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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Terredora Winery In Campagnia, Italy

Woke up to the sunrise over Naples, pink and pearly blue.

Saturday we enjoyed a wonderful day with a private visit to the Terredora Winery about 1 1/2 hours outside of Naples. One of the private events included in our Touring and Tasting Mediterranean wine cruise was to see this acclaimed winery--a special treat in Italy because they do not have tasting rooms like we have in the USA. Wineries are usually family run and wholesale only--one can't just show up at the door and ask to taste wine. Through Vias Imports, an international wine distributor, Touring and Tasting was able to arrange an exclusive visit. Terradora went out of their way with a beautiful set-up, including a delicious lunch of fresh baked pizza and sandwiches.

The wine region of Campagnia is one of the oldest viticultural areas in the world, with a history that stretches back to the Greeks who occupied the land from 800 B.C. The rich volcanic soils of Mt. Vesuvius, the cool climate from the elevation of the hills, plus ample sunshine provides the perfect terroir for growing tremendous wine grapes. The same varietals have been growing here for 2,800 years: the red grapes Aglianico, and Piederosso and the white Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino Coda di Volpe and Falanghino. The winery is reknown for two red blends: the D.O.C.G. Taurasi which is mostly Aglianico and Lacrima Christi which means "Tears Of Christ". According to our guide, when Christ looked at the "little piece of heaven" that is the Campagnia region and saw how sinful the Napolitanos (residents of Naples) were, he cried tears of blood. Interestingly, Lacrima Christi wine is either red (made from 100% Piederosso grapes) or white (100% Coda di Volpe).

Most Americans have never heard of the wines of Campagnia because during the 1980's and 90's when Italian wines were being "discovered" by American wine critics there were larger wineries in Tuscany, the Piedmont and the Veneto with large enough production to export wine. The poorer southern regions made a lot of wine, but from many tiny wineries who were not set up for exporting. However, in the last decade, Terredora Winery has been receiving 90-95 ratings and a lot of attention recently, including being named as one of the "50 Great Producers In The World" by Wine Spectator (see the video here). With their current production of 1.2 million bottles and distribution through Vias, they will surely start appearing on more wine lists and wine stores because their  hand-picked, estate grapes are crafted into wines of finesse with flavors and aromas unlike anything else I've tasted. There is a pronounced minerality and strong acidity balanced perfectly with rounded, ripe fruit. Unlike other area wineries who own less than 50% of their vineyards, Terredora owns 90% of theirs and they are committed to estate grown, hand-picked, estate bottled wines, many single vineyard designated. Terredora is the largest vineyard owner in Campagnia, with 200 hectares. Their vineyards are: Terre di Dora and CampoRe planted to the Fiano grape (Fiano from the former vineyard winning multiple medals at the prestigious International Wine Competition), Terre deli Angeli, Loggia della Serra and Pioppo del Cappuccino planted to Greco di Tufo,  CampoRe planted to Aglianico, Casalia della Baronia planted to Aglianica and Falanghina (this vineyard produces their Il Principio red blend), and the vineyards Pietrafusi and Venticano planted to Aglianico. Our tasting was of the following Terredora wines:

2010 Falanghina, Irpinia; a D.O.C. wine:
100% Falanghina aged on its lees in stainless steel with no oak for a highly aromatic white wine with bright acidity and intense pineapple, apple and pear flavors. Clean and fresh on the palate, a truly lovely wine.

2010 Greco di Tufo, Loggia Della Serra: a D.O.C.G. wine:
100% Greco di Tufo cool fermented in stainless steel, aged on its lees for a lively, tangy white wine with intense minerality and citrus and apple fruit. Unlike any other varietal I've tasted--I'd love to serve this wine often with creamy sauces and grilled fish.

2010 Fiano Di Avellino, Terre Dora; a D.O.C.G. wine:
100% Fiano cool fermented and aged on its lees for a highly aromatic, dry white wine with a bit of spice finished with honey. This white can be aged 10-15 years. The favorite of many in our group.

2009 Aglianico, Campania; a I.G.T wine:
100% Aglianico macerated on the skins for a week; part aged 6 months in French oak for a complex, powerful red wine bursting with dark cherry, violet, ash, spice, ripe plum and vanilla tannin flavors.

2005 Taurasi, Fatica Contadina; a D.O.C.G. wine:
100% Aglianico macerated on the skins for a week, aged in French oak 18 months, aged in bottle an additional 24 months for an intense, powerful red wine with a full mouth of dark cherry, tobacco, mineral, and smoke with a violet aroma. A structured, complex, distinguished, well-crafted wine on par with a Barolo.

