Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Fantastic Gusto Sunday! A day in photos.

What a beautiful weekend last weekend was! We had our first taste of Spring!  We were very lucky here in Italy not to be hit by those dreadful storms that swept Portugal, Spain and France.  It was very windy, but no rain - for that we were very grateful!

Here's the fabulous group - Mark, Mignon, Ruurd, Letizia, Helen, Rebecca and Paolo.  

 Helen was our official photographer for the day!  Fully loaded with two cameras - one for each pocket!  Thanks so much Helen, we got a real record of the day because of you!

Mark and Mignon by the gorgeous view from Cantina Romanelli.

Costantino and Anna-Rita from Romanelli came out to greet their guests.

...Making sure all is in place......

Costantino sets the stage for the wine tasting.  Complete with some delicious salami nibbles.

Romanelli's pretty shop selling their oils, wines and other products.

Andrea from Cantina Sant' Anna showing off his swirling skills!

Francesca of Sant' Anna starting off the degustazione di vino!

A happy Rebecca with Passito and biscotti!

Ruurd showing off his Sant' Anna purchases!

Mark and I at the incredibly lovely Cantina Fongoli.  
I snuck in for the lunch!

The lovely barrel room at Fongoli.

Decio, the father at Fongoli joined us briefly at lunch and went around the table chinking glasses with everyone!  
 Lunch was a fantastic wine pairing affair... 

Antipasti - was some lovely bruschette with mixed toppings...


  ...and cured meats, pecorino cheese with honey with a lovely fresh Grechetto.

Il primo - a delicious risotto al sagrantino paired with their Montefalco Rosso riserva - Mmmmm! 

Il secondo - grilled meats with vegetables au gratin - all the meats were done on the outside grill (- see the group picture below - the grill is behind us! )
We had Fongoli's wonderful Montefalco Sagrantino secco with this course.

For dolce we were presented with home-made crostate (fruit tarts) - 2 different types, plus biscotti with almonds teamed up with their superb sagrantino passito.

I'm sure all that were there will agree, it was all delicious!

The happy group after the exceptional lunch at Fongoli!

The group at Colle Ciocco with the brothers Lamberto and Eliseo - ready for another tasting!


 Another great full day with Gusto Wine tours!   

It was a fabulous day full of fun and laughter, the cantine were superb and really made our guests feel special. We're now looking forward to the warmer weather so that the tastings and even the lunch can be al fresco - although the tasting rooms are really lovely too!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Risotto Al Sagrantino for these cold days!

 I thought that as it's so chilly at the moment I'd share a lovely warming Umbrian risotto recipe with you!  Risotto to my mind is the ultimate comfort food!  Not just for a pasta course, any-time, and if you have enough of it, the only course you need!  So ignore the snow on the ground and the frost on the windows and treat yourselves to this fabulous risotto....

Risotto al Sagrantino
  •  450-500ml (16-18fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock, more if needed 
  • 85g (3 oz) butter
  • 1 medium red onion , finely chopped
  • 200g (7oz) round grain risotto rice , such as arborio or carnaroli (my personal favorite)
  • 500ml  (18 fl oz) Sagrantino, warmed
  • Parmigiana or Grana Padano grated  to stir in and serve.

  1. Heat the stock in a saucepan and keep it on a very low simmer. Melt half the butter in a shallow saucepan or casserole, add the onion with salt (optional, usually the stock is pretty salty) and pepper and sauté for 5-7 minutes until soft, but not browned. Stir in the rice of your choice and sauté it, stirring constantly, until it absorbs the butter, about 2 minute - the grains become translucent.
  2. Stir in about half the wine - it'll sizzle in a very satisfying way!  Simmer, stirring, until the liquid is nearly all absorbed.  Add a ladle-full of hot stock and continue simmering, stirring gently but constantly. When the stock is nearly absorbed, add the remaining wine.
  3. Continue stirring all the time and adding more stock as the last liquids absorb, the stirring breaks down the starches making it beautifully creamy. At the end of cooking, the rice should be tender, still slightly al dente (chewy). This will take 25 to 40 minutes and don't hesitate to use plenty of stock.
  4. Take the risotto from the heat, add the remaining butter in pieces, and stir it into the rice as it melts. Add a handful of grated cheese, stir through, taste and check seasoning. Serve the risotto in warmed shallow bowls or on deep plates with another generous sprinkling of parmigiana or grana padana. It is best served at once with the rest of the Sagrantino, of course!
If you want a more substantial risotto, I love it with a couple of cooked, finely crumbled up Italian sausages from the local butchers - the butchers are very proud of their homemade sausages, and they're a taste experience a universe away from even the very best that the UK can offer - add at the beginning stages after the first dollop of wine has all but evaporated.     

