The Art of Barrel Making

I am taking a course through Sonoma State University and this link was on my syllabus as useful information.

It shows just what an old-world art form barrel making still is.  It was fun to see this video was from “Goosecross Cellars” as this is who I did my latest project on for this course!


Bella Umbria

A couple weekends ago I packed my bags and went off to Umbria with my husband, daugther and two other terrific families to a memorable gem high in the hills of Fratta Todina in Umbria.

I know this is a wine and gourmet food site, not a travel site, but I would be remiss if I neglected to share our accommodations with you.  We stayed at the extremely lovely La Palazzetta del Vescovo.  I first found this Relais on “Trip Advisor” after many hours of searching for a great get-away.  I was intrigued because it had many reviews and NOT ONE was negative.  Odd, because there is always some curmudgeon out there who has something negative to say about every place I’ve ever seen reviewed.  My first visit resulted in me adding to the glowing reviews on “Trip Advisor.”  This past visit was my third time back to La Palazzetta del Vescovo and it was more like going to see good friends then it was going to a place to stay.  The structure used to be a vacation home of a bishop and the owners have beautifully restored the once pile of rubble with impeccable quality and attention to detail.  Stefano and Paola, are lovely, gracious hosts who make you feel like you’ve known them for years.  The food is prepared by Paola with passion as evidenced in each taste.  The wine is carefully selected by Stefano, a certified Sommelier, whose ability to find exquisite wines and pair them with Paola’s food is superb. Chiaretta is an added bonus – a bouncy, happy dog who accompanies Stefano to greet guests upon arrival.

While staying at our truly delightful accommodations, Stefano kindly set up a wine and olive oil tasting at Tenuta Le Velette in Orvieto.  The estate is in the heart of the Orvieto Classico production (a DOC white wine). The property’s history dates back to the Etruscans and includes cellars dug out from tufa stone, a typical, volcanic stone of the area.  The estate has the ideal placement on the hills of Orvieto to produce outstanding wine and olive oil.  The owner, Corrado Bottai, generously spent several hours with us.  He took us all around the grounds.  We saw numerous cellars, some started by monks.  They were dark with cave-like tunnels and alcoves where dusty bottles of wine were hiding.  The electricity kept going out so we had to use a candelabra – it felt like the best stocked haunted house ever.  Another cellar had  floors, walls, and ceilings covered in a cushy, colorful array of white, orange, and rust mold.  Signore Bottai assured us this was some of the best real estate to age fine wines.

The tasting took place in a beautiful room in the manor.  It was adorned with fresco painted ceilings, opulent lighting and a large wooden table full of meats, cheeses, breads, olive oil and most importantly, several bottles of wine.  We tasted 6 wines – all of which were delightful.  As a matter of fact, we enjoyed them so much, my husband and I bought every varietal we tasted.    In addition, we purchased 3 bottles of their wonderfully pungent olive oil.

The Whites –
Berganorio (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Lunato Orvieto Classico Superiore DOC (Trebbiano, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia, Dupreggio)
Grechetto Solo Uve (Grechetto)

The Reds –
Calanco (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon)
Gaudio (Merlot)
Accordo (Sangiovese)

I especially loved the rawness of the Sangiovese.  It was a great expression of what Sangiovese lends to the numerous varietals it intertwines with in so many wines out there in today’s market.

Signore Bottai left a great impression on me.  He has an excellent grasp on the English language but without all the colloquialisms Americans use.  This resulted in his mind churning for the appropriate words to express himself.  He spoke beautiful, mindful expressions that made me envious of his vocabulary.  I wrote down some of these so I wouldn’t forget them.  One of my favorite quotes was:  “Sangiovese is a great confusion in the glass.”  I couldn’t agree more!

I left Tenuta Le Velette with yet another great adventure under my belt.  I was somewhat full from wine and antipasti but that didn’t stop me from going back to enjoy Paola’s cooking and Stefano’s wine selections.  This was my last night and I was not going to miss out.  My friends and I dined on Cinghiale (wild boar) marinated in local red wine and drank a lovely bottle of Montefalco…if only I could just move in with Paola and Stefano…maybe I could be the housekeeper…the gardener….the dishwasher…..


Castello Banfi – Montalcino

My family and I went on a trip to Montalcino recently and took some time to stop by the famous Castello Banfi Estate  for a tour and tasting.  I am always surprised at how these unique opportunities stare me in the face here in Italy.  I scheduled our appointment on the telephone. We arrived to a friendly greeting and a personal tour of the facility followed by a private tasting in their beautiful Enoteca.  I realize we were visiting during the “low season;” however, amazed that we were the only ones around to see and experience this wonderful estate.

Castello Banfi is comprised of about 7,100 acres, 2,400 of which are made up of a “constellation” of single vineyards and the remaining acreage dedicated to olives, fruits, etc.  The winery was founded by John Mariani, Sr., an American of Italian heritage, and is still run by the Mariani family today.  This estate produces 26 different labels, from Brunello di Montalcino, DOCG Riserva to Moscadello di Montalcino, DOC with a smattering of Brunellos and  Super Tuscans in between (they also have an estate in Piedmont that produces 15 different labels).  As you can imagine, this estate is massive producing approximately 10 million bottles of wine annually!  They have a state-of-the-art facility and are leading the way on the experimental forefront.

I was intrigued by their hybrid tanks that they use for fermenting some of their wines.  These unique tanks are stainless steel on the bottom and top with wood in the center making for a very eye-catching impression.  For traditional aging, they use Slovenian oak casks and barriques of French and American oak.  Always attending to detail, Banfi winemakers personally select the raw wood from the forests of France according to their origin and physical characteristics for their French barriques.  They season these barriques at the estate for 3 years (instead of the traditional 2 years).  According to Banfi, this gives the wood rounder and more persistent aromas.  Coopers (or barrel makers)  use an indirect and cooler toasting than usual for about 3x longer than the traditional period of time to produce a more uniform and balanced flavor.  Their custom-made barrels are larger (350 L.) than the traditional barrique (225 L.) as it is believed to provide ideal wood surface to volume of wine ratio. Their steel tanks are numerous and vary in size but some are by far the largest I’ve ever seen.  Depending on the wine, they use various aging methods and combinations.  One method has them combining wine aged in Slovenian casks with wine aged in French barriques, another method has them aging wine in various sizes of oak barrels and then of course, they do steel tank aging and bottle aging.

We finished our tour with a tasting at the Enoteca which is just as beautiful in it’s own right.  We were given a generous tasting flight that helped us decide on our “souvenirs.”  We walked away with Poggio Alle Mura, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (made from select vineyards producing consistently outstanding Brunello), Summus Sant’Antimo DOC, and BelnerO IGT (both Super Tuscans).

If you would like to try a bottle, or two, or three of Banfi wines, you can shop: or type “Banfi” in my “Snooth” search window to start shopping.

*written with information obtained from our lovely tour guide, AnnaLisa Gori, Banfi visitor guide and