Bubbles of happiness

On a beautiful (and hot!) weekend of July, G and I decided to tour wineries in Franciacorta.
First, some background:

Franciacorta is an area between Iseo Lake and Brescia, and it's about an hour and a half from Milan. Its geography of hills was shaped by glacial action, making it ideal for winemaking.
Franciacorta vineyard
 The wine:
Franciacorta is a bubbly wine, made from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Blanc grapes. The minimum ripening period is 25 months from harvest , of which at least 18 months of slow fermentation in the bottle, in contact with yeast. 
Chardonnay grape
 Its perlage (the bubbles, that is) is fine and persistent, color is yellow like straw  with greenish reflexes; its smell has a distinctive smell of bread crust, accompanied by delicate hints of dried fruit (almonds, hazelnuts, figs) and spices (cloves); the flavor is pleasant and fresh.
According to its sugar content, there are different types of Franciacorta:
- Pas Dosè (or Dosage Zéro, or Nature): particularly dry but delicate and sharp. It contains no sugar (btw, the add of sugar is regulated by the law and it is a part of the process of making of these types of wine, like Champagne; this process is called Classic method).
- Extra Brut: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 6 grams/liter. It is a bit dry, and it's ideal as appetizer wine
- Brut: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 15 grams/liter. Dry, ideal to be paired with food (fish, risotto, white meat), please, do not pair with desserts.
- Extra Dry: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 20 grams/liter. Dry and delicate, ideal for quiches.
- Sec, Dry:  the quantity of sugar in it is up to 35 grams/liter. Dry, ideal with strong cheeses like gorgonzola or roquefort or with non-sweet desserts.
- Demisec: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 55 grams/liter: sweet, ideal for desserts.

 Other types of Franciacorta:
- Satèn:  It's made mainly with Chardonnay grapes (and Pinot Blanc), with a pressure of 4,5 atm or lower and the quantity of sugar must not be above 15 gram/liter (like Brut). 
- Rosé: white and red wines are vinified separately when making Franciacorta. The Pinot Noir grapes are fermented in contact with the skins for the time required to obtain a rosé or red base in order to give the wine a pale pink hue. It can be made according to all types of sugar content. The presence of Pinot Noir gives it the features to be paired with cold meats, vegetables, veal and lamb, snails. 
- Millesimato (Vintage): is a type of wine that requires a particularly careful choice of "origin" of the base wine, since it imposes the highest class, quality and taste. It is made from grapes harvested in both climatic conditions of the same, very favorable, harvest (at least 85%). It is produced with the aging for at least 37 months after the harvest, of which at least 30 of the second slow fermentation in the bottle with the yeast. The vintage has a personality and sense of taste which vary every year, because they reflect more than any other the climatic conditions and expressions of a specific quality of the grape harvest. It is perfect with any meal, with intense flavor and a light amber hue. Vintage on the label shall be marked as the year of harvest (the last two digits).

OK, now, back to where we were... 

So, on a Saturday morning we took the car, the "Bible" (the Italian Sommelier Association guide that contains the descriptions of the wines) and left for our first stop, Le Marchesine in Passirano, a family-run winery that follows the techniques of Champagne. 
Vineyard at Le Marchesine

We had our first taste of their Franciacorta at Vinitaly (the famous wine fair of Verona) in April, we had a glass of their award-winning Secolo Novo (Brut, 2005, aged 36 months) and fell in love with it. We had a guided tour of the cellar with the youngest heir who showed us the warehouse where they keep the bottles, the machinery (imported from France) that they use to turn the bottles and the process of bottling; he also explained their method of producing the wine, the types of wine, part from Franciacorta, that they produce, etc. We didn't taste the wine this time but left the place with some boxes...
wine cellar
After Le Marchesine we drove to Adro to Ricci Curbastro, a bigger family-owned winery, where we had a tour of their agriculture and wine museum by its owner, Gualberto Ricci Curbastro. It was very interesting to see the tools and machinery used in the old days in the countryside and the first wine machines. After that, his son Riccardo brought us to the cellar and showed us around after a very pleasant and interesting talk about his techniques, his research on yeasts and the latest on the EU laws regarding designations of origin (aoc's). Since 2008, the winery produces electricity through solar panels. Nowadays it is almost independent in terms of energy thanks to solar panels that can produce up to 20 kWh. We had our first glasses of Ricci Curbastro wines there: a Brut, a Satèn and a Rosé; my personal winner was the Rosé Brut: made of Pinot Noir (80%) and Chardonnay (20%), after a second fermentation, the bottles remain in the pile for at least two years. After disgorgement (that's the release of the yeast from the bottle) and the dosage (the addition of a little extra wine and liqueur d'expedition - the amount of sugar), the wine stays in the cellar for a few months. The total period of maturation is of at least 36 months. It's color is a pink salmon with persistent bubbles, fine and brilliant. The scent is of black cherries, wild berries and mountain herbs, scents of rose. Taste is fresh, fruity and fragrant, in one word: delicious!

