Wine and Food Tours: Mainland Italy, Sicily

1-1Uncorked and Cultivated conduct annual bespoke wine and food tours for small groups in the Italian autumn (October) to drinkable destinations.

They are regular hosts to Italian tours; with two in 2013, Tuscany–Piemonte and afterwards Sicily. Guests get to know their coach drivers, see starred chefs serve their plates, have winery owners and guides make them welcome and discover quality views in their hotel suites.

Tuscany and Piemonte Tour

Guests meet inRome and leave for a mission to Tuscany, home of terracottedmedieval hill towns and gripping sangiovese wines. In the next ten days there are many bites to be had—just for a start,savour crumbly agedpecorino or sliced white truffle wafting across buttered pasta; orawild boar sauce coating monstrous pappadelle coils.

First evenings are informal. Just climb down a monster staircase into a 300 year-old trattoria to the welcoming face ofyour owner, Mauro. His solidly-built enclaveof a ristorante is the traditional rustic fortress which never changes over decades. The long white table cloth is stiff, as our dozen guests relax and engage in dry crusty bread and olive oil dipping. This flatTuscan pane, made into bouncy bread slices turns to mush when wiped with the residue of  pasta ragu. Crumbs on the starched cloth mean a successful meal, and some blue-black red Chianti stains too.

We are in the walled city of Siena, the Palio (the famous horse race) has just been won by a nearby rider. In the still night air a single young drummer belts his celebration of the  result while his equally agile companion swirls with a solitary streamer dance. The ribbon colours represent the victorious suburb as do the flags festooned down each narrow suburban street of the winner. Welcome to Tuscany—sniff this ancient environment gasping at its modern visage for the hip, the conservative and tourist-embracing folks.

This Sienese restaurant makeslocation specific pasta each morning. The shape tells us a lot, and each village’s time-respected staple carbohydrate-laden carefully-formed shape will differ. Often the owner’s mother (nonna) hand-kneads the durum flour to dough, pinching it as if it were a passport. Pasta occupies a labyrinth of Italian diets and our posseeats as the locals do. Funny enough, rarely do Italo-Australian restaurants hit the pasta peaks found on these tour lunches. A curious thought truthfully recorded.

Guests quickly connect with Uncorked’s tour patterns of slow mornings, cappuccino moments (never served very hot) before a brief escorted drive through forests and hillsides towards a patchwork of unruly sangiovese in staggered rows. Down the dusty white track lined with pencil shape cypress is the welcoming winery owner who waits. Vintage is under way but the pace of the harvest here provides windows of time to visit, taste, ogle over the view, or when lucky, sit at a hewn long table for a vineyard meal. It can be in Montalcino, Chianti Rufina, Maremma or Chianti Classico.

And there are many reasons to visit this former Etruscianland of prior Roman and Greek occupation. Past dynasties remain in the architecture. Just walk over the uneven cobbled streets, proudly repaired by the locals to respect the history, and often they pray amongst it. Florence hosts over 100 museums.

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Celebrity fishing for charity Alba

About fifty kilometres east of the Franco-Italian border near Torino is the continental cold climate vinescape of Piedmont: home to nebbiolo vines, Ferraro-Rocher’s hazel nut trees and the under-root delicacy, the white truffle. Uncorked tours coincide with Alba’s truffle festival and its season opening. Truffles at the time seem to be the most highly respected meal ingredient in this town. And I agree. Providores display rows of the small grey-white bulbous tubers, priced, waiting for potential lovers to engage in price haggling, aroma sniffing (heady stuff) and ultimately some satisfaction of eating. Here truffles are religion and the festival is of over 90 years standing. Uncorked tour guests participate: eatinga plainly-sauced pasta topped with precision-shaved white (gold) truffle. The pairing drink is a glass each of  well-decanted Barolo and Barbaresco, both smelling earthy, fungal, tarry and obscenely decadent as nebbiolos are. Though highly acidic, finely divided on tannin and texture, they flush out the last whiffs of truffle and grain.

Sicily Tour

The next wine and food tour starts in Catania airport, in Sicily. This large island is the natural home to a pair of remarkable red grapes now shaking palates in many international cities and restaurants. Uncorked is an Australian pioneer to revere Sicily’s dominant wines from the hot region loving nero d’avola. The wine savouriness makes it food relevant also. You see, Sicilian dishes are heavily influenced by the eleven diverse races which have occupied this wonderland of taste through twenty-seven centuries (such as Muslim, Spanish, German, Greek, Roman, French, and more).

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Mediterranean blue: coastal scene north of Trapani

Mount Etna holds the key to the second grape—nerellomascalese—as it is grown on elevated slopes to give a subtle, lithe, high-acid, superlatively shaped texture to enjoy. As a nation adorned with its fish cooking culture, Arab spice infusion, chilled bottles of Etna Rosso DOC (the local wine denomination) are the natural second ingredient to lunching under a Sicilian sun. But it can be hot there—Uncorked tours converge on this blue, green and brown island during the mild autumn.

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