Cellar Tours Blog

Archive for the ‘Cellar Tours’ Category

It´s official- Autumn/Fall is here (in the Northern hemisphere), and what a beautiful time of year it is indeed! And with the colder, shorter days we are craving rich food and wine!


For gourmets, some wonderful spots in November include Piedmont (it´s white truffle season, basically culinary Nirvana!), lovely Lyon (gastro paradise) and La Rioja (think lamb chops roast over grape vines and served with velverty Rioja reserva, yes please!)….



Autumn food, especially in cooler climates, has traditionally been calorific and intensely satisfying; rich in glorious meats and seasonal vegetables to help the body prepare for the cold of winter. It is undoubtedly one of the gastronomic highlights of any culinary calendar and something any self-respecting foodie looks forward to. Yet the change occurs almost without anyone noticing – restaurant menus suddenly start to emphasize heartier, richer dishes like venison, pheasant and guinea fowl, while our thoughts at home also turn to roasts, rich soups and pies -in other words, decadent comfort food.


Traditionally, some of the main highlights of autumn include game, particularly wild duck, pheasant and grouse, in addition to a great bounty of orchard fruits like plums, blackberries and damsons. Late harvest vegetables are also eagerly anticipated – such as celeriac, swede, cabbage and leeks – as are the great variety of the autumn squash like butternut squash and pumpkin – which makes a delicious soup. But in Italy, the main highlight of the season is mushrooms, glorious mushrooms. Many different varieties can be found all over Italy in autumn, when groups of people can be seen foraging for porcini (ceps), chanterelles, and other delicious species all morning. Porcini go extremely well with Risotto, another one of our favorite autumn dishes.


Of course, as our menus and eating habits change with the seasons, so too does our wine choices as summer ends and autumn begins. Chilled rosé suddenly seems quite incongruous on a cold autumn evening, whereas well-hung grouse and a glass of Chambertin fits the bill nicely.

So to celebrate the arrival of this glorious season, we have prepared some delicious autumn food & wine pairings for your enjoyment. Sante!!


muga and cabrales


Starters (Appetizers)/Vegetarian dishes

Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms

There are few gastronomes who wouldn’t salivate over the thought of risotto topped with exquisite porcini mushrooms, newly arrived from an exciting morning’s foraging trip. Ordinarily, risotto pairs well with low tannin, fresh and fruity wines such as Dolcetto or Barbera d’Alba. But the addition of porcini calls for a more refined approach, mushrooms work well with a variety of top-class reds, including Pomerol, Rioja, Ribera Del Duero and top Burgundy. Our first choice though would be Barolo, surely the prince of Italian reds.

Winter Squashes – Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, etc.

Winter squashes make ideal soups, or even better yet they are divine in fresh pasta such as Ravioli. Of course, that requires major patience on your part! On the wine front, they fit well with full-bodied, fruity off-dry whites, we’d stay clear away from reds in this instance. Some good bottles would be a new-world Viognier or Marsanne, South African Chenin also works a treat – try the De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc. Failing that, demi-sec Vouvray or Italy’s Gavi are two reliable alternatives.


C. The Culinary Institute of America

Great recipe here for Butternut squash and apple soup, yumm.


Meat dishes


The classic pairing for duck is Pinot Noir, whether it be a mature Burgundy or a fruit-driven, silky example from New Zealand. And yes, it does tend to work very well, albeit how the duck is prepared will strongly influence the ideal choice of wine on the table. Duck and goose, both delicious but quite fatty meats, deserve wines with plenty of acidity to cut through that fattiness and contrast with the rich flesh. Confit de Canard works best with a young, tannic red like Priorat or a young Medoc. Roast duck without a strong sauce needs a big-scale red, such as Rhone, a top Burgundy, Californian Cabernet or even Australian Shiraz works very well.

However, if there’s an orange sauce, white is more ideally suited – Grand Cru Alsace Riesling is a match made in heaven. And if you’re in the mood for some fizz, try mature vintage Champagne which works surprising well with duck and orange sauce.

The Italians in contrast, like to braise their duck and serve it with olives, in which case only a top Tuscan red will suffice. Try Antinori’s Tignanello.

Game Birds – Pheasant, Grouse, Guinea Fowl

The pinnacle of autumn food is game, and the good news for oenophiles is that roast game birds work with many different wine styles, allowing you great flexibility when deciding what to open. St-Emilion works tremendously well with roast game, as does red and white Burgundy – our top choices would be Chambertin or Corton Charlemagne. But if we’re talking about older game birds in casseroles, then you need something slightly more robust and less fine; Pommard, Ribera Del Duero, or Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect. And with well-hung game, you’ll need a very powerful, weighty red. Vega Sicilia is ideal, as is a great Rhone like Cote-Rotie.

Of course, when pairing wine with game the sauce is equally as important, but again the meat can be adapted with sauces to match almost any fine wine.


One of the supreme delights of the autumn season, venison lends itself to a variety of cooking methods, yet always retains its wonderfully rich, gamey flavor. Roasted, it deserves a big-scale red, and loves a good Rhone wine like Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Bordeaux is another surefire hit, particularly if there’s a sharp berry sauce – for a real treat try a good St-Julien like Chateau Talbot. Stewed Venison is another matter, the red should be more gutsy and robust – full of flavor but not necessarily very refined. A southern Italian red fits the bill nicely, try Venison stew with Puglia’s Primitivo grape. It’s ripe, plum, damson and black fruit flavors will cut across the stew’s gamey richness nicely.

Or, if you’re feeling slightly adventurous, white can work equally well with roast Venison. We love it paired with German Riesling, or even an Alsace Pinot Gris. Off-dry works best, the sweetness of the wine finding a natural home with the richness of the venison.

Wild boar

Another autumnal treat, wild boar’s wonderful rich texture and intense gamey flavor will obliterate lighter reds and whites – a ripe, structured red is called for. We love wild boar casserole with Priorat or a top Chianti.



Apple pie, Tarts or Strudel

Apples are ripe and plentiful at this time of year, and lend themselves to a variety of mouth-watering desserts, including the traditionalists delight, apple pie. They deserve an equally stunning dessert wine, an Austrian sweet Riesling would be ideal. Canadian Ice wine is another delicious pairing.



Blackberry based desserts

Our favorite autumn fruit, blackberry tarts and flans deserve a rich, sweet wine like Monbazillac, sweet Vouvray or German Trockenbeerenauslese. Port, believe it or not, is another superb match.


Oporto 6

Wine Recommendations for Spring Barbecues

Posted by gen On March - 6 - 2015

Spring is in the air! And what better way to celebrate it then with friends, family, food and wine outdoors?


Spring can be a wonderful season: cities hum with the sound of family and friends moving outside to drink and dine on pavements cafes, the weather can be gorgeous but not stifling and BBQ’s are dusted off and fired up. It’s time to start marinating, planning and smoking your favorite foods; alfresco dining is one of the real joys of the first warm spring weather, and something we should all do as much as possible, while that sun lasts!

Traditional wisdom dictates that beer is the safest bet for BBQ’s, as it won’t clash and can cope with the cornucopia of tastes often presented. But to negate wine is to miss out on some potentially spectacular and delicious combinations – a great wine pairing can transform a mundane BBQ into a memorable one. Wine can work extremely well with a variety of BBQ foods, you just need to remind yourself of a few facts and recommendations for a memorable pairing.

So above all, don’t waste your prized bottle of Vega Sicilia or St-Emilion on a BBQ. Smoked, grilled food needs robust, fruit driven and easy drinking wines, fine wines and certainly older wines will be smothered by the strong flavors and aromas. Equally, it’s important to remember that often you are pairing a wine with the sauce, not the meat or fish.  Strong, especially spicy sauces destroy many red wines, off-dry lighter whites are a safer bet. Which is why BBQ wine lists should always include plenty of options from hot climates as those riper, sweeter fruit flavors match the heat, smoke and spice of a BBQ perfectly. Just like Indian cuisine, sugar is your friend, not enemy and away remember that smoking and blackening transforms the food.

barb 1

Prosecco is the ideal way to start your BBQ feast. Who could resist the charms of a racy, pear drop flavored glass of fizz sat in the sun on a Saturday afternoon? With its light, not too acidic style it makes the perfect alfresco aperitif, try Bisol’s Crede Prosecco for a real treat.

But what to serve with your first course of juicy, BBQ king prawns or shellfish?  A chilled glass of Chablis, or even better rose is simply heaven, contrasting nicely with the warm, savory flavors of grilled shellfish. It’s a terrible cliché but also an undeniable fact: nothing matches the vast range of BBQ flavors like a chilled glass of rose. It works as a party aperitif, with salads/seafood and won’t clash with strong meat dishes. It’s the perfect all-rounder and cannot fail to please everybody – our favorite is  Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé, packed full of red fruits, almonds, vanilla, so heaven in a glass!

barb 3

If your BBQ includes some gorgeous, fresh sardines or other oily fish then only one wine will do: a chilled glass of Galician Albariño. This racy, citrus infused wine is a marvelous match for oily fish, as the usually refreshing acidity of an Albarino cuts the the fish’s oiliness and leaves the palate desperate for another glass. Seek out the wines of Bodegas Fillaboa for a reliable, fruit-driven Albariño wine, typically displaying plenty of moreish pineapple, apple and citrus notes on the palate.

Aromatic, un-oaked and clean-cut whites like Albariño also work fantastically well with tomato based salads, asparagus and other salad vegetables. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is the standout choice and works equally well as a thirst quencher.

