Archive for August, 2015

The 2010 Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino Is the Taylor Swift of Wines



Wine tasting in the cellar at Le Chiuse a Montalcino

Much has been written about the recently released 2010 Brunello di Montalcino. Wine critics have raved about it, calling it everything from “The Vintage of a Lifetime” to “the greatest modern vintage of Italy’s most famous wine region.”

I tend to be skeptical of the overhyped, and I’m not enough of oenophile to rave about the 2010’s “fruit forwardness” or how it is a “greatest hits” collection of characteristics of the finest Brunello vintages before it. I also feel obligated to disclose that Sideways is one of my all time favorite films.


Lorenzo, one of the winemakers at Le Chiuse

During my recent trip to Tuscany I went to a tasting in the cellar at the family run Le Chiuse, where Lorenzo, one of the winemakers, had a lovely way of personifying each vintage. He mentioned that the hot days and cool nights in the vineyard make for excellent sangiovese grapes. I got to know quite a bit about Brunello di Montalcino. Here’s my take on the 2010 Brunello– It’s the Taylor Swift of wine.

Taylor Swift sighting in New York City

TSwizzle- a notable, likeable force who will be even more elegant and interesting in 5-10 years

The winemaker described the 2010 as a “Teenager who leads with their muscles.” All the signs of being important are there, but the vintage has not yet come into it’s “elegance.” That will happen in 10-15 years. In a few years they will be approachable, complex, and in “harmony.” Until then, you’ll keep hearing more from these wines as they are notable and their powerful tanins will allow them to “cellar well.”

Sitting with my friends Noelle and Devony, we mulled this description for a while before declaring the 2010 Brunello di Montalcino the “Taylor Swift of wine.”

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Future Brunello di Montalcino aging in oak barrels at Le Chiuse

All three of us appreciate the importance of Ms. Swift. Her songs sound like money to me. She’s a force that is going no where, and she’s  going to be even more interesting in 5-10 years when she either learns to dance, or at least stops looking like that scene where Bambi tries to walk on ice.

We are all curious to see where Taylor Swift will be in a few years, and the 2010 Brunello di Montalcino should grow into it’s own at the same pace.

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Left: The 2010 Brunello Reserva in the Cellar Right: An Italian wine library in the Le Chiuse Cellar

So what to drink now? We don’t want to drink wine the winemaker describes as “a teenager.”

We asked the Nicolo what to drink now the 2007 Brunello came up. The vintner described it as, “a man in his 40s who has got some game.” Interesting, complex, fully developed. Noelle, Devony and I quickly came to a consensus on how to remember the 2007. It’s the Dave Grohl of Brunello. Everyone of us appreciates a little Grohl in our lives.

47th CMA Awards - Show

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has already been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame once. He’ll get in a second time, too.

We tasted some other memorable wines including the 2013 Rosso di Montalcino, “a strong boy who is appealing now but might not be so interesting in 10 years.” I can’t remember if it was Noelle or Devony that made this connection first and dubbed it the Channing Tatum of  Tuscan wine.

"Magic Mike XXL" Los Angeles Premiere

Some nights you are in the mood for a little Magic Mike. Channing Tatum Pairs nicely with the 2013 Rosso di Montalcino

The 2009 Brunello di Montalcino was described to us as “a young father in his 30s. Starting to find harmony.” Hella Ryan Gosling of the wine world!

Cannes Film Festival 2014

If Ryan Gosling were an Italian wine, he’d be a 2009 Brunello di Montalcino

So many wines were being tasted, and Nicolo was such a warm host. He gave us a tour of the vineyards and winery.

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A glass in the Le Chiuse cellar

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The wine library at Le Chiuse

We also had the opportunity to taste the 2009 Riserva. Nicolo, the winemaker, described this one as “a man approaching 40” worth enjoying after 6-7 years.

David Beckham at The Queen's Young Leaders Awards

If Becks were Brunello, he’d be a 2009 Riserva

After some contemplation we decided the 2009 Riserva was the David Beckham of Brunello di Montalcino. He’s fine, but seems slightly less accessible than Grohl, Swift, or Gosling (maybe it’s the accent)?

