Headed to Italy with a Heavy Heart

Should everything go as planned, you will be reading this after I have already landed first in Munich and then a short flight on to Verona. I am part of a press trip to visit the Northern Italian producers Rotari and Mezzacorona. Up until about a week ago, I was really looking forward to the trip for several reasons.

First, this is my first international press trip and while I certainly do not write this blog for the “perks” they are certainly nice.

Second, I am going to extend the trip a bit and my lovely wife, who has never been to Italy (other than a night in the tiny alpine town of Domodossola). She will be joining me for another eight days or so to drive around the Italian countryside. We will be stopping in Siena, Venice, and Verona, visiting a few wineries along the way.

A few days ago, however, my excitement devolved into sadness when a severe earthquake struck central Italy, leveling medieval towns, and killing close to 300 people. Even if I were not traveling to the country, the tragedy would be particularly difficult to process, but since I will be landing there in just a few hours, it weighs even heavier on my mind.

I will be in the north of the country, several hundred kilometers from the destruction, but I already feel guilty knowing what will likely ensue on the trip. Of course I know that the trip will have no effect on those affected by the earthquake, and that many parts of the country have already restarted their lives. (Insert “life must go on” cliché here.)

But still.

Shortly after the quake, bloggers that cover Italy extensively took to their keyboards to profess their empathy and suggest ways that people around the world can help.

I was particularly touched by my fellow Houstonian, Jeremey Parzen, who wrote a a couple of pieces concerning the situation on his Do Bianchi blog (HERE and HERE the second of which has some links for ways to help the relief effort). I was also contacted by another friend back in Philly, Mike Madaio, author of a few blogs, including Undiscovered Italy. He tagged me in a tweet a few days ago, which caused me to Spring into action (as much as this aging body “springs” anymore):


I decided that I would make Bucatini All’Amatriciana for no other reason than to use it as a vehicle to talk to my boys about our responsibilities as citizens of the planet. I had never made it before, but after a quick scan of the internet, I found there are countless versions floating about, with the common threads being guanciale (cured pork jowl), canned San Marzano tomatoes, and Bucatini pasta (similar to spaghetti, but hollow in the middle).

I briefly informed the boys as to why we were making the dish, and then we tried to tackle it together (once you find the ingredients, it is a fairly simple recipe to follow).

You start with 6-8 ounces of guanciale (which is hard to find anywhere, much less a town where you have only lived for a few weeks--so we used pancetta, which apparently is OK). Brown it for about 5-6 minutes in lard (also impossible to find, so we used a bit of olive oil--apparently a no-no).

You start with 6-8 ounces of guanciale (which is hard to find anywhere, much less a town where you have only lived for a few weeks–so we used pancetta, which apparently is OK). Brown it for about 5-6 minutes in lard (also impossible to find, so we used a bit of olive oil–apparently a no-no).

I then committed another cardinal sin, according to this site, by adding diced onion, carrot, and garlic.

I then committed another cardinal sin, according to this site, by adding diced onion, carrot, and garlic, which the recipe I chose called for. But I was a noobie, so…win some, lose some.

Then we added the can of San Marzano tomatoes, which we smashed up a bit.

Then we added the can of San Marzano tomatoes, which we smashed up a bit.

Finally, we added the pasta and tossed with some pecorino cheese.

Finally, we added the pasta, a bit of crushed red pepper flakes, and tossed with some pecorino cheese.

While the recipe we chose might have been short on authenticity, it was pretty long on flavor as both of the boys ate it up with aplomb.

I used the occasion to also sample a few of the wines that I will be tasting this week on the trip through Northern Italy:img_6599

2013 Rotari Brut Rosé Trento DOC: Retail $18. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Pale pink, with a fervent bubble. A tight nose of strawberry and a touch of rhubarb. Fruity initially on the palate with red berry fruit prominent. Mid-way through, the tartness kicks in with a vengeance. Finishes with some minerality and plenty of length. This is a bargain at $18, but regardless of price, this is Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2015 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio Trentino DOC: Retail $12. I do not always have the best experiences with Pinot Grigio, usually since I feel they lack the requisite acidity. Not this one. Tropical and bright on the yellow-green wine. Great flavors and brightness after some initial roundness, but really nice flavors and an above average finish. Very Good. 87-89 Points.

