Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Volterra: Being the 159th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! To begin, updates: On the IWR, I've just posted my Brunello notes for the 2004 vintage presented in February at Benvenuto Brunello. On Italian food I've instead added a list of favorite red sauced pasta recipes, and have also put up lists of the Chianti Classico D'Annata and Riserva that impressed me the most.

Returning to Cosa Bolle, we continue with the Tusco-Medieval Exploration I did a number of years ago for Firenze.Net, the people who didn't pay me.

From Certaldo to Volterra.

From Certaldo, the easiest way to reach Volterra is via Gambassi Terme. The road is quite pretty, and the drive will take about a half hour. Shortly after the intersection for Pontedera (you want to go towards Volterra) the road will begin to climb, and to the right you will see a yellow sign indicating the Badia Camaldolese and the Chiesa di San Salvatore; follow it, bearing right at the fork, and you will shortly reach the ruins of the Badia, which must have once been as glorious as the view.

The monastery was founded by the Benedictines in 1030 and then passed to the Camaldolesi, who had Baroltomeo Ammannati, one of the major late Renaissance Florentine architechts, add an elegant façade to the church in the late 1500s (he also did the cloisters for them). Alas, the complex was severely damaged in the earthquake and landslides of 1846 and subsequently abandoned. Since the ruins are dangerous they're walled up, but you can walk around and look at the apse, which is Romanesque, and there's a great feeling of peace. The view is also beautiful; among other things you can see the gullies eroded into the clayey soil, which are called calanchi, and are quite characteristic of this section of Tuscany.

Return to the road and continue up the hill; as you reach the modern section of Volterra you will also see several low stone walls made with huge blocks. These are the Etruscan walls, and their presence out here in the modern section of town says a lot about Volterra's history. The area is known as the Colline Metallifere, or Metalliferous Hills, and has long been a source of a variety of minerals, including salt, lead, silver, alum, and copper; the Etruscans selected one of the most easily defensible hills and built the town of Velathri on it. Velathri grew rapidly, becoming the capital of one of the twelve Lucumonie of the Etruscan Nation, and by the IV Century BC its influence extended over much of the nearby Tyrrhenian coast, including Populonia, the island of Elba with its iron mines, and even Corsica. The population reached 25,000, and the authorities built the city walls we see today.

Because it was relatively isolated, Velathri remained independent of the encroaching Romans for longer than many of the other Etruscan cities. But it did eventually succumb, and supplied the some of the grain consumed by the Roman armies in the Punic Wars. Like the rest of the Etruscan Nation, the inhabitants of Velathri gained Roman citizenship in 90 BC. However, unlike some of their brethren they proved better at working with the Romans, and managed to maintain some degree of prosperity.

Returning to the itinerary, when you reach a yellow sign that says Teatro Romano turn left, onto Viale Ferrucci, and park in the lot (historic Volterra is mostly closed to cars and small enough to get around easily on foot).

As you will note, the theater next to the lot is right up against the medieval walls; though it pains one now to think that Volterra's medieval inhabitants took care of their garbage by pitching it over the walls, their using the area as a dump also filled in the theater and kept later residents from mining it for building materials -- a common fate of older structures, including Rome's Colosseum.

Excavation began in 1950 and revealed a number of levels, the earliest dating to the IV century BC, and the most recent dating to the late Imperial period, when the use of the theater seems to have declined, but the baths behind it (towards Viale Ferrucci) were opened. The theater is open 11-7 from March 15 to November 15 from 11-7, except when it rains. Entrance free.

Once you have finished exploring the theater (if you arrive early you may want to come back later), walk around to the Porta Fiorentina, one of the medieval gates. It is well within the Etruscan perimeter, and this requires explanation: Volterra was badly mauled in the struggles that took place in the IX-X centuries between Berengario I, King of Italy, and Adalberto, Marquis of Tuscany. And it never recovered. In the late 1100s the population was about 12,000, half what it had been under the Etruscans, and the town council realized it could no longer defend the old perimeter. So they began a new, smaller ring of walls in 1200. Construction proceeded slowly until 1240, and was finished in a rush between 1260 and 1266 when 40 stonemasons were hired to get the job done.