Drove back to the port and our waiting cruise ship through the verdant Campagnia hills, a patchwork quilt with stripes of vineyards, tufted patches of hazelnut groves and the pastel splashes of houses and villas after our wine adventure. We pulled away from the dock and looked back, past the glistening ocean to this enormous anvil-shaped cloud over Mt. Vesuvius. We passed the island of Capri and this morning (Sunday) navigated the narrow strait between the boot of Italy and the island of Sicily. We're on the way to Dubrovnik, Croatia with a "sea day" tomorrow. We'll look forward to the onboard Rodney Strong wine tasting of four of their Reserve and single-vineyard wines.

Tarquinia's Etruscan Tombs and Vino Locale

Day four of our wine cruise: we docked in Civitavecchia, the port for access to Rome, but instead of enduring a 3+ hour roundtrip ride into "la bella cita", we took the local bus to Tarquinia which is a half hour to the north. Tarquinia is a UNESCO World Heritage site with the second most important Etruscan museum in the country and many excavated and restored Etruscan tombs. Hundreds of tomb mounds dot the Monterozzi hill. To protect the restored tombs, "casetas"--little slanted, tile roof buildings--have been built over them. Their walls and ceilings are brightly painted with murals that are 2700 years old. It was amazing to see the intricacy of the Etruscan art--paintings, sculpture, and glass and gold ornaments and to walk the cobbled streets of the medieval section of the little town.

We tried the "vino locale" (local wine) at a cafe--a crisp, aromatic white (70% Chardonnay, 30% Trebbiano) from Tenuta Sant'Isidoro. Tarquinia is in the Lazio region where most wine is white, made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. They contain a lot of potassium from the volcanic soil, so minerality is pronounced. Cool ocean breezes bring an elevated level of acidity.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lover's Walk -- Cinque Terre, Italy

"Il vino rosso di casa e' locale?" I asked (is the house red wine local?) "Certo" replied the waiter (of course) and went on to explain the wines of Cinque Terre. There are three terms you are likely to see on the label, in ascending order of quality: Cinque Terre Coop. (for cooperative), Cinque Terre Coste and Cinque Terre Forcini Cappellini. All are made from the grapes grown on steep rugged hillsides that fan above the five little villages clinging to the rocky coast north of La Spezia. The rocky terraces have to be built and scaled without machinery, so the local wine tends to be expensive (relative to other Italian wine which is very inexpensive relative to CA wines). The proximity to cooling marine breezes coupled with ample sunshine brings a balanced acidity and fruit to the grapes which are mostly white: the indigenous grapes Vermentino, Bosco and Albarola. Vino bianco frizzante is common--a slightly sparkling white. The red is fresh and fruity with little structure, perfect for a plate of seafood in tomato based sauce like the anchovies and potatoes we enjoyed for lunch. During our cab ride from the port of La Spezia to the train station for Cinque Terre, I asked the driver for restaurant suggestions. The Gambero Rosso in the main square of Vernazza was easy to find and a delightful spot for viewing the harbor and people watching.

When I return home and have unlimited internet access and time, I can flesh out these travel posts with practical information on visiting sights and the good food and wine to sample. In the meantime, I'm posting "tapas style". Just as tapas are little plates of food--just a taste of this and that, my travel postings will be the same--a moment here and there for me to remember particularly good experiences in case I have the good fortune to return again someday.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mediterranean Wine Cruise

I'm in an enormous chunk of metal plowing at a great rate of speed across an incredibly deep blue expanse of sea. There is just a bit of movement, not enough to throw one's balance, but enough to make my sensitive system feel a bit disoriented. The Celebrity Solstice is enormous with a central open space 10 stories high with glass elevators and a full-sized tree suspended in the center in a triangular metal planter. The floors around the central space are open, so from a glass elevator, one can see the spread of lawn chairs around the large rectangular pool topside, the library, the internet area, and various bars, including one with a counter made from ice. Aft is the immense dining room with a chandelier that must be 60' wide and a 2-story glass wine tower on a lower floor and a buffet restaurant with countless stations offering food nearly round the clock from carved meats to pasta, salads, curry, sushi, desserts to stir fry. Also aboard is a deck covered with real grass for playing bocce or practice putting, a shopping mall full of stores, a disco, a spa and gym, two is astonishing.

We're a week into our vacation already; on day two of the Touring & Tasting Mediterranean wine cruise. I can see that finding time to post will be difficult with so much going on. Ports to visit, yoga, reading on our deck, dinners, drinks with the group. I can now see why people love to cruise, it is a hedonistic experience.

Today off to Cinque Terre from the port of La Spezia--hope to post photos later.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Barcelona At Last

This month was a whirlwind of preparation for the Touring and Tasting Mediterranean wine cruise. I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, busy getting my work done in advance so this can be a real vacation. Now, four plane rides, two delays and 36 hours later, we are finally in Barcelona. At first glance, it is not at all what I expected. Viewed from above in the airplane and from to the taxi to the hotel, it really looks like many other cities world wide--same highways, apartment buildings, gleaming glass and steel airport. However, this evening we'll stroll along the Passeig de Gracia, home to many architectural masterpieces by Gaudí, Cadafalch and others--I'll have the opposite opinion later, I'm sure!

