Thursday, 21 June 2007

Sightseeing in Apulia

I Love Touring Italy - Western Apulia
By Levi Reiss

Apulia is the heel of the Italian boot. It is located in the southeast corner of Italy on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Apulia was frequently invaded by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Among its many rulers were the Byzantines, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Spaniards, and Turks. Its moment of greatest glory was in the Holy Roman Empire of the 13th Century, when majestic Romanesque cathedrals and palaces were built. This article presents the western and usually northern part of Apulia. A companion article presents the rest of the region.

Apulia’s administrative center is Bari, the biggest city in southern Italy, with a population of over 325 thousand. It is a major port that includes a modern city center, with its Piazza della Libertà (Freedom Plaza) and a città vecchia (old town) that is definitely worth seeing. Everywhere you turn you can see the Adriatic Sea. The pedestrian-only street Via Sparano is the site of evening strolls. The nearby Eleventh Century Bascilica di San Nicola is said to contain the remains of St. Nicholas, yes Santa Claus. According to legend local sailors stole his remains from Turkey. Funny, I always thought that Santa Claus… In any case, the Bascilica is the only building to have survived the sacking of the city by the Normans way back in 1152. Make sure to see the Cattedrale (Cathedral) built shortly afterwards. Nearby is the Castello Svevo which is undergoing restoration.

About 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Bari is the small port of Trani, which was the major Adriatic port during the Crusades. Santa Maria di Scolanova and Santa Anna are two standing medieval synagogues. The city contains several historic churches, a Swabian castle, and a Gothic Palace of the Doges of Venice, transformed into a seminary.

Of course you know that Italy is shaped like a boot. Did you know that its spur is Promontorio del Gargano (Gargano Promontory), a very popular destination for both Italian and foreign summer tourists. With a rough and ready landscape and curvy mountain roads make sure that you watch your driving, even more so than in most of Italy.

The area’s major center near the tip of the spur is the whitewashed town of Vieste known for its castle. Take a ferry from Vieste to the nearby archipelago Isole Tremiti. A word of warning before you go, the name Tremiti is associated with the word tremor. There have been earthquakes. Some of the islands are uninhabited and one of them has the interesting habit of being covered by waves. But the view is spectacular. Perhaps it was a consolation to the political prisoners exiled by Benito Mussolini during his reign.

Don’t miss the Foresta Umbra (Shady Forest) which encompasses over sixty thousand acres, hundreds of animal species and two thousand plant species including beech, maple, oak, and sycamore trees that one would expect in northern climes. How do they do it? The forest is 3,200 feet above sea level?

Monte Sant’Angelo has been a major destination for pilgrims over the last fifteen hundred years. Among them were St. Francis of Assisi and Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. You’ll want to see the Santuario di San Michele (Sanctuary of San Michele) and the Tomba di Rotari (Tomb of Rotari), a medieval baptistery. Other sights include the ruins of a Norman castle and the old city known as Rione Junno.

You might want to finish your tour of western Apulia with a visit to the famous Castel del Monte, a mysterious eight-sided castle built in the Thirteenth Century. Unlike most medieval castles, it lacks military structures. Perhaps it was a resting place for pilgrims seeking the Holy Grail. Or maybe…

What about food? Italy has a classification process for food, roughly similar to the wine classification. Among Apulia’s classified foods are Clementines, Olives, two Cheeses, and four Olive Oils. There are so many specialties that one of these days we will have to sit down and write one or several articles on the foods of Apulia. In the meantime let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
Start with Ciceri e tria (Chick Pea and Noodle Soup).
Then try Grata alla barese (Roasted Bream with Potatoes, Garlic, and Pecorino Cheese).
For dessert indulge yourself with Carteddate (Marsala, Honey, and Cinnamon Fried Pastry).

Let’s finish by taking a quick look at Apulian wine. Apulia ranks 2nd among the 20 Italian regions for both vineyard acreage and total wine production, about 7o% red or rosé (only a little rosé), leaving 30% for white. The region produces 25 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Less than 4% of Apulia wine carries the DOC designation. The best known local wine is Castel del Monte DOC, which is available overseas and is frankly not that great. If you’re in western Apulia you may want to try the Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera DOC because of its interesting name, which can be translated as ‘knock it back’. I am told that the name is quite appropriate. The word is that Moscato di Trani DOC is an excellent sweet white wine, but you may have to go to Apulia to get it. When you think about it that’s just one more reason to visit this sometimes overlooked region of Italy.