2013 Cliffhanger Proprietary Red Dolomiti IGT: Retail $12. 70% Teroldego, 30% Lagrein. For $12? I am a fan. Rich dark red fruit, plenty of tartness, and a touch of intrigue. Not the deepest wine in the world, but it will not require to dig deep into the wallet either. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.

Just before getting on the plane, I heard a news report that stated that more than anything else, donations of blood would be most helpful. While that did not seem like it would help all that much in the U.S., I am now on Italian soil and will see if there is an opportunity to do so.

I have only donated blood once in my life–I am not a big fan of needles–and I fainted. That was due, at least in part, to the fact that my heart rate was near 180 bpm right before the procedure, for which the nurse almost rejected my “candidacy.”


I am actually, in a way, looking forward to trying to give blood at the same time that I am wondering if I will be able to go through with it.

I just know that I have to try.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Chardonnay, Lagrein, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Teroldego, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Headed to Italy with a Heavy Heart

  1. Barb Knowles says:

    You are right -the earthquakes have been devastatingly horrific. And it must color your visit to Italy, while giving you a greater appreciation for all that you see and do. I look forward to reading more about your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. SAHMmelier says:

    You’re a good man, Jeff, no matter what you try to portray. 🙂 I hope you are able to find hope in their resilience and fortitude, that you can impart some joy with your humor and vivacity, and that you and your love get plenty of time to connect after your crazy year…and yes I mean your wife. You and wine don’t lose touch. And please, note the irony that your first international wine trip is to Italy. You’ll be singing “I’m a Believer!” Before you know it. And, if you want to visit the spots from my Wine writing challenge piece I’ll pm you ;).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Since you are already there I hope you are enjoying yourself. It is a hard time for the great people of Italy. I think being there and spending some hard earned tourist money with your wife will help keep their economy going while the dust is still settling on the devastated region. I saw your post about making the meal. I am disappointed I did not know about the awareness campaign. As a frequent explorer of Italy and working in the Italian wine market in Texas I would have gladly participated in it. Have a fun, safe trip. Enjoy your time with you wife. I leave for Italy Friday. I am heading to Sicily, Puglia and Veneto (Congeliano). It is a great country with great people. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. susielindau says:

    Good thing your not a cancer survivor. I have to face a few needles every 6 months!
    Mother nature has it’s way of making herself known. I was amazed at the devastation. I called my Italian friend and luckily she had traveled south of Rome. So sad.
    Love how you introduced Italy to your boys. Have a great trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi TDC,
    I appreciated your article on many levels.
    I hope you have a great press tour and for your extended stay–I am sure you both will have a fantastic experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. dwdirwin says:

    Have a wonderful press tour and trip! I’m happy to hear that Tammy will be able to join you at the end- you both probably need it after the whirlwind of the last 6 months. Looks like you’ve had an amazing start if the pictures you posted are any indication! And good luck with the blood donation- as the recipient of many such donations, I appreciate you for even considering it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tom Riley says:

    I can’t imagine you outlined this blog to be so, but this was a great and smart mix of several elements, and you handled the earthquake, unsurprisingly, gracefully. Ending with the wine notes was perfect. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I haven’t made nearly as many trips to Italy as you, but I was in Tuscany a couple of years ago and enjoyed my 2 1/2 week trip tremendously! I like you, felt a heavy heart for the Italian people from the time I heard about the quake. You seem like a well balanced guy, and know that although you will enjoy your trip, you will still have empathy for the Italians.

    Look forward to your reports when you return!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow you have a genuine heart, Jeff. I do hope you get an opportunity to donate while in Italy. I’m impressed with your meal-making skills! Enjoy the trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Vino Travels says:

    Glad to have you join the #virtualsagra. Was great to have people come together for a terrible tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

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