An Intriguing History of Tuscan Wine


The rolling hills of Tuscany are alive with endless rows of vines. In fact, wine is produced over most of the territory in this region of central Italy. The passion, gusto, and delightful flavors of the wine is directly related to the heart and soul of this beautiful land full of myths and legends. However, the historical truth is much more interesting. Read more

My 5 Favorite Italian Wineries

Among my very favorite things to do while in bella Italia is to visit the wineries. As one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, some of the very best come from Italy. Italy supplies nearly one-third of the global wine production. In fact, Italy is now the world’s largest wine producer by volume, closely followed by France. With more than one million vineyards under cultivation, Italian vintners know a thing or two when it comes to making delicious wine. Read more

3 Reasons That Keep Me Returning to Italy

An chance meeting at a grad party we happened to stumble upon. We were pulled into the celebration, given wine and dolci, and warm embraces.
A chance meeting in Naples at a grad party we happened to stumble upon. We were pulled into the celebration, given wine and dolci, and many warm embraces.

I thought long and hard about this one, because there are so many things I find charming about Italy. However, I do have my top three reasons that always have the same effect on me each time I return. After making over ten trips to bella Italia, it never changes.

So what are these reasons I find so hard to resist? I’m happy to share them with you because as I write, I find myself falling in love with Italy all over again.

#1. Wine. I love wine. Simply put. It is one pleasure in life I look forward to. Not only do I appreciate the variety of tastes, but also because it symbolizes the end of a busy day and the beginning of a relaxing evening. It can be enjoyed with friends or with just a beautiful view. Italy produces the ultimate in wine experiences. At almost every aperitivo, I drink the “vino rosso,” or “vino bianco” depending on the weather. I can be assured of a delicious, locally produced wine that sets the mood for the evening nicely. Maybe it is the minerality from the soil that makes Italian wine so appealing to me, or the way it is produced. Whatever it is, at aperitivo hour you can be assured I’m enjoying one somewhere.

#2. Warmth. I’m not talking weather here, although that is a definite perk in Italy. When I think of warmth, I think of the people. The Italians hold a lot of pride in their family, traditions, and work. I admire that. It touches me when I visit a pizzeria in Naples and converse with the owner who points out a tall building across the street that his father helped build. He then shows me some old photos on the wall of his family hard at work in the restaurant that has remained in the family for generations. He is open and welcoming. Or the young man Andrea who drove my around in a little cart throughout Matera in Basilicata. He shared his heart of sorrow for his hometown which is quickly becoming overrun with tourists. It is difficult for them to see change happen where family and tradition are so important. But he accepts it with open arms, stopping for me to take photos and suggesting a good place to eat. I am constantly introduced to locals who embrace with a kiss on each cheek and a warm smile. They are not reserved. They are affectionate, emotional and loving. I feel like I’m a part of their family, and I love that.

#3. Layers of History. I’m stunned each time I put my foot on Italian soil. No matter where I stand, something of historical significance has taken place. Naples and Rome rest on top of entire civilizations from the far past. Tunnels, rooms, shops, markets, churches, banquet halls….it’s all right there, under my feet. It is everywhere, and that just gives me the shivers. How often have the subway systems given way to some new discovery, an ancient room or courtyard, that causes all work to stop. Archaeologists are called in. A man digs below his house in a small town in southern Italy to improve the sewer for his taverna only to find that there is an entire settlement right under him. Now it is a museum open to the public. Time and again, new discoveries. I don’t know about you, but my jaw drops and I stand amazed. It fascinates me.