Returning to the Porta Fiorentina, it was originally higher than it is now: there was a tower above the gate from which Captain Ferrucci's artillery forced the enemy to flee during a siege; the tower subsequently blew up when someone got careless around the powder supply. Rather than rebuild it, the Florentine military architects, who considered this to be the most vulnerable point Volterra's defenses, added a massive gun emplacement to the left, with an opening that would have allowed the defenders to rake the area before the gate with cannon fire. Enter the gate and turn right onto Via Lungo Le Mura del Mandorlo to enjoy the view of the theater from above; the street leads back into the medieval part of town, and after passing an elegant 13th century casa torre, a merchant's home that would have had his shop on the ground floor, his dwelling area above it, and his storage facilities up high where his goods were safe, you will reach a square with the Rossi Alabaster Studio.

Alabaster is a pale white, milky fine grained variety of gypsum that takes well to carving, and occurs as spheroids in some of the clays around Volterra. The Etruscans used it extensively, and many of the funerary urns in Volterra's Museo Guarnacci are alabaster. During the middle ages, however, alabaster carving dropped off, to resume in the Renaissance, when beautiful pieces were made for churches and as gifts. In 1791 Marcello Inghirami Fei set up an excellent school for local craftspeople, teaching sculpting and lathe work, and began selling the pieces. Unfortunately the political climate wasn't ripe and the venture foundered. However, he did set the stage, and in the first half of the 1800s many Volterran artisans became itinerant merchants; one was so successful he was nominated an Emir in Nepal. Alabaster has enjoyed alternating fortunes since then, but there has always been enough interest to keep artisans in business, and there are a number of small shops where it is worked throughout the city. There are also showrooms, many of which sell pieces that are turned out industrially.

Franto Norscia, who turns one of the lathes in the Alabastri Rossi shop, began working as an assistant when he was 12 and gradually learned the trade, initially by shaping pieces while the artisans where taking breaks, and later, when they realized he had talent, at the machines. He works with the quick assurance born of long experience, and it's quite fun to watch. Walk through the studio (there are interesting photos and equipment in the other rooms), then turn left at the end of the street, past a house with a portico, and right onto Via Buonparenti; when you get to the intersection with Via Ricciarelli glance up to admire the arch that joins the buildings on the opposing sides of the street. Then turn left into Piazza dei Priori, one of Tuscany's prettiest squares.

The site of the market place during the centuries that Volterra was governed by her bishops, it was selected to be the seat of government following the townspeople's decision to govern themselves in 1193. Construction of the town hall, Tuscany's oldest, was begun in 1208 by Riccardo da Como; the building now has the coats of arms of the various podestà who ruled over the city, some outside and some within the entrance, where there are also plaques commemorating several Royal visits a century ago (in 1903 the King was so pleased by his reception that he gave the city 10,000 lire, a respectable sum at the time). The building with the arches on the same side of the square is the Palazzo Vescovile, or Bishop's palace, which was originally designed to be the public granary with market space on the ground floor; the bishops took position in 1472 but only began living in it in 1618. Facing the palaces is the palazzo Pretorio, seat of the Capitano del Popolo (the police force), born out of the fusion of several mediaeval buildings. The crenellated building the Palazzo Pretorio is connected to via an arch is Monte Pio, which served as a granary until 1600, and then hosted the pawn shop.

If you turn back towards the town hall, you will note a black-and-white striped wall separating it from the Bishop's palace. This is a section of the Duomo, which was consecrated in 1120, and expanded in 1257, by Nicola Pisano; go through the door and you'll find yourself in the left transept. The interior is more modern than one would expect from looking at the wall, which brings to mind the Romanesque, and indeed the interior was renovated in 1580 by Francesco Capriani, at the request of Bishop Guido Serguidi; Mr. Capriani added an elegant carved wood ceiling and had Leonardo Ricciarelli redo the columns, some of which (towards the front of the church) are now alarmingly out of plumb.