BARB 4Wither Hills do a fresh, vibrant and great value example. In contrast, grilled vegetables like red peppers and courgettes need a completely different pairing, their smoky, sweet flavors require a full-bodied and ripe red. Modern, fruit-driven Rioja is ideal, as is new-world Tempranillo. The tannin and silkiness inherent to Tempranillo balance out the oil and sweetness nicely. Give the Valenciso Rioja Reserva a try, packed full of delicious red berry fruit, with just a hint of spice, it’s a princely wine for a memorable BBQ.

barb 2

Of course the mainstay – unless you’re a vegetarian – of any great BBQ is meat. This is where your options are considerable, as plenty of both European and new-world wines can handle the variety of flavors floating around, from chicken to rib-eye steaks. But remember that poultry always takes on a lot of flavor from the BBQ, so you need a suitably robust wine to match. South African Pinotage handles BBQ Chicken, even adorned with a smoky BBQ sauce, very well; try Ken Forrester’s Petit Pinotage. If, however, you’ve been sparing with the sauce then BBQ chicken deserves a rich, full bodied Californian Chardonnay, or perhaps Australian. Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay from Russian River Valley would do nicely! Such a wine would also love grilled pork chops and chicken marinated in herbs. Indeed, it would go perfectly with this recipe for Mexican chicken.

What self-respecting BBQ is without succulent hamburgers and delicious steaks? Their rich, caramelized, smoky flavors are divine and cry out for similarly spicy, full-bodied new-world reds. Australian Shiraz from Barossa is a classic choice, that fruit-driven profile and acidity matching grilled foods perfectly. Another contender for a pairing made in gastronomic heaven is Malbec, Argentina’s greatest success story. Top examples are bursting with racy, plummy fruit and that touch of peppery spice ensures that Malbec takes kindly to steaks and burgers. Our top choice – Zuccardi Serie A Malbec.

rioja food and wine

Zinfandel also comes into its own at BBQs, especially if heavy sauces are present. Piquant sauces can overpower even ripe Shiraz and Malbec, but Zinfandel cuts through the richness and spice wonderfully. Ravenswood old vine Zinfandel is a very safe bet. However, if you lean toward Indian or Oriental sauces – Tandoori is currently a real favorite – then you’ll need something very specific. The flavors aren’t easy to match with wine, but Loire reds or again oaky new-world Chardonnay usually comes out on top.

Finally, Rioja Crianza in general, for instance Juan Alcorta (the number one selling Crianza in Northern Spain) is a great, good value bet, especially with grilled veggies and lamb chops.

Happy grilling and sipping this Spring!


Top Ten Most Expensive Champagnes

Posted by gen On February - 10 - 2015

Want to Splash out on Posh Bubbles? Here is a list of our suggested top (and most expensive) Champagnes….

There is no questioning the marketing genius of the major Champagne houses. They have ensured that the name Champagne continues to carry almost mystical properties for the vast majority of us, and it is undoubtedly true that the top Champagnes are wonderful wines – luxurious, delicious and extremely glamorous. But the magic, meticulous hard work and rigorous selection contained in a bottle of Krug or Cristal would be nothing without the promotional genius of these so called Grande Marques. They virtually invented the concept of the brand in winemaking and have ensured that their product remains a luxury commodity. And although supermarkets continue to discount leading brands, the top tier of luxury Champagnes have seen their prices remain buoyant, and indeed continue to rise.


Champagne has also increasingly been viewed as an attractive investment option, rather than solely as a superior choice for lavish celebrations. Indeed, over the past six years, the indices for top Champagnes have experienced price rises of over 30%. The net result is that collectors and consumers clamor over the most famous brands, keeping prices suitably high. The allure of luxury Champagne is undeniable: both as a source of pleasure and as a status symbol. We have listed the top ten most expensive Champagne bottles below, focusing on standard releases rather than special limited editions – Dom Perignon’s Karl Lagerfeld designed bottle for example – and jeroboams, etc, which can fetch in excess of £30,000 a bottle.


10.) Dom Perignon 2003 Rosé

There cannot be many of us who haven’t at least heard of Dom Perignon, arguably the region’s most famous brand and poster child for the luxury image of Champagne. It’s named after the famous 17th century cellar master and Benedictine Monk who first blended Champagne, indeed the wine has quite a history: it was chosen by Diana and Charles as their wedding Champagne of choice. They are joined by such fans as Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo Di Caprio and of course, Mr. Bond. The Brut is understandably the first reference point, but their rose is always far superior; a gorgeous mosaic of red summer fruits, underpinned by that classic Dom Perignon finesse, poise and minerality – the 2003 rosé averages a price of £250 per bottle. But, it is so worth it!

10 dom

9.) NV Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades Rosé

The King of Champagne kitsch. Armand de Brignac has usurped Cristal as the rappers sparkler of choice; frequently quaffed by the artist Jay-Z, who has tirelessly promoted the brand since it appeared in his music video. De Brignac is owned by Cattier, who introduced a very successful rose which has quickly become the finest of the brand’s range. Largely Pinot Noir dominated, it displays remarkable concentrated fruit, freshness and balance. Proof that this glitzy, friend of celebrities, world-wide Champagne isn’t just all style and no substance. Yours for about £315-450 on average.


8.) Salon 1996 Blanc de Blancs

A remarkable property, not least for the fact that they only release one cuvée, and one cuvée alone in the finest vintages. Whereas the vast majority of houses release a NV each year, Salon released only five wines from 1990-2000. The house was founded in 1921 by Eugene Salon, and today their exceptional Blanc de Blancs prestige cuvee vies with Krug’s Clos du Mesnil for the title of greatest Chardonnay based Champagne. But a comparison is not needed, they are totally different Champagnes and should be viewed as such. In contrast to Mesnil’s power and majesty, Salon offers unrivalled finesse, a super-soft mousse and exquisite fruit; the very taste and smell of elegance. Bottles are in high demand, but if you can secure some then expect to pay approx £300 for the pleasure of the 1996. Salon also greatly rewards cellaring, so there is never any rush to drink your precious bottles!

7.) Louis Roederer Cristal 2004 Rosé

A glass (or bottle) of Cristal is always a good idea, a wonderful wine that has unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your viewpoint become the ultimate symbol of luxury bling and stalwart of glamorous nightspots the world over. However, move beyond the hype and you discover a wine of significant historical relevance, first made for the Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1876 for the royal court. It remains the region’s most elegant and coveted Champagne, only surpassed by the rare rose version, which is as good as Champagne gets. First released from the 1974 vintage, it is undoubtedly one of the finest rose wines in the world: sublimely elegant, fruit driven, bright, pure and very moreish. A bottle can be yours for about £310.


6.) Krug 2000 Clos du Mesnil

This legendary Champagne house has been producing superlative Champagne for well over a century, founded in the 1840s by Johann-Josef Krug. Today, Krug is a powerful expression of luxury and glamour, but more importantly it is also an incredible wine that ages for decades. The yellow labelled Grande Cuvee is justly globally celebrated and recognized, however, it is Krug’s single vineyard Champagnes that attract the highest release prices. Their famous Clos du Mesnil vineyard, replanted in 1971 and first released in 1979 is arguably Champagne’s finest expression of the Blanc de Blancs style. Expect incredible finesse, balance and a gorgeous creamy richness, underpinned by stunning acidity. Yours for just under £500.

krug 2

5.) Jacques Selosse NV Les Chantereines Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru

A living legend amongst grower Champagnes, owner Anselme Selosse only releases minute quantities of his superlative, single vineyard Blanc de Blancs from the renowned Chardonnay village of Avize. It is the very pinnacle of luxury Champagne: rare, exquisitely complex and totally exciting to drink. Selosse use oak in all stages of fermentation and ageing of their wines, yet, the standout quality of this Champagne is its purity and intensity of fruit flavor, despite the obviously oxidative quality. However, the problem is that due to the scarce production and massive demand, bottles are very hard to come buy: yours for around £520, if you’re lucky enough to find some.

selosse cellar

4.) Bollinger 1996 Vieilles Vignes Françaises

A house that requires little introduction, Bollinger has long boasted plenty of dedicated fans, including James Bond, Queen Victoria and countless others who adore the rich, Pinot Noir dominated style of their NV Special Cuvee. But, it is Bollinger’s lesser known but exquisite Blanc de Noir Champagne – Vieilles Vignes Françaises – that attracts the sky high prices, due to its scarcity and quality. Only 250 cases on average are produced from rare ungrafted vines, from the Grand Cru village of Ay. It is simply like no other Champagne on the market: bright, very intense, vigorous and in great years massively concentrated. The 1996 is available for around £750 a bottle.

boll label3.) Krug 1996 Clos D’Ambonnay

Krug has long been the favorite tipple not only of the aristocracy (the 97-year-old Queen Mother famously smuggled a case of Krug into the hospital where she was being treated), but also among those who wish the world to know of their recent wealth.  And there can be no greater status seeking Champagne that Krug’s legendary 100% Blanc de Noirs cuvée, produced from the tiny Ambonnay vineyard, perhaps Champagne’s top Pinot Noir vineyard. First launched in 2007, the 1995 vintage shook the market with its hefty price tag, due to the tiny volumes of around 3,000 bottles. It remains one of the region’s rarest Champagnes, offering unsurpassed richness, power and depth of flavor – a ‘steal’ at £1,500 per bottle.krug 32.) 1996 Boerl & Kroff Brut (Drappier) Magnum

The ultimate connoisseurs Champagne, Boerl & Kroff is a prestigious brand dreamed up by the Drappier family and created exclusively for their most discerning clients. Its origins concern three unique vineyard parcels in Aube that were used to craft presidential champagne for the Elysee palace and its guests. In 1995, owner Michel Drappier decided to vinify separately the best fruit from this legendary terroir and release a new brand of luxury Champagne; only 3000 magnums on average are bottled in the best vintages. The result is a Champagne of incredible intensity and power; magnums can cost over £3,000.

1.) Gout de Diamants (Taste of Diamonds)

Welcome to the most expensive bottle of Champagne, if not wine in the world. An unashamed expression of rarified opulence, Gout de Diamants is the brainchild of Shammi Shinh, owner of a luxury retail outlet in London; Prodiguer Brands. The wine – which ironically is the least important aspect of the brand – is produced from Grand Cru grapes in Oger, by the Chapuy family of growers. But, what really got the rich and famous interested was the Swarovski crystal in the center of a diamond-shaped pewter designed bottle, the label made from pure white gold plate.  All this luxury comes at over 1 million per bottle, a cheaper version minus the diamond can be yours for only £147,000.

