If you’ve ever been to Italy, Steve Coogan’s documentary “The Trip to Italy” is more or less an hour and a half of nostalgia—and a complementary jog through the pantheon of famous actor accents, served with a side dish of undercooked male behavior. It’s particularly nostalgic if, like me, you’ve spent time in Camogli, a small town on the Italian Riviera that’s a cross between a sleepy fishing village and a happening vacation spot.
“The Trip To Italy” begins in Barolo, Piemonte, moves through Camogli, in Liguria, down to Rome, and ends up on the Amalfi Coast, in Campania. I recognized no fewer than three of the specific locations, but the time spent in Liguria was especially weird. Living in New York City, I don’t find it uncanny to see Gotham landmarks I recognize—ditto places I know and love in Chicago, or even Rome. But to see my apartment building in Camogli, to recognize the road that runs from Rapallo to Camogli, to see the exact view of the Camogli harbor that I lived and loved, this was all deeply weird, and it made me miss that town that’s nothing as much as the Italian answer to Martha’s Vineyard.
This, and the fact that my colleague David Bertot is soon going to visit Camogli and Montalcino, the other place I stayed for an extended visit, has made me think about some of my favorite places to visit. Being a decided sybarite, my favorite places are restaurants and wine estates, and as much as I’d gladly transport myself to Cupano, to Il Palazzone, to Mascarello, to Castello dei Rampolla, or any other of the many wine estates I got to see, “The Trip to Italy” and its dedication to Italian food has me thinking about my favorite restaurants. In no particular order:
Il Silene, located somewhere on Monte Amiata, near Montalcino in Toscana
Along with Sergio Esposito, IWM’s founder, and Eleanor Shannon, a wonderful writer, I ate a petting zoo at this large, elegant and still welcoming restaurant. There’s no way to convey how great an experience this restaurant is, but Eleanor manages to capture part of it on her blog.
Il Leccio, located in Sant’Angelo in Colle, near Montalcino in Toscana
If there were a Platonic ideal of a Tuscan restaurant, it is Il Leccio. Located on a high plain in this clean-swept slate piazza, this restaurant overlooks views that will make you wish you were a falcon. The steak is amazing. Seriously, it is carnivore heaven. I’ve eaten here three or four times, and each time I was overjoyed. Transported. Just go.
La Pineta, located on the Maremma near Bolgheri in Toscana
What Il Silene is to petting zoos, this restaurant is to aquariums. The service is unspeakably elegant, the food sublime. Quite simply, I could eat here again, suffer a massive cardiac event, and die feeling as if my life was complete. If you love succulent dishes from the sea, matching twin waiters who glide with practiced choreography, and intensely good, crazy fresh, meticulously prepared seafood, you must go here.
Antica Osteria Luchin, located in Chiavari near Camogli in Liguria
This is the rustic place with the great wooden tables and the big bowls of minestrone and fresh-baked farinata, the chickpea flour bread that put Chiavari on the map. You can’t go to Liguria and not visit this restaurant for lunch. It is like a giant hug from the inside, and you will mourn that farinata for the rest of your days.
Antica Macellaria Cecchini, located in Panzano in Toscana
The place made famous by Bill Buford’s Heat, this restaurant is as fun, as whimsical, as weird and as delicious as its owner, Dario Cecchini would have you believe. Come for the deluxe hamburger, stay for the olive oil cake. Seriously, the olive oil cake will make you cry. So will the lardo. It’s an experience that you oughtn’t to miss.
Other places whose names escape me should be on the list—the panificio in the heart of Camogli with those varied little cookies that make me still jump with joy. The humble trattoria on the border of Liguria and Piemonte with the cheese croquettes that felt like eating clouds. The little restaurant with the blue-and-white checked tablecloths in Camogli, where I first ate heads-on shrimp. The Piemonte restaurant on the outskirts of Barolo whose pasta melted in your mouth with a gleeful evanescence. The nameless pizza place down the street from my hotel in Rome; I will die with that gorgonzola artichoke pizza still on my lips. I want to get back, to taste again, and smell again, and experience again the beauty of Italy. In the meantime, I’ll make do with repeated viewings of “The Trip to Italy,” but with the sound off.
Two wines from Toscana came truly stood out for me last week during one of my tastings: Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello 2008 and Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2008. These two labels always deliver and for the same simple reason—they come from two world-class wine-producing estates where true skill comes into play. These two wines were by far the hit of the tasting and they each kept getting better and better with more and more breathing time. Hands down, this is the ideal duo for your home and collection.
Toscana – Sangiovese Grosso
The Pian delle Vigne estate was purchased in 1995 by the Antinori family and they wasted no time making changes, planting new vines and producing some of the best Brunello in the southern region of Montalcino. I have this wine across many vintages, and it is always a home run, offering a complex generous nose with mature aromas of cherries, red berries, tobacco and hints of coffee and cocoa powder. This Brunello’s multilayered structure with nicely balanced soft tannins, elegant fruit leads to a very lingering finish. Let it breathe for a few hours in the bottle and enjoy with roasted pork shoulder. Drink within the next 8-10 years.