Though the pulpit looks original, it was reassembled in the 1600s using 12th century sculptures; the columns rest on two lions, an ox, and a bull with a monstrous face. The panels depict a delightful Last Supper with Judas kneeling on the floor in front of the table, being nibbled by a serpent, Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and an Annunciation/Visitation. The scenes with the Virgin are especially appropriate because Volterra is consecrated to her, as you might guess from the Glorification of the Madonna, who receives Volterra above the first altar in the right aisle, done by Pieter De Witte in 1578. Continuing up the right aisle you'll see the Birth of the Virgin and the recently restored Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple. The transept has, among other things, a very nice, brightly colored Romanesque sculpture of the Deposition dating to 1228. The third altar on the left transept has an Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, while the second chapel has an Annunciation attributed to Fra Bartolomeo, which brings to mind some of the Annunciations in the Uffizi. The left transept also has the Cappella dell'Addolorata, which has a terracotta representations of the Crèche and the Epiphany, both attributed to Andrea Della Robbia, and an Arrival of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli.

Exit the Duomo from the front; the pleasingly clean Romanesque façade does contrast with the richness of the later décor within. Facing the Duomo is the baptistery, a high octagonal building that's surprisingly bare within, with an odd pseudo-earthen floor. The holy water font is an Etruscan urn, while the earlier baptismal font to the right was done by Andrea Sansovino in 1502, and has representations of faith, baptism, justice and charity. The more recent baptismal font in the center of the building instead dates to 1759.

Exit the square towards the porticos and turn right onto Via Roma, where you will come to the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art. It has a number of carved panels from the Cathedral ceiling, architectural marbles from the Presbytery, a Roman sarcophagus that became Bishop Goffredo's coffin in 1037, an elegant 16th century alabaster ciborium, a number of reliquaries, vestments, and illuminated manuscripts. It also has a beautiful 13th century Crucifixion, and Rosso Fiorentino's Madonna Enthroned with John the Baptist and Saint Bartholomew, a strikingly modern looking, oddly disquieting masterpiece in which they all look like they've seen a horror. Rosso was devout, and the angst of the protagonists is likely related Martin Luther's activities -- Rosso did the painting in 1521, the year of Luther's excommunication, and by then it was no doubt evident that the Church had been sundered. The museum ticket also includes admission to the Pinacoteca and the Archaeology Museum. Hours: March 15-Nov 2 9:30-1, 3-6:30; winter 9-1.

For being a small, relatively out-of-the-way city Volterra has a surprising number of major artworks. Continue along Via Roma, then Via Buonparenti to reach the Pinacoteca, which is in Palazzo Minucci-Solaini (to the left, through a small door after the main door). There's a pretty courtyard downstairs, and then a nice collection that starts out with 12th century sculptures, one of which is a recycled ancient piece with a Christian inscription on the back.

There are also a number of nice 13th and 14th century paintings, including several by Taddeo di Bartolo (note the scenes from the life of the Virgin in the predella of his Virgin Enthroned with Saints), and it's quite interesting to note that some of the stylized figures on gold fields were painted at a time when Masaccio, the great innovator whose realistic poses, lifelike backgrounds, and accurate perspective drew universal admiration in Florence, was long dead. Innovation took time to spread. By the late 1400s it had definitely arrived, however. There's a delightful Christ enthroned by Domenico Ghirlandaio that has elegant motifs drawn from the Flemish masters, and there are two stunning paintings by Luca Signorelli, an Annunciation and a Madonna with Child and Saints, both dated 1491. The Signorelli hall also has the Deposition from the Cross that Rosso Fiorentino painted in 1521, and even if one knew nothing of the times one would still realize something was changing: Signorelli's works are studies of luxury, with delicate gossamer veils, elegant flowers, fine marbles and gold. In short the Virgin lived like a Princess, and Gabriel's wings had peacock feathers. No finery at all in Rosso; stark lines, plain background, simple, dramatic volumes, anguished poses: the Reformation was beginning and Rosso was turning away from the luxury of the earlier times.

The third floor of the museum is also interesting, with, in particular, Daniele da Volterra's Justice, a pretty blonde with sword held high, under the Medici coat of arms. Obviously a political commission, but pleasing, from a painter who later did extensive work in the Vatican. Hours: March 15-Nov 2 9-7; winter 9-2.