1 gout

What could be more evocative of the famed Italian Dolce Vita than sipping cocktails under an open summer sky, reveling in the magic of one of the world’s greatest cities – Rome?

bar george 2

The Italian capital, of course, hardly needs an introduction. This vibrant and historic city is as culturally rich and architecturally stunning as the come. The nightlife scene, after a somewhat slow start, is now one of the best in Italy: bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs to suit all tastes and budgets. In addition, stylish rooftop bars now abound in Rome, glamorous destinations where you can dress to kill and enjoy pre-dinner cocktails.

bar exedra 2

The scene is largely dominated by 5-star hotels in Rome, meaning you’re likely to enjoy suitably chic surroundings, a great cocktail list and utterly professional service. Many serve a large selection of wines, and smaller plates; the perfect proposition for oenophiles and those who want to avoid a full blown meal.

The following are some of our favorite roof bars in Bella Roma:

Terrace Bramante bar at Hotel Raphael, Piazza Navona, 00186, Rome

bar raphael

There is no better way to start an evening than sipping a cocktail at the gorgeous hotel Raphael, overlooking Rome’s famous Piazza Navona. It affords wonderful views of the Vatican, the surrounding colorful rooftops and energy from the square below. The atmosphere in the evening is unbeatable and the wine selection impressive! Hotel Raphael has one of the best cellars in Rome, including some top Champagnes and fine wines from across the globe. There is better food in Rome, but it would be hard to imagine a finer position. Whatever you fancy: morning coffee, a pre-lunch aperitif or an evening cocktail, you’re bound to fall in love with this little slice of heaven in Rome.

bar hotel-raphael

The American bar at Hotel Forum, 25 Via Tor de’ Conti, 00184, Rome.

bar forum

Situated at the heart of Rome’s ancient center, the American Bar at the Forum has prime position for admiring the city’s Roman heritage, whilst sipping a glass of Prosecco (or five!) The bar has become a popular place to meet before a night out, for both visitors and locals who come for the amazing 360 degree views of the Imperial Forum and across to the Piazza Venezia, but stay for the cocktails and delicious bar snacks. The rooftop restaurant is also one of the finest in the city, and will happily accommodate both hotel guests and visitors. The atmosphere is tranquil yet vibrant, making this special space the perfect spot for a bit of romance with a loved one. Undoubtedly, one of Rome’s best roof-top bars!

bar forum 2

La Terrazza Rose bar, St. George Hotel, Via Giulia, 62, 00186, Rome

bar -george

A sophisticated cut above the rest, La Terrazza Rose has an effortless chic about it. Offering a unique concept unheard of in Rome – at least to our knowledge – the bar is devoted solely to rosé wines and champagnes. The views from this sleek, cream colored space are some of the best in Rome, attracting a well-heeled, chic crowd. They come for the comfortable setting but stay for the incredible selection of rose by the glass. All this pink stuff is bound to work up an appetite, luckily La Terazza rose serves a mouth-watering selection of seafood, the oysters being a particular highlight. With such stunning vistas over the capital in this setting, and superlative rose on tap, it’s not hard to see why La Terazza is rarely anything less than packed.

Terrace at the Hotel Exedra, Piazza della Repubblica, 47 00187 Rome

bar exedra

Facing the imposing Piazza della Republica in central Rome, lies a gem of a pool bar and restaurant, always full at weekends with revelers enjoying a poolside cocktail. The terrace overlooks the spectacular fountain of the Naiads and the church of Santa Maria degli Agneli – quintessential Rome then! Visitors can use the pool (for a fee) and are welcome to sip a cocktail until 1am or enjoy a lavish dinner overlooking the pool. The Exedra also has one of the best Champagne bars in Rome, Champagnerie Tazio, where you can enjoy a formidable selection of local and international fizz by the glass, including top Champagnes like Dom Perignon and Krug.

Roof Garden Bar, hotel Minerva, Piazza della Minerva, 69, 00186, Rome

bar minerva

Effortlessly chic, grand and intimate at the same time, the historic and luxury hotel Minerva has one of the most elegant terrace bars in the entire city. The roof garden is a blissful haven away from the chaos and traffic of Rome; the white tuxedo jacketed staff are effortlessly professional and welcoming, offering both guests and visitors a large choice of Champagnes, cocktails and wines by the glass. There is often a pianist playing soothing music, creating a lovely soft ambiance for admiring the wonderful views of the Piazza Venezia and St Peters in the background. A fantastic space for the great and the good to meet, which manages to remain decidedly un-pretentious!

bar minerva 2

0-300 Roof Garden at Restaurant All’Oro, Via de Vantaggio, 14 – 00186 Rome

bar oro

0-300 degrees wins the award for coolest Rome nightspot. Situated on top of the Michelin starred All’oro restaurant, diners and revellers can enjoy a range of superlative small plates and snacks on a small, delightful terrace, ranging from crudo, raw fish and hams to delicious seafood and meat appetizers cooked on an outside grill. The views, as you’d hope in Rome are amazing; the hot ticket is before sunset, watching the sun disappear behind the Vatican whilst sipping a cocktail. Which incidentally, are some of the best and most inventive in Rome, head chef Riccardo di Giacinto loves the weird and wonderful. We’d go for the croccante all’amarena, a heady concoction of chocolate, crème de lait and cherry.

Champagnerie ai Limoni – Grand Hotel Plaza, Via Del Corso, 126 – 00186, Rome

bar plaza

A wonderful secluded hideaway hidden deep inside Rome’s touristy historic center, the Champagne terrace of the hotel Grand Plaza offers an irresistible combination of fizz on tap and suitably romantic atmosphere. A small space adorned with citrus trees and flowers gives unrivalled views of the Piazza di Spagna and medieval Rome. The list of cocktails is impressive, but you all know why you really came here – for the fizz! Make the waiters happy by sticking to Italian Franciacorta, or splash out on vintage bubbly from Champagne, but whatever your choice you’re guaranteed a memorable evenings at this little slice of Italian heaven.

Just be aware that opening times are limited and weather permitting: weekends 6pm – midnight.

Enjoy the Roman Summer!!

Bodegas Hermanos Peciña is one of our preferred wine estates in the gorgeous region of La Rioja, in Northern Spain.

We love this winery  for its stellar wines, the great hospitality and exuberance of the hosts. We had the chance to chat to winemaker  Pedro Peciña Gil, and thought you might enjoy reading the interview.


Pedro Peciña Gil

Here goes>

CELLAR TOURS- When did you become passionate about wine?

PEDRO- I remember visiting the vineyards with my father when I was 5-6 years old right before  the harvest time. I was very young, but I felt something special at that moment, and from then I decided that in the future I would like to produce grapes myself.


CELLAR TOURS-When did you join the family business and how long has your family been involved in wine?

PEDRO- Today I´m 35 years old, and in 1992,when I was 14, I started helping my father elaborating our first bottling. I remember it was difficult, because it was our first year to produce wine between my father and me… it was very funny!!!

CELLAR TOURS- Did you study winemaking in Rioja or elsewhere and have you worked in other regions/countries? If so, how did the experience shape you?

PEDRO-I studied  enology at the University of La Rioja in Logroño, but in my opinion  the best wine / enology university is the real practice in growing grapes and making wine with my father´s help since I was a child. I have experience in helping other wineries in Rioja too; also I did a harvest in Messina Hoff Winery, one of the most important wineries in Texas USA. It was a very funny experience, all was different, grapes, winery, work philosophy, the language, the people.. very interesting experience in which I learned a lot.


CELLAR TOURS-How would you describe the winemaking philosophy at Bodegas Hermanos Peciña ? Are your wines traditional, modern, etc etc?

PEDRO-The first lesson that I learned from my father was ” to make a good wine you only need to follow 3 rules: TO BE CLEAN, TO BE CLEAN AND TO BE CLEAN”. Of course you also need  good grapes, choose the perfect moment of harvesting …Our wines are very classic, due to we follow making our wines as people did them 100 years ago, as very natural as possible, no using any artificial yeast, (only wild yeast from San Vicente de la Sonsierra) or any Enzymas, any tannins, any poliphenols.. we never add nothing, our wines are completely natural. 3

CELLAR TOURS-What distinguishes your estate to other wineries in the area?

PEDRO-The main difference is that our wines are like the wines of100 years ago, completely natural, and their unique flavour is wine… OUR WINES TASTE LIKE WINE!!! We never filter the wines, we never fine the wines, and we never do any cold stabilization of the wines; so, to get stabilized wines we keep them  a lot of time in barrel, and every 6 months we make rackings by means of the traditional technique from barrel to barrel by gravity, cleaning the wines in a natural way.

CELLAR TOURS- Have you seen many changes in winemaking and viticulture in La Rioja in recent years, in which way?

PEDRO-I think Rioja has changed a lot in the past 10 years, many wineries have lost the identity of Rioja, and they try to make wines with more color, more complex, more full-bodied… in a word,Parker style wines.. and this is not Rioja. They are using new barrels, French barrels, making very long macerations… all of that to get hard wines.

CELLAR TOURS-What are your most important established markets and which new markets are you trying to break into, China for example?

PEDRO-We are working very good in all North America ( Mexico, USA and Canada), because they like the authentic classic Rioja, and in Central Europe (Czech Republic, Poland…), countries that are discovering the traditional Rioja. We started selling in Chine a couple years ago, but only in high level markets, where high quality wines have recognition.

Et.Reserva´ 01

CELLAR TOURS-Have you experienced any challenges with climate change and global warming?

PEDRO-Yes, in my experienced 20 years, I have noticed how the harvest start earlier; the maturation of the grapes is earlier than some years ago, ( although 2013 harvest has been a little bit later)… and it´s a fact that 30 years ago it snowed 4-5 times every winter, and that´s very unusual nowadays.

CELLAR TOURS-Are you experimenting with any new wines, and any exciting projects on the horizon?

PEDRO-We love the Tempranillo grape and for making white wines, we strongly believe in the potential of the Viura. I think it´s  not good for the Rioja the introduction of foreign white varieties.

