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Italy tour, day 3

Well hello there! It has come to my attention that I have been entirely remiss an not mentioned our tour coordinator. Doumina Whyman, The Enthusiastic Traveler, La regina d’il mio cuore (the queen of my heart), the entire reason we are here in Italy. How can I take it for granted that you all know about her? I talk about her so much in my life that I think I just overlooked mentioning this beautiful, amazing woman here on my blog. Well, that is ridiculous. I met Doumina (say: “Doo-mee-nuh”) over 6 years ago, glommed on to her arm and never let go. She created this tour for me and allows me to say it is mine. We love Doumina for cultivating the relationships that we have blossomed into our friendships in Italy. Today she took us to Avignonesi,

Today she arranged for us to visit the Avignonesi estate. I have been to this beautiful plae before, but it was 6 years ago and this visit, with this group, was even better. The estate is famous and I was surprised and excited to learn that they are becoming a ‘biodynamic’ winery. From Wikipedia: “As a practical method of farming, biodynamics embodies the ideal of ever-increasing ecological self-sufficiency just as with modern agro-ecology, but includes ethical-spiritual considerations. This type of viticulture views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system.

I find this exciting because Avignonesi is an important name in the wine world, and the fact that they are setting such a strong example in this area of viticulture could mean more attention is paid to the biodynamic style. This is beyond organic, more than paying attention to chemicals. It is an ancient practice that is new again, and if a large estate such as this can do it, certainly others can as well.

While they make many world-class wines here, the process of making Vin Santo, the Tuscan dessert wine, is the most interesting process to see. They dry the grapes, as in the beginning of making Amarone, but they take the sugars much further, and Avignonesi does it better than anyone else in the world. We tasted 5 of their wines after the tour (not the Vin Santo) and we ended in the gift shop where a few of us splurged on their special premium tasting. They had a deal on it for harvest season so we jumped on the chance to taste their very best wines, including the Vin Santo. It was a treat to taste these amazing wines, and when it came time to  sip the nectar of the Gods, it was everything we thought it could be, and more. They actually make 2 types of dessert wine, one is a red Vin Santo, with the sangiovesi grape, which no one else makes. The other is the regular white Vin Santo, though there is nothing ‘regular’ about it. They age their Vin Santo 10 years, taking it so far beyond what anyone else has attempted to do that it is not even in the same class. This is not a fortified wine, in fact it is only about 14.5% alcohol. It is a rich amber color, and it coats the glass like a grade A maple syrup would. The taste is multi-layered, and entirely unique. It is a dessert wine, but it stands on it’s own. It is the only wine that I have ever tasted that would not be enhanced by food. A 325 ml bottle of this wine (half bottle of wine) would set you back 210 euros. That would be close to $260. Dana got the red: Occhio di Pernice (say it: oak-yo dee pear-nee-chee) which is less expensive, at 180 euro for the 325 ml bottle. It was very fun to compare the two and experience these fantastic wines. I have never tasted such high end wines before and it is not likely that I will again, and it was definitely worth doing, especially being able to share it with the others in the group.

Fabio drove us back to the agriturismo and we enjoyed lunch together on the patio, because it has been absolutely gorgeous here. The mornings are cool and foggy, turning to delicious sun and blue skies by noon. The evenings are clear and cool, and at night it gets rather brisk, which is so perfect. We dine ‘al fresco’ as often as possible and whenever we have ‘alone time’ you can find almost all of us outside somewhere. We had a group cooking lesson later in the afternoon and we watched and assisted Benedetta in making our dinner: Crostini with sausage and pecorino cheese; Gnocchi with porcini sauce (I posted a picture of the gnocchi rolling on the cafe Facebook page); pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta, and topped with a sauce of tapenade and vin santo (NOT the Avignonesi!); and I don’t know what to call dessert so I will describe it: in a pretty glass we placed a piece of chocolate-chocolate chip sponge cake (the batter type, not the foam type), then drizzled a few spoons of sweetened espresso over it to soak. She then mixed her home made ricotta (sheep’s milk in this region) with fresh mascarpone, a few egg yolks, whipped cream, sugar and sambuca folding it all together to make a light and delicious cream. It was topped with crunchy bits of meringue and some cocoa powder. It was really delicious, and we think the best meal there so far, and I am sure that being able to help and watch the process made it even tastier. We shared the wine that Alessandro Bocci sent with us after  visiting Perazetta (thanks ‘Sandro!) and declared it another fabulous day in Italy.

Saturday we will head to Orvieto, a hill town in Umbria, to visit one of our wine makers and the beautiful church in the town. I hope you are enjoying something delicious today! I will try to take more pics with my tablet so I can post them on Facebook for you again.

Ciao for now!