Sunday, April 21, 2013

My First Wine Tour, Ever!

I took my first wine tour this weekend and really enjoyed the opportunity to see the wine production process up close. We visited a few places but only one winery provided a tour.  The first winery was filling 'jugs' of wine like we fill cars with petrol.   I have never seen this before but it seems to be typical in Italy.  Something we should consider adopting in the US.
Five liters  of wine cost 5.50 euro or around $7.  That is amazingly affordable, especially when you consider the quality of most of these jugs of wine is better than anything you can find at Safeway!
 Moving on, our tour was at a winery along the Adriatic Sea called Tormaresca, south of Brindisi.
 This winery had a few vineyards around Italy, but locally they had 5 hectare of land.  Being a non-farmer I had no idea what that meant, but it turns out that 5 hectare is about 2 square miles.
 The vineyard boss was in the SUV in front of our car, along our drive through the farm the boss stopped for a few minutes to talk to the workers. We passed them during what I think was their break time.
 Back at the main office you can see how grapes become wine.  Making wine is similar to making beer or sake.  It starts by fermentation and ends with bottling.
 This is the cellar.  Each barrel is 50 gallons of wine, this room, about the size of a basketball court, was filled to the ceiling!
 The smell of this room was amazing, a mix of fruit, oak and fermentation.
 Our tour guide was great, she toured us through the winery before explaining how each wine they made was great.  And she was right, each wine we tried was better than the previous wine.  She started with a 7 euro bottle of wine and ended with a 20 euro bottle of tine.
 I learned that during a wine tasting tour, you take a sip of wine and than pour the remaining wine in the black bucket on the table.  This blew my mind!  Kind of like, okay, please enjoy the best sip of wine you ever had and dump the rest out.  This did not seem logical or ECO to me.
 We were not crazy though, we 'revisited' most of the bottles.
 After tasting you have the opportunity to visit the show room.  You can purchase what you just tasted and other wines too.
 Because I don't have an apartment yet, I limited my buy to just these two small bottles.  I also got that purple book, it's a wine-map of Italy.
 Others on the tour got many more bottles than me.
 After the tour we had a great lunch in Grottalie, good food and of course more wine!
Most winery's in Italy provide tours, I hope to visit more shops.


Brindisi is a port city on the Adriatic Sea side of the heal of Italy.  I took a train from Taranto and visit Brindisi for a few hours, this is one of the places I'm thinking about moving too.
 I made the error of coming here during the mid-day when most stores are closed and everyone seems to not be outside.
 Brindisi is a fairly major port, from here you can visit other countries.  Many boats run over night trips to counties on the other side of the Adriatic Sea.  I'm not sure if these trips are expensive or not, but it sounds like fun.
 Other than the passenger boats, the port near the city is mostly fishing boats with a couple of Italian Navy ships.  Freight ships are at a port far from the city center.
The small fishing boats seem like they would be fun to cruse around in.  It's difficult to see but there is a small prop out the back end of the boat.  At first I thought they were 'paddle' style boats.
 Graffiti everywhere!
 It's so weird, but it seems like from 1pm till about 3:30 or 4pm there is almost no one walking around.  Cities seem abandoned.
I guess I should also note that most people consider fish from the Brindisi side of the boot to be more safe to eat than fish from the Taranto side.  Taranto is known as a steel mill town and many of the chemicals have washed (or been pumped) into the sea.  Many people have concerns about mercury and other toxins being present in the fish from that side.  After learning this I kind of avoided fish from Taranto.  But I look forward to fish from this side, because I'm sure toxins, water and fish can't flow or swim around the heel over to here!

Taranto Castle

One of the first tourist things I did in Taranto was visit the Castle.  Italy is kind of like Japan in that most of the cities have an old castle.  Looking at the map below, I moved to a hotel in the upper left corner and the castle is the orange area in the lower right.
 You can walk around the outer permitter of the island or take the maze through the center.  I picked the maze, this area is called old-town.
 The castle is not huge but it is old and imposing.
 Under the castle are a bunch of paths, some even lead under the river between the old town island and the mainland.  But that path is closed to the public, I think it's flooded.
 The tour guide was funny.  He is the person looking forward with the tie and blue shirt.  He would talk about something in Italian for like 5 minutes.  Then he would pause for a few second and look at us (us = the few foreign people) and say something like "to my English speaking friends, this is an old door way.  Dates back to the 12th century and was re-modled in the 1600's.  Okay, moving on..."
 Standard issue cannon, looking out over the Mediterranean.
 After the tour was over I ventured back into the maze of old-town.
 In the center of old town is the Cattedrale of Saint Cataldo.  It's a cool old church.

Renault Koleos

My first rental car in Italy was a Renault Koleos.
 The Koleos is the large black SUV next to the little red car.  I'm not really enjoying this car, it's a little-to-large for many of the diving situations in Southern Italy.  It also has a soft suspension, dives like a Lincoln Town Car.
Eventually I will get a lease car, but till then I will keep renting cars.  I hope to get something smaller and more sporty next. Not quite as small as the red car though.  Ironically, the Koleos is an imported car to the EU.  I think final assembly of this vehicle was in Busan, South Korea, but it might have been made in the Russian Federation. 

First Few Hours in Taranto

About 3 weeks ago I landed Sunday afternoon at the southern Italy airport of Bari and drove about a hour south-west to Taranto.  The first hotel I stayed at was the Acor Mercure Defino, located in the newer area of Taranto. You can see the view from my rooms 5th floor balcony, looking north west.
The Defino is okay, but the rooms are kind of old, dirty and the showers are not much wider than my shoulders.  I ended up staying here about a week.
 About a hour after checking in, my goal was to find something for dinner.  This was surprizingly difficult, most restaurants were closed late Sunday afternoon.  One of the first places I found was Sosushi, but it was closed.  At first I thought this name was a typo, 'soshi', but when I looked again I saw the 'su' between so and sushi. They have a menu taped to window, I was able to confirm sushi is expansive in Taranto.
 My next move through Taranto was a walk along the 'Gulf of Taranto' under a tree covered sidewalk.  Keep in mind, I have no idea where I'm going. The hotel did not real have a food map or 'where to go' information.
 It quickly became obvious that I was not about to find differ along the gulf, so I turned right and stated to walk into the city.  After a few blocks of walking past closed store fronts I found the main walking area of Taranto, it's kind of like an outdoor mall.
 But even this area was mostly closed, but it was more fun walking around here than it was walking in other areas of the city.  This area is really for people to enjoy, no cars allowed (except at crossroads).
 Without even knowing it, I walked up on the Piazza Maria Immacolata!  Again, everything closed.
 A few blocks past the Piazza I looked left and found the open Pizzeria, Pizzeria Quick Time Paninoteca.  This place was great, the owner was a very patient person.  I did not really know how to oder so I asked for 'pizza?'  He looked at me and responded 'cheese, pepperoni?'  I said, 'yeah sure.'  And than he looked at me again and said 'beer, big beer?'   Again, I nodded my head and confirmed he knew exactly what I was looking for.
 My first pizza in Italy was very good, if you are ever in Taranto I recommend looking for Quick Time Pizza.
I started looking for dinner around 5pm and finished dinner around 8pm, I thought that was a long time.