Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Category: Wine (page 2 of 2)

July 1, 2014 Remarkable Meetings

From my table at a café in Matera I look out at the following.


  A consistent round of church bells mark the hours. Sweet tweets and willowy songs of birds recently flown in from Africa fill spaces between bell rounds. An occasional map poring tourist seeking transport passes by. Sitting here in Matera I am reflecting on Sardegna,  somewhat torn between whether I should record facts or simply communicate experiences. Perhaps a bit of both.


Going to Sardegna as I alluded earlier is like dropping off the planet and falling into a quiet place where the living is slow, the quality of food impeccable and life is about connection with family and friends, all marked by the rhythmic kneeling to the gods of the seasons and the Deity. Sardegna, when I think of you it is not your turquoise beaches that come to mind although I have rarely seen more beautiful. Nor the nuraghis whose presence is a reminder of time before recorded time.  I think of the people we met as we made our way along the wine route that our friend Tim Robertson of Robertson’s Wine Tours set up. Our meetings with winemakers were remarkable.


We began in the southwest where we stayed on Sant’Antioco, then up the central west coast to Cabras on the Gulf of Oristano. From Cabras we had a stay in the Catalan area of Alghero, then a trip to the east coast city of Orosei.  Finally, we returned south to Calgliari, the capital of Sardegna. Along the way I learned more about the grapes of Sardegna, the winemaking process and of course the end result.


Guiseppe’s Sedilesu’s story from orphan at nine to overseer of one of Sardegna’s most prestigious cantinas is a case in point. Guiseppe went to work in a sawmill. As he grew up he recognized that having wine at the table for dinner carried a certain dignity. By the time he had his own family he decided to provide wine for his family meals. Taking some of his hard earned money he began to rent vines. We would call this sharecropping. Eventually, Guiseppe was able to purchase a hectar and grow his own vines. As they grew up his children helped him with the small vineyard. Along the way he acquired more hectars and honed his winemaking skills all the while focusing on cannonau for which Sardegna is famous. The children acquired the same skills.




Guiseppi, his wife, children and their families


In Sardegna family is the base and core of everyday life. Along with cannonau, family connection is given as the reason for the longevity, centenarians are quite common, of so many of Sardegna’s citizens. When Guiseppe reached an age where he knew it was time to consider retirement he gathered his children and offered them a proposition. He could divide up the vineyard into parcels for each and himself, or the siblings could band together to develop their cantina and the quality of the wine. They chose the latter.


Mamoiada is famous for its mask festival, but as one writer said, “there is nothing strange about the wines of the Sedilesu family, a new star of Sardinia’s wine scene. This clan, under Giuseppe, the elderly patriarch, has moved with the times, to produce organic and biodynamic wines. The result is intense, complex vintages…”


IMG_4974   Salvatore and Emilio handle public relations and hospitality. Francesco not available  for the photo is the oenologist.


IMG_4910   Mario of Travel Motus accompanied our tour of the cantina.


IMG_4942   Cement tanks






IMG_4948   Row upon row of tightly stacked bottles of aging wine extends back for several meters.



The Sedilesus set up impromptu tables in the storage room and surprised us with a feast of the typical foods of the region.








IMG_4967   The dish on the far left is brain. I thought I was eating fried zucchini!



IMG_4955  Nine bottles–all cannonau representing different vineyards and qualities. One white called granazza is a mystery grape as of yet unidentified.



Gabbas from Nuoro who focuses on canonnau is attorney turned winemaker. He, too, purchased a vineyard, worked it on days off until he decided to devote himself full-time to working with the grape. His wine has received three glasses six years in a row from Gambero Rosso, (means red prawn and comes from a tavern in Pinocchio where the cat and the fox dined) a guide started in 1987 and comparable to an Italian Michelin Guide for wine. Francesco, Guiseppe’s nephew gave up architecture to join full-time in the family business. Today they produce some of the finest on Sardegna   We  piled us into Guiseppe’s Range Rover  to be taken on a hair-raising ride up and down the slopes of the vineyard.



IMG_4830    Guiseppe at the wheel



IMG_4829     Far above the cantina.












IMG_4836    Queens Lace borders the vineyard.



IMG_4839   Gabbas wines enroute to the US.


IMG_4848    From the tasting room.