Saturday, 6 February 2010

One of our Wine Tours......

I'd like to paint a picture, let the day wash all over you and make you feel like you were there with us!  Give you a taste of what we do!
We picked our guests up one chilly misty November morning as the bells of Spello rang out 10am.  It was a nice coincidence that all our guests were in Spello, so no other pick-ups were needed!
So we had Lyn, Bruce, Bill, Justice, Allan, Mike and Anna along for the day.  Bill came well prepared with several 'dame' (5 lt glass jars)  just in case we hit a cantina that did 'sfuso' wine - this is a wonderful way of buying your wine - you take your dama to the cantina and ask for vino sfuso, the guys at the cantina take you to  the big steel vats and get what looks for all the world like a petrol pump and loads up the dama with 5 litres of the gorgeous grape stuff! But I digress! The dame fitted in snuggly behind all the seats along with a coolbox full of cold water bottles and little snacks.  And we were off!

First we went right out into the Umbrian countryside, down an unmarked unmade road to our first cantina.  We'd already explained that the cantina itself was a work in progress, but the wines were lovely, so although it wasn't the prettiest place, they'd get a real feel for a local authentic cantina - bit rough and ready, but what a great position with views through the vines over the countryside looking towards Montefalco- as my Nana would've said "It'll be lovely when it's finished"  He'd laid on bruschette with his own new olive oil - olio nuovo - drizzled on top - spicy and 'green' tasting!  He said that the oil was less than a day old - it was THAT fresh!  We were in the barrel room underground for the wine tasting, surrounded by the oak barriques and the stainless steel vats, mountains of bottles and case upon case of wine.... Heaven!
We had a barrel tasting of an experiment of his - a creamy oaky chardonnay.  A successful experiment, we think, so hopefully next year (this year now!) he'll do it again!
We tried his Montefalco Rosso DOC and the stunning Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG we also had a taste of his sagrantino passito - the dessert wine of the area.
We then went back out and up to what will be the cantina one day - we picked our way carefully to the house and found inside a room full of racks with the sagrantino grapes air-drying.  They'd been there for about 3 weeks and they'd remain there until just before Christmas by which time they would have lost about 70% of their juice.  The concentrated remainder is what is used to make the Passito.  If you've never tasted it, the closest I can think of is a rich Port.
After Mark had loaded up our guests' purchases and plenty of photos had been taken, we took off for the next cantina.

We drove up into the hills near Montefalco winding through the country lanes, up another unmade road and to our second stop for the day. By this time we were much higher up and the cantina had the most wonderful views over the Spoleto Valley looking down at Assisi, Spello, Trevi and in the distance the main town of Perugia.  The mist hadn't disappeared from the valley but we were above it here in the hills and the view was spectacular;  the huge Basilica on the plain in Santa Maria degli Angeli had it's impressive dome peeking out the top of the mist - that was all you could see on the plain, the whole valley looked like a cauldron of dry ice swirling across the plain!  Meanwhile - Ha!  We were in glorious sunshine!

We were greeted by the entire family plus the dog and cat at this cantina, everyone shook hands and introduced themselves and  the family guided us into their small tasting room,there wasn't enough room for us all plus the family, so the father and daughter (and the pets - most of the time!) stayed by the door peering in!  The family had put plates of stuzzichini (snacks) on the table, their own salami was the star of the food show!  Delicious!  As we tried their wines, they guided us through what snacks went best with which wine - and they were right!!  We tried their Grappa too.   Not my personal taste, but the others thought it was lovely!  After the tasting, they showed us around the cantina, the barrel room and the bottling room with the animals following us, hoping for some attention! 

We were feeling a little peckish by this time, so we made our way to a nearby, beautiful Agriturismo - a lovely place tucked under the town of Montefalco with the buildings made from the local stone and a traditional interior in the restaurant.

We were treated royally with plates of their own cured meats and pecorino cheese with local honey, bruschette with their own Olio Nuovo - delicious!  Jugs of their own wine were dotted around the table along with bottles of natural and fizzy water.  The pasta (hand-made obviously!) course was sublime with wild mushrooms and truffles followed by a juicy fillet beef steak with fresh local vegetables, then, for many, the piece di resistance - a hot chocolate souffled sponge dessert - indescribably good!!  Even though we were fit to burst, somehow we all found room for this masterpiece!!  Anna is a vegetarian, and the Agriturismo catered for her beautifully.  It was gone 3pm before we thought about moving onto the next cantina!