Il might well be time for lunch by now. Il Sacco Fiorentino, in Piazza XX Settembre, is pleasant, with interesting, non-traditional cuisine and a nice wine list (closed Fridays). It's also within the city walls, and is on the way to our next stop: the Archaeology museum. Continue down Via dei Sarti, and take Via di Sotto to Piazza XX Settembre; the restaurant is on the square, while the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci is a little further ahead on the left. It's interesting, and well laid out, with the a section in the ground floor dedicated to kinds of tombs (there were several), and an impressive collection of funerary urns, which are divided by type. Some are polychrome terracotta urns, but most are sculpted alabaster, with depictions of the people on the covers, and a variety of motifs on the fronts, which include people riding off on horseback, fanciful animals, warriors, and a couple driving off together in a horse-drawn cart.

The stairs to the upper floors begin with a larger-than-life statue of Abbot Mario Guarnacci (1701-1785), who gave his personal collection of antiquities to the city in 1761. The collection was moved to its present location in 1877, and the pieces set into the staircase, with painted labels, give an idea of what museums were like at the time. The second floor gives an even better idea: case upon case, each crammed full. A modern curator would likely select the finest example of each type of piece, which gives one impression; here we instead have dozens of each kind of cup and pitcher, and come away with an appreciation of the artisans' ability to turn out series of pieces, but are also somewhat numbed. The second floor also has one of the finest funerary sculptures in Italy, a sarcophagus with very lifelike portrait sculptures of a husband and wife in who look to be in their 50s or 60s.

And it has a large collection of bronzes, including the enigmatic Ombra della Sera, an extremely elongate naked boy who is now one of Volterra's symbols. On the top floor there are sections devoted to the various trades, more urns, and a very nice view over the city; in nice weather one can walk down the steps to the museum's garden and explore it as well. March 15-Nov 2 9-7; winter 9-2.

Continue up Via Don Minzoni to the Porta a Selci, flanked by the imposing bulk of the fortress, which was begun in 1342 by Gualtieri di Brenne, Duke of Athens and Governor of Florence, and expanded considerably by Lorenzo il Magnifico in the mid 1470s; Lorenzo's intent was not just to protect, but also to dominate, for Volterra had recently rebelled against Florentine rule. Porta a Selci is the gate the Allied troops entered Volterra through in 1944, and outside there are war memorials to commemorate the city's dead from all the wars; the list from World War One, with many last names appearing repeatedly, is especially grim. Return into town and turn left, onto Via Di Castello. You'll pass the gate of the fortress but can't go in; structures that are difficult to get into can also be difficult to get out of, and now the Fortezza is one of Italy's maximum security prisons. The walk along it is however quite pretty nice; at the end of the Fortezza you will come to a path that leads up the hill into the archaeological park, which is extremely pleasant.

Many of Volterra's oldest structures are alas under the fortress, but you can view a number of excavated ruins at the top of the hill overlooking Palazzo dei Priori.
When you finish looking at the ruins, exit the park and follow Via del Castello back towards Piazza dei Priori, but turn left at Via Porta dell'Arco and go down the hill. The Porta dell'Arco is an Etruscan gate that was preserved intact by the medieval masons who built the new walls, and the contrast is impressive, both in terms of technique -- The Etruscans wall consists of carefully fitted dry masonry, whereas the medieval wall has mortar -- and in terms of scale: the Etruscan wall was much thicker and heavier. The stone balls that stick out form the keystone and the bases of the arch were once heads, likely of divinities.