June 24, 2014 Getting Acquainted

It is said that the Renaissance bypassed Sardenia, but surely not the twenty first century. I expected dirt roads, villages of battered huts and people in tattered clothing. To my chagrin, I had taken on a view leftover from the days following World War II. Homes and buildings look spanking new, just painted. So far the roads are very good, the driving easy. So far the food as I expected is simple with depth to the flavors. The people could not be more gracious and hospitable.


After flying into Caglieri, the capitol we drove toward Sant Antioco. An island on the south western corner of Sardenia, it is connected to the mainland by a bridge. I’ve heard it said that Sant Antioco is the least developed part of Sardenia. The only indication I have seen so far are some gravel roads off the main. Friendly people.


We arrived at Luci Faro our hotel about 5 pm. Named after an old lighthouse we could see it from our balcony.








After a dinner not worthy of mention and our first overnight,  we were scheduled to tour 6 Mura a cantina in the small town of Giba. It would take less than an hour to get to Giba from hotel to cantina according to Google Girl, but we headed out an hour and a half early in case we got lost. Driving in we rarely saw any signage. We were driving south on the eastern tip of the island.


An hour later Google Girl told us we had arrived. Huh? We had to be in view of 6 Mura, but no Mura to be seen. We called Andres the winemaker and he gave us specific directions. He instructed us to move down the road and turn right at the red house. With noo red house in sight we called him again. This time he sent Giancarlo to rescue us at a nearby gas station. It turned that the red house out was a small red brick attachment to an industrial business next door winery and both within thirty seconds of our viewing point.


Andres was supposed to meet us at the cantina, but when we arrived he called us on his cell and said he had to be in the field. As we had come from California, he apologized, but had to be in the field. He told us that he had asked his assistant to call us the day before and ask us to come then when he was free–we were on the plane from Rome to Sardinia, and apologized that we had not gotten the message. In any case he instructed Giancarlo to give us a tasting. Between my Spanish similar to Italian, my partner’s growing skill with Italian and our Google language app we managed to have a great time with Giancarlo. No tour guides, no winemaker, just Giancarlo and the two of us enjoying simple, limited bantering and good wine. I questioned Giancarlo about his responsibility at the cantina. He simply answered, “it’s drinking wine.”






Hand labeling at 6 Mura.







Tasting from the barrel.





Giancarlo and….





6 Mura is available for purchase in the US. More about the varietals and tasting in a later blog. Carignano got three glasses from Gambero Rosso for 2013 – carignano del sulcis (the specific source of the carignano).


Giancarlo told us that Rosella’s in the Locanda Hotel had the best restaurant in town. An hour and amazing lunch of traditional ricotta ravioli in brodo later, we agreed.












On the way back to Luci Faro we stopped to take a look at a local cemetery.





















The weather had cooled a bit by the time we got back to the hotel, but still nice enough for a walk along the rocky coast line. We hustled down a gravel road through the fields beyond the hotel.  Rows of crab-apple topped nopales lined up and stretched across the fields like soldiers. Old and gnarled cactus plants surely they serve as representatives of the ancient ones of Sant Antioco.






We continued over on to the cliffs along the coastline.












On our return to the hotel we noticed a newly planted pine forest.






Dinner on the second night much better than the tough faro on the first. The large bicycle touring that was here on the first night has left and there is far less noise.

Ending the day, not so much eventful but still interesting, I cannot help but reflect that Sardenia has such a tranquil energy. A soft quiet underlies the call of birds in the morning, the singing of frogs at night and church bells at the top of the hour. Silent mountains rise to meet luminous skies. Turquoise waters lap the shores. Space and silence everywhere much like the California I knew as a child when unbounded space flowed freely. Freeways, the one or two that existed were not crowded; roads were open and easy. Likewise, in Sardinia driving is not rushed or hectic. Pedestrians cross the streets any and everywhere, bicycling is ubiquitous.

Life is casual. I am getting oriented.

April 24, 2014 Holy Day in the City


A friend wrote and asked if I was going to maintain silence from noon to three on Good Friday.

“Sort of,” I responded.

At the peak of the three hours I would be on a plane from the OC to San Francisco, reflecting on the twists and turns of life as I frequently do on short flights. As it turned out my participation in the rituals of the three-day tridium preceding Easter gone down the tube of ancient history barely crossed my mind on the flight itself.

Nor were signs of such as evident when I arrived at the city by the bay. The presence of the bunny, decorated eggs, chocolates, pastries and colorful bonnets illustrated the mind of the general public on the hallowed holiday. While a well-filled Easter basket failed to show up at my hotel door, I was not bereft. In fact, during the two days in SF my transcendental basket ranneth over with grace lingering from the love ritual celebrated on Maundy Thursday.