This one was up a long drive going through their olive groves on one side and some of their vineyards on the other.  Again, it looked like the whole family were there to greet us!  The wife had made some delicious little goodies to go with the wine-tasting and the weather was so good that we sat out on their covered terrace looking out over the spectacular view of the valley - the mist had almost disappeared by this time and you could see the little villages of the plain dotted around.
We didn't try their Sagrantino unfortunately because it's still maturing in the bottles and won't be ready before June 2010, the other wines were delicious though.  Again we were talked through the wines with the food - again, it was amazing that we found the space for more food, but it was so tasty that we couldn't resist!  Homemade torta di pasqua - a kind of cheesy bread. 
We were told about the cantina and how they were organic with both their wines and  their olive oil.  They explained that they have introduced nesting boxes to encourage birds to come and make their homes there and eat the insects plus there are bigger nesting boxes which have attracted hawks, these help keep the bird population down!  They also have a webcam in one of the hawk boxes and the very day they set it up a 'family' moved in and laid eggs!  It must've been fascinating and exciting to be able to watch these beautiful birds care for their eggs and then watch while the eggs hatched!  All without having any contact with the birds.
The wine makers wife had made little apple cakes made with wild apples to go with their own Grappa to finish off the tasting - even I liked it!  The cakes complimented the Grappa perfectly!

 After loading up the latest purchases it was time to head for the last cantina - this was an experiment - we wanted to see if we could 'do' four cantine in one day.  After this test, we have decided that three is enough!!


We drove once again through the gorgeous countryside of the Massa Martina hills past the autumn colours of the vineyards and admired the fabulous panorama - it had turned into a beautiful day!

We descended into the cellars after gazing at the view across the hills towards Assisi and toured the vat rooms and the barrel rooms with one of the family owners, it was pretty noisy there, the bottling machine was going full pelt, there were locals wandering around shouting over the noise of the machine to each other (getting their weeks supply of wine in huge 25 and 50 litre glass jars!)  - we weren't very quiet by this stage either! 
Bill had found his cantina to fill his 'dame' with vino sfuso and then we tried some of the many wines on offer at this lovely local cantina.  Then I saw that the winemakers Mum had what I thought was a 5 litre jar of water and she was pouring in liberally into everyones glasses - I nearly joined in, I could've done with some 'acqua' - only to realise at the last moment that she was being very generous with some homemade Grappa!! 
Time to round everyone up and take them home!!  
A good time was had by all! 
A really great fun day out, as usual!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

January Activity in Umbria

Although the weather is really changeable at this time of year, there's still room for some glorious sunny, blue-skied days - perfect for getting out and exploring the beautiful hills in our area of Umbria.

It's January and the vineyards and olive groves are alive with activity.  This is the time that the vines and olive trees are pruned back ready for the new seasons growth.  Bonfires are everywhere, they gather all that precious olive wood and burn it!!  I guess it could've been used to make some chop sticks, but normally they just burn twigs!  I just know how expensive anything made in olive wood is!  It always makes me think - surely something could be done with the wood, but not being skilled in wood-turning......... 

They burn the long shoots of the vines too, but not all of them, you see very neat piles of them at the ends of the vine rows.  They're used to tie the next seasons shoots to the training wires - natural resource and much cheaper than using binding twine!  We were given some vine shoots to do what we wanted with and we used them on the barbeque - they gave the food a wonderful smoky, very slightly winey flavour - delicious!

I think my favourite time of year for the views is around  November when the leaves of the vines turn all the colours of Autumn. Looking at the colours of the vine leaves tells you the grape variety!  Like a mini New England spreading across the rolling hills.  You can spot Sagrantino easily, it's the only one that turns a beautiful autumnal red!

Just a short one today, we're very excited because we've just been reviewed on Trip Advisor!
More later!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The grape harvest - Vendemmia 2009

The vendemmia is the busiest time of year for the cantine and it's best to watch the proceedings from a safe distance to avoid all the equipment that's snaking over the ground! The cantine usually take on extra people to help over the grape harvest and everyone works incredibly hard to get the grapes in while they're perfectly ripe - each grape variety is harvested at slightly different times starting - in Umbria - around the end of August. Up at dawn and finishing as the early autumn light is fading -you learn never to invite a wine grower to any events in this period - they won't accept!

We went to watch in September 2009 and it was fascinating to watch the mixture of old tradition and new technology working hand in hand! Health and Safety kinda takes a back seat when all thoughts are towards getting the harvest in, and the grapes into the vats!

In the picture you can see one old hand pulling the grapes from the tractor-trailer with a wooden hoe into a stainless hopper which separates the grapes from the the stalks and leaves and then the grapes go one way through a large pipe into vast stainless steel vats, the rest gets spat out into a skip. Notice what the ol' man is standing on? Safe huh?

The large pipe is hoisted by hand up a step ladder and fed into the top of the vat, then the grapes are pumped in and left to rest for a few days. We were surprised to see that at this stage the red grape juice was white- the colour comes from the skins - the longer it stays in the vats the stronger the colour. We saw a vat that was filled the day before (they take HOURS to fill!) had the lightest tinge of pink.  We tried some of the grape juice and it tasted wonderful!  Smooth almost viscous, delicately flavoured.  It has a hint of what's to come months and years down the line when it becomes the delicious local wines of the Montefalco area - the fabulous Montefalco Rosso, the wonderful Montefalco Sagrantino - aged in oak for a year before continuing the ageing process in the bottle, the rich Merlot, the plummy Cabernet Sauvignon, the classic Sangiovese, lovely on its own but also forming around 70% of the Montefalco Rosso (with a minimum of 10% Sagrantino and the rest made up of grapes of the wine-makers choice, it ensures that every Montefalco Rosso is unique to its own cantina.)  The crisp whites of the area - Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino,  We also tried some grapes that will become the fabulous dessert wine, Passito, it was amazing - the Sagrantino grapes slowly dry on racks in a well-ventilated loft space - where they remain for around 3 months losing something like 70% of their juices. We tried just a couple of the grapes and you could really taste the wine that would develop, just from that little taste!  There is some white Passito too, Grechetto & Moscato are a couple that come to mind, both delicious and as with any real Passito, they're not sweet wines, but dessert wines - a subtle difference, but one worth noting!  The Passito is normally paired with either dark chocolate or strong cheeses.  Either one is excellent - my personal preference is for a lump of parmigiana - the more aged the better - and a glass of the Sagrantino Passito!

After all that difficult observation, watching Roberto and the others hard at work at Cantina Dionigi, we were exhausted and needed a glass of wine or two to relax ourselves again!  Luckily, there was plenty of wine to choose from, and myself, Mark and my Mum sat and took a well deserved rest sitting out on their wonderful terrace!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Gusto's journey, continued...

..... It was a simple idea, take small groups of folk around the cantine (vineyards) of this area and introduce them to the delights of Umbria - the fabulous award winning wines, the authentic rustic cuisine, the delightful people and the incredible countryside.

We'd been on a wine tour in the summer in Napa Valley, California and although it was good, we knew we could improve on the experience! Firstly we decided that everything would be included in the price of the day. The only exception to that would be anything that folks bought during the day! We wanted to look after people for the day 110%, we wanted them to come away from the day with fabulous memories and want to come back for more! We wanted to make it such a great day out that the people who came on our tours wouldn't be able to help recommending us!

Although we're both experienced in the hospitality trade, setting up a new business, even one as simple as this, in a foreign country has been interesting, to say the least!

Anyway, that aside, we did it! The fun part was, and still is (we're not going to stop looking) sourcing the cantine and different places to eat lunch! We are concentrating on the smaller cantine, and out of the way quality places to eat, but as the tours are customer led, we will listen if the consensus is to visit the more well-known places. It's your day! was created to stimulate the senses to make you yearn for a day out with Gusto!

More later.......

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The idea

A few years ago we started doing wine tours for our friends and family whenever they came to visit us in our chosen home of Umbria. They all enjoyed the experience and it was a chance for us to show off this relatively unknown area of Italy. We know that people are starting to be aware of it, but it still seems to be talked about as Tuscany's poor relation! Everyone knows the Tuscan wines - who hasn't gone to Tesco's for a bottle of Chianti? Personally I'm more often than not disappointed in the Chianti's I have tried. However, the marketing is strong and it's difficult to persuade some people that there may be a contender out there, and when it happens to be Tuscany's neighbour, well.....

The first time that I tried a Montefalco Rosso was a total revelation! I was so impressed by the deep chewy nature of the wine that I soon progressed to trying the Montefalco Sagrantino - 100% Sagrantino grapes, only grown in this part of Umbria. They have the highest levels of polyphenols and tannins of any other grape, and these are the building blocks of a full bodied and complex wine that will age very well indeed. The wine is aged in wood barrels and stainless steel for a minimum of 30 months to soften those massive tannins. The result is superb!

We wanted to do something in this business!

Gusto Wine Tours was born!