Thursday, April 28, 2016


Paul ( the Wine Guy), " I promised to visit a vineyard in Sardegna....want to come?"
Elizabeth and me (the Wine Drinkers), "Duh...Yah!"

After a car ride to Rome and a short flight. we are on the island of Sardegna. Technically, Sardegna is part of Italy, but for all intents and purposes, you find yourself in a different country.


Our destination is the region around Dorgali, a two hour drive from Cagliari, on the eastern part of the island, This is the home of Cannonau di Sardegna, the ancient grape of remarkable structure.
Sardegna seems to be ringed with huge jagged mountains with white rock streaked with gold and red,  which plunge into the sea. Don't look for any scenic seaside roads here, it is all hairpin turns and switchbacks up and down the coastal mountains.

We descend into a valley that seems uninhabited, save for some vineyards and olive groves. The land is dry, rain being scarce.

Everywhere you look you encounter terrible beauty. It is as if some great ancient god ( they are still here, by the way) tore a large chunk of earth out, leaving this jagged mountain range.

As Paul talked wine business with Manuela, Elizabeth and I , along with Betty tried to absorb this wonderful paradise until it was time for the........

Atha Ruja

We were in a small stucco hut (cantina) tasting world class wines (92 point rating). What's not to like? But, as the day grew long we had to retire to the hotel on the other side of the mountains.


As we pass through a tunnel we emerge facing the Mare Tirreno and way down below sits the seaside village of Cala Gonone. What can I say, the town has a 'La Dolce Vita' quality to it( aside from the multitude of gelateria's). The beaches are golden red and the sea a stunning aquamarine.

At night we dined on local seafood and roast suckling pig, porcheddu. We promised our host to return in October for the harvest. We returned to Cagliari to catch our flight back to the mainland. But, I could not help myself and had to buy a 'souvenir' from Sardegna.

"The best tuna in the world!"
     - Tonino di Avellino

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

POGGIO ALLORO.....A Visit To A Family Farm In Tuscany

There it is, San Gimignano in the distance, recognizable by all it's medieval towers. We have been there to see some of the important and beautiful fresco cycles, and  now it is time to visit a family farm we have heard and read about for the past few years.....Poggio Alloro.

Once again we are on the wine trail with Paul and Betty.  After arriving and all the introductions and hugs went around it was only minutes before a chilled bottle of Poggio Alloro wine showed up with four glasses. As family members came to greet their old friends Paul and Betty and meet their new friends James & Elizabeth, more bottles chairs appeared along with additional  glasses and bottles of wine.

This is a true family farm where they raise what they eat. This is Chianina territory, the ghostly white cow...steer raised in Tuscany. Chianina is the beef used for Fiorentina steak that is famous here, generally huge and cut thick, grilled quickly so that it is barely cooked through.
After a glass or two of wine walk down to the barn to see the Chianina to find just how huge these white specters are! 

We pass Amico's vegetable garden. Amigo  it seems is the patriarch here  at the farm and this is just one of the chores he tends too. We later find that the fennel salad at dinner is from his garden. Everything here at the farm, including the wine is 'biological' or organic.

 Sarah, Amico's daughter, who we met at  her wine tasting in Yarmouth , Maine, of all places, invites us to join the family for dinner.
Local cured meats are served first.

Then......Amico shows up with the steaks, Chianina  beef, of course.
We understand that he is a master at grilling these fine cuts of meat.

On this night he grills in the spacious dining room fireplace.
Amico, as nimble as an acrobat, moves in and out of the fireplace with ease as he  tends to the steaks.

Finished with her work for the day Sarah joins us and pours wine  first for Betty and Paul, then for all at the table.
A fennel salad is brought to the table, along with bread.....everything from the farm.
The wine is delicious.

Steaks are ready. Amico salts them. They are ready to be served. Can't wait!!!

The beef is amazing and cooked masterfully. 
"Bravo!" Amico.  

After a perfect night's sleep, James wakes early and finds a place on the terrace overlooking San Gimignano ( San G.! as he calls it) to draw. He spoke of his interest in the rising and terraced landscape between the farm and San Gimignano. He makes a drawing, which will become a painting, so, that probably means a return visit here.
No problem!

Vineyards surround the farm.

It seems that everyone here on the farm has a task. When we arrived Russell was mowing and weeding, another  was in this shed cutting wood. Down at the cantina there were cousins putting 
labels on much work goes on here from dawn to dusk, with great food and wine in between the work. Incredible.

The wood that was being cut in the morning it put in a wheelbarrow and wheeled up to the outdoor brick oven. Amico is there to arrange the wood for cooking the evening meals for the farm's guests. In conversation we come to understand that nearly everything that is on the family table is grown or raised on the farm. It is a tale of hard work with rich results, good work, good food, good wine, family and friends. We are all sorry we will not be at the table for this meal!

