My wine loving cousin in DC asked Valeria at Le Vie della Perla to plan a wine tasting tour of southern Italy for seven of us. He loves finding great wines that are not necessarily widely known in the States. We got a wine tour and so much more – art, architecture, history, and breathtakingly beautiful countryside as well as meeting lovely people and sharing delicious meals.
Our guide, Gianluca, met us in Reggio Calabria on a Sunday in early October. Seeing the Riace Bronzes at the Museo Nazionale made me wonder if the tour should end there. What could be more spectacular? I was wrong. Each day brought a new delight for the senses.
There is the surprise of the life-size, one-dimensional cutouts of the outlines of the Riace Bronzes in bright red metal in the outdoor walking concourse in Cosenza.
The area hosts an outdoor museum of stellar contemporary art juxtaposed against a backdrop of mountains. But there is more. La Galleria Nazionale di Cosenza in the Palazzo Arnone focuses on significant southern Italian painters from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
So at this point I am drunk on art before ever visiting a winery. The best drink of the trip was my morning cappuccino with milk that had just been given by the cow at our agriturismo in Gerace. The meals and wines here were natural and delicious offering the wine and food produced by the farm. It was a very warm, relaxing and welcoming atmosphere.
At Gerace we sampled the wonderful Bergamot liquor and visited a nearby Bianco vineyard to taste Passito, a very good sweet dessert wine. The vinyard happens to be next door to the world class hidden treasure – Villa Romana di Casignana, well-preserved Roman mosaics in thermal baths with a view of the Ionian Sea.
Then on to Micuicola Cantina, Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, where we tasted five wines: among them a Calabrian Ferrocinto Timpa del Principe, a Greco Bianco Montonica, a Pellaro, and a Cirò rose. We dined on regional specialties including the tiniest artichoke imaginable while our knowledgeable sommelier spoke of the grape compositions and the properties of the wines we tasted. The cantina has a vast curated selection of Italian wines from all of Italy.
Wednesday dawned with a crystal clear blue sky and we headed for something totally different – Serracavallo vineyard near Bisignano. Eight of us climbed onto the back of a tractor for a ride to the highest point of the property. We didn’t lose anybody while learning about the granitic sandy soil of the Sila Mountains which gives a particular aroma to the wine.
After touring the winery, we dined in the company of the owners surrounded by their whimsical contemporary art glass collection. We tasted Besidiae, Fili, Quattro Lustri, Terraccia Rosso and Vigna Savuco accompanied by chestnut flour pappardelle with wild boarragu, wild baby goat, mousse au chocolat truffe. Maybe the tour should end here. It can’t get any better.
While visions of magliocco dolce and pecorello danced in ourheads, we slept in Trulli in Apulia. Staying in the white, round stone houses was like being a little kid and waking up in a storybook. Just magical. Everytime I closed my eyes I was back in time and overwhelmed by beauty. Gianluca says this is the Stendhal effect.
I have to mention the winery at Castello Monaci. The storybook continues. The emphasis is on green and organic. The harvest is done at night if the daytime temperatures are too high. In addition to the winery tour, there is an interesting museum.
Our lunch was fitting for the storybook prince and princess. We tasted Verdeca, Petraluce, Chara, Kreos, Maru Negroamaro, Liante Salice Salentino and Aiace.
Our last winery visit was to Polvanera in Puglia. Here too, the emphasis is on organic for their award winning wines. They paired sublimely with a wonderful lunch of pasta in pumpkin cream sauce, a naturally raised braised chicory along with a pork and prune saute and a divine chocolate cake.
And now the tour does end. I wish I could have carried home a bottle of each wine. As it is, I have carried home the memory on the palate along with the gracious reception of our hosts. We were met and engaged with an enveloping Italian gentility and grace. That is a nice memory to bring home.
Our guide, Gianluca, communicated his deep love for his region of southern Italy.
Now I love it too!