Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 10 Italian wine blogs of 2016

As we wrap up 2016 it's the perfect time to reflect on happenings/events of the year as well as one's successes and even areas to focus and improve on moving forward. Vino Travels will be going on the 4th year in 2017 and I am proud to say it's been a long journey with much more to come. 

Vino Travels continues to grow and expand.  I started contributing articles to a couple new magazines including L'Italo Americano and Primo Magazine.  I continue to be a contributor to Snooth with an amazing bunch of wine writers and connoisseurs.  Our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group has grown to over 350 facebook members and continues to expand our network of Italian lovers as well as fantastic monthly features region by region.  With great gratitude and honor, my blog was listed as one of the top 100 wine blogsLastly, I've been marketing my first book, Planning Your Dream Wedding in Tuscany, with some sales within the US and the Europe.  

Hopefully you've been following my journey throughout the year, but here is a glimpse into the top 10 blogs of 2016. I'd love to hear your favorites or even what you'd like to see more of in 2017. 

Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Italian Wine and Food Recommendations

The holiday season is upon us and for any last minute Christmas shoppers it's time to hurry up and make those last minute purchases and get those elfs to wrap those presents quickly! Amidst all the madness, it's also time to sit back and relax. I have some holiday wine and/or food recommendations from our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) that are the perfect way to get you started. Enjoy!

Jill from L'Occasion

I've read about Il Paese del Natale (Christmas Market) in the delightful town of Sant’Agata Feltria, in Le Marche. I'm fascinated by the wonder of the village as it turns into a holiday fantasy. Traditional Advent food such as chicken stuffed with chestnuts are served in restaurants and stalls. I'd love to sample the foods with a bottle of Vigneto Contrada Vallone – Rosso Piceno D.O.C. from Rio Maggio, born in Le Marche vineyards. Made of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, this wine brings Italian spirit to Christmas celebrations! Buon Natale from Jill at L'occasion.

Rio Maggio Rosso Piceno

Jeff from FoodWineClick

Sparkling wine always brightens up the holidays, and you don't see sparkling Nebbiolo every day. We pair it with Acciughe al Verde (Anchovies in Green Sauce), a traditional Piemontese apertivo or primo course. The sparkling wine freshens your palate after a bite of all that garlicy, anchovy flavor.

Anchiovies in green sauceacciughe al verde2012 Luigi Giordano Sparkling Nebbiolo

 Susannah of Avvinare

Struffoli is a favorite of mine - sweet and delicious. Here's a photo and a link to a friend's struffoli recipe. Michele is a wonderful chef and the wife of wine writer Charles Scicolone.

how to make struffoli

Ishita of Italophilia
Merry Christmas everyone! Buon Natale a tutti!
As this year draws to an end, let's send each other good vibes and happy thoughts. Thanks to Italy for being our love and passion that makes us connect everyday virtually. Lets make the most of it and hope to see you somewhere in Italy in 2017!  

truffle pasta
Ishita picks a truffle pasta to share this holiday

Jen of Vino Travels

One of my favorite regions in Italy is Piedmont, aka Piemonte, located in northwestern Italy. The barbera grape is widely planted in this region and I loved one I tried recently, 2013 Castello di Neive Santo Stefano Barbera d'Alba. Nice structure, acidity and fruit. Salute!

2013 Castello di Neive Santo Stefano Barbera d'Alba

Merry Christmas and Buon Natale!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Top picks for Italian Wine Books

Ti's the season and we're in the midst of the holidays. If you're still in shopping mode and have a winelover on your list, here are some Italian wine book selections that are the perfect gifts to consider. Of course you can read all these great books, but there is nothing like combining it with wine to fully comprehend it. That's the best way to learn....drink, drink, drink!

