Fabulous Valpolicella – Our Most Excellent European Adventure: Part 2

After our delightful and brief visit to Lugano (see Part 1), Switzerland, we motored on through Lombardia, Italy toward the amazing wine country of Valpolicella. Along the way we stopped for lunch in Bergamo (less than 2 hours drive from Lugano) the fourth largest city in Lombardia with a population of about 120,000. Bergamo is a university town with a beautiful Città Alta (upper city) whose defensive systems are a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. It is also home to some amazing pizzerias which is why we stopped there.


Amazing Pizza array in Bergamo (L.Compisi)

After lunch we continued on for another hour and a half to our destination of San Pietro in Cariano near Verona and our favorite Bed and Breakfast ‘Relais de Charme’ La Caminella. We had previously stayed at La Caminella and were excited to be returning.


La Caminella B&B (L.Compisi)


View of Countryside from our room La Caminella (L.Compisi)

Our hosts, Andrea and Raffaella, and their three children, offer exquisite rooms, breakfast and hospitality. Since our last stay, Raffaella has begun here own wine program producing several wines from Valpolicella. If you have never lodged here before you will feel like family by the time you depart.


Breakfast at La Caminella (Courtesy their website)


Our room – Ripasso Suite (Courtesy La Caminella)


Our hosts (l-r) Andrea, Raffaella and Asst Mngr Francesca (L.Compisi)

La Caminella is very well situated to visit Verona, only 20 minutes away, or the local wineries of Valpolicella. Bardolino or Soave, and even Lake Garda (only 30 minutes’ drive). We had visited Garda and Verona on a previous trip so our focus this time was wine and the glorious countryside.


Lake Garda (L.Compisi)

Valpolicella is known for its very unique wine making process of Appassimento and Ripasso which involve drying or partially drying the grapes as a means of intensifying the flavors of the Amarone and other Valpolicella wines. The principal grapes used in these red wines are Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara (and more recently Oseleta). Surprising to many, Valpolicella ranks just after Chianti in total Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wine production.


Masi food and wine (L.Compisi)


Enjoying the Masi Experience with our host Elisa Venturini

The Masi Wine Experience was an amazing winery tour and tasting that we were fortunate to enjoy.  The Boscaini family, currently headed by patriarch Sandro Boscaini, have owned the property since the end of 18th Century.  Our host, Raffaele Boscaini, and his able marketing and sales manager Elisa Venturini provided an exceptional tour and tasting at the main estate but also included a visit to a newly acquired Tenuta near Lake Garda and the family estate of Count Serego Alighieri (direct descendent of Dante Alighieri) which the Boscaini’s manage and market on behalf of this ancient Italian family (21 generations on the estate – since 1353).


Sandro Boscaini signing Mr. Amarone (E.Venturini)


Raffaele Boscaini guiding our tasting (L.Compisi)

The Masi wines are widely available in the United States and one of our favorites is the affordable blend (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) Campofiorin. It is rich, round and velvety, but has sufficient strength to pair with red meat (only $18 on Wine.com). Its big brother Amarone della Valpolicella Masi Costasera runs a bit higher, between $56-65.


Masi Experience Tasting Room (L.Compisi)

Of course if you are not a wine lover the proximity to Lake Garda and Verona (home of Romeo and Juliet) offer many, many exciting tourist opportunities including the Opera at the Verona Arena. The Opera setting at the Arena is magnificent. The festival starts late June and continues until the last week of August. A reason to visit in its own right!


The Roman Arena in Verona (L.Compisi)

Keep an eye out for subsequent postings about the rest of our Most Excellent European Adventure including Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Provence.

Posted in Adventure, Amarone, Italian Wines, Italy, Lombardy, Travel, Valpolicella, Veneto, Wine, Wineries | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lugano Switzerland – Our Most Excellent European Adventure: Part 1

We just returned from nearly a month in Europe. The next series of posts will highlight our travel adventures and offer tips, tricks and recommendations on our favorite ways to enjoy these amazing locations in Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and France.