After Ricci Curbastro we had a lunch break with homemade sandwiches and relax in our hotel; Iseo Lago, by Iseo Lake (obviously). It is a lovely place, wish we had spent more time there but duty called! (wine called, actually) Among all the facilities it has 2 swimming pools, a spa, 2 restaurants and it's next to a camping/sports complex that is directly in the lake. We had breakfast there the following morning and it was good (cold meats, sweets, cheeses, juices, etc.).
Iseo lake
After some relax we drove to Cologne to La Boscaiola, another relatively small family-run winery, this one is special because it is run by 2 women. We met Giuliana (one of them, very kind) who explained the story of the winery, founded by her father Nelson (doctor, former Alpine officer, Russian war veteran and writer) in their 1600's farmhouse. After the tour of the cellar we tasted some of their (very good) wines and left with a couple of boxes and the advise of an excellent restaurant for dinner.
sign at Giuliana's desk
We had dinner, following Giuliana's advise, at Trattoria Cacciatore in Sulzano (by the lake) where we had a delicious appetizer with fish from the lake, I had their specialty: tagliolini all'oca (handmade pasta with goose ragout) while G had the perch. The whole was paired to a delicious La Boscaiola's Brut. If you're ever in the area, don't miss it! (and book ahead, they're always full)
view from the restaurant
The following day, after a good breakfast in the hotel, we left for the wine shop in Erbusco, where we got a bottle of Uberti (don't remember which one but it was expensive). After that we went to Franciacorta Outlets to finish the weekend shopping!

Hope I didn't bore you too much!


Yellow Skagen

Skagen is a place that not many people know about but in my opinion a must see in Scandinavia. It is located in the tip of the northernmost part of Jutland, the Danish peninsula. On its north beach people can experience the beautiful landscape of waves from the Baltic Sea and from the North Sea clashing together and therefore changing the orientation of the tip (sometimes it's on the right, sometimes on the left).
Tourists in Skagen's tip
 Apart form being a touristic spot, Skagen is a fishermen town, very characteristic and live. It's beautiful houses are mostly colored yellow, in fact, in Denmark when one goes to get paint, among the palette of colors he'll find yellow skagen.
Yellow Skagen
If you talk about Skagen, you can't ignore the Skagen Painters. They were a group of artists who moved from the city to this quiet, beautiful area and started an artist colony in the late 19th century. Some of these artists were: Peder Severin and Marie Krøyer, Michael and Anna Ancher and Christian Krohg. They started a small museum in the dining room of the Brøndum’s Hotel in 1908 (they used to meet there, the hotel still exists). In 1919, the hotel donated its old garden to Skagens Museum, where it still stands after various renovations.
Me in Skagens Museum garden
 Today Skagens Museum has more than 1800 works of art at its disposal. Since I fell in love with the paintings of these artists, here are some of my favorites, the pictures were taken in 2008 during the SALON style exhibition:
Salon style exibition (photo from Skagens Museum website)

Summer evening at Skagen - P.S.Krøyer
Skagen's paintings
my favorite: Summer evening on Skagen's Southern Beach. P.S. Krøyer

Midsummer's Eve bonfire on Skagen's beach. - P.S.Krøyer

 The beauty of the paintings resides in the colors, especially the color of the sky which at this latitude has very special tones of blue, and the reproduction of everyday life scenes, like the wives of the two painters walking at the beach or the typical celebration of Sankt Hans Eve with the bonfire. 