Vino Italiano Joseph BastianichMy trusty Italian wine resource has always been Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch's Vino Italiano The Regional Wines of Italy. It's an easy to read book where each chapter features a different wine region within Italy. Each chapter talks about their personal experiences traveling through that region including a recipe of local cuisine, recommended wines from that region found in the US, reds, whites, sparkling and dessert wines if they exist, maps and some suggested destination spots. Plenty of fun to explore in each chapter to give you that sense of place.

Grandi Vini Joseph BastianichThe next book, Grandi Vini an opinionated tour of Italy's 89 finest wines is another one I have come to enjoy. This is another book written by Joseph Bastianich and is a lot different than the others I'm sharing today. As the name suggests, it shares 89 wines from Central Italy, The Islands, Northeast Italy, Northwest Italy and Southern Italy and the mezzogiorno. It gives background on some of the top wines and their respective producers from each region with some other added tidbits on those regions, grapes and terroir. When learning about any wine from an area, having a perspective on the top players and their history and traditions in winemaking helps one have a deeper understanding of that particular area and this book does just that.

Lastly, a fellow wine lover I've met virtually over the years, Bob Lipinski, shared with me a couple of the many books he has written with Gary Grunner: ItalianWine Notes and Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple 2ndEdition. One of the things I learned from when I got certified in Italian wine is that there is a BOATLOAD of information on Italian wine and for the average person it can be very overwhelming if you're just trying to understand Italian wine in simpler terms. I got certified in Italian wine to increase my knowledge and specialize in it, but this isn't everyone's goal and heck, I need to find books like the ones that Bob wrote when it comes to understanding wines in the rest of the world in order to make it easy to understand
Italian wine and cheese pairings
Italian Wine Notes is a short book that simplifies Italian wine including the different types of Italian wines, grapes, DOCG's, wine laws, wine terminology and Italy's regions and the wines produced within those regions.

As the name suggests, the Italian Wine & Cheese book Bob wrote is primarily based on wines from all regions within Italy and the cheeses produced within all the regions of Italy from A to Z. There are plenty of suggestions of which Italian cheeses to pair with which Italian wine along with some fruit pairings too. So find your local specialty cheese and wine shop and start playing around with the pairings.

There are others I look forward to seeking out and reading and I'll share those when I get around to reading them. 

What have you discovered for Italian wine books that you've personally enjoyed?

*Bob Lipinski's books were offered as a sample, but are my personal opinions.  It doesn't cost you a dime if you decide to click the links to amazon to purchase the books, but it does support my efforts in writing and sharing all this information with you.  Thank you in advance.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Who says there isn't great pinot grigio?

Pinot grigio has not always been a go-to when it comes to white wines for me, but if I am going to drink one I always turn to northeastern Italy, in particular the Alto Adige wine region. Pinot grigio unfortunately has been tarnished from the days of when high quantity, low quality pinot grigio were being produced. It still happens today, but there are plenty of producers that are doing it right and creating some beautiful wines that one shouldn't be shying away from.

I recently sampled Peter Zemmer's pinot grigio coming from the Alto Adige wine region, also known as the South Tyrol or suditrol. This winery has been producing wines since 1928 and is today operated by Helmuth Zemmer. Based in the small town of Cortina I thought their website put it best by stating “the fascinating interplay between tradition and innovation, man and the surroundings, sense and sensuality finds expression in the passion and sensitivity with which Peter Zemmer brings his wines to life.”

You may say that some of the names I just mentioned don't sound very Italian. This region, along with others regions of northern Italy, border other countries including Austria and Switzerland, so you'll see a lot of germanic influences. In addition to Italian spoke here, many also speak other languages with German being a strong second language choice. You'll also see these influences present in the architecture and design of some of the homes and building along with the food itself.
Vineyards in the Alto Adige
The South Tyrol by SouthTyrolean
In the Alto Adige region it provides a mild, cool climate for grape growing with both the alpine climatic influences as well as those of the Mediterranean. With the fluctuations in temperatures from day to night, this helps create wines with vibrant acidity and aromatic wines.