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His major wine website is http://www.theworldwidewine.com and his major article website is http://www.travelitalytravel.com .

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Sightseeing in Italy - the Vineyards

If you enjoy wine, why not combine a sightseeing tour of Italy with a visit to some vineyards?

Winemaking in Italy
by Andre Sanchez

It might come as a surprise to many that Italy produces more wine that any other country in the world. But not to the Italians. Winemaking in Italy is an art that is handed down from generation to generation and the climate and disparity of winegrowing regions is such that there is a greater variety of grapes and wine types than anywhere else in the world.

Everybody has heard of the well-known wines such as Chianti from Tuscany, Valpolicella and Soave, but what about the marvelous Rondinella, Malvasia and Sangiovese? These are marvelous wines, and the little known Malvasia is superb. There are more different types of vine grown in Italy than any other country, and Italy can truly be awarded the accolade of winegrowing country of the world. The French, Germans and all of the New World Australian and American wine producing areas pale into insignificance when compared to Italy. At least for volume.

The Italian vines are said to have brought by the Greeks. “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” is the saying, but if true then these gifts were welcome and did nothing but good. The success of Italian winegrowing is due to its geography and climate. The Apennines run right down the backbone of Italy, with beautiful hot Mediterranean conditions at the bottom ranging to more continental and then a fairly cold climate towards the Alps.

This geography provides every type of climate possible for growing grapes, and the cold loving vines and those larger and juicier grapes that prefer more heat are all well catered for. It never gets too dry, and never gets too wet. Were you to personally design a country and climate ideal for growing just about every variety of grapes, you would end up with Italy.

Winemaking in Italy is therefore a joy. The vines grow themselves, and all you have to do to make wine is to extract the juice. Perhaps a bit more, but not a lot! In spite of these benefits, Italians tend not to go for sweet wines, but instead prefer those with lots of body and high in tannin and acidity. Color is an important factor, and there are many more reds than whites in Italy, though few dry whites can beat a beautiful crisp Frascati from Latium, close to Rome.

Italy has 20 geographical regions, and every one of them produces wine. However, the Italian wines have never achieved the heights of the best French reds and German whites. The country appears to provide a bit of both but even so, has its adherents who prefer a good Italian wine to any expensive French chateau.

The Northeast areas of Italy have a greater technological approach to winemaking than the rest of the country, and the major customers for this area of Italy are the Germans, Swiss and French, as would be expected from its geographical location. This is where most of the DOC (Denominazione Di Origine Controllata) wines are produced. This is the Italian equivalent of the Apellation Controlee of France.

Valpolicella, Soave, and Bardolino are the best known from this area, where quality is regarded as being more important than quantity, and prices can tend to be high, at least for the better vintages. The Vinitaly wine fair of Verona with over 4000 exhibitors is something no wine lover should miss, and it is held every spring. Make sure that you visit it at least once in your life.

Freisa, the sparking Asti Spumante and the wonderful Nebiollo from which the beautiful Barolo and Barnbaresco wines are made all originate from the Piedmont and Liguria areas of Italy and the Valle d’Aosta vines display the French influence in their names such as Petit Rouge and Blanc de Valdigne.

It is beyond the scope of this article to cover every region in Italy, but it must be said that the microclimates of the regions around the Alps are perfect for wine growing. Until fairly recently it was the practice of Italian winegrowers to produce quantity at the expense of quality, but this has changed recently, with many wines being produced for laying down rather than immediate drinking, and the quality of the aging Italian wines is definitely improving.

A word to the wise about Super Tuscan wines. If you come across that term, it refers to a Tuscan wine that has not conformed to the traditional grape blending rules of the region. Chianti Classico wines, for example, must include the Sangievese grape as the dominant ingredient, but Super Tuscans can use Cabernet Sauvignon instead. This makes them ineligible for the DOC classification. They previously had to be termed vino de tavola, or ‘table wine’ because of this, even though they could be superb wines.

So do not be fooled by the term. Super Tuscans can be very good, but if you prefer the traditional Sangiovese grape in your Chianti Classico blend, avoid it.

This is just a simple example of how Italian wines are of such a great variety, and if you are looking for something different, then have a look through the Italian section of your favorite wine merchant.

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