Toscana – Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot
It’s hard not to like this wine—it is Ornellaia, after all. The 2008 vintage has received some questionable press when released; people said, “It’s not a good one,” or “it was rainy,” and “so and so said not to buy it.” As always, a vintage’s weather is about 60% of the wine, but what about that 40%? That’s all the winemaker. Italian, specifically Tuscan, winemakers saw 2008 as a classically styled vintage because it challenged them to excellence. Ornellaia has managed to produce a beautiful, elegant, well-balanced and approachable bottle of wine in this vintage. I would not hesitate to drink this wine; it is absolutely stunning. You certainly will not be disappointed if you enjoy this next to a grilled sirloin. Drink now until 2023.
We began with the rousing conclusion to David Gwo’s four-part series on learning how to be a better taster; basically, it’s a lifetime of hard, arduous labor. And wine. Lots, and lots of wine. We ended with a tour of one of our favorite wine regions, Campania; easily overlooked, this southern Italian province is home to the most indigenous grapes of anywhere in Italy–and really great winemaking! In between, two of our staff members wrote about some of their favorite bottles. Crystal sang the praises of an under $23 Campanian sparkler from Bruno De Conciliis, and John Camacho wrote about his love for Sangiovese in general and Montevertine’s entry-level Pian del Ciampolo in specific.
Two of our experts were also motivated by educating you. Francesco reminds you that Burgundy is not only Pinot Noir, and he chooses a pair of extraordinary Gamay Beaujolais for your edification and enjoyment. Turning to Piemonte’s Aldo Conterno, David Gwo wants to let you in on a secret–Aldo’s Langhe Rosso and the estate’s ’09 Barolo, both enjoyable now. Both Garrett Kowalsky and Robin Kelley O’Connor were more motivated by fall weather–Garrett picks a pair of Italian reds to keep you warm, while Robin offers up two beauties from Burgundy’s Latour-Giraud.
Cheers to back to school, and all the wine that goes along with it!
Recently, we’ve been featuring several wines from Campania, one of our favorite Italian regions, and the childhood home of IWM’s founder, Sergio Esposito. Given our passion for these wines, it felt like the right time to give some perspective to this often overlooked region. In ancient Roman times, Campania held the spot at the top; it was the world’s premier wine-producing zone. But this reputation was changed over time by an emphasis on low-quality mass production. Today, Campania’s former brilliance has been recaptured through various producers’ efforts with antique varietals—after all, Campania is home to more indigenous grapes than anywhere else in Italy.
Contemporary recognition of Campania’s quality began with the historic release of Mastroberardino’s critically acclaimed 1968 Taurasi. Mastroberardino was the sole producer of quality Aglianico (Taurasi is a mono-varietal Aglianico) for several years, so only in the last couple of decades has Aglianico potential and that of its fellow ancient varietals come to the wine world’s consciousness. Aglianico, in fact, has come to be known as the “Nebbiolo of the South,” and its Taurasi DOCG has the reputation for being its most important expression.
While Aglianico headlines the red varieties, Piedirosso, with which it is frequently blended, is gaining on its heels; many producers are now craft single-varietal bottlings of the grape. Casavecchia and Pallagrello are two of the other recovered varietals, focused on exclusively by Vestini Campagnano. In general, the Reds tend to be quite powerful in expression, while the Whites display an animating acidity. While many whites, like Greco di Tufo and Falanghina, are mild in flavor, some, especially Fiano, offer deeply satisfying aromatics. All are generally marked by restraint, making them food-friendly and perfect as hot weather sippers.
Campania also enjoys the enviable distinction of being home to a significant number of cult wines, many of which began as “garage” wines—the expression of individual passion. Most notable among these are Silvia Imparato’s Montevetrano and Fattoria Galardi’s Terre di Lavoro, for collector, “garage” wines, and De Conciliis for more affordable bottlings. Indeed, this kind of fierce individuality, dedication and passion define Campania as a winemaking region, or at least as much as its terroir and indigenous grapes—and producers like Raffaele Palma, whose organic estate perches on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, suggest that Campania is perched to reclaim its ancient status at the top of Italy’s wine world.
Join us on Saturday, September 20 for a special tasting that explores the wines of Campania and the Amalfi Coast.
When most people think of great red Burgundy, more often than not they forget about or fail to mention Beaujolais. The wines produced in Beaujolais may not rival Grand Crus from the Cote d’Or, but they’re neither the same grape nor do they aim to challenge Burgundy Grand Crus. However, I could make a strong argument that the finest Beaujolais can rival many Premier Crus and for a fraction of the price. Below are two producers that everyone should know about.
This is seriously complex Beaujolais and an absolute stunner at $29! Wrapping the palate with ripe and dense flavors and displaying a core of mineral earthiness, a Morgon Beaujolais is one of the more exemplary Crus to showcase the unique terroir differences of Beaujolais.
2009 is perhaps the best vintage for Beajolias, hands down. There is a serious amount of concentration and structure never before seen in the Gamay grape, so it was quite an eye-opening vintage for many wine lovers. The late, great Marcel Lapierre raised the bar in Beaujoleais, and the domaine that bears his name is still the foremost producer in Morgon. This rare magnum bottling displays Morgon’s winemaking prowess to its fullest extent.
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