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Carnival in Europe – Five great Carnival Vacation ideas for wine lovers in 2014

Although most of us when mentioning the world carnival might instantly think of Sydney, Rio or New Orleans, Europe can still lay claim to the oldest and proudest Mardi Gras tradition. The historical importance of the religious celebrations preceding the start of Lent is marked by the diverse and colorful local festivals celebrated throughout European cities each year. From the famous masked balls in Venice, to the riotous and vibrant carnival in Tenerife, these occasions are a must see for wine lovers who enjoy glamor, excitement and the decadence of lavish celebrations.

veniceThe following five cities represent the best of Europe’s carnival tradition and welcome the spring season in impeccable style:

Venice Carnival 2014

Venice Carnival or Carnevale is the very epitome of extravagance, a masked ball that traditionally ended on Shrove Tuesday and began on December 26th, which is celebrated as St Stephen’s Day in Venice, as in Ireland. Today, however, the festivities continue into the middle of February, as visitors flock from far and wide to enjoy the most decadent fancy-dress party on earth. The carnival has a history that dates back many hundreds of years; Venetians have been celebrating Carnevale since the 15th century. The popularity of masked balls and carnivals rocketed during this period in Europe and became an integral part of any cultural event in Venice. The mask, as well as serving a decorative function could nicely conceal the identity of the wearer, which became highly popular in political circles, as well as for celebrations.

venice carnival 2012

Other European cities started to copy the Venice formula and order their own masks from the Venetian workshops. In Venice, private clubs would organize masked balls and street entertainment – the elite simply had to be seen at these events! Carnevale reached its heyday in the 18th century, as the Venetian Republic collapsed and social conventions and rules were relaxed. The event became increasingly hedonistic, with lavish displays of wealth, processions and festivals held in St Marks Square. Sadly, after Napoleon invaded in 1797 the carnival tradition fell into decline, the Italian ruler Mussolini subsequently banned the wearing of masks and so carnival was no more. That was until 1979, when the first event in several decades exploded into the Venetian scene and the city has not looked back since. Today, the undisputed highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Doge’s Ball, which takes place in different locations across Venice, usually in a grand palace or residence.

venice carnival 99

The costumes, masks and general extravagance on display is unrivaled. Prior the the Grand Masked Ball, the celebration begins with a masked procession through Piazza San Marco and around. The following weekend sees a multitude of wonderful musical and theatre performances in San Marco and other locations, with Sunday reserved for a stunning procession of gondolas carrying masked passengers down the Grand Canal. Of course, plenty of other events take place and are open to anyone who is prepared to pay. This year, visitors can enjoy the masked “Enchanted Palace” Ball, which takes place in an ancient palace on the Grand Canal. Expect cocktails, lavish costume, fine dining and partying aplenty. There is also the “Feast of the Gods Event”, which takes place in a sixteenth century palace under frescoes painted by Giovanni Bellini. Join in the celebrations as Bacchus, the god of wine and Mercury invite you to join their feasting, drinking and merry making. For more information on these and other events, go to www.venicecarnival-italy.com   Finally, don’t forget to secure your mask well in advance of the party! Book an appointment to have a mask made.


Venice Wine Country While in Venice, why not go exploring the Prosecco wine roads, the delicious sparkling wine made in the gentle hills around Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Great Prosecco houses include Bisol and Bortolomiol, two faves.

prosecco  5

Tenerife Carnaval 2014

Each year Tenerife holds one of Europe’s largest and most riotous carnivals, a three week extravaganza that attracts hundreds of thousand of visitors and culminates in a 24 hour party on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It has been celebrated on the island for centuries and visitors to Tenerife such as Lope Antonio de la Guerra Pena in the 18th century spoke of dancing and conga music in the capital Santa Cruz. However, when Franco came to power he banned the festivities, which got back into their full swing after his death in 1975 upon his death. The carnival was subsequently a vehicle with which to lambast the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Fascists – today people often dress up to lampoon religious figures, naughty nuns being a popular costume!

tene 2

Tenerife is now twinned with Rio de Janeiro, and shares some of the vigor and debauchery of that world famous carnival in Brazil. Next year it runs from 26th February to 9th March, carnival season is officially opened with a gala for the election of the Carnival Queen and ends with the ceremonial burning of the sardine festival, an event totally unique to the island of Tenerife.The ‘sardine’ is in fact a collection of rags and cloths, paraded around Santa Cruz de Tenerife followed by hysterical mourners! It is quite a sight to behold! But the main attraction is most definitely the gala parade, a spectacular affair with stunning examples of fancy dress on display, elaborate floats, fireworks and much drinking and parting centered around the beautiful Plaza de España in Santa Cruz.


That said, the carnival involves far more than just one central parade and loads of stalls and events are set up in areas across the city. There are also competitions galore: murgas, rondallas, comparsas, all essentially dance competitions and a fancy dress competition for good measure. Make sure you don’t miss the grand gala for the election of 2014’s Carnival Queen, the day after there is a delightful musical concert in the Guimera theater. And don’t think that the fun ends on Ash Wednesday, as the weekend of La Piñata Chica follows shortly after with more partying in the Plaza de Principe. So head out on 9th of March for what will undoubtedly be the best street festival of your life. More info on Tenerife´s Carnival events this year.


Tenerife for Wine Lovers– While on this beautiful island, don´t miss tasting spectacular local wines from the  Crater bodega. Enjoy stellar food and wine in one of the most beautiful settings on earth at Terrazas del Sauzal, and El Burgado is also unmissable.

Terrazas-del-Sauzal-Nice Carnival 2014

Capital of the Cote d’Azur, Nice holds a suitably glamorous and elaborate carnival celebration each year across its splendid squares, parks and the famous Promenade des Anglais. Its temperate winter climate and fantastic setting makes it the perfect location for a carnival to remember. The celebration starts on 14th February in 2014 and ends on 4th March, over two weeks of non-stop partying. Nice Carnival has had a long and distinguished reign: history records that the event was established in the 13th century, by Charles Anjou, the Count of Provence. In 1294, the Count made references to “the joyous days of carnival” suggesting that Nice Carnival is in fact the original and oldest carnival celebration in existence. Each year the carnival’s organizers choose a different theme for the celebrations, 2014 is the year of the “King of Gastronomy” so expect cuisine to dominate the parade and events that entertain revellers who flock to the Promenade de Anglais each year.