2014 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio Alto AdigeThe 2014 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio has an aromatic, floral nose while on the palate it's well
balanced with nice crisp, acidity combined with notes of lemon and pears and some salinity. Great overall body and mouthfeel. Definitely holding true that my thoughts on the wines from this region deliver more than just satisfaction. You'll see as well that this bottle is a couple years old and it's always best to sample these wines in their youth, but there was no sign of deterioration in my glass! ABV 13.5%. SRP $16-17.

*This was a sample provided to me by Creative Palate Communications, but opinions are my own.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmas in Molise

We're quickly approaching the end of another year and our Italian Food, Wine & Travel (#ItalianFWT) bloggers are ready to share with you this month a variety of Italian holiday wines, culinary traditions and holiday and Christmas festivities found throughout Italy. This month I'm focusing on the small region of Molise that never seems to get enough attention.

Christmas Traditions in Molise
I don't know about you, but I personally love this time of year. One of my favorite things to do is partake in the festivities all around me whether it's scoping out the houses with some of the best christmas light displays while sipping some hot chocolate or maybe attending Christmas parades and other local holiday events. Well Italy has many of it's own traditions in each region and many of the towns within those regions have special events that the local citizens hold dear to them.

In Molise Christmas Eve is a big celebration for the locals. In particular, in the town of Agnone, there is a celebration of the ndocciata, torches. A bell is rung at St. Anthonys and bagpipers play and fill the streets with music. A fan shaped variety of torches made of pinewood are carried by those dressed in costume of all ages. The event culminates at Plebiscite Square with a large bonfire, called the bonfire of brotherhood, where the nativity is displayed. In the town of Oratino, another event called La Faglia takes place where they burn hundreds of candles into forming one candle. The candle is carried through the town where it is lit on fire at the end at the Chiesa Madre bell tower.
Ndocciata of Agnone by Gianfranco Vitolo
Holiday Wine Recommendations from Molise
I recently had a couple wines from Molise that I very much enjoyed. The 2014 Di Majo Norante Terre Degli Osci Sangiovese I.G.T and the 2011 Di Majo Norante Ramitello Molise. Di Majo Norante is located in Campomarino in the district of Ramitello and has been producing wine since the 1800's.  Helping craft wines of top quality they have seeked out the help of one of the top Italian wine consultants, Riccardo Cotarella, who consults wineries throughout Italy and the world.

The Di Majo Norante Terre Degli Osci Sangiovese I found to be a great value wine. With aromas of cherry and raspberry, this dry wine is easy and soft with smooth tannins. SRP $9-10. 

The 2011 Di Majo Norante Ramitello Molise was my favorite of the two and had also been rated on the Top 100 in 2014 for Wine Spectator. It's sourced from the top grapes of the Ramitello vineyard with vines aging on average about 50 years old.  It's a blend of mostly montepulciano with some aglianico grapes.  A very powerful, complex wine with spice and dark, black fruits. A wine that benefits from aeration for sure. SRP $15.
Di Majo Norante Ramitello and Sangiovese
Culinary Treats of Molise
Molise is known during Christmas time for calciuni. Calciuni are sweet fritters that are filled mainly with chestnuts and almonds with the addition of chocolate, honey and oranze zest sometimes. Definitely a treat after a Christmas feast!

More Christmas and Italian holiday treasures to be discovered.  Join my fellow bloggers below and if you catch us in time, chat with us live on Twitter this Saturday December 3rd at 11am EST #ItalianFWT.

Feast on History – Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy: Myth orTradition?

Next month Susannah from Avvinare will host coastal reds and whites along with foods and travel to coastal regions on January 7th.  

Sourced from

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Italian Christmas Celebrations

The holidays is a wonderful time of the year spending it with family, friends and loved ones. What better way to prepare for the Christmas holiday than a collaboration with our Italian food, wine and travel group (#ItalianFWT) featuring holiday Italian wines, culinary traditions and Christmas festivals found throughout Italy.

Throughout the month of December you'll see Christmas decorations sprout up from town to town. Many start on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. What I've always enjoyed are the live nativities, presepe, that you find in some towns. Characters such as Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) whom gives the children gifts on Christmas Day and La Befana, a witch whom fills up children's stockings on January 6th, the Epiphany.

Christmas celebrations in Italy
Town of Ortisei by Mike Slone

Holiday wines are all your personal preferences, but culinary holiday traditions vary from region to region. My family has always celebrated the southern Italian tradition with the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve. Many prepare dishes without meat for Christmas Eve followed by meat dishes on Christmas Day.

Christmas at the Vatican Rome
Christmas at the Vatican by foto4lizzie

However you celebrate your Christmas we'll have lots to share on how Christmas is celebrated throughout all of Italy so don't miss it! Here is a preview of what's to come this Saturday December 3rd. Join us for a live Twitter chat this Saturday at #ItalianFWT 11am EST. If you'd like to be part of our group there is still time. Email me direct at vinotravels at

Vino Travels -Christmas in Molise

Feast on History – Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy: Myth or Tradition?

Culinary Adventures of Camilla – Biscotti di Castagne + Vin Santo Dei Chianti

Avvinare – A Florentine Christmas
L'Occasion - 5 Italian Christmas Dishes and Wine Pairings
The Wining Hour - A Venetian Holiday: Wine, Food,Tradition
The Wine Predator - Italian Holiday Traditions Adapted to CAlifornia Conditions: 3 dishes with wine

Ci vediamo!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Thanksgiving Italian Wine and Food Roundup

Is it just me or did the holidays arrive very fast this year? I can't believe next week is Thanksgiving! I wanted to pull together many of our bloggers that participate in our monthly Italian Food, Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) and get their tips on some food and wine pairings that they suggest or may be enjoying themselves over the holidays. Enjoy!

Jen of Vino Travels

Who doesn't love the holidays. Every year it takes me a bit to figure out what I want to open for each holiday since there are so many wonderful options. Thanksgiving can be a tricky holiday as there are so many accompaniments to the main turkey dish that it's important to find something versatile. My suggestion if you're a white wine lover are any of the white wines from lugana that I recently wrote about. If you choose the red path I recently tasted the 2012 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore Ripassa that I truly enjoyed. I've always enjoyed an Amarone or Valpolicella of some sort during Thanksgiving.
2012 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso

At less than $20 a bottle, Masi Campofiorin falls squarely in the "affordable, everyday" price range. And though it's not a splurge wine, I love bringing it to dinners at friends' houses throughout the holiday season...beginning with Thanksgiving.
Made through a similar double fermentation process - that was patented by Masi - the wine doesn't fit squarely into the traditional Ripasso process. But it does exhibit the traditional Ripasso characteristics and flavor profile. It's lush and complex with soft tannins so it's food-friendly and a great match with hearty, wintery dishes. If i'm pouring it at home, it's usually alongside Risotto all'Amarone.
2009 Masi Campofiorin
Michele of Italian Journeys
Michele recommends a “primo” or first dish of tagliatelle bolognese with a “secondo” or second dish of bistecca fiorentina and Brunello. There is also the option in honor of the tragic earthquakes, bucatini amatriciana.
Florentine Bistecca Fiorentina

I love the idea of taking traditional Italian favorites and giving them an American twist. For example one year I made Thanksgiving arancini.  First I prepared a simple mashed sweet potato with some browned butter and sage for the filling. Then I cooked some short-grain brown rice risotto-style, using the reserved sweet potato water as my broth. The result looked a lot like Sicilian street food but it sure tasted like Thanksgiving! 

