Wine Buff’s Italy

Posted on: 9th May, 2016

Category: The Wine Buff

Contributor: Tony Eklof

Above: Pontormo’s Annunciation in Florence

Regular readers of this column will know that I have had a love affair with Italy, its history, art and wine. A bit of knowledge about the first two enhances an appreciation of the third. I first discovered Italy 20 years ago when on a work exchange in the beautiful former Lombard capital of Pavia and the stunning Certosa di Pavia, a glorious monastery just outside the city was the first great Italian work of art that I came across.

Between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Risorgimento leading to the fall of Rome on XX September 1870 and completing the unification of Italy, the country was deeply divided by European powers, France, Spain, and Austria, as well as a battleground between forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and those of the Pope.

Against this background, a number of city-states emerged, some like Venice creating empires of their own, and others, Florence, Mantova, Padova, becoming rich through trade and banking and giving rise to powerful ‘signori’ who became patrons of the arts. One of the greatest was Isabella d’Este who married the Duke of Mantua and was a patron to such greats as Leonardo, Bellini, Raphael and Titian. The peak of the High Renaissance, the so-called cinquecento occurred in the first decade of the 1500s when Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael were all at the height of their powers.

Some of my favourite places to experience the art of the Renaissance are Florence, Ferrara, (home of Isabella and a beautiful and underrated city) Padua, Verona and Mantua where Mantegna’s fresco of the Gonzaga family is one of the most stunning I have seen. Personally I prefer to visit churches which might just have a couple of masterpieces on view rather than great museums or galleries where one might experience the Stendhal effect named after the great 18th c French writer who experienced a panic attack at the sight of so much great art in Florence. For example one can walk in off the streets of Rome into the French Church and witness three great Caravaggio oil paintings, his St Mathew cycle, or visit the tiny Santa Felicita church in Florence to marval at Pontormo’s exquisite Annunciation.

Other favourite places I have visited in the past two decades are the Lakes, Stresa and Cannero on Maggiore, Bellagio on Como, and Salo and Torri del Benaco on Garda. Palladio’s Vicenza is beautiful as is Santa Margherita Liguria, and Bolzano and Brixen in the Dolomites.

My bucket list of spots I haven’t seen yet includes the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, Puglia with baroque Lecce, and Cremona, ‘the violin city’.

Italy’s provincial history is reflected in the great variety of fabulous wines, with the two most important growing areas of the former Savoy stronghold of Piedmont (the foot of the mountains) and Tuscany which gets its name from the Roman name for the Etruscans. (Incidentally it was the Romans who really popularised wine drinking in the Mediterranean area.)

In the Piedmont where Turin is an underrated destination with its beautiful Baroque piazzas and Alpine backdrop, Barolo and Barbaresco both made from the Nebbiolo grape rule supreme, but also noteworthy are Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba and a personal favourite, Dolcetto.

Tuscany is of course the home of Italy’s most famous wine, Chianti. If it is grown from Sangiovese grapes in the choice area of four villages, Radda, Greve, Gaeoli or Castellina, it can carry the name of Chianti Classico. So called Super Tuscan wines can be made from Cabernet Sauvignon and thus cannot be labelled as Chianti.

The Veneto produces Valpolicella, Bardolino and the more powerful Ripasso and Amarone wines. Other regions to look for up and coming and good value wine include the Marches, Apulia, Sicily, Sardinia and the Tyrol.

This had been a synopsis of a talk I gave on April 20 at the lovely Fernhill House Hotel. Many thanks to Niall at the hotel for being so helpful, to Mary and Sheila at the WCP for their support and sponsorship, to Linda for the nice Carbery cheese selection, and to Maebh, and to all who turned out on the soft April evening, particularly those who travelled all the way from Cooldurragha and from Inchigeelagh.

The wines of the night were:

Musella, Bianco del Drago, a lovely Chardonnay based white from the shores of Lake Garda, and Volpetto 2013 a young fresh Chianti, exhibiting the Sangiovese grape at its best. Both wines are from O’Brien’s in Douglas, Cork.

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11th October, 2017  ·  

Submarines, American Sailors, and the Underwater War in Irish Waters, 1917-1918
by Dr John Borgonovo in The Parish Centre, Clonakilty
on Thursday Oct 26 2017 at 8.30 pm

In 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats brought the United States into WWI and created a crisis in Britain. To defeat the submarine menace, an American naval fleet was dispatched to County Cork, bringing about 10,000 sailors with it. This talk will explain the circumstances of this extraordinary event, and how Cork residents dealt with their unexpected American guests.

Dr John Borgonovo is a lecturer in the School of History at UCC. His publications include Spies, Informers, and the 'Anti-Sinn Féin' Society: The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1920-1921; The Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918; Exercising a close vigilance over their daughters: Cork women, American sailors, and Catholic vigilantes, 1917-18; Something in the Nature of a Massacre: The Bandon Valley Killings Revisited (with Andy Bielenberg). His latest publication (with co-authors John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy) is the highly acclaimed and magnificient Atlas of the Irish Revolution. In July of this year, he organised a very successful conference on Winning the Western Approaches - Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the US Navy in Ireland 1917-1918.
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11th October, 2017  ·  

Apple Juicing Day in Clonakilty next Sunday Sept 30th. All welcome to bring their apples from 2-6pm to the Clonakilty Community Garden (on entrance road to Clonakilty Lodge).

Building on the success of its inaugural 2016 event, local voluntary environmental organisation Sustainable Clonakilty invites people to bring along their apples and press them to extract their own juice to take home, using the group's Apple Press.

Volunteers will be at hand to assist in the procedure. Bring along your apples washed; clean containers to freeze your juice (milk/juice bottles or cartons, plastic bottles with caps); clean, sterilised glass bottles to pasteurise with swing caps or suitable for 26 mm diameter metal cap.

A limited number of new 3 litres juice bags that are suitable for freezing and pasteurising, can be purchased for a nominal fee on the day also.

This is a free community event and donations will be welcome to cover costs.

For further information, please contact Xavier at xavierdubuisson@gmail.com or text at 086/0476124.
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26th September, 2017  ·  

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