If you are in the area, you might want to wander around North Jutland, not far from Skagen you can find Råbjerg Mile, the largest moving dune of Northern Europe, that makes you think for a moment that you are in the desert and not in Scandinavia.
Råbjerg Mile
 You mught want to stop by the Tilsandede Kirke (the Sand Church), a church located 4 km. south of Skagen, it is tall, white building at the top of a sand hill. But what is visible is only its bell tower. The rest of the church was buried by migrating sand dunes (like the ones in Råbjerg Mile) around the 1400s!
Den Tilsandede Kirke (photo from Wikipedia)
 Last time I was there we drove down to spend the night in Sæby, a small fishermen town south of Skagen 50 km. Henrik Ibsen (among other writers) lived here and here he found inspiration for one of his plays, maybe that's why they call it the "Poets Village".
us in Sæby
 The landscape is not so different from the Painters Village, Skagen: blue sky, yellow houses, people on bikes, etc. But the best place of Sæby , for us, is an excellent fish restaurant: Frank's Restaurant by the harbor. Their buffet is great! fresh fish, cooked different ways, soups, salads, etc. and the price is very good considering you're in Denmark and you're having fresh fish (lunch buffet 139 dkk, dinner buffet 199 dkk).

us after dinner at Frank's
Sæby evening

We stayed and Aahøj Hotel, a cozy bed and breakfast by the river, clean, reasonably priced and very quiet.

We loved our time in North Jutland! can't wait to go back!
Our version of "Summer evening on Skagen's Southern Beach"


Cruisin' the Caribbean

I was one of those who thought that cruises were for old people and I am a bit scared of boats so I had never considered cruising as something to do on holidays. That was until 2 years ago when some of my family members decided to spend Christmas on a cruise so I put aside my fear of boats and sailed happily with them. And I'm so glad I did it! Cruising is the perfect way to visit places you would have never gone to for a full holiday, plus you just jump on the ship and forget about everything: flight times, hotel reservations, etc. You just go to sleep and when you wake up you are in a different place!
I had been on 2 cruises now (a third one is coming next year, can't wait!) and they have both been with the same company, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) which offers a great concept called Freestyle: you are free to do whatever, whenever! So, no fixed lunch or dinner times, no long dresses and tuxedos for dinner (if you want you can dress up, but it's OK if you don't), various dinner options and great shows and music at different times of the day.
This year we tried their newest: Epic. I had read many reviews about it on Cruise Critic (that's the tripadvisor for cruisers), some good, some bad, they said it was a floating Las Vegas, too noisy, too big, etc. but others were enthusiastic so we gave it a shot. We had a great holiday! The ship is big, very big, but we never got lost, they have these touchscreens on each floor that help you get from one place to another by showing on a map the route to go. Never had problems with noise or anything else, we loved it and can't wait to sail again with them!
Here are some pictures:

The ship from a Mexican beach
Our cabin in deck 10 (BE category)

Inside the Epic
 We always choose balcony cabins because it's great to have a drink while watching the sea, and sometimes having a cup of coffee while arriving to a new port.
Apart from the main buffet and a couple of other restaurants with a good variety of food, the Epic has great dining options (at a small extra charge): Sushi, Asian, Teppanyaki, Brazilian churrascaria, Steakhouse, Italian, a 24-hour Pub (with bowling lanes!) and our favorite: the French Le Bistro.
 There's also a big gym in case you feel guilty about all the food you've been eating. And after that you can relax in the Spa with a sauna, a steam bath, jacuzzi or simply by laying on a heated lounger sipping a cup of tea and overlooking the sea (Spa has an extra charge, but worth it!).
some shows on board - BMG is the best!

 After dinner you can hit the theater and enjoy great shows or go dancing!

Amazing sunrise in the Caribbean
Another view of our cabin

Spice H2O, the perfect place to watch the games

The pool area was a bit noisy so we always went to Spice H2O, an adults only pool club. They have a couple of jacuzzis and a small pool, and you can watch games, concerts, etc.on the big screen! They also have drinks and snacks all day long.

Art on board (painting by Peter Max)
 And if you are in the mood to buy some art while on board, they even have art auctions!

Overall a great experience, good food, great places, nice ship, casino, relax, sun, what else do you need?!