CELLAR TOURS-Do you find the strict rules put in place by the Consejo Regulador to be helpful or a hindrance?

PEDRO-I think these rules even need to be more strict, because in Rioja you can find low quality wines that have the warranty of Rioja. And that´s not good for the image of the Rioja.

CELLAR TOURS- For guests coming to visit you in Rioja, do you have any favorite restaurants in the area, any secret gems?

PEDRO-My favourite luxury place is Restaurante Alameda in Fuenmayor, only using fresh products, with a magnificent grill.  Restaurante Jose Mari, in Rivas de Tereso and 4 km far from our bodega, is the perfect place to taste traditional dishes from Rioja: Patatas con Chorizo, chuletillas al sarmiento, bacalao a la riojana…, And with very reasonable prices!!!

CELLAR TOURS-Which wine should we lay down and save for a special occasion?

PEDRO-I think our most special wine is our Pciña Reserva Seleccion Harvest 2001: soft, harmonious, delicate wine…. You love it from the first moment, but it´s changing every minute at the glass, remembering nuances of chocolate, coffee…. wonderful!!!!!

Pedro Peciña Senior

Pedro Peciña Senior

For more information on this outstanding winery, contact Mikel Martínez at BODEGAS HERMANOS PECIÑA, Carretera Vitoria Km.47-26338 San Vicente de la Sonsierra (La Rioja)
Tel +34-941 334 366  –  Fax +34 941 334 180   [email protected] https://es-es.facebook.com/BodegaPecina

Ten Best Spa Hotels in Spain

Posted by gen On January - 13 - 2014

Enjoy this selection of some of our favorite Spa Hotels in Spain, the perfect plan to beat the winter blues! Combine the spa trip with wine tasting and you have the perfect vacation!

Spain boasts a formidable selection of luxury spa hotels that can easily compete with Europe’s best. These hotels are an oasis of calm, relaxation not excitement is most definitely the number one aim for visitors. The top spa hotels in Spain now literally offer everything:  a dramatic setting, luxury accommodation, top notch facilities and gourmet cuisine on tap. In fact, discerning visitors are now spoiled for choice as Spain runs the whole spa gambit from historic buildings converted into salubrious hotels to modern beach front establishments where the emphasis is on chic!


So whether you want an oasis of calm nestled in a vibrant urban environment or a dramatic cliff-top setting in the Mediterranean, the following luxury spa hotels will be perfect for you:

Hacienda Na Xamena, Urbanización Na Xamena, s/n, 07815 San Miguel, Ibiza

Set among some of Ibiza’s most spectacular scenery, the Hacienda Na Xamenda is situated high on a sea-facing cliff-top affording visitors the best views on the island. A luxury hotel in every sense of the word, rooms are lavishly decorated with Indian and Indonesian furniture throughout, a den of tranquility a mere 20 minutes away from Ibiza town. Both guests and visitors can enjoy the superb spa, an unmissable highlight is surely to have a relaxing message outdoors on the sea-facing Bamboo terrace. Several steams rooms and a sauna, infinity pools and jacuzzi all add to the enjoyment.

spa 2 biza

Mandarin Oriental  Barcelona, Passeig de Gracia, 38-40 08007, Barcelona

Undoubtedly Barcelona’s finest hotel, the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona cocoons you in decadent luxury that seems a million miles away from the realities of the office desk. It is also perfectly situated for just about everything: the shopping of Passeig De Gracia is a few minutes’ walk away, as is the metro stations and place de Catalunya and beyond. And if that wasn’t enough, the hotel has a state of the art spa with all the expected bells and whistles: various steam and sauna rooms, a infinity pool and a seemingly endless selection of treatments – the perfect way to spend a Sunday in Barcelona.

spa 2 barcelona
Hotel Palacio de Sober, Camino del Palacio S/N, 27460 Sober

A true retreat, this magical hotel occupies a very grand space in an historical palace, once belonging to the Counts of Lemos in Galicia. The Palacio de Sober is ideal if you’re looking for nothing but peace and tranquility and has the finest spa in northern Spain – Aqua Ardens. In the summer months guests can swim in an enormous pool and enjoy the views over the mountains of Leon, there are also indoor heated pools and thermal baths, with a number of specialist body and facial treatments. The restaurant is also one of the best in Spain, and serves haute Galician cuisine.


Abama Golf and Spa Resort, Carretera General, TF-47, km 9, Guía de Isora, Tenerife

Spectacularly situated along Tenerife’s coastline with views over to the neighbouring island of La Gomera, the Abama hotel boasts one of Spain’s plushest and most modern spa facilities. Take your pick from seven outdoor pools or head indoors to the luxurious spa complex and choose from a range of treatments based on the hotel’s five principles of well being: rejuvenation, relaxation, revitalization, balance and beauty. There is also a wonderfully inviting heated hydrotherapy pool, a cool plunge pool, several sauna/steam rooms and a Turkish Bath to boot. You can also purchase many of the oils and other specialist products used in the treatments at a well-stocked Spa shop. And if you’re trip has a romantic leaning then couples can used the private treatment cabins for total seclusion and luxury relaxation – heaven!

spa abama

Marbella Club Thalasso Spa, Bulevar Principe Alfonso von Hohenlohe, 29600 Marbella

A sophisticated cut above most hotels in Andalucia, the boutique Marbella Club has an effortless chic about it. Everything is just right at this hotel, from the professional, slick service to the beautiful pool area and superb restaurants. Not to mention one of Spain’s finest spas, a stones throw away from Marbella’s best beach. The facilities are astounding: indoor sea-water pool, jacuzzi, saunas, Turkish baths, relaxations rooms and 12 treatment rooms. The hotel prides itself on the range and quality of treatments available and offers Anti-Stress, weight loss and rejuvenation programmes and specialises in Shi-tao messages, and mineral infused facial treatments. Bliss.

spa marb

Balneario de Panticosa, Crta Balneario, KM 10, 22650, Panticosa, Huesca

It was hotels like Balneario that redefined the meaning of a country spa hotel, establishing a new breed of modern, contemporary, sophisticated rural accommodation with all the spa facilities you could want. Located near the city of Huesca in the spectacular Aragonese Pyrenees, the hotel is perfect for hikers in the summer and skiing families in the winter. The spa attached is enormously peaceful, with hydro-therapy being the central emphasis of the resort. It boasts: a central indoor pool, an outdoor heated pool, Turkish bath, and solarium with mountain views to name but a few amenities.  The ideal place to unwind this winter.

spa panti 1spa panti 2

La Residencia, Finca Son Canals, 07179, Deia, Mallorca

Two magnificently restored, 16th century manors on the outskirts of the absolutely gorgeous hamlet of Deia have been made into a elegant, luxury hotel with no equal in Mallorca. It is unashamedly traditional and welcoming with four poster beds and traditional Spanish furniture. The views across from the pool terrace toward the mountains are worth the price of admission alone. The spa complex, however, is thoroughly modern and equipped with open-air terraces allowing guest so enjoy treatments with views of the Tramuntana mountains. All this is complimented by top-notch indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms and all the facilities you’d expect at such a prestigious address. But we’d happily settle for the view alone!

spa resi 1

Hotel Marques de Riscal, Calle Torrea, 1, 01340, Elciego, Alava

Since the 1860s, Marques de Riscal has been one of Rioja’s leading wineries and now boasts a deluxe hotel and spa to compliment its range of superlative wines. In addition to luxury vineyard facing accommodation and a Michelin starred restaurant, the hotel offers guests the chance to unwind in the luxury spa. It has been showered with awards over the past seven years: Best Spa 2007 by Wallpaper magazine, and in 2009 Conde Nast Traveller voted it most popular overseas Spa. The treatments offered are totally unique to the winery, and make full use of the nearby vineyards. Enjoy a signature Cabernet scrub, before relaxing in the heated indoor pool, hydro-bath, steam room and fantastic jacuzzi.

spa risc

Villa de Laguardia, San Raimundo Hiribidea, 15, 01300 Laguardia, Álava

Another of the Rioja region’s top spa hotels, Villa de Laguardia is a fantastic choice for couples looking to relax in opulent style and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Situated in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region in the dreamy medieval hamlet of Laguardia, the hotel offers great views of the Riojan landscape and a state of the art wine oil Spa, for all your relaxation needs. In addition to the prerequisite pools, Turkish Baths, saunas and stream rooms, the hotel specialises in treatments using local wine and oil from Rioja Alavesa. 15 Cabins allow guests to choose from a multitude of wellness treatments, with a emphasis on using natural, locally found products. spa laguarspa lagua 2

Burgo de Osma Thermal Hotel, Calle Universidad 5, 42300 El Burgo de Osma, Soria.

Situated at the heart of the Castilla y Leon province, the Burgo de Osma hotel and spa is one of Spain’s newest and brightest stars, having opened its doors as recently as 2010. It is housed in an incredible building, the Renaissance University of Santa Catalina founded in the 16th century by Bishop Pedro Alvarez de Acosta. Here, history and modernity collide as the luxurious spa caters for every need with its pools, thermal circuit and treatment cabins. Split into two parts, the thermal cloister consists of a thermal swimming pool, mineral-water spa tubs with various beds, a Turkish bath and a relaxation room. Then, move onto the treatment area and enjoy a massage, or perhaps some geothermal therapy, reflexology, or facial treatments – a blissful heaven of relaxation!

spa termal 2spa termal

Ten Bubblies for New Year’s Eve

Posted by gen On December - 27 - 2013

Cellar Tours selections for Sparkling Wines on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is now so totally synonymous with great fizz that we all must wonder how people managed to celebrate New year, before the invention of sparkling wine? Most of us will no doubt be splashing out on some good bubbly for 31st December, an obligatory part of any New Year’s Eve toast.

franciacorta mosnel 1

Indeed, good sparkling wine tastes unlike any other. It combines lightness with depth, creaminess with the gentle effervescence of a delicate mouse and complexity with precision. So many flavors can be found in a bottle, ranging from citrus and red fruit to coffee, caramel and honey. It is the perfect celebratory drink, and yet historically it was more likely to be drunk with food than purely for celebrations. Champagne for example was bigger and heavier than now, and was routinely enjoyed with dinner. In fact, the NV Champagne style didn’t appear until the 1920s, now it is the most important Champagne style by far and enjoyed by many millions of wine lovers across the world.