However, it is undeniable that the world has shrunk in my lifetime. As a child traveling with my parents to Mexico and Japan, leaving the US was like going to the moon. Everything was different. There were no tacos or enchiladas in the US, no hamburgers in Mexico or Japan. With the spread of multinational corporations and the human population growing astronomically and traveling to all corners of the world, stores and products become ubiquitous. We looked for a quick bite to eat near our hotel in what the locals call a bar (a deli--no alcohol served) and the menu mostly would not been out of place at home: hamburgers, ham sandwiches, pasta. I had a Tortilla de Patatas--a potato omelette and asked  our server for lemonade. "Fanta or Schweppe's?" she asked.

Note for others visiting Barcelona--buy a T10 Metro pass at any of the stations to get around town, but be prepared to do a lot of walking! There is a lot to see--and not always near a station. We bought Barcelona cards at the tourist center right outside the exit of the airport for free transportation inside the city and discounts on admission to museums. But, beware! Each day of the card is for a specific date, not for a full 24 hours from when you start using it. For instance, if you arrive at noon and activate it by taking the bus or train, that day will expire at the end of the day, not at noon the following day.  Also, transportation plus the discount on admission may be less than the price of the card--we paid 55 euros for two people/two days. Here's a link to good info on the T10 card.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

From Fire To Flower In Rattlesnake Canyon

On May 5th two years ago, during an unusual heat spell, a small wildfire was lit in the dry hills above Santa Barbara. Fanned by "sundowner winds", it quickly grew to consume 8,733 acres, destroying 80 homes and injuring several of the valiant firefighters who fought to keep the wall of flames from decimating our historic town. There was one terrifying night when the entire town north of State Street was blocked off by the fire department and it looked like they were going to lose the battle. (read about it here) Miraculously, the wind shifted and our town was saved. But, the charred remains of people's lives and our wilderness areas have taken a long time to heal.
Deer Weed
I had the opportunity to see the miracle of Nature's regeneration on a hike with a docent from the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. (calendar) Our docent, Carol, was a physician before retiring; she combined her science background with a passion for plants and volunteers to share her knowledge. As she pointed out the various plants along the hike, reciting both their common and Latin names, I thought to myself that she was a great example of why we should honor older women as the keeper of wisdom. Also in our group was a survivor of the wildfire, Nancy, who lost her home to the Jesusita conflagration and has been living in their barn while planning the rebuilding of their house. Another multi-faceted woman, she rescues wildlife in addition to her career in dental hygiene and was able to give us the human perspective on the impact of the Jesusita fire. She said that though she would never want to go through such a traumatic event again, she found some positives in the process of rebuilding that underscored the recognition that what is important in life are friends and family, not possessions.

Along our route, we could see the blackened branches of trees and shrubs reaching twisted arms to the sky--in the center the green foliage of new growth, a testament to the resilience of the native chaparral. Chaparral is an biome of dwarf trees growing in a drought-prone environment. Carol explained the name chaparral comes from the Spanish word "chaparro" meaning "short and stubby" because the trees and shrubs are lower than a forest. Chaparral plants have small, hard leaves to retain moisture, such as coastal live oak or yucca, or they have tough, water-retaining outer skins, such as cacti, or they have adapted to low moisture conditions by producing smaller leaves with smaller pores so moisture is not lost. It's amazing to see plants, especially flowers, growing out of ground that looks bone dry.

Historic Wagon Road
Among the many things I learned on the hike: Deer Weed changes color when it is fertilized; Rattlesnake Canyon is thus named because its windy shape--not due to a quantity of snakes; the trail was maintained for years by a wealthy New York transplant named Ray Skofield--whose son donated the land for the nearby Skofield Park; part of the trail follows the old wagon road (this photo)--though it's difficult to imagine an old-fashioned wagon making its way up such a steep and rocky course; and that the creek was part of the extensive waterworks developed by Spanish missionaries using conscripted Chumash labor.

Indian Dam
It's difficult to see in this photo (taken with my iphone and overexposed in the sunny area) but this is Indian Dam, built in 1807. You can barely see the rocks of the dam on the left of the waterfall  which is spilling through a gap in the dam. The Spanish built the gravity-propelled aqueduct system to water their crops, vineyards and orchards and supply the Mission with potable water. The creek from Rattlesnake Canyon merged with Mission Canyon and the water was funneled with an aquaduct to storage near the Mission grounds. One can walk around the park adjacent to the old Mission and see the ruins of the aqueduct, a mill, tanning vats, a jail and water storage facilities.

Being an unrepentant foodie, I  shocked the rest of the group by nibbling on elderberries we found along our hike which tasted tannic and not very sweet, the rye grass, sheep sorrel, and Indian lettuce (not recommended due to its fuzziness). I came home and made a beautiful salad with many things from my garden and wanted to share this photo.