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Brunello di Montalcino tasting at Le Chiuse

Noelle and I each ordered a case of wine from Le Chiuse after our tasting. Mine arrived the other day.


The Lineup at Le Chiuse

Now I need to figure out when Magic Mike XXL comes out on iTunes so I can open up a bottle of the Rosso and enjoy a movie night. Because some nights, you need a little Channing Tatum.

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The pool in the vineyard at Le Chiuse

Azienda Agrituristica “LE CHIUSE”
Via delle Fonti, Località Le Chiuse
58014 Manciano (GR)

Telefono +39 0564/625060
Fax +39 0564/620928
Cellulare +39 335/6920736


Le Chiuse’s US importer is:

307 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022

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In The Vineyard at Le Chiuse di Montalcino: a Photo Essay

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 Sangiovese grapes in the vineyard at Le Chiuse

The focus of my recent trip of Italy was exploring Tuscany while getting to know more about the 2010 Brunello di Montalcino “vintage of the century.” While editing my photos I realized I should devote a post to images of grapes and vineyards, separate from the one where I get to know the differences in my Brunello di Montacino vintages.

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Morning skies and tractor at Le Chiuse

Le Chiuse di Montalcino is a small wine producer in the north of Montalcino where Sangiovese Grosso grapes are grown on seven acres to make Brunello, Riserva, and Rosso di Montalcino wines.

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Lines of grapevines

Brunello di Montacino is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. What makes for a notable vintage? The weather during peak growing season has a major impact.

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These 100% Sangiovese grapes are future Brunello

2010’s growing season was marked by hot days and cool evenings– a winning combination if you’re a winemaker. Weather like that makes for a vintage that has both bright acidity and lush fruit forwardness. The 2010 Brunello di Montalcino is described as  “best of the new millennium,” a merit I am a tad dubious to declare after only a decade.


The Vineyard, pool and cypress trees at Le Chiuse di Montalcino

I came away from the trip with the feeling that you’re going to be hearing about the 2010 Brunello for a long time.

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Left: stairs to the cellar at Le Chiuse Right: Bucolic view overlooking the Le Chiuse Vineyard

While it’s been released, it’s not yet ready for prime time– the 2010 Brunello di Montacino is expected to be approachable “in a few years” and at peak during the next decade.


Otto, Le Chiuse’s resident vineyard dog

The setting of Le Chiuse is pure bucolic Tuscan dream. Even teetotalers would enjoy the gorgeous hillside scenery.


Otto, the vineyard dog GIF

Le Chiuse tastes as good as it looks. In my next post I’ll explain what I learned about 2010 and other Brunello di Montalcino vintages in their cellar.

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The picnic table at Le Chiuse di Montalcino 

Azienda Agrituristica “LE CHIUSE”
Via delle Fonti, Località Le Chiuse
58014 Manciano (GR)

Telefono +39 0564/625060
Fax +39 0564/620928
Cellulare +39 335/6920736

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Where To Eat in Chianti: La Cantinetta di Rignana

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The antipasto and Italian Rosé at La Catinetta di Rignana

Located about an hour’s drive outside of Florence, La Cantinetta di Rignana is the sort of place that inspires “I want to move to Tuscany” dreams. Arriving at this hard-to-find restaurant in the rolling hills of the Chianti region feels like being transported to the set of a Bertolucci movie.

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The Tuscan villa that houses La Cantinetta di Rignana Ristorante

Our driver had to call the restaurant twice for directions since the signage in Greve is a bit misleading. But the logistical stress dissolved the second I set eyes on the rustic chic villa that housed La Cantinetta. It’s just plain dreamy. But La Cantinetta di Rignana’s curb appeal is only one of it’s charms.