Today, quality sparkling wine is most definitely not limited to Champagne and almost every wine region in the world makes fizz. We consume over 1 billion bottles of the stuff each year, with Cava and Prosecco enjoying a healthy growth in consumption at the moment. But, Europe no longer holds the monopoly on great bubbly: South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and California also make classics. Just try the Cloudy Bay Pelorus at a blind tasting, and see how many non believers it fools into thinking that they are enjoying Champagne.

So, in the celebratory spirit, we have listed some of our favorite bottles of fizz to sip on New Year’s Eve 2013 and welcome the new year.

(note NV = Non Vintage)



NV Jacques Selosse Initial Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut

selosse initial

This remarkable small producer crafts minute quantities of unique, impressive Champagne each year; barely 4,000 cases are released per annum. His approach in the vineyard is fiercely terroir driven, yields are restricted to provide the purest, greatest intensity of Chardonnay fruit possible. His entry level Initial Blanc de Blancs, like all his wines, is fermented in new and old oak resulting in a massive and powerful expression of the Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) style. A delicious start to your New Year’s Eve.

1999 Salon Blanc de Blancs, Brut


Some would say that this is the ultimate expression of the Blanc de Blancs style – we would agree! Salon is made from fruit sourced entirely from one vineyard, the legendary Le Mesnil Sur Oger. Only bottled in the very best vintages (the current release is 1999) the wine is the fullest, most intense and vivid expression of Chardonnay based Champagne available today. The 1999 astonishes with its richness, openness and intensity, with a formidable structure ensuring that this Champagne would benefit from another 10 years cellaring. But then who could bare to wait?


2003 Recaredo Reserva Particular Brut

One of the finest producers in the region today, Recaredo are 100% biodynamic and family-owned. Owner and winemaker Ton Mata crafts some of the most authentic, age-worthy Cavas in the Penedes region and all his wines show incredible complexity, finesse and depth. The  Reserva Particular is a blend of the native Xarel-Lo and Macabeo, a sparkling wine of great depth and elegance.

2007 Agustí Torelló Mata Kripta

Kripta is the prestige wine from respected and historic Cava house, Agustí Torelló Mata. It is undoubtedly one of the region’s superstar Cavas: complex, very aromatic and totally distinctive. A blend of the three Cava varieties – Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-Lo – it is bottled in a distinctive amphora style bottle, with no flat base. The result is a fantastic Cava full of complex, oxidative aromas and a very fine palate. A Cava to rival any top Champagne!

agusti kripta


NV Il Mosnel Franciacorta Extra Brut EBB

A remarkable sparkling wine house, with a tradition dating back to 1836. Il Mosnel was run for many years by the formidable Emanuela Barboglio, now presided over by her children Guilio and Lucia. Their extra brut sparkling is one of the best examples found in Lombardy, with plenty of oak, richness, vinousity and power on the palate. Simply delicious and not expensive!

NV Ca’ Del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige Rose


A legend in the region for the quality of their Franciacorta wines, founded by visionary Maurizio Zanella in 1968. Stefano Capelli is in charge of the winemaking duties, and his rose is one of the finest made in Lombardy. Fragrant and stuffed full of red fruit, the bubbly is balanced out by yeasty complexity and great acidity. Ages beautifully too.


NV Bisol Crede Prosecco Valdobbiadene Brut

Bisol is one of Prosecco’s top producers, overseen by Gianluca Bisol, a man extremely passionate about his region and about promoting top quality Prosecco from the superior Valdobbiadende sub-zone of the Veneto region. Their Crede Prosecco is effortlessly drinkable, with its moderate alcohol, delicious aromas of pear and apple and creamy, rich palate. An unbeatable choice for your New Year’s Eve party.


NV Nino Franco Prosecco Superiore Brut

Another great Prosecco producer, Nino Franco was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco. Third generation Primo Franco is currently in charge and the vineyards are now managed on organic principals. In fact, the highest attention to every detail is paid through this fine operation and the quality speaks for itself. Their Brut Prosecco is simply gorgeous, offering ripe fruit aromas and great finesse.


New World Sparkling Wine

2009 Domaine Carneros Brut, California

Taittinger established this Champagne offshoot in Carneros in 1989, since then they have hardly put a foot wrong! Their Californian fizz is one of the best around, rich, elegant and full of intense citrus fruit, vanilla, brioche and those classic toasty flavours we all love. The 2009 Brut is yet another example of the fact that Champagne does not hold the monopoly on high quality, traditional method sparkling wine.

NV Croser Brut, Australia


Australian legend Brian Croser produces one of South Australia’s best bubblies, from superior fruit in Picadilly. His range displays a wonderful succulence and elegant fruitiness, underpinned by yeasty complexity and toasty notes with age. The NV is classic Croser Fizz, restrained and stylish offering tropical fruit and a wonderful creaminess.

Christmas Wish List for Food and Wine Lovers

Posted by gen On December - 14 - 2013

Our 2013 compilation of Christmas gift ideas for gourmets

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Tour Specialist

It’s that time of the year again, we are a few weeks away from Christmas and still need to find the perfect present for our loved ones, family, neighbours and friends. Yes, for our New Year resolutions, among others, we promised  ourselves that we would have bought gifts throughout the year or handmade them well in advance, but we are all human and in February we usually forgot about  98% of the intentions we had, until Dec 31 comes once again.


So here we are again … before starting to panic, have a look at our suggestions for useful, unconventional gifts for wine and food lovers. And if you are sick of getting the umpteenth pan or corkscrew, you could accidentally leave this page open on your laptop located where everybody in the family can see it, post it on your facebook page or forward the link to your best friend 😉


Tablets and ebooks are replacing volumes, also in the kitchen, so here is a  tool a 2.0 chef, like you are, cannot miss!



For the neighbour who built a pizza oven in the backyard and is always looking for the latest pizza gear, this  book  written by pizza wizard Bonci is a must!


If your uncle loves to fish and your auntie doesn’t know where to store all  the salmon and trout, the perfect gift for them is a home smoker with a selection of different woods chips, creating a taste of an authentic Irish smokehouse….11RIEDEL GLASSES AND WINE ATLAS

After he tasted the Barolo Massolino  you served last year, your cousin felt in love with wine, subscribed to a wine club and organizes monthly wine tasting dinners at his place, so a set of Riedel glasses and a classic like Hugh Johnson’s  Atlas of Wine is a surefire hit.




For your sister in law who went to Ireland this summer to celebrate The Gathering and discovered a world of artisan cheeses , a design set of cheese knives, by Alessi. Each knife has the signature of the artisan who made it.



For your brother who loves hiking in the woods with his dog on Sunday mornings, a professional truffle slicer, with the warmest wish to find some truffles soon (and share it with the family!). Add a  jar of natural black truffles and some truffle tips -why not print out our insider’s guide to truffles– to help him fetch some beauties. 8POSH ITALIAN COOKING APRON

For your fashionista sister,  a fabulous cooking apron made by one of the most famous fashion designers and artists would be a winner.



For your brother in law, who looks only for exclusive and one of a kind items, one of the 3 rare examples of l’ Origine Grey Goose vodka magnum kept in an artistic sculpture.



For your niece, who recently fell in love with French literature and macarons, an amazing food dictionary by the one and only Alexandre Dumas


For your nephew who finally turned 21, a bottle of 1992 vintage Bas Armagnac, so he  will learn  that drinking is something serious to be appreciated and savored slowly.



For your partner, who is a zombie and grumbles until the second coffee of the morning, the latest  espresso maker on the market by Illy, produced in cooperation with a Swiss mechanical engineering company.


For your friend who used to dine out weekly at French restaurants before becoming a parent, and whose baby is close to the important weaning time, a precious recipe book by Alain Ducasse,  to blend the old passion with the new life.



For your parents who celebrate an important anniversary next year, a selection of  Italian wine and delicacies (we suggest Gobino gianduiotti chocolate, Spigaroli culatello ham, Parmigiano cheese, Panettone, Poggio Cappiano extra virigin olive oil, Bellavista Franciacorta, San Polino Brunello di Montalcino, Marisa Cuomo Gran Furor, Bukkuram Passito di Pantelleria or a gift pack from Roscioli   ) and a free subscription to the Cellar Tours newsletter to start dreaming and planning their celebration tour in Italy…



Our Top Ten South Africa Wine Estates

Posted by gen On October - 18 - 2013

Ten Best South African Wine Estates

South Africa is now an undisputed first division wine producing country. Years of hard work, investment and diligence has left the country with an increasing number of superstar wineries, producing world class wines at prices to match! This explosion of high-quality wine has been partially led by a growing number of younger, dynamic winemakers who have worked more than one vintage abroad and returned home with their important know-how.


Like other New-World regions, the current craze in South Africa is terroir, and matching specific varieties to the right place. And like prestigious regions such as Napa and Sonoma, an elite class of wine estates have emerged as leaders and ambassadors for the country’s winemaking potential, centered around the western cape’s focal point of quality wine product – Stellenbosch. Of course, other areas in South Africa like Paarl, Hermanus bay and Wellington are producing good wines, but the real pioneers and stars of the country are mostly to be found in this stunningly beautiful region.


We have selected our top 10 Cape Wineries below:

De Morgenzon–  There can be no finer introduction to the white wines of the cape than the powerful, structured and age-worthy Reserve Chenin Blanc wines from the acclaimed estate of De Morgenzon. Owners Hylton and Wendy Appelbaum purchased the farm in 2004 and continue to raise the quality bar for their wines across the board. Winemaker Carl van der Merwe crafts a Chenin like no other in the region – barrel aged, it shows gorgeous tropical fruit notes, a rich palate and velvety texture, balanced out by generous acidity. The high-altitude mountain vineyards contain some Shiraz, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties, although the star of the show continues to be the De Morgenzon Chenin. Hylton also takes the unusual but effective approach of playing baroque music to select plots of vines in his vineyards – which, he says, have rewarded them with perfect fruit. The farm welcomes visitors and has recently invested in a beautiful, renovated tasting room.


