Discovering dreamy Italian wines

I am well and truly ‘weddinged out’ at the moment. Having been to six wonderful weddings so far this year, I still having three more to go, all whilst planning my own wedding in June next year.

Oh who am I kidding? I secretly love weddings, especially when I get to go to the heart of Italy and drink wine from 9am until 5pm and eat practically an entire pig in the form of melt-in-the-mouth ham.

We were lucky enough to be invited to a small and completely stunning wedding in Umbria, an Instagrammable region of Italy north of Rome, where I smashed my way through countless plates of fresh pasta and glasses of sparkling wine (and the aforementioned pig, F-you clean eating brigade!)

As we were there anyway, we thought we’d make the most of the region’s amazing wineries, so we flew in early and went off on a classic Italian wine tour.

IMG_7064

Umbria boasts some of the world’s most delicious wines, but it’s largely been undiscovered because of its famous neighbour, Tuscany.  The region’s lesser-known wines include a deep red Sangrantino de Montefalco and white Grechetto (said with an unconvincing Italian twang).

I found them quite different to the usual New Zealand Sauvingon Blanc that I tend to drink in front of the television when it’s raining outside – they were delicious and unusual. What’s more, because they’re not so well known, they were a total bargain too.
IMG_7062

 

What did I actually learn while I was out there, I hear you ask? In my true style, I listened intently and then forgot everything almost immediately, hence why I’m writing this so I can remember some of the useful stuff I learnt while I was there.

1. You’ve got to get your shnozz right in there

You can’t get a proper shnifter unless you rest the rim of the glass above your upper lip and again on the bridge of your nose and…get your shnozz right in. Also, once you swirl the wine, the liquid releases more aromas, there’s a practical reason for the poncey swirling.

2. Wine tastes better when you eat delicious snacks 

Take a sip of the wine. Then eat this delicious cheese and then take another sip…it tastes subtler, smoother and altogether different to how it tasted before. Wine isn’t just for supping in front of Coronation Street on a Wednesday, it’s better to enjoy it with food.

3. It’s all subjective, it’s your experience

I’ve always nervously giggled my way through wine tastings, thinking I can just smell grapes and pretension while people are discussing the notes of peach melba and wood chippings they’re getting…but it turns out it’s all to do with your nose and your palate, and you can associate the wines with whatever you think it smells like. Yes! I can’t get it wrong.

4. Dessert wine isn’t completely rank

I have always hated dessert wine, thinking it’s far too sweet and pappy…but we tried eating some dark chocolate with high-cocoa percentage and then sipping on the dessert wine, and it was ludicrously tasty. At Christmas that stuff will be a hit with a chocolatey treat.

IMG_7058

5. Provenance isn’t everything

Some wines just have bloody good marketing campaigns behind them, and that is all that differentiates them from other seriously good wines from other regions. I think I’d open up to try different wines from regions I’ve never heard of before as a result of this trip, because you can discover some really delicious tipples that way.

IMG_6983You can buy these Umbrian wines in the UK, but I’m sceptical as to how they’d taste without the warm sun bouncing off a glittering swimming pool, the light sound of crickets in the background, and the added bonus of being served oaky pairing cheeses by a gracious Italian host.

We went tasting with Gusto Wine Tours who were excellent hosts, and were well informed about all things vino. Tours are a maximum of 160 Euro, with discounts for larger groups.

 

Advertisements

Travel: A Long Weekend In Champagne

This bank holiday I was lucky enough to be taken to Epernay in the Champagne region of France to celebrate my birthday, and I couldn’t recommend a short break there enough.

Tribaut View

If you’re looking for a relaxing and romantic weekend break somewhere only a short drive away from the UK, then Champagne is the one for you.

LeChevelie

Champagne House Tours

One of the best things about visiting Champagne, aside from coiffing endless amounts of fizz, was visiting the Champagne houses and learning about how it’s made.

Mumm bottles

There is a bit of a difference between the tours you can take at the big and small champagne houses. At G.H. Mumm (00 33 3 26 49 59 70; mumm.com) and Champagne De Castellane (00 33 3 26 51 19 19; http://www.castellane.com/en/) we joined formal and structured tours with a big group of around 20.

Champagne Gardet, a smaller house that supplies the likes of the House of Lords, Virgin Airways, and Marylebone Cricket Club (http://www.champagne-gardet.com) gave us a tour all on our own, which was really informative and gave a more detailed idea of how champagne is made, and then we had a private tasting in their beautiful gardens.

Champagne Garde Bottles3

All were equally as informative and impressive, and I’d definitely recommend going on at least two cellar tours if you’re really interested in finding out about the champagne-making process, and trying the different types the region has to offer. Cellar tours cost  around £10-20 for an hour-long tour of the cellars, factory, and a tasting at the end.

It’s also worth noting that if you go for a tasting and you plan to buy several bottles, you usually get tasting for free.

Tastings (or ‘dégustation’ en Francais)

We went to Hautvillers on my birthday and enjoyed a lovely tasting lunch and champs (obvs) at Au 36 (03 26 51 58 37; http://www.au36.net), which offers champagne tasting, food platters and a wide selection to buy from the local area on sale in their shop.

Hautviller Tasting

When we’d finished they booked us a cab for later in the afternoon (because our French is so embarrassingly terrible, and many people in the region don’t speak English, though all the tours we went on were in English, phew!) and we went for a lovely stroll around Hautvillers, which is home to several smaller champagne producers, including Champagne Tribaut (00 33 3 26 59 40 57; champagne.g.tribaut.com) which had the best view over the region. We sat in the sun for a hour enjoying a selection of drinks, while we looked over the miles of grapes.

View of the region

C-Comme (03 26 32 09 55; https://www.c-comme.fr/gb/) is a champagne bar in Epernay with a friendly and English-speaking bar tender who explained the different options of the tasting menus and made us feel very welcome.

Recommendations

Cellar tours and tastings

G.H. Mumm – Reims. An informative tour, a good history of the company and a great overview of how champagne is made.

Champagne Gardet – Chigny-les-Roses. Really lovely personal tour and a beautiful garden to enjoy the tasting experience in.

Champagne Tribaut – Hautvillers. Probably the best view over the region and some really tasty brut champagne.

Le Chevelie – Hautvilers. A nice small champagne house with a great view and a cute cat. 

Au 36 – Hautvillers. Situated on Rue Dom Perignon, and has a great selection of champagne, rose cakes (Champagne’s signature cake) and food

Champagne de Castellane – Epernay. Offers a tour, tasting and you can climb the 200-and-something steps to their tower that overlooks the region and gives great views on a clear day. 

Moët & Chandon – Epernay. Tour closed until October 2015, but there are places to buy and taste.

Food

La Cave – Epernay. Tasty, classic French food for affordable prices. Definitely recommend. 

La Grillande Gourmande – Epernay. The number one restaurant in Epernay, not horrifically expensive for what I’d guess is a hair’s breadth away from being a Michelin star restaurant.

Au 36 – Hautvillers. The place to go for a relaxing tasting experience, tasty aperitifs and a great shop.

Bottles4

I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to spend my birthday, than the region where 300 million bottles of champagne are produced a year. BUBBLES FOR EVERYONE.

Bubbles For Everyone