[ALL PHOTO: Jo Diaz, unless noted otherwise. Shop in Sienna, Italy]
PART 1 ~ CULTURE LEADS TO WINE AND FOOD
In October of 2018, a door was opened for me by Bluest Sky Group, when I was invited to join a group of wine professionals traveling in Italy. We would be exploring the central wine regions of the peninsula’s boot, with two hosts wine companies as their guest.
Excitedly, down the rabbit hole I went. I love travel; wings on my feet like Mercury. Initially contacted by Michael Yurch, Mick had no way of knowing I’d been projecting this trip for years, perhaps my whole life… I was so ready.
My two hosts:
- Castello di Meleto in Gaiole ~ In the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany
- Colonnara Viticultori in Cupramontana ~ In the Castelli di Jesi region of Le Marche
This story, in a series of stories about my trip, is part of my Castello di Meleto notes, images, and experiences. Other similar stories also exist for Colonnara.
To be able to understand and truly appreciate imported wines, one expanding ingredient is learning about their culture firsthand. For instance, when in Portugal, it was all about ceramic tiles. They were everywhere, brought in by the Moors, during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. Once home, I created a You-Tube video, dedicated to the images I had taken of the variances in ceramic tiles… Very much part of their culture. My host then was Delfim Costa. Before his wine career, Delfim was in the tile business; and since then, he’s also returned to work in the tile industry again. In the days we spent together in Portugal, he was an amazing host, Lisbon being his hometown. When learning from a native of a region, you’re immersed in ways that simply being there on your own can’t deliver.
Now, it was time to discover what has made this region of Italy so outstanding and unique.
All of this, trust me, leads to a restaurant door, with delectable Italian foods, wines, and ambiance.
For this central portion of Italy, it’s all about massive, wooden doors and metal door knockers. (I have a series of some door knockers I loved, at the end of this story.)
What did this say to me, in cultural context, as the knockers all told a story?
- You are welcomed here
- From our knocker, you know what’s important to us
- Our knockers are ancient, and we’re still very old school
- Quality is in the details, as is our own imaginations
- Time is not about rushing, it’s about experiencing, and opening this massive door
- Bussare alla porta, sei invitato (Knock on the door, you are invited)
[PHOTO: Antonia Caserta, our gracious host with Castello di Meleto]
It all began in the town of Siena. We had driven 18 miles from Castello di Meleto in Gaiole, to explore this historic region, with its ancient history ties to the Castello. Our tour guide for Siena Camilla Curcio was arranged by our host Antonia Caserta.
Camilla Curcio’s specialty is freelancer leisure travel and tourism, and she’s really good at it. As we stood in front of the Siena Cathedral, she explained that she was born in the building just 20 feet from us. At the time, it was Siena’s hospital. Let’s just say, she’s about as connected as anyone can possibly be to Siena right now, in these modern times. As Camilla was explaining one historically significant point of the town, and its connections to horses, I noticed all of the door knockers in the narrow passage way. Every single one of them had a horse knocker. They proclaim and celebrate their connection to a historic event.
[PHOTO: Camilla Curcio]
Siena, Italy and Horses are Intrinsically Entwined with History
The Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice each year, in Piazza del Campo, on July 2 and again on August 16, in the town’s arena. As it happened, this year was going to have a third one on the weekend. Why three races, in all of its years of existence of only holding two? Siena was readying for the 100th Anniversary for the ending of World War I. I had to let that sink in. We have no such celebration in the US for the ending of wars in the US. However, we do celebrate the anniversary of the publication for the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. This Palio di Siena was gearing up to be a similar extravaganza as our fourth of July, on steroids.
This is the arena for the Palio di Siena bi-annual horse race.
I could feel the energy of everything and everyone around us getting ready. We were standing in front of a horse stall, when I took this picture of Senora Camilla. In just a few days, this alleyway was going to be closed to people and filled with equestrian activities regarding the race.
[PHOTO: Mikhail Mandrygin]
How the race works: 10 horses, bareback riders, all dressed in appropriate colors, with each one representing one of the seventeen city wards. (There must be some doubling up on the wards for some of the riders.) Word has it it’s extremely competitive and really fun to watch by the crowd that hovers into the central town arena.
PART 2 ~ WINE AND FOOD
Castello di Meleto ~ Food, Wine, and Fellowship in Siena
At the day’s end of our Sienna adventure, we walked to our dinner, being held at Ristorante Guido.
The mixing of history and culture – from the first half of our day in Siena – gave us all an appetite, so segued into what every wine region enjoys as dusk falls on the regions: camaraderie, great wines, authentic fare, and experiences to go with it.
At one point I felt like I had sucked in my Ribollita so quickly, I hadn’t even thought to take time and focus on a decent image of the bounty before us. A lot of it also had to do with the amount of information we were all taking in. Like, the Ribloita… I had experienced it the day before, and when given an opportunity to have it again, I couldn’t resist. This is a favorite cultural treasure I found. I’m betting if you don’t know you, this can make you drool.
A baker bakes daily. The following day, the bread is a bit more dry, so you use it in a “soup of the day:”
Broth from – let’s say – turkey broth that you made from bones, herbs, and spices, that you earlier boiled for a few hours. (For me, it’s left over from a holiday turkey, that I process into broth and freeze until I need some of it.)
Then, combine the broth with vegetables, herbs you grabbed from the garden (or organic bin at the grocery) and chopped up a bit, some crushed garlic for good health. Throw in some carrots, blanched tomatoes, celery, whatever makes sense… perhaps even some other day-old veggies or cannellini beans… Now, stir in your day-old bread. Place those ingredients into individual oven bakeware dishes, place in the oven… soaking in the bread and heating to a prefect bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day.
Grate some cheese to top it off and voila!
In this picture, left to right, Michele Contartese (sales director at the Castello), the restaurant’s sommelier in the distance, and wine writer Dr. Michael Apstein, taking copious notes.
So, the door knockers
Let’s get to it. A picture is worth a thousand more words, so here we go…
Meanwhile, I’d like to walk toward any of those doors, again, any day of my life. Meanwhile, these are the lingering flavors of Siena knocking.