De Trafford – David and Rita Trafford are today Stellenbosch’s leading boutique growers, with a highly respected international reputation for intense, elegant and structured wines. Just 3,500 cases a year of stunning wines are released, produced from vineyards located between the Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountains. The first vineyards were planted in 1983; although it is only since 1991 that the wines have been released here on a commercial scale. All De Trafford’s range of reds and whites impress, but the stars are undoubtedly the brilliant Bordeaux/Shiraz blend Elevation and their Chenin Blanc, which has a depth and intensity rarely found in Stellenbosch. In fact, this boutique wine farm has proven that Chenin Blanc, still the cape’s most widely planted white variety, can reveal the special terroir of these ancient soils with razor sharp focus. All the reds will benefit from cellaring and can easily be kept for at least 10 years after release.

De Trafford

Hamilton Russell Vineyards – Does Hamilton Russel produce the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the cape? It’s hard to say for sure, but these Burgundian specialists at Hermanus certainly grow the two varieties to near perfection. They are a small and impressive producer of cool-climate, elegant wines in the beautiful expanse of Walker Bay. Current owner Anthony Hamilton Russel is constantly pushing the boundaries for excellence and has experimented with alternative vessels for the wine’s maturation, including stoneware and terracotta amphoras. They also make a very good Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc, but the best wine is still the Chardonnay. A very refined white with tropical notes and a real intensity, it also possesses a remarkable mineral undercurrent. A very real piece of competition for Burgundy’s finest domaines at a much more reasonable price! Luxury South African wine!

hamilton russellJordan Wine Estate – For quality, consistency and value for money, the wines of Gary and Kathy Jordan are hard to beat. The family has been producing top-flight wines in Stellenbosch for over 16 years and their flagship Nine Yards Chardonnay has won critical and consumer acclaim globally. Their secret is simply using the finest quality fruit, sourced from higher-altitude vineyards that benefit from the cooling Indian and Atlantic Ocean breezes. Their top red is the Bordeaux blend Cobblers Hill, which offers restrained, elegant cool climate mint and berry aromas supported by toasty, ripe berry fruit characteristics on the palate. The family also make excellent varietal wines in the shape of Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a delectable late harvest Riesling dessert wine. Visitors can also enjoy sumptuous cuisine at Jordan’s onsite restaurant, although reservations are advised.


Ken Forrester Wines- One of the region’s most fervent supporters of the stellar potential of cape Chenin Blanc, restaurateur Ken Forrester’s winery homestead has a long history, dating back to the 17th century. However, this is a thoroughly modern outfit in approach, from the style of the wines to the 21st century ethos of actively engaging with consumers and visitors. The flagship wines are his three benchmark Chenin Blancs, including the world-class FMC Chenin, the result of collaboration with star wine-maker Martin Meinert. The farm, at the foot of the breathtaking Helderberg range also produces a range of varietal reds – including Merlot and Shiraz – and a divine Rhone style blend produced from old vine Grenache and Shiraz. Called ‘The Gypsy’, it is an oak-aged beauty, displaying vanilla and toasty notes and a rich, spicy mouthful of dark-cherry fruit. All the wines are good across the range and Ken also runs a fantastic restaurant nearby.

ken 2


MeerlustEstablished as a Dutch homestead in 1693, this historic wine farm is located in a cooler part of the Stellenbosch zone and is today renowned for the finesse, longevity and elegance of both its whites and reds. In fact, their flagship Bordeaux blend Rubicon was one of the first to appear in the region and has become a world-wide sensation. The estate is owned by Hannes Myburgh, the eight generation owner of this great wine property. This is a sizable operation with over 400 ha of vineyards, including some promising Viognier in False Bay. But the stars are still the majestic reds: a supple, elegant Pinot Noir and exotic, but structured Merlot, are complimented by their stunning Bordeaux imitation, a wine of considerable depth and ‘breeding’. It’s rich concentrated palate and mouthful of cedar and dark fruits is enough to convert any wine-lover to the awesome potential of cape reds.


Neil Ellis A veteran winemaker in the cape, Neil Ellis is on a mission to craft the finest wines from cool climate sites that truly express their terroirs. The property was founded in 1993, when Ellis joined forces with estate owner Hans Peter Schroder and the duo have not looked back since. Seeking out optimum, cooler sites for their red and white varieties, the wines have become increasingly refined and complex since the partnerships inception. All the wines shine, but the old bush-vine varietal Grenache is a true triumph, with a depth and complexity rarely seen in cape Grenache. Their Shiraz and Pinot Noir are also some of the best examples emanating from the region, complimented by two superb whites – a classy, elegant Sauvignon Blanc and distinctly Burgundian Elgin Chardonnay. A trusted source of top-class cape wines.


RustenbergA prestigious family owned winery near the town of Stellenbosch, Rustenberg has invested heavily in recent years; overhauling the cellar and building a new, inviting tasting room. The farm has a long pedigree, having been established in 1683 as a Dutch homestead. The current owners are the Barlow family, with second generation Simon Barlow steering the estate toward ever high quality since 1987. Their prize wines are the John X Merriman Bordeaux blend, a fleshy, supple Merlot dominated wine and the intense, structured and refined Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Five Soldiers Chardonnay is a similar delight, a top-flight age-worthy and elegant example yet again proving the Stellenbosch can more than match the top white Burgundies today. The varietal Rousssane is also worth seeing out, as it bring new-world fruit and intensity – but also balance – to a Rhone classic.

RustenbergRust en Vrede -One of the very oldest wine farms in the cape region, Rust en Verde was founded in 1694 and continues today to be one of the Stellenbosch super-stars of premium wine production. The Engelbrecht family took over in 1978 and have always solely focused on red wine production. These are unashamedly powerful, new world ripe style wines with the concentrated fleshy single vineyard Shiraz being the estates blockbuster wine. The vineyards are located to the south of Stellenbosch, against the spectacular backdrop of the Helderberg Mountains. Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown as varietals and blended to form the superstar, fleshy Estate red, which benefits from at least 5 years cellaring on release. An impressive range of opulent cape reds.


Vergelegen -Arguably the cape’s most famous and revered wine estate, Vergelegen have become famous for their intense, award winning varietal Cabernet Sauvignon V. This historic wine farm dates back to 1700 and changed hands through-out the 20th century, with the Philips and Barlows families controlling its destiny until 1987. That year, Vergelegen was purchased by the company Anglo American Plc who have continued the families hard work and kept the farm at the forefront of the region’s premier wineries. The entire range impresses, although connoisseurs tend to gravitate toward the reserve Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blancs, both some of the best examples available in the cape today. The Vergelgen Red is one of the best reds yet from the area and a recent addition of a white Bordeaux blend has won pundits across the country. The top red V has taken South-African winemaking to new heights and is very impressive. A wine to easily rival the finest examples from Napa and Bordeaux.

ver 2

48 hours in Lisbon for Foodies

Posted by gen On August - 1 - 2013

Lisbon for Food Lovers, Cellar Tours recommendations:

lisbon farola 1 small

From small, family-owned restaurants offering delicious and inexpensive food to high-end cuisine, the capital of Portugal has enough options to satisfy even the most demanding of foodies. And although the Portuguese are known for sticking to their culinary traditions, Lisbon offers much more than the familiar staples of Bacalhau – salted cod – black pork and piri-piri.

cascais farol clams

So be prepared to banish your preconceptions of Portuguese cuisine in what is undoubtedly the country’s most exciting and vibrant food destination. A growing generation of young, talented chefs are taking Lisbon’s food traditions to new and exciting heights and are seriously intent on impressing you with their creativity. The city also has some of the best open-air food markets in Europe and in the summer months every conceivable type of fresh fruit, herbs, vegetables and spices perfume the air with their exotic aromas. The net result: Lisbon is a foodie paradise.

Day 1 in Lisbon

After arriving and checking into your hotel, head to the nearest terrace cafe and join the locals for a morning  Galão (a coffee served in a tall glass, made with 3/4 foamy milk and 1/4 Espresso) to get your bearings. Lisbon is spectacularly located on a hilly site on the estuary of the river Tagus – over the centuries the city has expanded along the coast to beautiful Belém, which was the starting point for Portugal’s voyages to the New World in the 15th century. Don´t miss the historic Pasteis de Belém bakery, a must. It´s just next to the stunning Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

bele pàst

After breakfast, you’ll want to start your foodie tour in the historic center – the Baixa – which is a compact low-lying area of broad avenues and leafy squares. However, before entering one of Lisbon’s many excellent restaurants pay a visit to the Mercado da Ribeira near the Cais do Sodre train station outside the center. Open every day apart from Sundays, the market is best visited on Saturdays when the atmosphere is electric. Da Ribeira is famous for its fresh cheeses, seafood and spices. The second floor has been converted into a cultural center, showcasing Lisbon’s best locally produced food, pottery and handicrafts.

Lisboa mercado

By now you must be ravenous, so head to Cervejaria Ramiro on Avenida Almirante for the finest seafood Lisbon can offer. The city is a Mecca for fish lovers, although tourist traps abound so we’d advise you to stick to our suggestions. In fact per-capita consumption of fish in Portugal is some of the highest in the world! Local specialties include the ubiquitous Bacalhau, octopus, squid, grilled sardines, called sardines assadas, hake, sea bass, lobster, prawns, clams, oysters and scallops. Ramiro offers all of the above and does, at least in our opinion, the best lobster in Lisbon. In fact everything on the menu is fresh and cooked to perfection. Service is friendly and the place isn’t overrun with tourists. Great wine list too!

lisb cerv 2

We imagine that you’ll want to work off lunch before dinner, and there is no better place to take a stroll than the delightful Rua Augusta, one of the nicest pedestrianized boulevards in Lisbon. In the afternoon/early evening its hums with locals and tourists taking a stroll and browsing the area’s many old-fashioned shops and cafes.  It’s also not a bad place to take an aperitif, but for some of the best views over Lisbon take a taxi to the hotel Tivoli Lisboa, on Avenida Liberdade. Their rooftop bar is the perfect venue to start your evening sipping Alvarinho and admiring Lisbon’s handsome architecture. Drink prices are also reasonable considering what’s on offer.