So there you have it. Italy never ceases to surprise, inspire and entertain me. Of course the list is endless. I am addicted to the affogato, my daily gelato fix with espresso poured over the top. And Caprese salads with fresh basil leaves. Neapolitan Margherita pizza. Fresh seafood pasta with mussels in the shell. Small toy-sized fiats driven by little old ladies. Balconies bursting with red bougainvillea. But let’s be real. Italy has its aspects of irritation as well. People will cut in front of you in line, drive like lunatics, appear to be arguing loudly only to slap each other on the back minutes later, and take their time (never a rush when it comes to public relations.) I look at it all as a compromise, a kind of paradox. The good overwhelms the not so good. And that is quite enough for me. I have grown to depend on Italy for many things, from developing an appreciation and celebration of food to living my life a bit more passionately. I love my family and friends more. My choice in dress has come up a notch. And I’ve learned to slow down a bit and enjoy the conceivably smaller things in life.

What are your favorite things about Italy? If you have been to Italy, what is it that draws you back? I would love to hear from you.

My Latest Italian Adventure ~ A Sneak Peak of Upcoming Articles

4 bella travel companions in Venice where we began our exciting adventures. With me are Margie Miklas, Ishita Shood and Victoria DiMaio, all fellow Italy bloggers.
4 Bella Donne….my travel companions in Venice where we began our exciting adventures. With me are Margie Miklas, Ishita Sood and Victoria DiMaio, all fellow Italy bloggers.

My Italian adventure was so much more than I ever imagined. After being home four days, I am still reeling from 3 1/2 weeks of experiences with new friends that will remain with me for a lifetime. What began as acquaintances that developed over a period of time on twitter, became solid friendships as we took the plunge and decided to meet in person and have an Italian adventure together. I couldn’t have had a more satisfying, bonding time. I love these ladies, and they will always hold a special place in my heart.

Through them I had the opportunity to meet many of the local people. I found each one to be warm and welcoming, willing to pull me right into their own daily lives without hesitation. We laughed, learned and enjoyed many delicious meals together.

I am so excited to share the many adventures I’ve had, but it would take a book. So I have included a few photos to give you an idea of some upcoming articles I am preparing for you.

You’ve heard of the Venice Carnevale? Well, wait until you read about our own little celebration while making masks.

Mask-making in Venice. Incredibly cool!
Mask-making in Venice. Incredibly cool!

Next we travel down to the heel of the boot. Warm, lovely and surprising. You will walk under those arches and see …..well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Masseria Provenzani in Puglia where I spent 10 days

Masseria Provenzani in Puglia where I spent 10 days

This is us in the mild. At our cooking class we found dough and pepper chunks in the most unusual places, but we always turned out a mean dish.

Cooking Classes! Never knew I could do it and have so much fun!
Cooking Classes! Never knew I could do it and have so much fun!

I could walk this town of Lecce forever. So much to see but easily miss. Don’t let that happen to you….

The baroque town of Lecce ~ incredibly moving architecture
The baroque town of Lecce ~ incredibly moving architecture

As a wine lover, I was head over heels for the local Negroamaro and Primitivo wines of Puglia. Read about a couple of local wineries that are as uniquely different from each other as possible, yet produce equally delicious wines.

Enjoying local wines at the Puglia Wine School.
Enjoying local wines at the Puglia Wine School.
Italian Cuisine that will leave you craving more
Italian Cuisine that will leave you craving more…

Yes, I’m afraid it will. And the key ingredient is the aromatic and tasty olive oil produced in Puglia. We enjoyed our visit to one of the best and had a deliciously prepared picnic in the orchard.

Exotic Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic Coast
Exotic Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic Coast

Exotic is the word. These transparent waters, tall white cliffs and hidden beaches are just the beginning.

If you have seen “The Passion of the Christ” produced by Mel Gibson, you have seen a part of Matera in the Basilicata region. We stayed in a cistern converted into a living space that was, well, unique to say the least. Cave churches, ancient frescos and winding alleys with a very old past.

Moving Matera, city of stones and caves
Moving Matera, city of stones and caves

Of course, there is always more food. This is one of the greatest joys in life and we had the pleasure to enjoy plenty of Italian cuisine.

