Vin Santo is Tuscany in a glass and reflects Tuscan life at its best; life that is meant to be savored not saved and lived to the fullest. Because of its name Vin Santo (wine of the saints) was thought to have originated as a sacramental wine. However there are other accounts that link the name to historical references that are less ecclesiastical. There are 2 types of this rich, amber colored medium sweet to medium dry wine typically enjoyed as a dessert wine at the end of a proper Italian meal. One is made entirely from white grapes (Malvasia or Trebbiano) and one from red varieties (Sangiovese, Canaiolo , Malvasia Nero). The latter is known as Occhio di Pernice because of a shading of redness reminiscent of the “eye of a partridge” for which it is named.
The fermenting of Vin Santo can be described as nothing short of meditative. Grapes are hung to dry in vinsantaie, a large ventilated room with many windows. The windows in the room are opened and closed to control the flow of air. Here the grapes are subjected to seasonal temperature changes which create a unique taste and texture to the wine with hints of raisins, dried fruit and the bouquet of Tuscany.
from Seeing and Savoring Italy – A Taste and Travel Journey through Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria
I love the way Italians cook and I love the way they describe how to make a dish, in Italian that is. We only see the Americanized version of an Italian recipe translated to fit into English grammar and the way we speak. But if you look at an Italian recipe and literally translate it you find that the recipe becomes a lyrical description that borders on the poetic where wine fades rather than evaporating and tomatoes whither rather than cook down.
Here are some other examples of recipe writing Italian style. “Form a beautiful homogenous mass”, meaning to mix. “Bathe with a little latte”, meaning to brush the edges with milk. “Sugar to veil”, meaning a dusting of sugar. When instructions for combining ingredients are so eloquently written it is no wonder that Italian cooks are able to produce such works of art.
When making meatballs I always follow the advice of mia nonna. Never crowd your meatballs. Brown in a good olive oil and leave a space between your meatballs when browning and don’t touch them until you see the oil turn a beautiful, burnished golden color.
You can probably apply that to life as well. Don’t crowd and clutter and take on more than you can comfortably manage. Surround yourself with simple things that promote your well-being. Don’t manipulate too much and in the end turn a beautiful, burnished gold.
Merchants, nobles, artists and the glitterati of Venice have been sitting at the tables of the Cafe’ Florian on Piazza San Marco in Venice to see and to be seen since Italy’s oldest café opened its doors in 1720. Café Florian was the only establishment to welcome female guests and would certainly have been a favorite with the infamous Venetian, Giacomo Casanova. The ornate salons with glided mirrors and frescoed ceilings were the setting for many a dangerous liaison. Casanova, never to be deprived of a good espresso, was said to have made a quick stop here on his way to Paris upon escaping from the Doge’s Palace prison in November of 1756.
Some might say that the best thing about traveling in Italy is the wine and espresso. So I was intrigued when I read about a wine that tastes like coffee. Nottola Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been described as having notes of “cherry that gets support from coffee grounds and herbs”. According to the Canadian Globe and Mail’s weird and wonderful wine notes, Nottola Vino Nobile is one of several coffee like wines including one from Spain that evoked an espresso spiked with cherry liqueur and a wine from France with a “cappuccino finish so pronounced the wine could be served out of a cup in a Milanese coffee bar”.
A few years ago I took a barista training class for espresso enthusiasts at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee Roasting Works on West Fulton. The 3 hour class went over the basics of espresso preparation, milk steaming and latte art (yes I did learn to make the little swiggle on the top of a cappuccino!). It was a great experience. I learned a lot about the art and science of espresso roasting and pulling the perfect shot. I also got a new appreciation for the professional barista and a Black Cat espresso buzz that lasted the rest of the afternoon.
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If you are eating in a restaurant in Italy and see il consiglio dello chef on il menu, consider ordering it. The dish is the chef’s choice and will often be a regional specialty. In Italian il consiglio dello chef means on the advice of the chef, a tip from the chef as it were and if I were you I would take it.