Lake Lugano is as beautiful as any of Italy’s great lakes. (L.Compisi)

We flew non-stop from San Francisco (SFO) to Zürich (ZUR) in about 11 hours. We planned on not wasting the day getting over our jet lag in Zürich, and got our rental car, (we used Hertz), to continue on to Lugano, Switzerland (2.5 hrs. away). That was the first of many good decisions. Our flight landed in Zürich at 10:10 am (local) and arrived in Lugano around 2 pm. The challenge was to remain awake until 8:30 pm to help us sleep through the night. That strategy worked for us.


Hotel Victoria au Lac is charming and ideally placed (L.Compisi)

Our hotel in Lugano was Hotel Victoria au Lac in Paradiso, the small city along Lake Lugano. Although the hotel is showing its age and is a bit thread-bare, the location is stellar and quite adequate. It offered a complimentary breakfast and free wifi in our room. Hotel Victoria also has paid parking underground across the street (a huge plus). Additionally, it is within walking distance of the Lugano city-center. The lakeside promenade was beautiful and offered restaurants, museums, gelato stands and so much more. It was mid-June and the weather was warm and delightful.


View from our balcony at Hotel Victoria au Lac (L.Compisi)

We had a delicious and quite delightful late lunch at Ristorante Cafè Retrò, just across the street from our hotel. We had pizza (the first of many on this multi-country adventure) and it’s was very good. Equally delightful was the Valpolicella Ripasso wine from Italy that we enjoyed.


Delicious food and wine at Ristorante Cafè Retrò (L.Compisi)


Located just across the street from Hotel Victoria YUM!! (L.Compisi)

After walking the length of the promenade and up 125 steps to keep ourselves awake, we decided to head back to Café Retro for an early night cap. The staff (Stanley) and the owner, Matteo, did an amazing job in making us feel like locals by offering finger foods with each bottle of wine we purchased.  No need for dinner!


Stanley (above) and Matteo made us locals at Ristorante Cafè Retrò (L.Compisi)

The next morning we woke, had a delicious breakfast at the hotel (which we shared with the very fat birds on the veranda) and headed for our next stop.  Here we come Valpolicella, Italy.


Our breakfast companions at Hotel Victoria au lac (L.Compisi)

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Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Part 3 – Avignon

Avignon, a fortified city in southeastern France’s Provence region, and Capital of the Vaucluse Department, is set on the Rhône River. It was the seat of the Catholic popes from 1309 to 1377 and remained under papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. This legacy can be seen in the massive Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace) which is surrounded by medieval stone ramparts in the city center.


Palais des Papes from the ground (L.Compisi)

Perhaps because of the Papacies presence, Avignon has been a center of art culture and commerce for more than eight centuries. The amazing stone walls which surround much of the city offer a stunning backdrop to the wide Rhone River which is coursing toward the Mediterranean. In the middle of it all is the historic and beautiful palace.

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The Palace is immense as each pope seemed to want to add his own touch by building larger and opulent buildings extending the size of the Palace.  The daytime palace tour is worth the cost as you can wander for hours from chapel to living quarters to roof tops which offer splendid views of the Rhône and the city.


View of the Rhône from Pont d’Avignon (L.Compisi)

Also worthwhile is the tour of, ‘the most famous Bridge in the world’! The Saint Bénezet bridge, also known as Pont d’Avignon, was completed, the first time, in 1185 to span the Rhone River. Only a section of this UNESCO World Heritage site survives today. The bridge was made famous by the children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon”. The views of the Rhône River and the Palace from the bridge are spectacular.


The Palais des Papes from the Saint Bénezet bridge (L.Compisi)

Avignon offers excellent dining and cultural opportunities and one could spend days there exploring. If you are visiting between mid-August and the end of September try to experience Les Luminessences D’Avignon, a truly spectacular sound and light show within the Palais des Papes walls. The event is nothing short of fabulous and has both French and English performances every day during this late summer 6-week period.


Les Luminessences D’Avignon Courtesy gettyimages (Jean-Marc CHARLES)

Check back as we return to Provence, among other destinations, in the weeks ahead. We will certainly offer new insights, photographs and joys of travel.

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A Sip & Savor Experience: B Cubed

We just completed a very serendipitous experience this evening with a last-minute tasting at Healdsburg’s newest tasting lounge. Barrels, Brews and Bites is the brainchild of founder and proprietor Saunda Kitchen.

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Self-described as ‘A Sip & Savor Experience’, the menu offers the opportunity to sample small plates, Bitty Bites, as well as slightly larger plates, Bigger Bites.  We sampled a few.

