Hit the Road: January Wine Tasting in Italy

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    Profile photo of Michael Horne
    Michael Horne
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    On my way to Italy. Foggy day over Central California.Ciao from 35,000 feet. It’s a beautiful day for a flight to bella Italia, I’m off for a week along the Italian wine trail.

    I love this time of year for travel in Italy. January and February are way-way-low season in Italy, with few tourists and a slower pace that gives you the opportunity to savor the local culture. Wine producers are easier to schedule time with, restaurants are quieter with mostly locals dining, shops have fantastic winter sales, and museums are pretty much deserted.

    You have the whole country to yourself, or so it seems at times.

    My itinerary is pretty simple: Hit a dozen or so producers to taste their latest vino, check in with some friends in Tuscany, and explore the eastern central regions of Italy.  Once I land at Malpensa airport just outside Milano on Monday morning, I’ll be grabbing my Hertz rental and hitting the road.  Here’s the plan:

    • Monday, 1/20: Land @ 8:30AM, grab the rental car and head to Alba. It’s best to take your first day slow-and-easy – I’ll be exploring Alba, having a good lunch at a local Osteria, maybe take a drive to Barolo or Dogliani. To beat the jetlag, I’ll get plenty of fresh air, skip a siesta, and stay up until at least 10PM local time.
    • Tuesday, 1/21:  Head to Asti for a 9:30AM appointment to taste some interesting Moscato, Barbera & Nebbiolo wines from a produttore cooperativa.  I met their enologist a year ago while enjoying a fantastic Barbera d’Asti, a young man in his late 20s creating some rather impressive wines. I’ll taste a few of their indigenous wines as well. Grignolino, Bonarda and Freisa anyone? Post tasting, I’m driving to Chianti and will make Panzano my home base.
    • Wednesday, 1/22:  Start the day with a hike from Panzano to Radda along a 9.6 mile path through rolling Chianti hills, sleeping vineyards and silent woods.  Hiking in the chilly January air does wonders for mental rejuvenation, and something I like to do shortly after arriving in Italy.  I’ll finish the day with a visit to new friends at a Radda producer, then a fine dinner of local Chianti dishes. I see wild boar in my future.
    • Care for a taste?Thursday, 1/23:  A day of tastings at a few Panzano area Chianti Classico producers. Did I mention that I’m a fan of Chianti Classico? This Tuscan DOCG zone has diverse soil types and microclimates, with distinctive sub-regional styles.  Panzano area wines are different from Radda which are different from Castelnuovo Berardenga. I’m on a quest to bring back a few Panzano area wines that best represent the local terroir, adding to Niccolo’s Cigliano Chianti from San Casciano in the north, and Roberto’s Val delle Corti wines in the mountains around Radda. (You can find them both in the shop).
      Thursday night I head to Cortona to meet up with my buddy, Sommelier, and winemaker Arnaldo Rossi at his Taverna Pane e Vino for more tasting.
    • Friday, 1/24:  More tastings and exploring, this time in the Cortona DOC and Vino Nobile DOCG zone surrounding Montepulciano.  Cortona DOC is an interesting anomaly, there really is no winemaking history here beyond local Sangiovese plonk, but since its establishment there’s been some blockbuster Syrah, Cabernet and Chardonnay coming out of here. Think Avignonesi, Tenimenti d’Alessandro, and Amerighi.  I’m meeting up for lunch with long-time friends & Sollucchero winemakers Fabrizia and Nicola Gargano of Monte Valentino, maybe we’ll head to Al Bacco Felice in Spoleto, a recommendation from Master Somm buddy Alan Murray.
    • Saturday, 1/25:  I’m off to Abruzzo to visit a natural wine producer near Tortoreto, an “Arnaldo find” that warrants the 3 hour drive from Cortona.  I’m looking for a good Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a Cerasuolo (think pink) and a decent Trebbiano from the region. Abruzzo has some grand producers with big-boy importers gobbling up all their wines, but there are some small scale & undiscovered gems producing some fabulous reds, pinks and whites.  I’ll spend the day exploring northern Abruzzo; not sure where I’m staying yet, but in the off-season it’s easy to find a welcoming place to lay my head for the night.
    • Sunday, 1/26:  Time for an early start as I work my way towards Roma. If the weather is good, I’ll drive down the Abruzzo coast and drop into Molise and head to L’Aquila, the capital of the region. I haven’t been to L’Aquila in nearly 10 years, it’s time to check in on this beautiful mountain city and see how it’s been recovering from the devastating earthquake of a few years back.  After lunch I’ll head to Rome and see if I can meet up with friends, catch a classic Roman meal & call it an early night. Sunday is not the best night to dine in Rome, so many great places are closed, but I’ll find something tasty. I’m sure Hande at Vinoroma will recommend something.
    • Monday, 1/27:  Pack my bags and catch the 10:30AM United flight back to the States.  Addio Italia.

    I’ll be tweeting photos and sending short tasting notes from the wine trail – come travel with me here in the Forum, on Facebook & Twitter.

    Ciao!
    Michael

    Michael Horne, CS
    Los Gatos, CA USA

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