Lisbon tivoli

To experience one or two of the finer points in high-end Portuguese cuisine, we can think of no better restaurant than Bocca on Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca. Head Chef Alexandre Silva only uses seasonal produce to craft exquisitely refined, modern interpretations of Portuguese cuisine. Highlights include the porcini, celeriac and white truffle salad, followed by suckling pig and tangerine. This venerable dish originates from the Bairrada region, where’s it known as Leitao a Bairrada and Silva prepares one of the best examples in Portugal. For dessert, you can’t go far wrong with Horta Doce or sweet garden which includes carrot pudding, caramelised pumpkin, crystallized tomato and chocolate. Maybe the most memorable dessert we have ever sampled in Europe.

Lisbon Bocca 1

Day 2 in Lisbon

Skip breakfast at your hotel and instead check out the popular Deli Delux on Avenida Infante in Lisbon’s port. It is one of Lisbon’s best food emporiums, packed with locals on a Sunday buying local delicacies and enjoying a leisurely brunch on the adjacent cafe terrace.  For under €14 you can enjoy divine scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and fresh asparagus when in season. Just be prepared to fight for a table between 11-1pm!

Lisboa del

Before you leave this beautiful city, make sure to visit the Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s majestic square which was once the main maritime entrance to Lisbon and also the site where the city’s Palace was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. The square’s north side is centered by a 19th century triumphal arch that leads to Rua Augusta. But, the real reason you came here is to experience Lisbon’s oldest cafe: Martinho da Arcada. Touristy but a must see, just have a coffee and enjoy the atmosphere.

For a late lunch, it’s worth the effort to travel out toward O Faroleiro in Cascais- about 30 kilometers west of Lisbon – for the best beach-side dining in Portugal. The restaurant is literally right on the beach and the views of the Atlantic are dreamy. However, O Faroleiro doesn’t just relax and let the views do all the work, the fresh fish and seafood are divine too – try the clams! The service is bright and breezy and although this piece of seaside gastronomic heaven does not come cheap, it’s so worth it.

cascais farol

Options before dinner? Well, you could hang out on Cascais’ lovely clean beach or continue sipping wine on O Faroleiros terrace until you head back to Lisbon for dinner. But we’d recommend taking the train back and escaping the worst of the afternoon heat in the beautiful Botanical Gardens on Rua da Escola Politennica. Relax in the shaded walkways which are surrounded by over 10,000 species of trees and plants. It’s time to plan your last meal!


So as it’s sadly your last evening, you must try Solar dos Presuntos on will add later for a taste of delicious Portuguese home cooking and extra friendly, family-run service. The restaurant has been open for a long time and serves a loyal clientele specialties from northern Portugal while offering a large selection of vinho verdes by the bottle or glass. It’s what Lisbon does best: honest, wholesome and tasty cooking at very attractive prices.

Come back again on a wine tour of Lisbon, perhaps trying your hand at a Portuguese cooking class in nearby Cascais....  Bom Proveito!

For great food reviews also check out the fun Menina e Moça site and Lisbon Lux is a fabulous resource.

Lisboa baixa

Cheese lovers guide to Portugal

Posted by gen On February - 27 - 2013

Portuguese Cheese Guide

Although Portugal’s most famous contribution to food and drink is undoubtedly Port wine, its superb range of artisan cheeses, with their lengthy pedigree and traditions are equally a worthy addition to any gourmet’s household. And while most visitors to this beautiful and historic country may well only bring home a bottle or two of Port, or possibly a table wine from the famed Alentejo region, they would do well to perhaps remember the delicious cheeses from the Serra de Estrela Mountains or the pungent Serpa cheese from southern Portugal. Indeed, although countries like France and Italy have a stronger association with high-quality cheese production, you would do well to explore what Portugal can offer you. It may have some nice surprises in store.


Portugal, like most Western European countries has a long and (very!) proud tradition of cheese making that has not evolved significantly over the centuries. The equipment and technology may have been modernized in some parts of the country, but the care and craftsmanship has remained the same. Today, there are broadly 15 distinct styles of Portuguese cheese, with the vast majority protected under appellation law. The appellation designation (Denominação de Origem Protegida) strictly regulates the production methods, the length of aging, origin of production and labeling. That said it would be a mistake to discard other regional cheeses that may not have an appellation certification, but can be just as delicious and often offer better value! However, the cheese that visitors are initially most likely to encounter is the Queijo Flamengo, a direct copy of the famous Dutch Edam and ubiquitous in supermarkets and cafes across Portugal. It’s filling and cheap but has little to recommend in high-end culinary terms.

But in contrast, the celebrated soft cheeses from the Serra de Estrela Mountains in the Beiras region are considered amongst the finest in Portugal. It is usually made from the sheep’s milk of two native species indigenous to the area, although it can be produced from sheep’s and goat’s milk outside the appellation framework. Its taste is unsurpassed, smooth, rich and creamy with a beautifully balanced flavor. It is not dissimilar to Brie in its texture and pungency. Another favorite is the DOP Azeitão, from the Estremadura region in western Portugal. It can only be produced from raw sheep’s milk in the aforementioned town of Azeitao, although good examples again outside the DOP are made in the neighboring towns of Setubal and Palmela. The smooth, creamy cheese is made using thistle flowers, rather than sheep stomach lining to coagulate the milk and has an intense, earthy flavor and pungent aroma. Not a cheese for the faint-hearted!

queso portgs

Southern Portugal is also a good place to go hunting for excellent, regional cheeses. Perhaps start with a hard cheese from the city of Evora, the Alentejo regions’ most beautiful and charming town. Evora cheeses are made from un-pasteurised sheep’s milk and have a wonderful salty flavor. Or try the excellent Nisa Cheese from the higher regions of Alentejo. A similar hard cheese, however, Nisa has a less intense earthier flavour than Evora, with notes of herb and vegetable. Another extremely popular cheese is the celebrated Serpa from southern Alentejo. Again this is produced from sheep’s milk and is subject to at least two years aging in cool Alentejo cellars. The consistency can vary greatly and the rind is seasoned with paprika and olive oil, this results in the cheese having a strong spicy taste and aroma.  It has been recognized by food critics worldwide as one of the finest and unique European cheeses; the Slow Food Movement regularly list it as one of their top ten cheeses in the world.

Moving into northern Portugal we encounter the fabulous soft Terrincho Cheese from the Tras-os-Montes region that bounders Galicia in Spain. It can only be produced from a breed of sheep native to the area; the Churra da Terra Quente gives the cheese a mild, easily palatable flavour, enhanced by paprika and the curing process, which uses rye. The DOP cheeses of Bragança and Vila Real are also justly celebrated; under the appellation guidelines the Cabra Transmontano cheese must come from a special breed of goat – Serrana Negra – and be matured for a minimum of 60 days. The resulting product is fantastic, a hard cheese with a precise, slightly spicy bouquet and piquant taste.


You will also want to look out for the (a nightmare to pronounce but delicious to taste!) – Amarelo da Beira Baixa and the Rabacal cheeses from the Beira region. Amarelo is produced from raw sheep and goat’s milk; the aging process can last up to 90 days or longer. The cheese is extremely smooth and creamy, with a pungent aroma married to a silky texture, the saltiness just taking the edge off the creaminess. A cheese perfect for the after-dinner course that deserves a powerful white wine. Rabacal is a semi hard cheese that can either be made exclusively from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, and must be matured for a minimum period of 20 days.

At this point you may think that mainland Portugal has the monopoly on fine cheese production but this is not so: the unspoiled, idyllic volcanic islands of the Azores in the North Atlantic are home to two DOP cheeses. Both are named after their respective islands – Pico and São Jorge – and are excellent cheeses to rival the best from the mainland. Pico, a delicious soft cheese with a strong aroma can be made from cows’ milk or a mixture of cows’ and goat’s, whilst the hard São Jorge cheese must be 100% cows’ milk and is aged for a minimum of 30 days. It is still one of Portugal’s largest and finest cheeses, with an intense fiery flavor, crumbly texture and fine aroma.

Of course the above is merely a snapshot of the most important DOP Cheeses and you can find many more exciting examples that are exempt from the DOP framework. Take Vila Velha for example, which is made in the Beiras region. It is a similar cheese to Amarelo da Beira Baixa, but because it does not have DOP protection it is significantly cheaper and more accessible but every bit as delicious. But whatever your preferences, be it hard and pungent or soft and velvety cheese, you are bound to find something you love in Portugal’s rich traditions of cheese making.


Below are some important Portuguese cheese terms to remember when purchasing:

Cabra: goat

Curado: Aged

Duro: Hard

Leite: Milk

Ovelha: Sheep

Queijo: Cheese

Vaca: Cow

Portuguese food and wine terms

Food and wine lovers tours of Portugal

Buying Portuguese cheeses

The ideal place to buy Portuguese cheese is naturally the country itself, where the best selection and value can be found. However, most major supermarkets, specialist delis and food retailers will stock at least some Portuguese cheeses across Europe and the US, in addition the following online retailers are worth a look:  Alive Taste, Artisanal Cheese, Atlantico, IGourmet

queijo lagos

Jewish Heritage in Italy and Italian Kosher Wine

Posted by gen On October - 25 - 2012

Italy has a unique place amongst European nations in Jewish history. The legacy of Jewish culture in Italy spans over two thousand years – from the early recorded Roman period to today. The country contains some of the oldest communities of Jewish citizens in Europe – over the centuries, Jewish communities in Italy have absorbed and welcomed Jewish groups expelled from Spain and Portugal, Eastern Europe, France and Germany.

Their presence has contributed significantly to Italy’s development throughout the ages, with Jewish culture playing an important social and economic role throughout Italy’s turbulent history, from the Dark-ages to fascism in the 20th century.

History records that the first Jewish settlers arrived in southern-Italy from Judea (part of modern day Israel) long before Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman empire. In the early years of the Roman Republic a thriving Jewish community lived in Rome with at least 10 synagogues to worship. Then, in 160 B.C. the Jewish leader Simon Maccabeus sent an embassy to Rome to strengthen the alliance with the Romans against the Syrians. The ambassadors received a warm welcome from the Roman Senate and from the existing Jewish community in Rome at the time. Although, the treatment of the Jews in Rome did fluctuate, they were allowed to live and worship, relatively free from harassment until Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman empire by Constantine I in 313 AD.

After that historic moment the position of Jews in Italy and throughout the empire declined rapidly. They were oppressed considerably until after the fall of the Roman empire, after which the dark ages yielded some respite for Rome’s, and indeed Italy’s Jewish communities. During the Dark Ages they were pockets of Jews in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo and Messina in Sicily. When Milan came under the control of the Lombards, Jews were left to live in peace in the territories under their rule. Although the Lombard families embraced Catholicism, Jews were not persecuted and Pope Gregory I showed them respect and consideration. Although anti-Semitism began increasing throughout Europe from the 8th century, leading to great migrations of Jews from other European nations to Italy, Italian Jews enjoyed  comparably high standards of living.

In the Middle Ages, Rome’s Jews started to prosper as permission to trade and run businesses was given them. The majority of Rome’s Jews lived in the Trastevere neighborhood during this period, a district found on the west bank of the river Tiber, south of Vatican City. Despite the increasing anti-Semitism from the Church at this time,  towns such as Venice, Florence, and Genoa realized that their commercial interests were of more importance than politics of the Church and accordingly the Jews found their condition better than ever before.

Sadly this prosperity for Italy’s Jewish population would not last, by the early 16th century the Catholic church was fighting rising Protestantism and turned its attention to anything deemed a “heresy” or simply not contrary to the Catholic faith, including Judaism. In 1516,  the first ghetto was established in Venice and Jews were forced to live there, under harsh conditions. Poverty was rife and the resident Jewish community was striped of most of their rights and privileges.

Then, in 1555, Pope Paul IV established a ghetto in Trastevere,  forcibly moving all of Rome’s Jews into a cramped space on a few acres of land. They could not own property or run businesses and conditions were dire, many died of disease and starvation. Similar ghettos were erected around Italy and conditions didn’t improve dramatically until the 19th century. In 1848, after Napoleon had successfully taken and occupied Rome, the ghetto walls were torn down and the inhabits were allowed to move freely in the city.

After the Italian unification in 1870, Jews across Italy were granted full rights as Italian citizens. However in the 20th century, the rise of fascism in western Europe spelled dark times for Italy’s Jewish population, although they did not suffer as much as the German and Polish Jews. The Italian leader Mussolini instituted many anti-semitic laws as he allied himself to Hitler. The situation worsened after Mussolini was deposed, as the Nazis occupied southern Italy late in the second world war, and began instigating measures to deport the countries population to concentration camps. However, they met with resistance in many cities – in the Umbrian town of Assisi, Father Rufino Niccacci, sheltered 300 Jews during the war and gave them new identities and lives. Overall over 7,000 Jews became victims of the Holocaust.

Today, the Jewish population in Italy has recovered from the darkness of the mid 20th century and have left an incredible cultural mark on Italy’s towns and cities. Although the current community is relatively small, an estimate of around 45,000 – they are most definitely an important part of the Italian social landscape. The ghettos of Rome and Venice, the Jewish museum and synagogues all attract many visitors each year.

We start our tour with the birthplace of the Jewish arrival in Italy – Rome. The eternal city has over 22 centuries of Jewish heritage, which in addition to the classic sites of Rome – the Vatican, the colosseum, add up to an incredibly varied and almost overwhelming cultural experience. Although after the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome became the center of the Christian world, the Jewish community played an important role in Rome’s history. The oldest synagogue in Rome and possibly Italy, can still be visited. Then there is the ghetto, the largest in Italy and the Ponte Fabricio, not to mention the wealth of Jewish shops, kosher restaurants and guest-houses.

I’d suggest starting your Roman tour on on the east bank of the rive Tiber, near the Isola Tiberina (Island in the Tiber). This district, known as Trastevere houses the majority of Rome’s Jewish cultural attractions, including the synagogue and of course, the ghetto, constructed in the 16th century by Pope Paul IV. Although when Italy was unified in 1870 the ghetto was largely demolished, some of the streets remain as they were and make for a fascinating viewing, a leisurely stroll is the best way to sample Rome’s Jewish ghetto. Take a walk down Via del Portico d’Ottavia, the main through ware of the ghetto and notice kosher restaurants proudly serving carciofi (artichokes, a Jewish Roman specialism) and shops of fine, locally produced Judaica.  On Via San Ambrogio, there is also a small art gallery, promoting the works of young Israeli artists, well worth a detour. If you get peckish then check out the Jewish bakery on Piazza delle Cinque Scole.

You have already seen many wonders of the Jewish legacy, but before you leave make sure to visit the “Synagogue of Emancipation”, built after the ghetto was dismantled and completed in 1904. It is beautiful! Highlights include the impressive dome, painted with the colours of the rainbow and the museum. It contains historically significant artifacts, many of which were created by some of the finest artists at the time, as Jews were not allowed to be craftsman during the 16th-17th century.

A tour of Jewish Italy could continue with Venice, beautiful in its own right, Venice can lay claim to having the oldest Jewish ghetto in Europe and a wealth of Jewish historical legacies. By the 12th century, Venice was an independent city-state, and through its control of the spice and silk trade from the East, became one of he riches trading nations in Europe, wealth that the Jewish business community helped to generated. Step back in time as you visit the ‘Scole’ or Synagogues of the Venetian ghetto that were constructed in the mid 17th century, each representing a different ethnic group that settled there. Today, the Ghetto is still the focal point for Venice’s Jewish community and contains several welcoming guest houses and kosher restaurants. Another highlight is the Renato Maestro Library, founded in 1981 it contains a wealth of resources on Judaism and it a must see for any Jewish visitor. Not to mention The Jewish Museum of Venice, founded in 1953 which gives visitors a fantastic insight into the Jewish communities in Venice over the centuries; how they have evolved and contributed to the great renown of this magical city.

Copyright Mario Camerini www.mariocamerini.it

The eager visitor, after marveling at the wonders of Venice should head to the small town of Ferrara, one of Emilia-Romagna’s greatest walled towns. It has a special significance in the region, as there has been a continuous Jewish presence from the Middle Ages to today. Jews were welcomed in the 15th century by the Duke of Ercole I d’Este and have left an impressive cultural legacy. There are three synagogues, contained within Ferrara’s ghetto, which were constructed in 1627 and was the obvious focal point of Jewish life in the town. There is also a wonderful Jewish museum, which although fairly small, houses many artifacts and exhibitions on Jewish culture through the ages. Access to the synagogue cannot be gained from the museum.

After Ferrara head for Bologna, capital of Emilia-Romagna and one of Italy’s most prosperous cities. Bologna has an impressive cultural heritage that includes a rich Jewish legacy that dates back to the Middle Ages. In the mid 14th century the Jewish population was enclosed in a ghetto by the authorities, but by the end of the 14th century they owned houses in all parts of Bologna and ran thriving businesses. Another example of how the importance of Jewish community to the commercial success of a city superseded the religious dogma of the time.

Well worth a look is the restored ghetto, containing craft shops with Jewish prints and other hints of new life in the old Jewish neighborhood. Restaurants and cafes abound, if you need a well earned pitstop! The only synagogue in the Bologna ghetto is another big draw for visitors, as is the recently opened (1999) Jewish Museum. It celebrates with colourful art and displays the history of Jewish community in Bologna and Italy, there is also a well stocked book and kosher store.

Of course no visit to Italy is complete without a tour of Tuscany. Our next port of call is Florence, a monument to the Renaissance, the artistic and cultural reawakening of the 15th century. During this time Florence was the cultural and intellectual heart of Europe, its cosmopolitan atmosphere and wealthy patrons, such as the Medici, providing the impetus for a period of unparallelled cultural and artistic growth. The early Medici families were good friends of the Jewish community, so there are plenty of fascinating monuments and areas to explore in Florence after you have seen the Uffizi Museum and the Duomo.

A Jewish tour of Florence must start with the imposing Emancipation-era temple and the Jewish ghetto. Built in 1571 by the Cosimo de Medici, most, but not all of Florence’s Jewish population were moved into the ghetto in the 16th century. However, Jews in the ghetto had some freedoms and could build synagogues, schools and other public buildings as they saw fit. The spectacular, Moorish style synagogue in Florence is considered to be one of the finest in Europe. It was opened in 1882, the Moorish facade was based on the designs of the Byzantine cathedral in Constantinople. Jewish presence in Florence over the ages can also be witnessed first-hand in the two Jewish cemeteries (only open the first Sunday of every month) and an excellent Jewish museum and library.

The above is merely a snapshot of some of the main attractions of the Jewish legacy in Italy. However, there is another important aspect to this Italian discussion, which must not be omitted and that is kosher wine. This can be produced from any grape or Italian wine region, but crucially the wine must of course be produced according to Jewish dietary law, know as Kashrut.

For a wine to be certified kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must have been involved in the entire wine making process and any ingredient used, must be kosher. Although this was not formerly the case, today many famous Italian appellations and winemakers are making kosher wines, much of it exported as Italy has such a small Jewish population. Some to look out for include: Terra Di Seta Chianti, Chianti Classico, Tuscany; Rosh Aglianico, Campania; Batasiolo Barolo, Piedmont; Araldica Pinot Grigio, Piedmont; Fattoria Scopone Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany.

Nitra’e bekarov!