Originally, we decided to go to the “city,” because the Harbor View, a Klimpton Hotel, offered a special. The special was so good it made the two nights special, but I am hesitant to return to the HV. Clean, well-appointed, friendly staff were all in place, and a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge, but when I wanted cozy chairs that provide a place where I could put up my feet and get on my computer; there were none to be found. With coffee available only in the lobby, my poor partner had to make a run first thing out of bed! To make matters worse no croissants, cronuts or juice were available. Cellophane wrapped, overly sweet Danish would have served.


On this Holy Sunday we chose to create a silvery side to the lining.  Rather than ordering breakfast up from a local eatery we decided to do a bakery crawl. This was a new one for me; with my kapha body (a Sanskrit word for one of the three Vedic body types) I generally do not indulge in flour carbs.

We exited the hotel to a gorgeous day. At the end of a hilly street sidelined by skyscrapers, we witnessed peeks of sparkling azure water canopied by columnar slices of glistening bridges. The Sun had risen and the beauty it showered was enough to resurrect a tingling joy through out my body.

I carried a list of bakeries I procured from Twentieth Century Café, our first stop, slightly obscured behind non-descript windows and a bit down the street from the heart of Hayes Valley, was every bit twentieth century. The wait people mainly women decked in clothes of the forties and makeup finished off with bright orange and red lipsticks greeted us with large smiles. An assortment of goods, Meyer lemon buchty, cherry rhubarb strudel and sacher torte tempted us from the glass box counter, but we opted for the pink, marshmallow bunnies. Not as a breakfast food, but as a dessert we would take to the dinner to which we had been invited later in the day.

We saved our appetites for the next stop: Sweetmue a new bakery, with Mue (pronounced mew) herself as our hostess. The goods on Mue straight from her website describe how Sweetmue evolved.

“after 10+ years in finance in sf, nyc and then houston, muller decided it was time to move back to the bay area and spend a year doing anything except excel spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations. After a few weeks of winter in Europe, it didn’t take much for her sister to convince Mueller to head back to nyc in the spring and attend the pastry course she always wanted, but never had time to. within the first two classes it was pretty clear that finance was going to be a thing of the past. So after a few months of internship in the east bay and a month-long trip all over asia, the idea for sweetmue was born.

Excel spreadsheets remain a big part of muller’s life. but they are now used for planning and recipe for her little baker in an awesome sf neighbor where muller can share her lifelong love affair for anything sweet!”


Sweetmue was meant to be a ten minute stop, we had miles and a whole list of bakers to visit before we slept, but with the sweetness of Mue in addition to that of her pastries, we dawdled for two hours tasting, conversing (Mue shared a few baking secrets), and when other customers crossed the threshold, engaging.


Finally, happily satisfied and with bags of black sesame and green tea macaroons for more dinner dessert, we left for the next stop.

Mue had recommended b Patesserie. Who was I to argue with one of the new pastry marvels of SF? She warned us that the line at b would be down the street and around the corner. It was not, probably because we arrived about 2 on Easter Sunday.


“Two things you must have,” she advised. “The chocolate chip cookie and the Kouign Amann.”


The latter is a combination croissant and brioche for which b has become famous. We had two of those, a rather late lunch we rationalized, then purchased a bag of peanut butter macaroons and chocolate chip cookies to also take to dinner. The cc cookies were great, but how many chocolate chips can you eat in a lifetime? The peanut butters would be a hit at the dinner party, but Mue’s black sesame subtle as they were would provide the ectasy needed to complete such a blessed day.

Biondivino (don’t you love that name?) is one of the finest, mainly Italian wine shops I have come across, at least in this lifetime. Ceri Smith owner, and also Wine Director for Tosca Cafe was recently named SF Sommelier of the Year by Food and Wine Magazine.



When Ceri and I met to describe the connection we felt she exclaimed, “we were separated at birth.” I was duly complemented as I had arrived at least acouple decades before she. Ceri had invited us to Easter dinner in the shop. She told us she would do most of the cooking with a little potluck to finish it off. I think of Ceri as an Italian wine specialist par excellence, but after experiencing her cooking, I know that she holds in own in this arena as well!


At day’s end, a long one, I counted my proverbial blessings: morning meditation at the bay, beautiful city, sunny weather, divine sweets from some of the finest pastry chefs in the country, an intimate dinner with great minds, rare wines and food, my basket overfloweth!

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