Parallel the wall for a ways, and turn up Via Turazza, which leads to the Duomo, and turn left to follow Via Franceschini down the hill. You will eventually come to a point with a tiny oratorio dedicated to Saint Christopher, with a rather primitive Madonna painted in the 1400s by Mariotto d'Andrea; it's now greatly revered. The building across the street in Piazzetta San Cristoforo has interesting brickwork, and one wonders why a scallop was taken out of a corner. Continuing down Via Ricciarelli you will reach San Lino, a church named after the second Pope, who is said to have been Volterran. It's a simple 16th century church. So is San Francesco, another couple of hundred yards down the hill to the right. However, San Francesco also has the Cappella Della Croce di Giorno, a chapel erected by the Compagnia Della Croce, an Order devoted to the Cross. The frescos, based on those by Angelo Gaddi in Florence's Santa Croce, tell the story: Seth receives a branch of the tree of Sin and plants it on Abraham;s tomb; the Queen of Sheba foretells the wood's miraculous destiny; the wood is made into a Cross; Saint Helen recognizes the true Cross because of the miracles it produces; Helen moves the Cross, Cosroe King of Persia steals the Cross; he has himself worshiped as a vision of God and the Emperor Eraclio; Emperor Eraclio returns the Cross to Jerusalem. There are also frescos of the Slaughter of the Innocents, and a Crèche, the Flight into Egypt, and the presentation at the Temple.
Via San Lino finishes with the Porta San Francesco, Volterra's most imposing gate, and somewhat beyond it there are remains of the Etruscan walls; to reach them bear left after Santo Stefano.

In terms of places to stay, Volterra has quite a few. Your best bet will be to check the listings in the tourist office's website, http://www.volterratur.it and select what fits your needs. The tourist office also offers a hand phone type guide system if you'd like to take a self-guided tour without lugging a book along. The handsets are available in their offices in Piazza dei Priori.

Finally, as another restaurant option Gambero Rosso's guide speaks well of Badò, in Borgo San Lazzaro 9 (beyond the Porta a Selci, only at lunch, closed Wednesdays), as does Panorama's Ristoranti d'Italia.

This has gone on much longer than I expected, and next time we'll take a break from travel. But we do have time for a proverb, and this time's is Tuscan: La gatta frettolosa fece i gattini ciechi - the hurried cat made blind kittens.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Tuscan Weekend, Thinking About Wine Cooperatives, & More: Being the 158th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! To begin, updates: Last week I paid a visit to the Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia -- we're old friends -- and I tasted the 2006 Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore. I've posted my impressions (it's impressive) . On Italian Food, instead, I put together a bit of background on wild boar, and links to boar recipes.

Returning to Cosa Bolle, a number of years ago I got involved with a Florentine travel site called Firenze.Net, which had me do a number of things, including a weekend in search of Medieval (and earlier) Tuscany, winding through Certaldo, Volterra and Colle Val D'Elsa. They posted the material but never paid me, and since the drives are nice, I may as well share them. The itineraries are detailed enough that I'll be posting them over the next three issues of Cosa Bolle. Here we go:

A Tusco-Medieval Exploration

Florence is, in many respects, the embodiment of the Renaissance:
Its rise to political power coincided with and probably made possible the age of the great Tuscan Masters; the wealthy bankers who financed Kings abroad spent lavishly on the home front to make certain their city, and even more importantly, their homes and parish churches, were second to none. Thus the extraordinary reconstruction of Florence that took place in the 1400s and 1500s, which swept away much of the old: San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito were rebuilt, Ognissanti, Santa Trinita and Santa Maria Novella were in part refrescoed, chapels were added to other churches, the hillside behind Palazzo Pitti was transformed into a formal garden and others were added around the city, squares and palaces were redone, Vasari built the Uffizi, and the list goes on. By the late-1500s, however, the balance of power was shifting elsewhere and the pace of construction tapered off, leaving those who visit Florence with a view through a Renaissance window.

Of course it's not entirely Renaissance -- a few earlier things have survived, in particular the Baptistery, San Miniato, Santissimi Apostoli, and many of Giotto and Cimabue's works, and there are some more recent things as well. But if you want to get a feeling of what Tuscany was like in the Middle Ages, you have to go out into the countryside, to visit the towns that flowered before Florence's rise to power, and then languished in her sway.

This itinerary begins with Certaldo (where all the photos were taken), home of Boccaccio and now one of Tuscany's prettiest hilltop towns, then goes to Volterra, whose influence extended all the way to Corsica in Etruscan time, and then on to Colle Val D'Elsa, whose citizens were given Florentine citizenship for the courage with which the resisted the Pope's armies in 1478, and which now produces 90% of Italian crystal. It will take about three days to do, and will make for a pleasing long weekend or minivacation; you can also do it in stages. In terms of planning, you will need a car, and if you can you should schedule your visit to Colle for a weekday, so you can visit the Vilca glassworks; to make an appointment (a requirement), and to get an idea of what you'll see, visit their site, http://www.vilca.it.