Sarah had a group coming to Poggio Alloro for a cooking class. The dining room is rearranged and readied for a lesson in pasta making. Sarah is a woman of many talents.

A Family Farm in Tuscany , by Sarah Fioroni

A Family Farm in Tuscany is a lovely book that Sarah has written about living and working on her families farm, Poggio Alloro.  She includes some of the traditional Tuscan recipes that are prepared here. James and I bought the book a couple of years ago, but now, being here it all comes to life. After meeting the people in the book and not only seeing the amount of work they do...everyone is in constant motion, I am so delighted to be here. You can bet that James and I will be using some of Sarah's recipes.

Before leaving we stop in the cantina to buy a few bottles of wine to take back to Panicale.
Paul imports this wine, so we will buy more when we return home.

Another final look at San G. before leaving.

Hugs go around. Betty walking arm in arm with Amico back to the car. He gives her a  potted rose, an old rose from Poggio Alloro. She will loving put it in her garden.
This is how great memories are made.

Mille Grazie, Sarah, Amico and all at Poggio Alloro.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Nothing defines blue better than a clear Umbrian sky set against the warm yellows, ochres and brick of the buildings. Panicale sits high on a hill overlooking Lake Trasimeno which adds to the landscape of the plane below. It is all beautiful and serene, but the real beauty here is the people, who are very kind.


Friday, April 15, 2016


Borromini's Sant 'Agata

 Our friend Paul  is a wine importer, so, he and Betty have been taking us along on their visits to vineyards.
We are getting an education in Italian wine along with that comes the tasting of quite a bit of wine. 
Not too hard to swallow!!

So, now it was our turn to lead the tour, so we went off to Rome. Our agenda included art, architecture and food. We left the selecting of wine to Paul.

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain
with Borromini's church behind.

The Pantheon

We always make a visit to the Pantheon and to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva which is in the piazza just behind the Pantheon. There was a mass going on in the church so we were not able to see the Filippino Lippi fresco in the Carafa Chapel, disappointed, but there is always next time.

 The ceiling in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva


Art and artichokes go well together. For lunch James and I decided that Gigghetto would be a perfect place to blend some history with our fried artichokes ...alla guidia

After a great deal of walking  and a visit to San Carlo,  by Borromini and Sant Andrea, by Bernini , the last stop on the Bernini-Borromini tour, we began to think about dinner. We were staying at the Hotel Ponte Sisto which has a lovely palm filled courtyard, so it was a perfect place to enjoy a bottle of Frascati before calling a taxi to take us to dinner.

Our destination was Monti, to have dinner at Taverna dei fori Imperiali.
We love this family run place. Alessio, chef & owner  took charge and suggested our meal.
Artichokes stuffed with bacala and pecorino to start. Our primi was a remarkably good bowl of chestnut flour pasta with mushroom and sausage. For secondi, saltimbocca.
Sorry, but I forgot to take any photos, I just wanted to eat!

The next and last morning, after coffee, we went to be dazzled by the Baroque.

Sant' Ignazio

This is the Baroque as theatre. It is drama, with illusion, stage setting and all the participants in movement....a dance.

ciao Rome.....see you again soon.

Friday, April 8, 2016


My garden mentor, Julia, once told me that, "Spring is violet, summer is yellow and autumn is pink."
She would have been delighted with the violets of spring that are now in bloom here in Panicale.

The fragrance of the wisteria as it weaves itself along the wall, is pure perfume. 

The lilacs provide yet another fragrance that adds a sweetness to the air. Yesterday, in the warmth of the very late afternoon it was filled with bees at work.

Even the rosemary has it's own take on the spring violet collection. The flowers of the sage are just about ready to make their appearance.

I cannot forget the happy faces of the pansies. I just love these little first flowers of spring.

Wisteria, wisteria , wisteria everywhere!

Sunday, April 3, 2016


For many years a visit to Volterra, in Tuscany, was on our must see list in spite of the fact that it happens to be one of Rick Steves favorite towns. Elizabeth and I finally got our chance when we were spending the night with friends, Paul and Betty, at Poggio Alloro in nearby San Gimignano. As typical of many Tuscan towns, Volterra sits high on a collina, or hill and I mean high.

To get a sense of the importance of a town we habitually head straight for the Duomo  or cathedral.

It is here in these amazing spaces that one finds the most significant works of art, usually commissioned by wealthy merchants who wanted to save their souls from eternal damnation. At least it kept artists working.

After filling ourselves with local culture ( and lunch), I began looking around for why I really came here and what Volterra is world famous for......


Before glass was invented, windows in important buildings were fitted with panes of alabaster, a fine transparent / translucent 'rock' that allows light to pass through and has a slightly mystical otherness to it. You still find alabaster windows in churches, for example in the Orvieto Duomo.

What I came for was a simple 'classico' footed bowl, simple in shape that will perhaps play an important role in a still life to come.
Just how do I get it home without cracking it?