As a child seeing pictures of Durbar Square in Kathmandu, the great pyramids of Giza and the manicured tea plantations of Darjeeling, helped determine the destinations of my first forays outside of Europe as an adult. Similarly photographs of Liguria’s famed Cinque Terre coastline, had etched their vertiginous charms onto my memory making a circuitous detour between the vineyards of Verona and Alba in Piemonte, essential.
Vernazza is tiny. A one street village that terminates with a small piazza in the lee of a curving harbour wall. Beyond eating, drinking and leaping off the jetty into the bath like waters below, Vernazza offers little but I wasn’t complaining. Being rather than doing has its own particular pleasure and as the sun melted from view and the last of the day-trippers caught the ferry back to La Spezia, we enjoyed a bottle of some of Italy’s least exported wine.
The vines that cling to these impossibly steep slopes produce relatively small quantities of predominantly white wine sold under the Cinque Terre DOC. Made (usually) from a blend of the indigenous Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino, they provide the tourist trade with something refreshingly pointed and crisp with which to accompany their fritto misto. The majority may lack the depth of Italy’s best whites but my pleasure quotient was so high that any further stimulation would have have rendered my already misty eyes wet.
The sadness of such a brief stay was tempered by the knowledge that our next stop was one of the world’s great wine towns: Alba. Yet as the home of Nebbiolo deserves more than a simple missive my next postcard will come not from Italy but the next country on our travels: Spain.
The belt on my trousers is being buckled at a less familiar point following a week of excellent food and wine in Italy’s hill-town state of Tuscany. Normally my diet is relatively modest with only one significant meal a day but here, holidaying at garter level on Italy’s leggy peninsula, I found that my modest powers of self-restraint were constantly being outweighed by my greed. In the local shops, markets and restaurants, deliciousness oozed from every meat counter, cheese vendor, table top and menu making any resistance futile.
As a resident of the great and gastronomic city of Taipei I never lack access to food that has the ability to make my heart skip with pleasure but there are certain European flavours that are no longer part of my regular life. Shavings of fresh truffle, like translucent slices of some small animal’s brain, scented both the air and butter coated ribbons of perfectly prepared papardelle in Montepulciano. In Cortona I indulged in aged Pecorino, yellowed beneath the rind but milky white and with a firm midriff that when cut into uneven wedges added some subterranean pungency to Tuscany’s famously salt-free bread. Back at our villa, inch thick steaks of the local long-legged Chianina cattle caused the grill of our barbecue to sag towards the middle in apparent sympathy with my own torso and an accompanying salad of fennel was elevated beyond the prosaic by the intensely aromatic and sherbert-like lift provided by a good squeeze of sfusato lemon juice (from Amalfi in Campania); and still no mention of wine…
As one would expect there was a good deal of Sangiovese consumed, especially following visits to producers in both Chianti and Montalcino but there was also a satisfying selection of Tuscan white. Vermentino from Bolgheri, Vernaccia from San Gimignano and (a first for me) a rather rare but delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Sesti in Montalcino. I will write more about those wine experiences later in the season but now it is time to move northwards to Valpolicella territory: Veneto’s Verona. Food Goals