More food......
More food……

Positano on the Amalfi Coast. My friends and I lived for 5 days in Italian heaven. Sailboats, a visit to the isle of Capri, shopping and breathtaking Mediterranean views while lunching on terraces. It’s all here….

Positano ~ Paradise Italian Style!
Positano ~ Paradise Italian Style!

As the old saying goes, “life is more fun when you share it with a friend.” Not only was the entire experience much more meaningful with my new friends, but I can’t wait to share it all with you. So stay tuned….there is so much more to come.

One American City’s Obsession with Italian Vino

Martinotti's Cafe and Wine shop, downtown Portland. Martinotti's has been in business since 1978, specializing in great Italian wines like Barbaresco.
Martinotti’s Cafe and Wine shop, downtown Portland. Martinotti’s has been in business since 1978, specializing in great Italian wines like Barolo and Barbaresco.

“Portland may be a smallish town, but it’s a huge Italian wine market.” I read these words in the Oregonian, the daily newspaper, just recently(entire article linked below). No surprise to me as I’ve noticed Italian wines often take up the largest section in most local wine shops and stores.

Here in Portland it’s easy to transport yourself to the old familiar ‘boot’ by tasting the many different varieties of Italian wines in local restaurants and wine shops. It can be anything from a simple ruby-red made from the congenial Sicilian grape nocera or a robust picotendro from the Valle d’Aoste.

“When you travel around the USA and visit the most important wine shops in our major cities, even in New York City, no one outdoes Portland for a bright, dynamic and impressive selection,” states Ed Paladino, co-owner of E&R Wine Shop. “This observation has been made over and over by dozens of visiting Italian wine makers at our shop. Short of visiting Italy for a four or five month wine tour, shopping for Italian wine in Portland is about as good as it gets.”

The strange thing is, we have no Little Italy here in Portland, nor a large Italian- American population. So why all the fuss about Italian wines?

According to wine authority Matt Kramer, there is an “ecology of factors,” including our weather (very Piedmont-like), to our prudence (typical Portland …and Italian wines have always been good bargains) to our pro-Italian retailers, importers and restaurateurs creating a market for Italian wine.

The Italian wine scene in Portland began with Lorenzo Giusti, born in Lucca, Italy, who founded the New Italian Importing Co. When the Prohibition ended in 1933, Giusti involved himself in the wholesale beverage business.

Many restaurants and wine shops begin to open after this time. In 1976, Willamette Week food editor Matt Kramer begins writing wine columns after discovering a new-found love of Italian wines from the selection available in Portland. He went on to write several books, including “Making Sense of Italian Wine” and “A Passion for Piedmont.”

In 1978 Al Giusti sets the ball rolling by importing the first Brunello di Montalcino, from Argiano, to Portland.

Liner and Elsen Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon
Liner and Elsen Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon

Liner & Elsen wine shop opens in 1990 with temperature-controlled wine lockers, presenting the idea of buying wine in futures (referring to wine that is made, but before it is bottled). They also invited Italian vintners like Angelo Gaja and Alfredo Currado of Vietti into the store to pour their wines. In 1999 Bob Liner and Matt Elsen sell their store and invest themselves in the import-and-wholesale business with Galaxy Wine Co., introducing intriguing wines from unfamiliar regions like Sardinia and Le Marche.

E&R Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon
E&R Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon

In 1990, E&R wine shop opens and just a few years later, Food & Wine magazine awards it one of the top five shops for Italian wine in the United States. The owners Richard Elden and Ed Paladino travel to Italy annually, visiting 30-35 wineries at a time.

Since then, Portland’s Italian-focused wine importers, restaurants and shops that have opened for business continue to supply the public’s demand for Italian wines, allowing most of the businesses to thrive and prosper.

With all this talk about Italian wine, I may just go open that bottle of Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Reserva 2006 Castello di Monna Lisa that I have been saving tucked under the bed for a special occasion. Per la vostra buona salute!

*How Portland became obsessed with Italian Vino