric at 59 Via del Pellegrino–one of Rome’s newest wine bars that, unlike many wine bars, pays just as much attention to food. While not inexpensive, the selection of great Italian fare and wines is worth the tab. By the way, restaurants in Italy, generally, charge the same as retail stores for wine, so you won’t get hit with outrageous prices for your fave quaff.

Last, but by no means least, one of the best high-end restaurants in Rome is a place called Il Convivio, at 44 Via dell’Orso. Not particularly classic food and not even completely Italian, this restaurant offers more of the cutting edge of cuisine in Rome. If you want to see what a great chef in Rome is doing with modern multi-cultural cuisine, this is the spot you want to hit.

WHERE TO STAY

The fun thing about Roman accommodations is that you can live like a queen or live like a monk. There are plenty of good hotels in Rome ranging from really cheap to really expensive. Expect that hotel rooms will not be particularly large. In general, however, the hotels are clean and well-managed.

Hotel staff in Rome are notoriously helpful for making sure you enjoy your stay. Most hotels provide a Concierge who will get you restaurant reservations, gallery appointments, and provide you with directions and ideas for all sorts of things to do.

roma4If you don’t mind a room in which it’s hard to turn around without bumping into something, I recommend the Rinascimento, conveniently located near Campo dei’Fiori, at 122 Via del Pellegrino. A small (18 room) converted palazzo with modern, clean rooms, this is one of the better bargains you will find in Rome. Another good choice is Hotel Alexandra at 25 Via Veneto–a bigger hotel, with larger rooms, but still relatively inexpensive.

A last note on hotels. Make sure you have reservations and confirmation in advance. Rome is not a great place for people who show up planning to “wing it.” It’s a popular tourist destination and hotels rarely have rooms available for someone who just wanders in off the street.

SPECIAL NOTES FOR THE GAY TOURIST

Start from the following groundrules. This is a major European city controlled by one of the most rigid religious organizations on the planet. Living space is at a premium both in terms of availability and cost. Gay people have a choice of living with their parents till the day they “marry” or sharing a small apartment with way too many people. Friends expect each other to hang together, and they don’t really care about sexual orientation; they’re more interested in the clothes they wear, the movies they just saw, which coffee or wine bar is the present hot spot, and whether the sauce on last night’s pasta was made the way grandma used to make it. (Of course, that’s pretty much what you’re interested in as well!) So, it makes perfect sense that the only gay bars and clubs in Rome are oriented around tourists–nobody local really goes to them except occasionally to dance, or to show friends visiting from elsewhere that there are really gay clubs in Italy.

Generally, gay friends gather around their favorite coffee bar, wine bar, or at some local piazza–every clique has its hang-out. Cruising in Rome is not one of the easier propositions since everyone gives everyone else the once or twice over. It’s just hard to tell if they’re looking at you or at your clothes. There are gay events, dances, lectures, social gatherings. Some of them are by invitation, many are open to whomever wants to attend. The best way to find out is to consult one of the monthly magazines that cover the social scene in Rome. Try glancing through Time Out Rome (English and Italian), or Babilonia (Italian only), a national gay publication that also publishes an annual guide to the entire country in both Italian and English; or drop by Rome’s only gay bookstore, Babele on Via dei Banchi Vecchi just off Via del Pellegrino. The magazines and guides are generally easy to find at street kiosks.

roma5A quick listing of the more popular gay places; everyone knows The Hangar, Rome’s oldest gay bar. The best times to visit are Friday, Saturday, and Monday late evenings. American owned, it is probably the most popular (and one of the easier to find), with a primarily tourist clientele, though a lot of the Gen-X age Romans hang there too. A great address too: Number 69, Via in Selci, near the Colosseum. Nearby you’ll find L’Apeiron (5 Via dei Quattro Cantoni), a two level club big on music videos. For dancing, there are two major places: L’Alibi in the Testaccio district, at 44-57 Via di Monte Testaccio, near the Pyramide; and L’Angelo Azzuro, at 13 Via Merry del Val.

Except for the above-mentioned places, gay spots seem to open and close with such rapidity they would leave the Tasmanian Devil dizzy. Even a just acquired, up-to-date listing probably warrants a phone call to ensure that any given club is actually still there. Bars and clubs are also notoriously difficult to find. Most are hidden behind plain facades with little if any indication that you are in the right spot. They also tend to be in either out-of-the-way neighborhoods or somewhat seedy locales.

OUT & ABOUT IN THE CITY

A few notes about getting around Rome. First, you will probably arrive at Fiumicino Airport. Unless you’ve got an incredible amount of luggage, don’t take a cab into the city. It’s not a short drive and it will blow a huge hole in your budget. There’s a direct train line into the center of the city, you can take either a local or express, each no more than a few dollars. From Stazione Termini you can then take a cab, bus, or metro. Cabs, again, are not cheap, but depending on where you need to go, they may be your only reasonable option.

The bus system covers the entire city extremely well, but it can be incredibly slow, incredibly packed (especially close to rush hour), and very confusing. It is, however, only 1500 lire, less than a dollar. The metro, or subway, consists of two lines that cross the heart of Rome. To get to any of the major sightseeing spots, this is probably your best choice other than your own two feet. I’m a big fan of walking around Rome. It’s not laid out in “a grid” like many American cities, so it can be a bit bewildering, but you’ll discover some amazing little piazzas and sights as you wander.