However, Nice Carnival is most famous for the Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) which takes place on various dates throughout the Carnival season (in 2014 the 15 19, 22, 26 February and 2 March) Members of the parade fiercely battle to outdo each other with spectacular floral displays on floats that line the Promende de Anglais. As the procession moves through Nice, flowers are thrown into the crowds, stalls selling delicious local delicacies fill the air with enticing smells and the city seems to literally buzz with excitement. The festivities officially start with the Carnival Procession, heralding the arrival of the Carnival King in the beautiful Place Massena. Local residents spend months designing over 20 elaborate floats, which will take the theme of the year.

nice 4

nice 2

But perhaps the most eye-catching sight is the giant puppets marching through Nice, called Grosses Tetes, accompanied by hundreds of musicians, street artists and dancers that come from all over the world. The chosen King then takes the key to the city and declares a brief reign of excess! Highlights in 2014 include the unmissable Zuma party on February 16th and the awe-inspiring closing firework display over the Baie de Anges, officially ending the proceeding on 4 March. For more information on this unmissable carnival event, check out info on Nice Carnival here.

nice 3

Nice for wine lovers– Nice is the gateway to Provence. You are less than an hour away from dreamy hilltop villages where you can stay in gorgeous country properties tasting stellar rosé wines in situ. In Nice itself you have some fab little wine bars, we love La Part des Anges, La Cave de l’Origine and Cave de la Tour.

Cadiz Carnival 2014

Second only to Tenerife in the sheer scope and originality of its carnival tradition, Cadiz carnival is a riotous, ten day celebration that literally turn the city into one big party. It is the highlights of any self-respecting Gaditanos calender, indeed, preparations for the carnival begin almost as soon as one carnival finishes. Historically, Cadiz has laid on a boisterous carnival since the 16th century, when the city thrived as a major trading port for the Americas. Looking across to their Italian neighbors in Venice, the citizens of Cadiz decided to copy their tradition of marking the start of lent and started to organize what would become the liveliest and most elaborate carnival in mainland Spain. It was the one celebration that the Fascist dictator could not ban, due to the overwhelming protest and resistance for the local Gaditanos!

cadiz 3

Beginning on February 27 and ending on March 9 in 2014, Cadiz’s carnival is essentially one massive street party, with eleven days of elaborate costumes, theatre, processions, concerts and above all else, singing! The originality of Cadiz’s lent celebration is impressive, the driving force of the party is an emphasis on music and on the famously witty local inhabitants of Cadiz, whose love of comedy comes shining through in their imaginative displays of satire. These performers are known as Chirigotas: their music and satirical songs provide the central focus each year. In fact, the celebration really starts a month before the official opening day, as various musical groups compete in the “official contest” held at the beautiful Gran Teatro Falla. Over 200 groups will take part in this musical feast, with various categories of performers: Chirigotas, Choirs, Comparsas, Quarters and Romanceros. The Choirs will often also entertain people in the streets, as will the single act Romanceros. The Comparas tend to take the competition more seriously and sing classical songs with deep, romantic leanings. The competition is held 20 days before carnival and in four stages: preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the grand final. Listening to the various performers is a big highlight of the festival, the songs tend to be aimed at ‘debunking’ the cult of celebrity, politicians and the church are also fair game!


The finale is another main attraction of the carnival, held on the first Friday of the celebrations. Performers roam the streets singing their compositions and on the following Monday perform on a central stage for all the city to enjoy. The other key attraction during carnival time is the procession and street parties, as thousands upon thousand of people in elaborate costume party the night away in Cadiz’s old town. In addition, there are gastronomic stalls, various musical concerts and plenty of things to keep the little ones happy; including puppet shows, and the incredible closing fireworks display. Key dates for your Carnival calendar in 2014 are Friday 27, which is the Grand Finale of the singing contest, the main procession on the following Sunday (29) and the awe-inspiring fireworks display in La Caleta. Truly, this is a carnival you won’t want to miss.

Cadiz for wine lovers- you are in the Sherry heartland here and this is a supremely interesting spot for wine aficionados. Don´t miss the terrific bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera like Lustau, Fernando de Castilla, González Byass and Domecq. And Angle Leon´s Michelin starred seafood eatery Aponiente is a glamorous place to taste terrific local Sherries paired with unusual and magical fish pairings.

SHERRY pxSitges Carnival 2014

Spain’s delightfully avant-garde, unconventional seaside resort is merely a half-hour away from Barcelona by train, so there’s no excuse for not visiting the next time you set foot in the Catalan capital. Sitges has been a fashionable place for jet-setters and night-owls since the 1960s, and puts on one of Spain’s most outrageous carnivals. It’s a week long riot of the extrovert, the colorful and the exhibitionist, capped by a gay parade along the sea-front promenade. Sitges has been holding carnival celebrations for over a century, although the installation of Franco as Spain’s Fascist dictator in 1939 put a temporary stop to the fun. Today, it is regarded as Spain’s wildest party event and over 200,000 visitors, both Spanish and international, turn out for the carnival. A normally quiet village (in winter at least!) explodes into life with parades, endless parties, local gastronomy, numerous folk dances and outrageous displays – a feast for all the senses.


The party starts on 27 February in 2014 and ends March 5. The inaugural event is the opening Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday) celebrations, with stalls offering a massive selection of local dishes; Sitges’ citizens seriously pig-out into the evening. It heralds the arrival of King Carnestoltes – the King of the Carnival – who arrives in a great flurry of color and activity. Let the mayhem begin! Sunday 2nd March sees the famous Rua de la Disbauxa, or the Debauchery Parade, an anything goes display of debauchery and outrageous costume, over forty floats usually participate in the fun, carrying up to 2,000 people at a time. However, even this spectacular event is outdone by the Rua de l’Extermini, or Extermination Parade, on the following Tuesday night. This parade marks the end of the festivities, although there is nothing mournful about the celebrations with more riotous displays of dress and kitsch.

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Carnival truly ends with the Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday, the large effigy of a sardine buried in Sitges’s sandy beach. Around the same time as carnival, a more sedate but equally unmissable event is taking place – the Corpus Cristi celebrations. They are marked by the creation of floral ‘carpets’ in the streets of central Sites. These can be of incredible complexity and generally consist of geometric designs or religious depictions. They are simply stunningly beautiful so make sure to catch them before they are trampled over when the religious process passes through this delightful city.

Sitges for wine lovers- you are on the doorstep of the Mediterranean Penedes wine country. This is where Spain´s famed Cava, bubbly, is produced and great wines to seek out include Agusti Torello and Pares Balta. Don´t miss a meal at winemaker´s haunt Cal Xim where charming host Santi will take excellent care of you, and while in Sitges itself we love the easy going paella at beach front La Fragata.

agusti kripta 2

We get so many requests for romantic trips, from honeymoons to anniversaries, babymoons to Valentine’s Day trips, so we composed some fun ideas in Italy (is there anywhere more romantic?) for our special guests:
1. For lovers of the romanticism  period and particularly of Lord Byron, what could be better than his suite at Punta Chiappa in Camogli with a private dinner from the tower where he wrote his poems? Sublime views from the special Byron´table…

stella maris Byrons table

2. For Shakespeare romantics, a plush room in gorgeous Verona facing Juliet’s balcony is all you’ve ever asked for…


3. For astronomers and star crossed lovers,  the cabriolet suite in the lovely Franciacorta winemaking countryside is a dream

4. Want to cross paths with movie stars and rock stars, but avoid the paparazzi – we suggest an off the beaten track location like Basilicata where Francis Ford Coppola has opened a fab little palazzo hotel…


5. If Classic is your style, then Venice is your destination and a terrace on the Grand Canal is THE luxury touch to make the experience special and memory making…

venice punta dogana

6. For the lucky ones who have already found their prince charming, stay in a real castle in Tuscany!

7. For  lovers of the Dolce Vita,  the jet set atmosphere in Capri with its amazing food and nightlife extravaganza calls…


8. … and finally, for those who are down to earth, but still dreamers  at heart, a private candelit dinner overlooking the sea, in stunning Taormina, Sicily is our suggestion…

san pietro taormina lg


Let us plan the romantic vacation of a lifetime for you, drop us a line!

Sunday at the Farmers Market in Padernello castle

Posted by gen On July - 19 - 2012

Italy´s Gourmet Hamlets…..

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Wine Tours Specialist

Italy is always full of surprises. You are driving through a relaxing bucolic agricultural corner of the country with only cornfields and cows to be seen, when suddenly in the middle of nowhere, you discover a “village gourmand”.

You are in Padernello: 76 residents, 1 crossroads lined with solid, thick-walled 17th and 18th century buildings, 1 church, a perfectly restored castle with its moat and drawbridge (and a ghost, of course!) and 5 restaurants (you are spoilt for choice)!

The lords of Brescia, the Martinengo family, built the castle in 1450 and lived in it until the 1800’s. There are many legends of the époque of the Martinengos, but the most famous is the legend of “la Dama Bianca”, who is now the ghost of the castle. Born in the late 1400´s, Bianca Maria was the daughter of Count Martinengo of Brescia. She was very beautiful, but delicate, thin and pale (“white as jasmine flowers” they wrote) and she had a sensitive soul, far removed from her family´s schemes and violent plots. She loved to spend her time praying and meditating; she had no interest in the material aspects of life. As day by day she was ever more fragile and sickly, her father sent her to her uncle Bernardino’s castle in the countryside in Padernello, to recuperate. It was November 1479 and Biancamaria was 13; she didn’t survive the summer and she passed away on the 20th of July, 1480, falling in the moat and drowning. Every July since then, Bianca Maria has appeared to the Padernello residents, dressed in a white gown, with a golden book in her hand.

After many years of neglect, the Nymphe foundation brought the castle to its ancient splendour and today it is a pristine, magical place, which offers many interesting activities throughout the year, from guided visits to theatre, from cinema to exhibitions, to medieval fairs and festivals and and of course food and wine tastings.

As soon as we walk in the castle, another surprise: the monthly farmers market is taking place!  It is part of Slow Food´s worldwide network of farmers’ markets, offering access to good, organic and fair food from local area.


Before we sat down to lunch, we visited the different stalls, chatting with the farmers and sampling delicious local foods. I particularly loved the traditional cured meats (coppa with honey, yumm) from Capriolo village, bread with taggiasche olives from Panificio Grazioli from Legnano, buffalo cheese from Manerbio and  sprouts from Marone. And of course casoncelli, I even got the recipe from the grannies making them!

Recipe for Casoncelli alla Bresciana (Casonsèi):

serves 6

for the pasta dough (recipe here) :

300 g white flour type 0
3 eggs
salt and pepper
100 gr butter

for the filling
200 gr of beef
100 gr of fresh pork sausage
1 carrot
1 celery stock,
1/2 onion
clove, nutmeg, bay
50 gr Grana or Parmigiano cheese (grated)
50 gr breadcrumbs
salt, pepper
1 egg
50 gr butter
2 spoons extra virgin olive oil

for the sauce
100 gr butter


Thinly chop the vegetables, veal and sausages; in a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 50 gr butter, add the vegetables, sauté and cook until brown on all sides. Add the copped meat and let drain. Add the wine, let it evaporate and then add the herbs, salt and pepper. Add some warm water ad let cook for about 1 hr, keeping it well drained. Transfer to a food processor and mince. Transfer to a bowl, add the grated cheese, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, a pinch of salt and pepper and mix by hand.

