Greetings from Montecatini Terme, Italy. I arrived early this afternoon from Florence. I went a little too far on the A1 North but luckily I realized my mistake. I was listening to a funny Korean comedian on my ipod and got distracted. I’ve impressed myself driving in foreign countries. Even with no GPS, I’ve been able to find things quite easily. I have one last week of vaca before I start vintage in Barolo. The last five weeks of vacation have been interesting to say the very least. I have much to share.
The thermal water spas(Terme means warm mineral waters and I came here for the spa) are closed on this Sunday afternoon so I decided to write my blog. I’m feeling rather glamorous right now in the Gambrinus Piazza having a glass of prosecco. The is crowd is sophisticated and seems Italian. It seems that this is the best place in town to people watch at appertivo hour, ie before dinner. We have drink specials in the US, whereas here the cafes offer bruschetta, salami or other little nibbles during appertivo.
I had lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in the world, the simple and authentic Osteria Giovanni. The service was very good; there’s a charming older man who works the front of the house. He loves to please people and is especially competent. Coupled with an outstanding wine list with some reasonably priced gems, I made it my first stop in town. The spaghetti vongole(with clams) was perfectly al dente and my sea bass with porcini mushrooms, spot-on. I didn’t love his wine choice, a chardonnay called Rondinaia from the estate of Castello del Terriccio, the same producers of the Lupicaia located in the Tuscan coastal Maremma. It had a nice melon nose with some tropical fruits on the palate but it was short on the finish. The wine wasn't vinified in any oak but I did detect a bit of malo.
I am staying at Grand Hotel Tettuccio, a somewhat sleepy four star hotel. I’ve found good prices on booking.com or venere.it . A cute twenty something year old bar man at the hotel brought me a couple glasses of prosecco this evening while I was reading in the hotel lobby. I haven't found anyone I wanted to kiss or touch since this February so I pondered whether he that he might be that guy. He had a great smile and smoking body. Handsome. Spoke English well. Um? As I was leaving he offered to come to my room with some champagne after his shift. Um, I agreed. He arrived smiling and flirtaceous but I asked him to leave after 10 minutes. What's wrong with me? I'm just not into casual encounters but at some point I may let myself be seduced. The Italian men are quite flirtaceous and it is fun to flirt back.
After spending a week at the three star Hotel Giglio in Montalcino, I decided to book myself at the five star Hotel Montebello Spendid in Florence. The hotel upgraded me two levels to a deluxe double with jet spa tub. It was exactly what I needed! I’ve been missing nice amenities and the price was within reason (although I did feel a bit guilty for being so indulgent). Yet, who is going to spoil me, if I don’t?
Florence is a great little city but it is overrun by tourists, something I now try to avoid in my travels. It had been six years since I was here last. As I walked the charming Pointe de Vecchio and its jewelry shops, I couldn’t help but smile. I was eating sublime gelato (dark chocolate and pistacchio) from Grom(there is one in NYC as well) and walking around this beautiful, artsy city. I am doing exactly want I want in life! Lucky me, I thought. I love Italy!
I’ve been to Florence before and hit the typical foodie spots like the Michelin three star restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri and Cibreo. I’ve been dining out for every meal for all but two meals in the last five weeks, so I’m not often in the mood for complicated or refined food. On Saturday night I dined at Buca Lapi. It was on my short list. The hotel concierge confirmed that it was good although that it was unlikely to be available without an advance reservation. I asked her to call and luckily, I got in! Upon arrival , I was welcomed with a big smile by the owner. He was cute and was particularly attentive. I ordered the Bistecca alla Fiorentina: a huge and yummy Tuscan steak. No side dishes or no appetizer to dim my appetite for the steak. His 375ml list was pretty dismal and I didn’t want to drink the basic Villa Antinori, the best available choice, with my steak. The owner told me that he would open something special. He opened an IGT Cab, Merlot and Sangiovese blend red that was a good quality wine. It had vivacious primary fruit but was pretty conventional. The table next to me noticed my choice and started chatting with me. They thought I had something interesting. They offered me a glass of their 2003 Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello, a nice step up. The man, confident in his knowledge, told me that this was the highest classification of the three Italian wines categories. I gently mentioned that there were four levels with DOCG at the top, followed by DOC, IGT and vini da tavola at the bottom. IGT was instituted in 1992 and covers a wide range of wine from mediocre to the acclaimed super Tuscans and Gaja wines, wines that challenged the traditional goverance. In order to be more competive with the new world, starting August 2009, France recently announced that it will have three new categories for French wines with the “Wines of France” category being the most innovative. These are just a few of the changes the EU has instituted to make themselves more competitive globally.
Here in Italy, I find that many in the restaurant staff still sniff the cork when opening a wine. The lovely couple next to me asked my opinion on the practice. It is unnecessary to smell the cork. Yes, visually inspecting the cork for any damage makes sense. Traditionally, one also checked the corresponding vintage and winery on the cork with the label as the incidence of counterfeiting was higher. Often, wineries will use higher quality corks with their higher quality wines. Try separating your commercial corks with your premium or icon corks and see if you can tell the difference. However, the best practice to examine flaws is first by smelling the wine and then by tasting the wine. The most common wine flaws are as follows:
1) TCA or trichloranisole 2-4-6, layman term: corked
2) Volatile acidity
4) Sulfides and mercaptans: Hydrogen sulfide or H2S (note -ite is good whereas -ide is bad)
5) Brettanomyces or brett
7) Secondary fermentation
Luckily, the steak was sublime, a perfect char-grilled medium rare. I dream about this steak and I was very pleased with the execution. The owner then brought me a chocolate torte, unasked. I finished with an espresso. When I asked the owner for the bill, he asked if I could be his guest. I was a surprised but pleased at this gesture of generosity.
Lunch was at Golden Door along the Arno River. Great space, ok service, good food, good wine list and amazing views. On Friday night I went to Il Latini. Pretty touristy and would not go back. Great wine cellar downstairs.
Got to get back to some reading about the vinification methods at my new winery job. I’ll do my best to report but things get really crazy at vintage.