From Florence to Certaldo, a fortress on the pilgrimage route to Rome and home to Boccaccio.

Leave Florence via il Galluzzo and follow the Cassia, the old road that leads via Siena and Viterbo to Rome. Follow it past the American War Cemetery, until you come to the turnoff for Scopeti, a sharp right that immediately crosses a bridge. The road climbs through a forest and comes out in some of the more northeasterly vineyards of the Chianti Classico region. Macchiavelli wrote The Prince while he was exiled to L'Albergaccio, following the return of the Medici family to Florence in 1498, and his melancholy "here I am stuck in the middle of nowhere" letter to a friend, which the town now proudly quotes, was doubtless inspired by the tantalizing view of the Florence nestled in the valley below. L'Albergaccio is now seat of the Chianti Classico Consortium, while Machiavelli's house, owned by the Serristori Family, is a hotel/restaurant, and can be visited. The large villa on the next hill over is owned by the Hare Krisnas.

When you reach San Casciano, park in the lot by the light across from the gate. The town was originally under the Bishop of Florence, but passed under the city Government in 1272, and subsequently was the seat of the local government. It was also Florence's last line of defense, and was consequently heavily fortified. Enter through the gate and follow the street to Piazza Pierozzi; the church past the arch is San Casciano. It was built in the 1790s and has a number of elegant 17th and 18th century paintings. If you instead take Via Morrocchesi, you will reach the Chiesa della Misericordia, built by the Dominicans of Florence's Santa Maria Novella in 1355. It was reworked in the 1600s and heavily restored after the war, but is still quite pleasant. And it has the Misericordia's Museo di Arte Sacra, which hosts a number of important works donated to the brotherhood by the faithful over the centuries, including Simone Martini's Crucifixion and Giovanni di Balduccio's pulpit, with bas-reliefs of the Annunciation and Saints Dominic and Peter. If the door is closed, the Misericordia (next door) has the key.

Return to Piazza Pierozzi and follow Via Roma to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Gesù, which now hosts the Diocese's museum of sacred art, an impressive collection of works from isolated and abandoned country churches, including a copy of Pontormo's Pala Pucci (over the right-hand altar), a Coronation of the Virgin by Neri di Bicci, Coppo di Marcovaldo's stories of Archangel Michael, and Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Madonna with Child. Once you have seen the collection, continue down Via Roma to Piazza della Repubblica, a nice park with a wonderful view over the Val di Pesa.

Retrace your steps to your car and continue along the Cassia. When you reach the end of San Casciano turn right, towards Certaldo (22 km). The road winds pleasingly through the countryside, and then climbs the hill to San Pancrazio. In the middle of town you'll see a yellow sign pointing left to the Pieve di San Pancrazio a Lucardo, which is behind a stand of cypresses to the left at the top of the rise. It's an interesting Romanesque Pieve (XI century), and though it was heavily restored a century ago, it still has a pretty fresco of the Madonna with Saints Sebastian and Rocco to the right as you enter. There is also a crucifixion by Santi di Tito above the altar at the top of the left aisle, and if you look up at the clerestory of the nave you'll see elegant windows that were added to provide light. Unfortunately, the back of the church is encased in a farm building, so you cannot see the apse from the outside.

Return to the main road and continue on towards Certaldo, going down the hill and bearing left at the intersection. The road climbs up through Fornacette; at the top of the hill turn left, and immediately left again onto the dirt road that leads to Lucardo, a fortified hilltop town dating to the VIII century. The drive is magnificent; park in the square in front of the church. Should it be closed ring the bell at # 14, and when you've finished admiring the interior, which was reworked in the 1760s and has a number of pleasant paintings, including a Madonna and Child with Saints Sebastian and Michael based on a work by Cigoli, circle around on foot up to the gate. The plaque commemorates Giovanni Paolosanti Luccardesi, personal secretary to Dukes Ferdinano I, Cosimo II and Ferdinando II, and notes that he was nicknamed L'Indiano (the Indian) because he made several trips to India and Goa. The courtyard is surprisingly peaceful and offers pretty views of the countryside.