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Views of Chianti country at La Cantinetta di Rignana

The Tuscan fare is fit for foodies. For good reason, this  restaurant is popular with Italians and tourists alike. It’s got fantastic Tuscan farmhouse atmosphere, incredible views of the rolling hillside, and delicious food. Props to my foodie friend, Charlie, who arranged for our group to have lunch here. We were all seated at long rustic farm table when we started sipping the Italian Rose.


Views of Tuscany from La Cantinetta 

Charlie ordered for the table, and due to my position as a latecomer seated farthest from the kitchen I missed bruschetta course entirely. My fellow diners raved about it. But I never sweat skipping the bread in Italy. If I’m going for carbs, my preferred form is pasta.


In the kitchen at La Cantinetta di Rignana GIF

Next up was antipasto. While usually this course is not the most exciting, the perfectly ripe melon at La Cantinetta made the prosciutto & melon combo seriously next level. Paired with pink wine, I felt seriously relaxed for the first time on this trip.

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Perfectly ripe melon and prosciutto

Next came the pasta, which was sublime. Everything was served family style, and the fettuccine was served with a generous amount of truffles and sausage.


They do not skimp on the truffles at La Catinetta di Rignana

I was completely full after this course and had no idea that the the house speciality at La Cantinetta is the secondi: platters of grilled meat including chicken and pork ribs.


The cinghiale (wild boar sausage) was the standout dish

The platter of grilled Tuscan meats looked and smelled fantastic, and I made room for one delicious pork rib.

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Roast Tuscan meats were the secondo (second course)

The last course was the standout–cinghiale, wild boar sausage served grilled simply with herbs and lemon. I had one bite, and then found room for a few more. It was exceptional.


We washed it all down with a lot of Rosato (Rosé wine)

Rumor has it La Cantinetta di Rignana has fabulous desserts but we skipped the course entirely. I still feel I got the complete Tuscan Feast experience.

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The atmosphere at La Cantinetta di Rignana is stuff of Tuscan fantasies

La Cantinetta di Rignana is considered one of the best restaurants in Tuscany, so reservations are essential. Also allow extra time for getting lost in an attempt to find the restaurant. It’s all part of the experience.

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 A cozy seating nook at La Cantinetta di Rignana

La Cantinetta di Rignana made for a memorable meal that was well worth the effort to get here. It’s a great choice for a special occasions.

La Cantinetta di Rignana Ristorante

Loc. Rignana
50022 Greve in Chianti (Fi)
Tel. +39 055 852601 | +39 055 8560200 | +39 347 4534884

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Trattoria Sostanza: Where The Locals Eat in Florence, Italy

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The unassuming exterior of Trattoria Sostanza in Florence

One of the most memorable meals I had on my most recent trip to Florence was chicken. Chicken is hardly ever memorable, but the Butter Chicken at Trattoria Sostanza is exceptional. If you don’t believe me, just read Rob Lowe’s endorsement of it on the photo on the wall.

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Butter chicken sizzling in the kitchen at Trattoria Sostanza

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More butter, this time on the homemade tortellini

My friend, Charlie, discovered Tratttoria Sostanza asked he asked someone what they would pick for their last meal and was told, “I’d go to Trattoria Sostanza in Florence and get the veal chop.” So Charlie went to Trattoria Sostanza and ordered the veal chop and some other of the house specialties, including the homemade tortellini and the Butter Chicken (petti di pollo al burro).

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Trattoria Sostanza’s perfectly browned butter chicken at the table

“How do you tell someone that their pick for their last meal is wrong? The veal chop was delicious but, dude, the Butter Chicken is so much more memorable,” Charlie told me before taking me to dinner at the so-charmless-it’s-charming trattoria favored by locals.

The chicken arrived at the table still sizzling

I love a good hole in the wall and Trattoria Sostanza fits the bill, with walls plastered with white subway tiles and decorated with random photos (Neil Patrick Harris, Machu Picchu, Rob Lowe). Trattoria Sostanza isn’t about atmosphere, it’s all about the food. That’s why it’s packed. It’s totally Italian and slightly loud. And they have perhaps the best chicken in all of Italy, if not the world.