The ‘Crispy Prosciutto Cups’ came filled with whipped Goat Cheese, Berry Compote and Jalapeño. Just the right combination of sweet and savory. The whipped goat cheese had a slight sweetness which was further augmented by the berry compote. This was juxtaposed with the saltiness of the prosciutto and the bit of a kick from the Jalapeño. We also sampled the ‘Lil Cluckers Deviled Eggs’ with bacon jam and Jalapeño. So far, all delightful.

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Prosciutto Cups and Deviled Eggs (L.Compisi)

To keep things a bit simpler the team refers to themselves as B Cubed. This helps! The ‘B Cubed Flat Bread’ was our second treat. Margherita, with Roasted Chicken and Cilantro Paste was our favorite of the evening. The Rosemary Marconas (a type of gourmet almond from Spain whose popularity is on the rise. The texture is closer to that of a macadamia nut) in the pesto were a taste treat. This dish can also be ordered with short ribs and gouda instead.

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Flat Bread with Roasted Chicken (L.Compisi)

Our next taste was the ‘Taco Trifecta’, a B Cubed version of street tacos with a choice of short ribs, Chili Verde, shrimp or veggies. We tried the first three while substituting lettuce for the tortillas.  Very accommodating by our server but probably a mistake. The tortillas would have certainly provided a much more satisfying textural combination.

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Taco Trifecta with short rib, shrimp and chili verde (L.Compisi)

The final taste was real treat.  Chocolate Mousse with a fruit jam and crème fraiche. Very yummy!

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Chocolate mousse (L.Compisi)

The Bitty Bites and Bigger Bites comprise about 14 choices with pricing from $8 to $20. The recipes are all Saunda’s and are tried and tested.

The wine and beer offerings are all local. The wines from around Sonoma County were generally small lot producers (Peterson, Smith Story et al) with a diversity of varietals. Same for the brews, which included about 6 or 7 choices. Again, pricing and serving sizes allowed for sampling.

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Located at 335 Healdsburg Ave (L.Compisi)


Saturday, June 9th is the Grand Opening (11am to 7pm) and Ribbon Cutting celebration (5pm). Take advantage of this opportunity to discover this newest Healdsburg Sip & Savor Experience.


Days and Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 11am-7pm. Sunday Brunch Day 10am-4pm. Unique concept joining local craft beer, hidden gem wine & savory food pairings.

Posted in Culinary, North Coast, Sonoma County, Wine | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Part 2 – Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Part 2 of our journey to Provence focuses on Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a commune in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. Famous for its eponymous red wine, the village lies about 3 kilometers to the east of the Rhône and 12 kilometers north of the town of Avignon.

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Grenache Grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (L.Compisi)

Charming, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, (literally, “new castle of the Pope”) takes its name from its relationship to the Avignon Papacy (1309 AD to 1376 AD) and particularly for the Chateau built on a hilltop of the village in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second of the popes to reside in Avignon rather than in Rome. The ruined medieval castle  dominates the landscape to the south. Interestingly, none of the subsequent Avignon popes stayed in Châteauneuf but after 1378 the anti-pope, Clement VII, sought the security of the castle.

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The interior of the Château (L.Compisi)


The remaining walls of the Château (L.Compisi)

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View from the Château overlooking the vineyards and village (L.Compisi)

Today, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is recognized as one of the most renowned appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC – an official French wine region certification) of the southern part of the Rhône Valley. Vineyards are located around Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in the neighboring villages of Bédarrides, Courthézon and Sorgues between Avignon and Orange. The rocky vineyards cover slightly more than 7,900 acres. Nearly 3 million gallons of wine are produced here each year. More wine is made in Châteauneuf-du-Pape than in the entirety of the northern Rhône region.

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Reflecting on the 800 years of Papal history (L.Compisi)

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A small tasting room in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (L.Compisi)

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Big farm equipment moving through narrow streets (L.Compisi)

We had the very good fortune to experience a tasting and tour at a family owned winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape named Domaine de la Charbonnière. We had met Véronique Maret in Paso Robles, California in 2016 at an event called Hospice Du Rhône. Véronique and her sister Caroline were in the middle of crush when we arrived but they were very gracious and showed us around. The operation was similar to what we are familiar with in California and the wines were delicious.