A caveat about public transportation. It’s operated on the honor system. You buy tickets from machines and walk through open gateways or climb onto buses through doors that are not necessarily close to the driver. You are supposed to punch your ticket in little stamping machines located near these gates or doors. The ticket is time-stamped and is then good for 75 minutes. Within that time period, should someone official ask to see your ticket, you’re in good shape. You’ll see that a large number of locals don’t bother to buy or punch tickets at all and take a chance that nobody will ask to see their ticket. They’re probably right. But it’s a major fine if you’re caught without one that is stamped.

As far as I’m concerned, the one indispensable guide to wandering around Rome is The Blue Guide to Rome (Norton). This 400 page, regularly updated guide covers not only detailed instructions for getting to and from places, but detailed historical and cultural notes and tips. It also includes pretty decent maps that detail the core of Rome.


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

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Visiting Verona

Q San Francisco
November 1998
Pages 54-55

Visiting Verona

veronaI never set out to be an Italophile. I never set out to focus my career on the world of Italian wine and food. Perhaps it was pre-saged by my first restaurant job in an Italian cafe back in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. But after that, most of my training tended to the Asian, or, as is now the current correct term in the field, Pacific Rim, cuisine. Somehow or other, a couple of years ago, I found myself back in an Italian restaurant.

Part of my job, amazingly, turns out to be to spend a week in Italy each year at the annual “VinItaly.” This extravaganza of (primarily) Italian wine is one of the largest exhibitions of grape alcohol on the planet. The best part of it, however, is exploring the town it is set in each year – Verona.

Verona has some great places to eat. During VinItaly it’s near impossible to actually get in to any of them. You know you’ve truly scored big when you snag a table during dinner hour at Bottega di Vini – great food and one of the most incredible Italian winelists you’ll ever see. You have to know someone to get in during this week. If you don’t, do what most of us do and eat somewhere else.

This is not really a bad thing. Verona’s trattorias are among the best that I’ve found in Italy. The people are incredibly friendly. The service, while generally one step beyond laid back, makes you feel right at home. And the food and wine of the region will keep you coming back.

Verona’s proximity to the mountains ensures a regular supply of trout and other freshwater fish, the prime staple of local cuisine. Polenta and risotto are the main grain based products. Radicchio is used in everything. Two local oddities of cuisine are the use of horsemeat–either dried, shredded and served with lemon juice, or braised in local red wine; and hops – the plant used in beer-making, here used as a favored herb.

The wines of the region are widely varied and too numerous to sum up easily. On the white side – Bianco di Custoza, Soave, Lugana, and Pinot Grigio are popular. The reds concentrate on Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Amarone.

If you want to do something in Verona besides eat and drink (and you’re a bit of a history buff) make sure you see Romeo’s house (a bit dilapidated these days); Juliette’s house (complete with balcony, and the worldwide center for “Jimmy loves Joey” type graffiti); and Juliette’s tomb. There’re also Ancient Roman towers, a huge arena, churches galore, and a beautiful river walk.

You need more? Try walking through the old quarter and shopping in the little arcades. If you run out of things to do in Verona, it’s only an hour’s train ride to Venice.

In the meantime, a little food and wine to keep us going…

Amarone & Radicchio Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
2 cups Amarone
4-1/2 cups stock (vegetable or beef)
8 ounces radicchio, shredded (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons parmigiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt
black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the oil in a heavy pan (4-quart or bigger) over medium to high heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they soften, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains well with oil and butter. Allow to cook for another few minutes, still stirring. Add the radicchio and mix well.

Risotto requires a bit of attention. Start adding the wine, a half cup at a time. After each addition, continue stirring until the liquid has been absorbed – then add the next half cup. After the wine, continue the same process with the stock. The process should take about 20 minutes, at which time the rice will be firm but sort of creamy.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of butter, the cheese, parsley, and then salt and pepper to taste. This is a great accompaniment to sautéed chicken livers. Serves 4-6.
Any local red wine is a great choice. My personal favorites, ranging from lighter to fuller bodied, are any of the Valpolicellas or Amarones from Quintarelli, Dal Forno Romano, Zenato or Allegrini. Truly hard to find is the Allegrini “La Poja,” a single vineyard, single varietal “table wine” from one of my favorite producers. And a really cool bottle to boot.


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

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Inspirations from a Roman Holiday

19970720

I’d just returned from a couple of weeks’ vacation in Rome, my first time there I believe, and had all sorts of ideas bouncing through my head.

Inspirations from a Roman Holiday
XX July MCMXCVII

Zuppa
Minestra di Angùria
MCMXCII Scharffenberger Brut Rosé

Antipasto
Spada Conservado con Tapenade
MCMXCI Delas Freres Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Les Calcerniers”

Prima Piatta
Merluzzo, Zucce d’Estate e Tartufi Neri
con Salsa di Castagne
MCMXCIV Bouchaine Pinot Noir

Seconda Piatta
Vitello “Saltimbocca”
MCMXCI Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino

Formàggi
Càcio di Roma, Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano
MCMLXXVIII Château Lascombes Margaux

Dolce
Ciliege e Susine con Zabaglione
MCMXCVI Barboursville Vineyards Malvaxia

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