Return to your car and drive back the way you came, turning hard to the right after about a hundred yards, at a farmhouse. The view opens out and is again very pretty. The lane feeds into the main road; bear left for Marcialla, and turn hard right as soon as you reach the square in the middle of town, onto a thin road that doesn't have a sign. It winds down the hill, through pretty countryside, and will lead you into Certaldo.

Certaldo is actually two towns that are closely related:
Certaldo Alto, a fortified hilltop town, and Certaldo Basso, a village down on the valley floor. As you might expect, Certaldo Alto is older; it was a stronghold of the Alberti family, and though it paid tribute to Florence it was autonomous until 1184, when the Florentines captured the then Count and forced him to submit. The Florentines subsequently strengthened Certaldo's defenses considerably, probably in part because they had just razed the nearby town of Semifonte for daring to challenge their authority, and consequently wanted to strengthen their hold on the region. Boccaccio, whose family was from Certaldo, lived there intermittently throughout his life, and in 1415 the town was assigned to a Vicar, who also governed the surrounding area.

Certaldo Basso, on the other hand, grew along the Via Franchigena, the pilgrimage route to Rome, during the XIII and XIV centuries. It's now the driving force behind the local economy, while Certaldo Alto watches on from above.

As you enter Certaldo you will see brown signs for Certaldo Alto. Follow them, but when you come to a traffic light with a sign pointing up a hill to the right, go straight instead, following the sign for the strada panoramica, or scenic route. The signs lead through the middle of Certaldo Basso, to a dirt road that circles around behind Certaldo Alto. Magnificent views, and as you cross the ridge crest you will see San Gimignano's towers off in the distance. Park in the lot and walk up the street into town.

You'll pass through a vaulted archway and emerge on Via Boccaccio, the main thoroughfare. The first impression will be one of dusky red -- Certaldo is built of unfaced brick rather than plastered stone. Immediately to the left is the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo, a remarkably simple Romanesque church built in the 1200s that has Boccaccio's tombstone set in the floor in the middle of the aisle, and a Della Robbia Madonna at the altar flanked by a couple of elegant Della Robbia tabernacles. The church also has an elegant cloister, which houses the town's Museo di Arte Sacra.

Upon exiting the church continue up the hill to the Palazzo Pretorio. Built in the 1100s, it was initially the stronghold of the Alberti Family, and subsequently became the residence of the priori, or governing magistrates, who affixed their coats of arms to the walls of the building. The current battlements were added in the 14th century. It's open daily except Mondays 10-12:30 and 2:30- 7. You'll pay the admission charge in what's known as the Stanza del Cavaliere, or Knight's Hall, which has a number of frescos, including a disquieting allegory depicting Truth ripping out Falsehood's Tongue with Tongs -- evidence the hall was also used for trials.

Across the atrium is the Sala delle Udienze, with a fragmentary fresco of the Pietà by Pier Francesco Fiorentino, and a pleasing Doubting Thomas touching the wound on Christ's side, by Benozzo Gozzoli; to the back of the room is the civilian jail cell, which now has a number of Etruscan artifacts found in nearby tombs, some pot shards from Semifonte, and interesting graffiti on the walls and ceilings, some of which are quite old. To do the graffiti on the ceilings the prisoners formed human pyramids.

Returning to the Sala delle Udienze, the inscription on one of the walls, Odi l'Altra Parte e Credi Poco, -- Listen to the other Side and Believe Little -- says a lot about the climate of the times.

The small chapel next door with the pleasant painted altar was where the Vicar took mass, and where the Condemned prepared to meet their fate. The next room, the Sala dei Dieci di Balia, is where the town senate met. It opens out onto the courtyard behind the Palazzo, which has a nice lawn; the view from the battlements is quite pretty, while the walkway leads to San Tommaso, a deconsecrated church that has a number of frescos, and the Tabernacolo dei Giustizziati, the tabernacle of the condemned, which was originally located down on the valley floor near the bridge over the Agliena, and has a Benozzo Gozzoli's beautiful fresco cycle of Christ's passion (1466-7) -- a fitting message of hope for those about to die.