Domaine de la Charbonnière was a delight! (L.Compisi)


Véronique and Caroline Maret run Domaine de la Charbonnière (L.Compisi)

IMG_20160916_144832934 Charbonniere

Traditional 1200 gallon (4500 liter) French oak foudres  (L.Compisi)

We were so enthralled with Châteauneuf-du-Pape that we will visit additional wineries and villages during our upcoming visit to see the legendary lavender fields.

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Beautiful Provençal Lavender (L.Compisi)

Posted in Adventure, France, French Wines, Provence, Rhône, Travel, Wine | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Part I – Orange and Vaison-la-Romaine

It can be difficult to imagine an area of the world with more varied terrain, climate and history than Provençal, the classic spelling of Provence. Even the name Provence is indicative of its history, derived from Provincia Romana, given by the Romans when they established the region as the first Roman province beyond the Alps. Bordered in the northeast by the Alps, the East by the Italian Piedmont, the Southeast by Liguria, the South by the Mediterranean and the West by Languedoc-Roussillon, the most prominent and influential feature, perhaps, is the Rhône River which finds its source in the Swiss Alps at the Rhône Glacier and flows through Switzerland to France and ultimately empties into the Mediterranean. The terroir of Provence; the soil, topography and the climate and perhaps the history are created and dictated by the influence of the Rhône.

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The Rhône leaving Lake Léman in Geneva heading to Provence (L.Compisi)

We first saw the Rhône in Geneva at the beginning of our journey where it flows into and then out of Lake Léman (Lake Geneva). After leaving Switzerland and entering Italy we did not see the Rhone again until we were driving past Valence on our way to the small city of Bollène. Bollène is located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur where we stayed for three days as we began our exploration of Provence.  We were fortunate to stay in the guest cottages of vignerons Valérie and Jean-Pierre Jourdan, proprietors of Domaine Bastide de Jourdan. The Domaine was perfectly situated for our upcoming explorations of Avignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Orange and the Roman City of Vaison-la-Romaine. Yes, the Domaine’s wine was also quite good and representative of the region.


Mme Valérie Jourdan of Bastide Jourdan in Bollène (L.Compisi)


Family Jourdan- Jean-Pierre, Valérie and Grandpa enjoying harvest (L.Compisi)

We explored Orange (Arausio, the original Roman name when founded in 35 BC) on our first day enjoying the delightful Market which consumed several blocks in the center of the city. The local food, vegetables, spices and crafts were eye-catchingly colorful.


Charcuterie at the market in Orange (L.Compisi)


Delightful local food, herbs and craftsat the market in Orange (L.Compisi)

The principal historic sites, the Triumphal Arch of Orange and the Roman Theatre, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are two must-sees. Théâtre antique d’Orange, the Roman Theatre of Orange was built in the first Century AD. The preservation of this theater, constructed during the reign of Caesar Augustus, is phenomenal and the efforts to make a living museum have vastly succeeded. The size is difficult to comprehend but consider that it could seat between 5,400 and 7,300 people. The theater is also the home of the summer opera festival, the Chorégies d’Orange.


The Triumphal Arch of Orange (L.Compisi)


Théâtre antique d’Orange (L.Compisi)


Théâtre antique d’Orange stage from the highest seats (L.Compisi)


Detail of the amazing stage – Théâtre antique d’Orange (L.Compisi)

Not to far from Orange is the historic town of Vaison-la-Romaine. Visitors can walk through the original Roman hill town of Vaso which remains the heart of modern day Vaison-la-Romaine. You are literally walking on cobblestones placed over 2,000 years ago. Most notable is the old Roman Bridge, over the river Ouvèze, constructed in the first century AD and still in use by people and automobiles. I had a feeling of my own insignificance as I considered the people who had crossed that bridge before me and the interesting and difficult lives they must have lead.


The old Roman Bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine (L.Compisi)


View of the countryside from the original Roman hill town of Vaso(L.Compisi)

Some places to eat near Bollène and Orange:



Lee Pigalle in Orange for lunch (L.Compisi)

Le Pigalle in Orange had outdoor and indoor seating and a very diverse menu for or lunch experience. We enjoyed the local wines and food made with very fresh ingredients.