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Rob Lowe speaks the truth: Best Chicken in Italy

I have no idea what era Rob Lowe this headshot is from. West Wing, maybe? The guy is Hollywood’s Dorian Gray. This also makes me wonder if celebrities travel with a bunch of headshots on them?

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Random photo of Machu Picchu added to the charm of this restaurant

Foodies visiting Florence will adore Trattoria Sostanza’s authentic charm and delicious food. It’s not the place for you if you insist on a fabulous view. But if you go you absolutely must try the Butter Chicken… even if your preference is for the veal chop. Meals are served family style so it’s easy to try a few different things.

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The unassuming door of Trattoria Sostanza

Trattoria Sostanza

Via del Porcellana, 25/R

50123 Firenze, Italy

Tel: +39 055 212691

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Rome’s Least Crowded Tourist Attraction: The Giardini Vaticani (The Vatican Gardens)


Some people call this “the Papal Gardens.” I like to think of it as “the Pope’s Versailles.”

I recently returned from a trip to Italy. Most of my time was spent exploring the wine regions of Tuscany, but I did end the trip with a two day stop in Rome. While I’ve been to Rome multiple times, this was the first time I visited the Giardini Vaticani, or the Pope’s Gardens. These gardens are also sometimes known as the Giardini Barberini.


A shady arbor of trees in the Giardini Barberini

The Giardini Vaticani have only been open to the public since March of 2014, when Pope Francis decided they should be open for tourists to enjoy. Fortunately my friend who arranged this trip insisted I go and bought me a ticket for guided tour and insisted I visit. The tour starts at the Villa Barberini.


A statue located in the Pope’s Gardens

It was worth it alone to explore the Castel Gandolfo area, located 24 kilometers southeast of Rome. This area was also new to me and rather beautiful. It felt like a bit of Italy’s Lake region right on the outskirts of Rome.

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A view of Lake Albano from Castel Gandolfo

The statues in the Giardini Vaticani aren’t as impressive as those at the Vatican, but the park is wonderfully devoid of the crowds of selfie-stick toting tourists. Not only are the Papal gardens uncrowded, but they are also underrated. The Vatican Gardens are still under-the-radar on the tourist circuit and well worth the price of admission.

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Left: Boy covered in Ivy Right: A statues on display in the Giardini Barberini

The Giardini Vaticani was by far the least crowded tourist destination I saw in Rome in August. Unfortunately, you can’t just show up. If you want to visit, be sure to book ahead using the Vatican’s online ticketing system.


A waterlily in a pond of the Giardini Vaticani

Reservations are available online for the 90 minute guided tour, which is given in either English or Italian (tours in French are also available by request). A guided tour is your only option, since you are not allowed to explore the Papal Gardens without a guide.

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Stairs and cypress trees at the Giardini Barberini (aka Giardini Vaticani)

Uncrowded + underrated= win!


Viewing one of the fabulous fountains on tour at the Giardini Vaticani

Some tours offer travel by scenic train to the Castel Gondolfo location of the Villa Barberini where the tour starts.

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Fountain and cypress trees at the Giardini Vaticani (Barberini Gardens)

The Castel Gandolfo area is also rather charming and worth exploring after you tour the gardens. It’s a great off-the-beaten path destination for sightseeing in Rome.


Impressive mazes in landscape at Giardini Vaticani

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A trio of cypress trees in the Vatican Gardens 

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You won’t get a picture of the Spanish Steps this empty in August

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Peek-a-boo view of the Giardini Barberini aka Giaradini Vaticani

Admission fee (tickets available online on Vatican Museums web-site)

Full € 16,00

Reduced € 8,00

Vatican Gardens – guided tour on foot (duration of the tour is approximately 90 minutes):

full € 32,00

reduced € 24,00

The ticket includes: admission to the Museums (without guided tour), guided tour of the Gardens and rental of headsets.

Open bus tour:

full € 36,00

reduced € 23,00

Purchase of guided tour includes the open bus visit to the Gardens and the multilingual audio guide, and a visit (without guided tour) of the Vatican Museums on the day of ticket issue.

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