Prepare the pasta dough; roll out the basic pasta dough and cut it into squares (about 4-5 cm each side). Place teaspoonfuls of the filling in the middle of the squares. Moisten the edges of the dough with a little water, and fold into triangle. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Set aside, cover with a clean cloth, and let rest for 1 hour.
Bring a large pot of water to a low boil. Add salt and the casoncelli, and cook for about 3/4 minutes. Drain well and toss with a sauce of butter and sage, sprinkle with cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Interview with Alessandro Fenino, Pievalta Winemaker and Tre Bicchieri Winner

Pievalta winemaker
By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

It’s a little weird when the guy you consider to be like a little brother after being roommates for years wins one of Italy’s most important and prestigious wine awards. So I was amazed and delighted to congratulate my “little bro” Alessandro Fenino when he won the coveted  Three Glasses (Tre Bicchieri) Award from Gambero Rosso with his Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi wine he produces at the Pievalta estate in the beautiful Castelli di Jesi wine appellation, in the Marche region.


So an interview with the guy you made fun of for the way he did the dishes, whose father saw you tipsy, whose wedding moved you almost to tears cannot be formal. We had this chat after a ginormous lunch of frog legs, paired with too much vino.

1. Alessandro, tell us about how you came to be a winemaker?

I am from Milan, which might be famous for its Duomo, panettone and fashion week, but not for sure for its wine production! I chose oenology at college, because I was interested in a job allowing me to live in beautiful, pleasant and quite location and … because I’ve always loved to drink wine! During college with an internship and after graduation, I’ve worked in some wineries, until I was offered to start a new project and to create a new winery in the Marche region. That’s how Pievalta was born and how I became winemaker, agronomist, vine-dresser, cellarman, tractor driver, general manager …

Pievalta winery Marche Tre Bicchieri winner

2. How do organic and natural wines taste compared to non organic wines?

In my opinion there are two big differences. First one is that wines made from organic grapes have a fuller and richer taste and you can taste in their texture the minerality of their terroir, compared to non organic wines of the same appellation. Secondly, they have less sulfites and this makes them more pleasant to drink and more digestible (no headache the next morning!). Both things let organic wines be drunk in an easier way and be paired better with food. They are not wines which try to be the main and leading character at the table, but rather to accompany and enhance the meal.

Pievalta winery Marche Tre Bicchieri winner

3. What kind of traditional winemaking methods do you use?

What do you mean by “traditional”? I think organic agriculture and winemaking consistent with it are more innovative than anything else in the modern wine making scene! I produce wine, using wild yeasts, but I also use select yeasts which don’t produce sulfites. We make harvest by hand and press grapes immediately, then we let the must decant for an entire night and the day after we take away lees and we move the must to vinification tanks. We use stainless steel tanks to guarantee max hygiene and not to ruin our work in the vineyards with faults given by a dirty cellar (who some call typical aromas!) I’ve been trying vinification in amphoras for many years, but I haven’t got satisfying results for my standards yet.

4. Do you find that organic wines have had a bad reputation, or not been seen as “serious wines” by critics in the past, and is this changing?

This is changing for sure, thanks to many big and well known wineries which turned to organic production, persuaded that organic is a synonymous with good wines expressing their terroir at their best. There are still people saying they don’t believe in organic wine production, but in my opinion this is due only to prejudices and ideology. Anyway I am convinced that the bad reputation organic wines had 10 years ago doesn’t exist anymore and it is credit of all winemakers who are committed to improving their wines .

5. What are the benefits of organic wines to our health and the environment?

Organic wines have many health benefits. As organic wines have less sulfites, they are more digestible and don’t cause headache. Furthermore, they don’t any pesticides residuals, not even those allowed by law, so organic wines don’t contribute to chemicals build-up in our bodies. It has been scientifically proved that organic fruits contain more anti-oxiders than non organic fruits and that is true also for grape and so for wine. From an environmental point of view, organic wines can be seen as a real revolution! Soil is no more poisoned with weed killers and  chemical fertilizers, which pollute water bearing stratum and rivers and kill soil micro fauna. Soil is richer in humus, so it better holds back rainwater and this helps to prevent hydrological instability.

Pievalta winery Marche

6. What is your favorite wine to sip slowly and enjoy on these chilly early spring nights?

Among the wines I produce I enjoy is San Paolo, a Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Riserva. It has intense and complex aromas, it is mineral, fruity with hints of citron and candied fruit, you can smell spices and saffron. On the palate,  it is very well balanced, soft but with very good acidity.

Pievalta7. What made you choose the Marche wine region, what excited you?

I could spend hours talking about what struck me about Marche and still couldn’t exhaust the subject, as every day I find new reasons to love this region: the beauty of the landscape, the sea, the sudden changes of weather, the unique light, the infinite gentle hills, a place where Nature and Man’s work are still well balanced.

Marche wine region

8. What is unique about the Marche, what can you find there in terms of terroir, winemaking techniques and methods that you can´t find in other places??

I think that the most interesting characteristic of Castelli di Jesi wine region is the ancient local grape, Verdicchio. It is perfectly acclimated to a terroir which is very different in terms of soils, altitudes and exposures. One grape for thousands different performances.

Marche wine region

9. Which appellations, or general wine producing areas of Marche are your personal favorites and which of the local grape varietals do you enjoy most?

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is the most important appellation in the whole region and in my opinion also the most interesting one, producing one of the best white wines of Italy. Among red wines, I love Rosso Conero and Montepulciano grape.

10. What do you think the pros and cons of visiting Marche are and would you suggest it as a destination for wine lovers?

Marche is a great Italian wine region to discover, it is still authentic and not packed with tourists and you will find plenty of very hospitable people. It offers picturesque villages, medieval towns, evocative countryside, harmonious landscape, fabulous local cuisine (from sea and land, home made and rustic or high end and refined) not to mention wines and gourmet products you will fall in love with. Last but not least, it is far less expensive than other wine regions, like Tuscany. The cons are that there are very few luxury and big hotels with many facilities, rather than simple and cozy ones. And I gained 7 kilos since I live here, because the food is too good and too abundant 🙂

Marche wine region

Italian New Year Celebrations

Posted by gen On December - 27 - 2010

Italian New Year Celebrations

Italy new Year Festivities

Italians have some fantastic New Year’s Eve celebrations and events on New Year’s Day. A few years back we outlined some of our favorite traditions for the Anno Nuovo here.

And we thought we would add some other fun legends, quirks and ways to celebrate this time of year in Italy:

Wear red underwear on New year’s Eve and then throw it away the day after

Fireworks at midnight Dec 31st  (all over Italy, but ESPECIALLY in Campania)

On the morning of Jan 1, if the first person you see is of the opposite sex (family excluded, then you will be graced with good luck

The same goes if you see an elderly person or hunchbacked person as the first person of the day.

It’s said if the first person you see in the new year (outside of family) is a child, you will have bad luck

In Piedmont, if you see a white horse on the first day of the year it is said to bring luck, and if the first person to come into your house is a black haired tall man, you’ll be lucky.

On the morning of Jan 1st , never leave the house without money in your pocket

In the Abruzzo, there is a legend that says that at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the Gizio river stops flowing and turns to gold for few seconds

In the region of Romagna, there is a  peasant tradition that on Jan 1st , you should do a bit of every kind of work, so you will do them well all year round

Traditional foods/dishes eaten at this time of year: cotechino (invented in Mirandola village, Modena province, in 1511), zampone (similar), lenticchie (lentils- they are said to attract wealth (a tradition born in Roman times, they used to give lentils as gift, hoping they would become gold), melograno (pomegranate- symbols of prosperity and faithfulness, as Plutone who tied himself forever to Proserpina, making her eat pomegranates), cappone ripieno (stuffed capon), grapes and dried nuts (almonds, nuts, hazelnuts, etc).

Most Italians agree on one thing:  Jan 1st  is a day of rest and generally speaking “quel che fai a capodanno, lo fai tutto l’anno”
New Year’s Eve Street Party Celebrations in Italy, some great ones:

Venice– apart from a spectacular fireworks display, and a large gathering at St Mark’s Square, the locals and tourists join together to make a massive group toast and everybody kisses at the stroke of midnight.

Rome– the traditional New Year’s Eve  festivities take place primarily around the Piazza del Popolo. There are massive crowds, live bands, dancing, fireworks, indulgence. Then on Jan 1st the square fills again with a more kids orientated show with acrobats and fun. There is also an outdoor classical music concert in the piazza facing the Quirinale, off Via Nazionale, about an hour before midnight with fireworks at 12.

Italy new Year Festivities

Naples is known for its superb fireworks displays and this lively city also runs many music events. Check out the best Pizzerias in Naples here.

The party town of Rimini, one of Italy’s club and nightlife hubs, hosts a huge outdoor party in the Piazzale Fellini. It starts at 9PM and you can expect music, dancing, and fireworks. It’s such a  big party, it tends to be televised and shown on Italian television.

Italian New Year's Eve

Italy new Year Festivities

Merano Wine Festival 2010

Posted by gen On November - 26 - 2010

Notes and photos from this year´s outstanding wine fair at Merano

By Ivano Martignetti

Merano, or Meran as it is known in German (this is a border town in northern Italy), is a quaint little town off the beaten track in Alto Adige, where there are two words for everything and many things to experience, such as winter sports, fruit museums and culinary tours. But earlier this month Merano was completely dedicated to a unique event, where top quality is a must and style is everywhere: the Merano Wine Festival.

Merano wine festival

The first day of the festival was dedicated to organic and biodynamic wine producers and the quality of their wines impressed the lucky visitors including myself who had the opportunity to taste wines made from unusual grape varietials, like the “2009 La Vigna Ritrovata Colli di Scandiano e Canossa DOC”, made with 100% Spergola. This was a very fresh white wine obtained with the grapes cultivated in an ancient vineyard recovered by the owners of biodynamic producer  Tenuta di Aljano in Emilia Romagna.

Merano Wine Festival 2010

Over the next three days the Kurhaus in Merano was the magnificent stage for the elite of Italian and foreign wines, where wine lovers came from every corner of Italy and Europe to taste some of the best wines in the world in a very elegant setting and vibrant atmosphere. Passionate producers and an impeccable organization made the Merano Wine Festival a success.

This is truly an event to put in your calendar next year if you missed this one and are an Italian wine lover.

Given the overall quality of the wines at the Festival it would be difficult to pick favorites, but we cannot resist in mentioning a few wines that were truly exceptional and highly recommended:

·    Alois Lageder Pinot Noir “Kraffus” 2007

·    Winecircus Pigreco Sicilia IGT 2006

·    Villa Matilde Camarato Falerno del Massico DOC 2007

·    Terroir al Lìmit Torroja – Vi de la Villa 2006

·    Marco Felluga-Rossiz Superiore Molamatta Bianco Collio DOC 2009

·   Guerila Roma 2007

Merano Wine Festival 2010

Make a visit to the Merano wine fair a part of your overall visit to the fabulous wine regions of North East Italy. Some ideas for wine lovers include tours of Verona (including Trento, Valpolicella and Lake Garda appellations), Prosecco, and Friuli.

Some shots of the fair and the surroundings:

Merano wine festival

Merano wine festival

Merano wine festival

Merano wine festivalMerano wine festival

An afternoon at the Salone del Gusto, By Ivano Martignetti

salone del gusto

Being the first Italian capital and home of the Italian royal family, Turin (in the region of Piemonte)  has been for a very long time the benchmark for Italian cuisine and the destination for chefs and oenologists on a mission to please refined palates. As such, this wonderful and lively city is still the ideal venue for an event like the “Salone del Gusto”, which took place last weekend and was a melting pot of food lovers and professionals working in the food industry.

Salone del Gusto

The relation between food and terroir, or “territorio” has been the focus point of the 8th edition of the event and the public was given the opportunity to experience international food specialties along with regional ones, tasting delicacies at the stands and participating in the seminars organized by the producers and the organizations invited to the event. This is how I learned more about saffron, attending a seminar organized by the Slow Food branch of San Gavino Monreale (Medio Campidano provence, Sardinia), where saffron was brought in the XVI century by a Spanish entrepreneur.

Salone del Gusto

It’s good to know, for the next time you decide to go shopping, that 1 kilo of saffron can cost you around 16,000 euro… Indeed with 1 hectare of land you can only produce 10 kilos of saffron and to have 1 gram you need to use 150 flowers. A very precious spice, don’t you think? Try it with “fregola” and eel, and match it with a Nuragus “I Fiori” DOC , produced by Pala, or use it to prepare “pirichittus” with a hint of lemon zest, to be paired with a Moscato produced by Calasetta, an incredible sensorial experience!

Salone del Gusto

Some snapshots from Salone del Gusto 2010-

Salone del Gusto Salone del Gusto

Salone del Gusto Salone del Gusto Salone del Gusto

Merano Wine Festival 2010- “the” wine event of the season for Italian wine lovers

By Ivano Martignetti

Wine Festival Italy

The most elegant and exclusive wine event in Italy is just around the corner, from the 5th to the 8th of November, the Merano Wine Festival.  The magnificent Kurhaus is an incredibly elegant venue for the event and exclusive as not all producer are eligible to participate.  Indeed producers are required to send their samples to the examining commission of the MWF and if their wines receive a score of more than 86/100 they can participate, with no more than 3 wines for each winery.

The actual score is not available to the public, to allow everyone to have their own idea without being influenced by the evaluation of the expert examiners, but the highest level of quality is guaranteed by the work done months before the beginning of the event.

This year 1.317 top quality wines will be presented in Merano, with 370 Italian producers, 35 top producers of the “Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux”, 100 producers from the best wine regions in the world. Moreover, the Gourmet Arena will host food artisans’ stalls, artisanal breweries, grappa and distillates. The wine tourism aficionados this year in Merano will receive a treat, the presentation of exceptional wine resorts.

Italy wine festival
To prepare for this major wine event, we suggest trying  some of the Alto Adige/Süd Tirol wines that you’ll be able to taste during the Merano Wine Festival and in the restaurants of the area, should you decide to stay in Merano longer than the duration of the event.

Italy wine festival

Our top wine picks:

·    Baron de Pauli, “Arzio”, Cabernet-Merlot.
·    Elena Walch, “Blauburgunder” Alto Adige DOC 2008, Pinot Noir 100%.
·    Nals Margreid, “Baron Salvadori Gewürztraminer”, Gewürztraminer 100%
·    Kloster Neustift, “Südtiroler Lagrein Mariaheim”, Lagrein 100%.

Hope to see you there!

Info on the Merano Wine Festival here.

Notes from last year´s Merano event here.

While in the region, we can organize an exclusive day (or longer tour)  of wine touring with driver, Mercedes and private visits to top estates in Northern Italy. Contact us for more info.

Italy wine festival

by Simona Piccinelli, Italy specialist

At the very last minute, last week I decided to spend a few days in Rome with my friends, to visit the amazing exhibition Bacon and Caravaggio at the Galleria Borghese , waiting for the great Caravaggio exhibition at Scuderie del Quirinale to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the great artist’s death.

Rome- in search of the best wine bars, enjoying Caravaggio on the way

Having a very full schedule with art, churches and museums, we didn’t have much time to enjoy sit-down restaurants, so we decided to follow Mario Batali’s advice “I only eat at wine bars in Rome”.

The research was “exhausting” but yielded  interesting results, so herewith- enjoy my personal list for the best wine bars in Rome:

1. Palatium – Via Frattina 94 (few steps from Via Condotti and Spanish Steps)

In spite of its location, it is not a tourist trap at all. Rather, it is the official “Enoteca Regionale del Lazio” , where you can find local (from Lazio region) high quality wines and food at good prices. You can have a glass at the bar, or sit in the adjoining room and also enjoy a light lunch.

2. Riccioli Café – Piazza delle Coppelle n° 10/a

Owned and run by Massimo Riccioli (chef of the prestigious La Rosetta restaurant), it is also an oyster and sushi bar with a beautiful terrace. More than 300 wines to choose. For take away service, don’t miss Rosticcerì.

3. Roscioli – via dei Giubbonari, 21 (close to Campo dei Fiori)

This has always been my favorite, even if always crowded. Why? Perfect location, great choice of cheeses, bread and coldcuts, as well as lovely food from the cuisine.

Best wine bars in Rome

4. Cul de Sac – Piazza Pasquino, 73 (close to Piazza Navona)

Founded in 1977, it offers more than 1500 wines, great choice of cheeses and coldcuts, tasty food from Rome (tripe, ox tail, carbonara) and other Italian regions. You can sit outdoors.

5. La Barrique – Via del Boschetto 41b (not far from the Quirinale)

Fabrizio Pagliardi will welcome you in this warm and cozy wine bar at any time of day and night, for a glass of wine or for some good food. You can take an aperitif (great choice of bubbly!), have a quick lunch, sit down for a nice dinner or come for a dessert post theatre.

6. Casa Bleve – via del Teatro Valle 48/49

Close to the Pantheon (even if the first Casa Bleve was founded in the Ghetto and it is still in via Santa Maria del Pianto 9-11), this is very elegant. The wine list is impressive and you can find whatever you would like to match with smoked fish, salads, cheese…

Best wine bars in Rome

7. Enoteca Ferrara –– Piazza Trilussa 41

In the heart of lively Trastevere, a wine bar which is more than that! Different floors for the wine bar (best Rome wine bar in 2003 by Bibenda), cafè, restaurant (2 forks by Gambero Rosso), wine shop. Ask Andrea to pour you one of the 25 wines they offer by the glass or choose one of 1000 wine bottles, you won’t be disappointed! They also have their own-designed glasses, that you can buy, if you like them.

8. Buccone – via di Ripetta 19/20

Very close to the Piazza del Popolo; at the end of the 19th century, it was Marquis Cavalcabò’s horse drawn carriages garage and then it became a “trattoria” at the end of  WWII. Since1969, it has been owned by the Buccone family. The walls are lined with wine bottles and the ambiance is informal and warm. Great array of wines and good choice of food, like roast pork from Ariccia , aubergine parmigiana, soups and salads.

9. Il Simposio di Constantini – Piazza Cavour, 16 (close to the Vatican)

Elegant place, with a restaurant and wine shop. They also organize wine tasting classes. 4000 wines on the list!!!!!!!!!

Best wine bars in Rome

10. Trimani — Via Cernaia 37B

Historic venue (they have been selling wine since 1821), great food and charming atmosphere.

11. Open Baladin – via degli Specchi, 5/6 – Rome

And what happens if after all that wine, you are craving something different? You go to Open Baladin and enjoy one of the artisanal biers on the menu 😉

Best wine bars in Rome

Terroir 2009 – Merano Wine & Culinaria Award

Posted by gen On December - 14 - 2009

Merano Wine & Culinaria Award

by Simona Piccinelli, Italian wine specialist

For the very first time, Mr Helmut Köcher –  President of  Gourmet International – presented the “Terroir 2009” award during the 18th edition of the International Wine Festival & Culinaria in Merano, Italy.
Merano wine and culinaria awards

The prize rewards the wines that best express the connection with their terroir.

17 wines  were granted the Terroir 2009 – Merano Wine & Culinaria Award:

1.  Zymè, Amarone della Valpolicella 2003
2. Wiengut J. Hofstätter, Kolbenhof Gewürztraminer 2008
3. Dorigo, Picolit 2007

4.  Ca’ del Bosco Vintage Brut  2005
Merano Wine & Culinaria Award 5. Adami, Prosecco del Casel Extra Dry
6. Podere Rocche di Manzoni, Barolo Cappella S. Stefano 2005
7.  Giacosa Bruno, Roero Ameis 2008
8.  Buranco, Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà 2007
Merano Wine & Culinaria Award

9. Mattia Barzaghi – Zeta Project, Vernaccia di S. Gimignano Zeta 2008

10. Testamatta, Testamatta 2007
Merano Wine & Culinaria Award

11. Cantina Zaccagnini, Clematis Passito 2004

12. D’Angelo, Aglianico del Vulture 2007

13. Marisa Cuomo,  Costa d’Amalfi Furore Fiorduva 2007

14. Mille & Una, Dolce & Nero 2006

15. Graci, Etna Quota 600 2007

16. Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna Is Argiolas 2008

17. Carlo Pellegrino, Marsala Vergine Riserva del Centenario 1980

Merano Wine & Culinaria Award

By Simona Piccinelli, Italian wine specialist

The 18th edition of the Merano International Wine Festival & Culinaria last month, crowned Merano as “the Italian capital of gastronomic excellence“. The Kurhaus – where the wine tastings took place –  opened its doors to wine lovers, gourmet and trade on Saturday November 7th, for 3 days. In spite of the hefty price tag, more than 5,000 visitors, including 300 journalists from all over the world  as well as many importers, filled the 8th century palace, exclusive meeting point where you could taste the top wines of the highest quality and meet the producers and wine personalities themselves, rather than their reps or sales people.

Wine Festival & Culinaria- Photo Cred Wino Blog

Wine Festival & Culinaria- Photo Cred Wino Blog

I tasted many, many, many wines (in this 18th edition of Merano Wine Festival, there were 322 Italian wineries and 142 producers from France, Slovenia, Germany, Austria, etc) and here are the ones that I felt in love with and would love to see in my own cellar (keep an eye out for upcoming posts on French and sparkling wines):

Kante – Friuli– 2003 Malvasia
A special edition and a special label for the 2003 vintage of this dry wine from native grape Malvasia, simply impressive! It’s a unique wine that surely strikes all great white wine lovers.Round and flavorful with hint of apricot, honey and nuts, it offers also mineral aromas.

2009 International Wine Festival & Culinaria - XVIII edition

Renato Keber – Friuli-2005 Tocai Friulano Zegla
A great character, Mr Keber, for a great wine! Made with 100% Tocai Friulano grape, this wine is macerated with the skins for 24 hours, improves for 12-14 months in 500 litre casks and for 6 months in steel. It is an explosion of flavours and emotions when you smell and taste it: pear, apricot, almonds, white flowers … If you find it, grab it!

2009 International Wine Festival & Culinaria - XVIII edition

Nando – Slovenia-2006 Rebula

2009 International Wine Festival & Culinaria - XVIII edition

Poderi Luigi Einaudi – Piedmont-2005 Barolo Nei Cannubi
A quick “hi” to Barbara and Matteo from this lovely, historic estate in Piedmont was the occasion to taste this single vineyard Barolo. Barolo is one of my passions and sometimes it is undervalued by consumers looking for ready-to-drink wines, as you need to let it age to taste it at its best. This wine is elegant, fresh and dense; full of licorice, cherry, plums and spices, it is very well balanced.
2009 International Wine Festival & Culinaria - XVIII edition

Elio Grasso – Piedmont-2005 Barolo Gavarini Chiniera

2009 International Wine Festival & Culinaria - XVIII edition

Cupano – Tuscany-2004 Brunello di Montalcino

Ornella comes from hard-working Lombardy, Lionel is Frech: they are the heart of this organic winery near Camigliano. Founded in 1998, it is already on the right tracks for distinguished wines. This Brunello is powerful and deeply coloured; cherry, tobacco, plums and spices in the mouth, with stupendous tannins and a longlasting finish.

Wine Festival & Culinaria

Capannelle – Tuscany-2005 Solare

It is always a pleasure to meet Manuele, the brilliant sales manager of this Chianti based winery. Ruby red colour, hint of plum, vanilla, almond. Velvety and full-bodied.

Wine Festival & Culinaria

Rocca di Frassinello – Tuscany-2006 Rocca di Frassinello

Wine Festival & Culinaria

Villa Matilde – Campania-2004 Camarato Falerno del Massico

This single vineyard red is one of the best wines from Villa Matilde. Great complexity, with berries, plums, licorice, cocoa, vanilla, tobacco and spices well balanced with elegant and luscious structure

Wine Festival & Culinaria

Vinosia – Campania-2002 Taurasi Riserva Rajamagra
I cannot express the joy of meeting, after so many years,  brothers Mario and Luciano Ercolino, who oversaw my first steps in the wine sector … and what a pleasant surprise their new wine adventure!! This Taurasi Riserva is full-bodied, powerful and smooth, look for it and keep it jealously, it will give terrific satisfaction in a few years …

Wine Festival & Culinaria

And after the tastings, a visit to the Culinaria hall was a MUST 🙂

Culinaria- Photo cred Wino Blog

Culinaria- Photo cred Wino Blog

Prosciutto- Photo cred Wino Blog

Prosciutto- Photo cred Wino Blog

Michelin guide Italy 2010


FOODIE NEWSFLASH: This very morning the 2010 edition of the Michelin Red guide for Italy was presented in Milan at the Triennale and we couldn’t miss it!!

by Simona Piccinelli, Italy specialist and Milan correspondent

Just as Gualtiero Marchesi did last year, Ezio Santin (chef and owner of the Antica Osteria sul Ponte in Cassinetta di Lugagnano) has decided not to be in the Michelin guide, as quote “after 33 years under examination, we don’t think a guide can improve our work”.

Is this a new trend of big “grand old men” chefs rejecting the Michelin?

Is Michelin losing its power and authority?

We don’t know and will keep our eyes peeled on this, but in the meantime we are happy to announce that the new 3 star restaurant in Italy, Da Vittorio, is also one of our favorites. Not only for the excellence of their cuisine, but also because the Cerea family happen to also be extremely nice, professional, and generous people. We worked with them during some events and catering and I can really say that they have a special place in my heart!

So “bravo” to Francesco, Bruna, Chicco, Raffaella and Bobo! Father Vittorio (who passed away 4 years ago) would be so very proud of all of them.

Da Vittorio team

The other 3 stars are a carry over from last year, so nothing new to report there. Here is the list of our faves and the dishes we liked most and would kill to try again:

1. Dal Pescatore di Canneto sull’Oglio (Mn)

chef Nadia Santini

Tortelli di zucca
Frog Legs with herbs

2. Enoteca Pinchiorri di Firenze

chef Annie Feolde


All about Burrata
“Agnolotti” filled with polenta and tossed with scampi, tomatoes and black olives

3. La Pergola di Roma

chef Heinz Beck

Lamb with artichokes with garlic purée, sweetbreads and pecorino cheese
Tortelli filled with lamb tossed with pecorino cheese and mint

4. Le Calandre di Rubano (Pd)

chef Massimilaino Alajmo


Cuttle fish cappuccino
Roquefort cheese mousse with iced strawberry crust

5. Al Sorriso di Soriso (No)

chef Luisa Valazza

Sorriso risotto, a dream come true for risotto lovers (like me!) with prawns, artichokes, pine nut kernel and saffron
Fassone beef braised with Barolo sauce

New 2 stars in Italy:

Antica Corona Reale – Cervere (Cuneo)
Piazza Duomo – Alba (Cuneo)
Il Pellicano -Porto Ercole (Grosseto)
La Madia – Licata (Agrigento)
Met dell’Hotel Metropol – Venezia
Il Mosaico – Casamicciola Terme, Ischia (Napoli)
Il Trenkerstube – Tirolo (Bolzano).

New restaurants with 1 star in Italy:

Andreini – Alghero (Sassari)
Kleine Flamme – Vipiteno (Bolzano)
Ortica -Bedizzole (Brescia).
Maxi – Vico Equense (Napoli).
Roof Garden – Bergamo
Vicolo Santa Lucia – Cattolica (Rimini).
L’accanto -i Vico Equense.
Baldin -Genova.
Hotel Cinzia (Vercelli).
Al Vigneto – Grumello del Monte (Bergamo).
Osteria del Pomiroeu – Seregno, Milano.
Sissi – Merano.
Antonello Colonna – Roma
Glass Hostaria – Roma.
Castel Fragsburg – Freiberg (Merano).
La Fenice – Ragusa
Le Robinie – Montescano (Pavia).
La Meridiana – Piove di Sacco (Padova).
Caffè Le Paillotes – Pescara.
Hostaria del Mare (Modena).
Il Piastrino – Pennabilli, Pesaro.
La Fornace – Barbablu di Noli (SV).
La locanda di Bu – Nusco (Avellino)


What made such an impression on me was the number of Michelin starred establishments that closed this year:

4 Mori in Varese, Locanda del Palazzo in Barile (Potenza), Via romana in Bordighera (Imperia), La Bitta nella pergola in Genova, Vesta in Tivoli (Roma), L’Acquamatta in Capolona (Arezzo),  Conti Roero in Monticelli d’Alba (Cuneo), Il Gallopapa in Castellina in Chianti (Siena),  Terrazza in Montecchio di Crosara (VR), L’Arsenale in Cavegnano d’Adda (LO), Castello Banfi in Montalcino (Siena), Fini in Modena.


Have you ever wondered how to become a Michelin inspector? Each inspector  travels over 30.000 km, has over 200 meals in restaurants and spends over 160 nights in hotels, per year. The majority of the inspectors come from hotel schools and/or is well-experienced in the hospitality business. After sending a request to the Red Guide, you will have a meeting with a senior inspector in a restaurant and after that you will have to write a report about restaurant details (service, mise en place, whether your neighbor´s plate was empty or not when he left, etc) and meal details (food quality, cooking, raw materials, etc). If you do a superb good job, you will spend some months in European restaurants with a senior inspector and finally you will be able to work on your own!

The 2010 guide will be released at all fine bookshops on November 26th.