Sign leading to Restaurant La Chapelle Saint Paul Trois Châteaux (L.Compisi)

Restaurant La Chapelle Paul Trois Châteaux is located at Saint 5 Impasse Ludovic-de-Bimard, 26130 Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. Recommended by Mme Jourdan, the setting is romantic and intimately delightful. The dishes were very thoughtfully prepared and exquisite in flavor.


The dining room at Restaurant La Chapelle Saint Paul Trois Châteaux (L.Compisi)

Where we stayed:  We were very fortunate to stay at the quaint and convenient cottages of Bastide Jourdan at the winery property in Bollène were we awoke to the sounds of harvest.  A delightful and well situated location, especially in September. The cottages (there are several) offer full kitchens and 2 bedrooms.

Cottage from website

One of the cottages at Bastide Jourdan (L.Compisi)

Our first visit, chronicled here, was so pleasant and relaxed that we will be returning in July to experience the annual Lavender bloom which should be spectacular.  Read Part II about Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Part III on our report on Avignon!

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Clarice Wine Company Hosts Inaugural Members Only Event

We just attended the inaugural Clarice Wine Company event.  It was a tour and tasting of Limerick Lane wines at Jake and Alexis Bilbro’s Limerick Lane winery and estate on, you guessed it, Limerick Lane in Healdsburg, California.  You might ask why the Clarice Wine exclusive club member tasting was at another winery? Fair enough, and the answer is, because Clarice is a very new kind of wine company with no wine yet released and a sales and membership model very unique compared to traditional wineries and wine clubs. Read on!


Limerick Lane 1910 Block – 108 year old Zinfandel vines – Jake Bilbro in background (L.Compisi)

Clarice Wine Company is a new and very unique type of winery started by Adam Lee over the past 12 months. Adam, winemaker and co-founder of Siduri Wines, with wife Dianna Novy Lee, sold Siduri to Jackson Family Wines a couple years back and remains the Siduri winemaker. In his spare time and for his next ‘act’, apparently, Adam had a hankering to try something new and very different.  He has combined aspects of an online wine community, a wine education website, and a limited-enrollment wine club in his vision for Clarice (named after his grandmother) which he established in the summer of 2017.


(l-r) Jake Bilbro (Limerick Lane) and Clarice Wine Co.Founder Adam Lee (L.Compisi)

Adam’s Siduri Wines sourced Pinot Noir grapes from some of the best vineyards throughout California and Oregon. We wondered where Adam would take this new venture so we signed up.  As a member of the Clarice Wine Community, we have the opportunity to interact with 625 (about 67% subscribed as of this writing so there is room for you) fellow members, sharing wine opinions and wine list guidance, as well as recommendations for wine travel, restaurants, hotels, events and more. The ‘subscription’ membership provides a case of wine annually at about $85 per bottle paid over 6 months in advance of delivery which is expected in the late autumn. Exclusive as well as interesting, right?


Clarice Pinot Noir from 2017 vintage (Courtesy Clarice Facebook page – Richard Green)

The Limerick Lane event was one of two exclusive Clarice parties each year.  The next party is expected to focus on the Clarice Pinot Noirs. Adam and Jake Bilbro are bound by mutual respect and friendship.  Adam was an early supporter when Jake purchased Limerick Lane in 2011 and they clearly maintain a collegial and supportive friendship. Thus, this inaugural Clarice party hosted by Limerick Lane and spotlighting Bilbro’s wines and historic vineyards. Those wines, some from vines over 100 years old, include Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache (among others). Truly spectacular!


Head pruned 1910 Block Zinfandel – Limerick Lane (L.Compisi)


Estate Rocky Knoll Zinfandel – Limerick Lane #PureYum (L.Compisi)

If you are interested in a very interesting and somewhat experimental approach to a wine club, consider Clarice Wine Company. Stay tunes as there is more to come.


Two happy Clarice members – L.Compisi and the iconic Carol Shelton (J.Compisi)

Read more about Clarice Wine Company in the Washington Post.

Rusty Gaffney has also offered his thoughts in his newsletter, “The Prince of Pinot

Posted in Day Trips, North Coast, Road Trip, Sonoma County, Travel, Wine, Wine Country, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment