Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Thursday, May 31, 2012

La Braccesca and Montepulciano

We had a great day visiting one of the Antinori family properties located about 15 miles outside of Cortona. While Antinori is a huge producer, La Bracessca is a small estate that has a unique geographical position in that it sits right on the border of the Vino Nobile DOCG and the Cortona DOC.

After a wonderful tour of the facility by Francesca, we were treated to lunch of local foods paired with their wines. They have a beautiful room with huge windows that overlook the surrounding vineyards.

The views were spectacular and it was a real treat to taste both the Montepulciano and Cortona wines.

The pasta course...

And the bistecca hot off the grill...

Followed by a fabulous panna cotta and a delicious Aleatico dessert wine...

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Monday, May 28, 2012

A Beautiful Beginning: Sunday in Toscana

We had a great start to our trip yesterday, our first full day in Toscano. The weather was absolutely gorgeous with bright sunshine and a comfortable 70 degrees. I started with a run/hike up St. Egidio mountain using the CAI (club alpino italiano) map of the Arezzo region as my guide. The trails are very well marked and took me on a quite strenuous trek for about 2 hours.

After a quick bite to eat we joined up with the group at the villa for our tour of the upper part of Cortona with a wonderful guided tour of the Chiesa di San Niccolo from the 13th century that features two beautiful paintings by famed Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli.

Next was the trek up the hill to the beautiful church of Patron Saint of Cortona, Santa Margherita and then to the very top of the hill to the Fortezza built by the Medici in the 1500's. Stunning scenery and a wonderful look at the culture and architecture of Cortona from medieval to the renaissance, we worked up quite an appetite and walked back to the villa for our panini lunch.

A leisurely lunch featuring regional meats and cheeses (sheep's cheese rules here!) with a few bottles of Prosecco and finished off with shots of espresso, we moved on to the next activity of the day. Antonio took a group to the Etruscan Museum, while the rest of us shopped, strolled the quaint streets and of course had a gelato while we sat on the steps of the Palazzo Communale taking in the scene.

Dinner was homemade lasagna from our favorite Italian nonna who makes the best ever with many layers of thin, thin pasta sheets, a bechamel sauce and beef ragu. We topped it off with a big salad, fresh buffalo milk mozzarella and tomatoes (my favorites from Southern Italy), and ended with Vin Santo AND limoncello!

Needles to say, everyone went to bed relaxed with full stomachs and fuzzy heads, waiting to see what the next day would bring!

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Antonio's Italy 2012 Begins!

We've moved from one spectacular view to another as we arrived in Cortona Italy Saturday afternoon. It was a long day of traveling as we left the fabulous Villa Le Sirene at 5:45am for the long, winding trip to Naples, then a train to Rome where we said arrividerci to our friends and said buongiorno to our new group of travelers. Another train to Cortona where everyone settled in to their home for the week in this gorgeous 14th century village.

We had a wonderful "light" lunch of regional cured meats, cheeses and vegetables accompanied by a few bottles of local wines. But more eating and wine drinking awaited as we walk to the center of town looking for our dinner at the beautiful Ristorante La Logetta overlooking the main piazza. We are off to a good start! Ciao!

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Treasures from the Sea

Scattered among the shiny black pebbles, the lovely worn pieces of colored terra-cotta are a source of mystery and fascination for tourists on the Amalfi Coast beaches. Whether strolling or lounging, you can't resist their call to sift and comb through the small rocks curiously seeking a bright spot of color, an interesting pattern or an eye pleasing shape. We don't know how they got here or where they came from but they are wonderful, little mementos from the beckoning aqua blue seas...
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Monday, May 21, 2012

La Nostra Buona Fortuna

Today was one of those wonderful days where from a disappointing morning arose the most perfect afternoon. The plan today was to take our friends to da Adolfo, one of my favorite beachside restaurants from our last visit. But when I called for a reservation this morning there was no answer and I found out from our friend Chiara that they are not yet open for the season. So she recommended her friend Sonia's place that sits on the beach right beside the now sadly vacant spot of da Adolfo. We had some miscommunication about our arrival so after a few phone calls to Chiara they arranged a private boat to pick us up in Positano and take us the short but breathtakingly beautiful trip to Laurito beach where Le Sirene is located.

Le Sirene is a small hotel and restaurant that shares the tiny pebble beach nestled in between the cliffs with da Adolfo. As the boat pulled up to the shore the scene that awaited was the stuff dreams are made of...a special table set for us right on the beach just a few feet from water's edge complete with a with a bottle of prosecco and the most gorgeous plate of bruschetta anticipating our arrival. Since the day was cool, there were no sunbathers, only a few dinners from the hotel, so we basically had the beautiful, peaceful beach to ourselves.

Sonia rushed to greet us and get us settled at our table. As we toasted with prosecco and sunk our teeth into that delicious bruschetta, we asked Sonia to chose our meal giving very little guidance as to what our stomachs could hold. I can't even begin to describe all of the platters of the freshest most incredible seafood, "appetizers" and pasta that arrived at our table. Mussles and clams in a lemon and rosemary broth, octopus carpacciao, insalta del mare, marinated raw tuna, gnocchi with zucchini, spaghetti in a seafood broth; the giant plates of food just kept coming.

We ate like queens in an unimaginably gorgeous setting, toasting our good fortune, enjoying each other's company, drinking regional wine and dining on the local dishes. Although is was sad to see the vacant space that last year was the scene of so much activity at da Adolfo, Sonia made the afternoon an absolutely unforgettable experience for us all! Grazie mille Sonia, we will be back!

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just another week in paradise...

"Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you are gone.” John Steinbeck

It is an amazing thing to sit on this balcony and listen to the wonderful little town below wake up. The gentle sound of the ocean lapping against the pebble shore, the shop keepers sweeping up their small piece of treasured real estate, cats meowing at the door of the pescheria, dishing clinking in the open air restaurants on the beach and the birds softly singing their Sunday morning songs; this is our second trip here in less than a year and I still feel like I've stepped into paradise.

You never know when you come back to a place if it will have the same impact it did on your first visit. The breathtaking beauty is now familiar and comforting, the friends you made are even more welcoming than before, and while I look forward to returning to some of our favorite spots, I can't wait to discover new people and places. And as I sit here on our first full day, I know already that I'll be back, because this place affects me deep in my soul and there is no way, or reason, to resist its tug on my heart.

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