Verdicchio is one of the most famous wines of Le Marche region. It’s a white wine and its name reminds the green color - ‘verde’ in Italian language. There are 2 Verdicchio wines: Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica. You can drink Verdicchio with a starter or a main course. It depends on the ageing. I suggest you to buy a bottle of Verdicchio di Matelica for your Thanksgiving meal to help people hit by the earthquake few weeks ago. They’ll really appreciate it.
verdicchio wines of Le Marche wine region
A glass of Verdicchio is good for the soul!
Jill of L'Occasion

This Thanksgiving I'm looking for sparkly, fresh and zesty wine to share with my family and friends. Trentodoc Metodo Classico from Rotari is on our menu this year! I'm looking forward to the freshness of these sparkling wines with our meal and, frankly, all weekend. The spirit of the Dolamites gets me excited for winter and the upcoming Christmas holiday, and these wines will kick off the season. 
Rotari Trentodoc Metodo Classico

Friday, November 11, 2016

Merlot Day: Trig Point Winery & Chicken with Shallots and Grapes

I was approached by wine and food blogger friend Camilla, from the Culinary Adventures with Camilla, about sampling some fresh produce from Melissa's World Variety Produce based out of Los Angeles, CA. Not having much time lately to really put thought or time into meal preparations with my little one it was the perfect excuse and opportunity to have some fun.

I actually wasn't familiar with Melissa's Produce and come to find out from their site they're the largest distributor of special produce in the US. I received an abundance of goodies in my shipment including:

  • fuyu persimmons
  • parsnips
  • lady and crab apples
  • baby dutch yellow potatoes
  • christmas crunch grapes
  • acorn squash
  • steamed chestnuts

I decided to prepare chicken breasts in a shallot and grape sauce alongside some roasted potatoes and parsnips. Rather simple to prepare I dusted the chicken breasts in some flour and sauteed them in the pan with some added salt and pepper. Once golden brown I removed them from the pan and sauteed the shallots and cut grapes in oil with some added teaspoons of flour to thicken the sauce. I combined them in the pan in the end for a few more minutes to cook together. 
chicken with shallots and grapes and roasted potatoes
I finished the meal with persimmons pudding. Believe it or not I have actually never even heard of persimmons so I was able to track down recipes online and decided to prepare a persimmons pudding.

persimmons pudding

Along with the food preparation comes the wine and if you recall from my earlier articles, October was Merlot month, but this week on November 7th was also Merlot day. I wasn't able to scoop up a merlot from Italy, but if I was to I'd seek out those of northeastern Italy in the cooler climate regions like Fruili. Typically in Italy you'll find merlot used in blended wines, but in Friuli you will see it more often as a single varietal. If you're used to the merlot of Califiornia you'll be surprised by those of northern Italy as they are lighter in body with herbal qualities than the fruit forward wines of California.

For my wine and food pairing I had handy a 2014 Trig Point Diamond Dust Vineyard Merlot that I received late in honor of October's Merlot month (#merlotme) so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to share this wine with you in celebration of Merlot Day this week.

2014 Trig Point Winery Diamond Dust MerlotThe Trig Point Winery was established in 1998 by Nick and Yolyn Goldschmidt. Their goal was to produce single vineyard, artisan wines in low productions. They are located in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma. This 100% merlot was a full bodied, smooth, fruit forward wine consisting of ripe raspberries and black fruits, supple tannins while lingering on the finish. This wine is aged 12 months in barrel. 14.5% ABV, SRP $18.

Are you a fan of merlot or have you had those of Italy vs. California?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wines on the Island of Sardinia with Vigne Surrau

Welcome to another month of Italian Food, Wine & Travel as we celebrate Unique Towns of Italy.  One of my favorites part about starting this blog are the connections and folks I have met along the way. One of the people that is part of our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group that I’ve become acquainted with, Susannah Gold of Vigneto Communications, invited me to a luncheon with Vigne Surrau whom was visiting in Boston. Vigne Surrau is a winery situated in the northern part of the island of Sardinia. This is definitely one of the few regions of Italy I have yet to visit, but is definitely top of my list, maybe even my next trip to Italy when I can find time to venture there with the newborn.
Wine marketing with Vigneto Communications
Myself (left) with Susannah Gold
Vigne Surrau, named after the valley within Sardinia of where they are located, was founded in 2000. They are located close to the sea near the Costa Smeralda and 5 minutes away from Porto Cervo. As you can imagine due to their proximity to the sea, the grapes are influenced by the winds (maestrale) from the sea that provide minerality and sapidity found in the wines. Vigne Surrau believes in working with small wineries as well as their own production, to produce unique, artisanal wines that are characteristic of the land.
Martino Demuro owner Vigne Surrau Sardinia
Martino Demuro, owner of Vigne Surrau
Their vineyards are located on about 50 hectacres that are about 150-250 meters altitude and their grapes are all hand-harvested. Their total production is about 300,000 bottles annually. They are actually one of the top wineries of the island. Two winemakers are the masters behind these beautiful wines with one winemaker rated as one of the top 5 winemakers within Italy.

Vigne Surrau’s wines consist of the top two grapes of the island: vermentino (white) and cannonau (red). About 70% of their production is produced with the vermentino grape from their own vineyards. Vermentino di Gallura is actually the only DOCG of the region. The minerality that is sensed in their vermentino wines are an expression of the land and soil. Vermentino is a very versatile wine and can be found in many different expressions from sparkling to a sweeter style and I was able to sample two still, dry versions listed below from my scrumptious meal at Select Oyster in Boston.

First Course
2015 Branu Vermentino di Gallura DOCG
2015 Sciala Vermentino di Gallura DOCG
Lacinato Kale Salad with toasted almonds, ricotta salata, lemon-fennel vinaigrette

*I personally enjoyed the Branu more with this dish and the Sciala without food.  The Branu is an approachable, easy to drink wine that is clean and fresh with nice salinity. The Sciala had more complexity, body and an overall pleasant mouth feel.
kale salad with Sciala Vermentino di Gallura
Second Course
2014 Sincaru Cannonau di Sardegna DOC
2013 Sincaru Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna DOC
Avocado Toast with iggy’s pain de mie, avocado salad, espellete

*I enjoyed the Sincaru with this dish.  It's aged in stainless steel and concrete and had ripe fruit on the nose with bright acidity, dark fruit and a hint of spice on the palate. I'd prefer something heavier with the riserva.  It was a beautiful wine with silky tannins, dark fruit, white pepper and an overall nice elegance.
2014 Vigne Surrau Sincaru Cannonau di SardegnaAvocado toast with Vigne Surrau Sincaru Cannonau di Sardegna

Third Course
2013 Barriu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT
Sauteed Petite Clams with chorizo, white wine, garlic

*I had to run so I missed this pairing, but I enjoyed the Barriu which is a blend of 65% cannonau and 35% cabernet sauvignon & syrah.  A smooth, round and elegant wine with ripe red and black fruits and a nice lengthy finish. 
2013 Vigne Surrau Barriu Isola dei Nuraghi
Check out these other unique towns of Italy from my fellow bloggers.  If you catch this in time you can join us on a live chat Saturday November 5th at 11am EST on Twitter at #ItalianFWT.  Hope to see you there!

Lugana: Italy's (Mostly) Hidden Gem by Martin Redmond, ENOFYLZ Wine Blog
A Weekend Guide To Visiting Camogli by Valerie Quintanilla, Girl's Gotta Drink
Going Home to Capaccio by Danielle Oteri, Feast on History
Norcia: Gastronomic Delights and Tragic Earthquake by Chandi Wyant, Paradise of Exiles
Positively Piceno by Mike Madaio, Undiscovered Italy

Next month on Saturday December 3rd, I will be hosting ItalianFWT with our topic being Christmas in Italy including holiday wines, culinary traditions or festivals.  If you'd like to join us email me direct at vinotravels at  Ciao Ciao!