Reenter the Palazzo Pretorio; at the back of the courtyard under the arches are the prison cells, which feel suitably cramped and claustrophobic, and again have some interesting graffiti, including a sun whose rays likely represent the days its maker spent in jail. It's worth noting that men and women were kept in different cells. The upstairs is equally interesting; circling clockwise from the back are the Camera dei Forestieri, or guest room, the Vicar's alcove, the servant's quarters (now used as a gallery), the quarters for the Vicar and his family, and then the front of the Palazzo, which was instead the seat of government, and has a number of frescos, including a graceful Madonna with child and a fragmentary San Martino giving a frightened looking beggar half his cloak. The view over Certaldo is also quite nice.

You will next want to see Boccaccio's house, located mid-way down Via Boccaccio to the right (going down hill), open daily except Mondays 10:30-4:30, admission free. Though by the time Giovanni Boccaccio was born his father had already moved the family to Florence (he was a merchant), Giovanni did spend time in the house intermittently throughout his life, and died in it in 1375. Following his death it changed hands repeatedly, and was finally bought in 1825 by Marchesa Carlotta Lenzoni, who transformed it into a museum/library, furnishing it with period furniture, and commissioned Piero Benvenuti, one of the major court painters of the time, to do a portrait of Boccaccio at his desk in the upstairs room. The building was flattened except for that wall by Allied bombs and subsequently rebuilt; now you can distinguish the older section by the way the bricks of the façade reflect the light of the sun. Inside you'll find a section devoted to Boccaccio's life, translations of his works into other languages, including Arabic and Japanese, and, upstairs, the study where he worked.

The other thing to see in Certaldo Alta is Palazzo Giannozzi (Via Boccaccio 35), an elegant Renaissance palace that now hosts Artesia, a pottery and artist's studio where you can watch the artisans decorating wares with traditional designs. And of course make purchases; Cinzia Orsi warns that the pieces are decorative, and some contain low levels of lead in the glazes. Nothing dangerous, but you will want to fill the bowl you buy with fruit rather than use it to serve a salad. The shop is open normal business hours during the week, and on weekends too.

At this point you will have seen Certaldo Alto, except for the Porta del Rivellino, the gate at the end of Via di Rivellino, Porta Alberti, at the far end of Via Rena (the opposite corner of town), and the vaulted walkway that passes through the foundations of palazzo Giannozzi, which you can enter from Piazza Santissima Annunziata. You can explore the rest of the town, or, if you wish, take the funicular that goes down to Certaldo Basso from Porta Alberti.

If you'd rather take another drive in the country, you can go see San Michele Archangelo, a 1/8th scale copy of Brunelleschi's Cupola built on the site of Semifonte in 1597 by Tito and Gregorio Pagani. It really does look like the original, and it's somewhat disquieting to see Florence's most distinctive landmark poking up the trees in open countryside. To reach it, retrace the strada panoramica and follow the signs for Poggibonsi, then Fiano, and when you come to a fork, bear right, for Sciano/Barberino. The road winds up into the hills and is quite pretty. It's 10 km to San Michele; once you have seen it continue on towards Barberino. Turn left on the Cassia, towards Florence, and if you plan to spend the night in Certaldo left again at the sign of Marcialla, in the middle of town, to return to Certaldo.

Dining in Certaldo.
Among the options for Certaldo Alto are:
Il Castello (Via della Rena 6, at the far end of Via Boccaccio from the Palazzo Pretorio; http://www.albergoilcastello.it/). Simple food and pleasant atmosphere; they also offer rooms.
L' Osteria del Vicario (Via Rivellino 3, next to the Palazzo Pretorio; http://www.osteriadelvicario.it). An elegant setting and elegant, refined cuisine. Expensive. They also offer rooms.

Certaldo Basso has a number of things. Gambero Rosso's restaurant guide speaks highly of the Ristorante Boccaccio in Piazza Boccaccio.

Thoughts About Cooperative Wineries
When people think of the wine world, they generally think of individual wineries, ideally with famed winemakers and top-rated wines. There's another side to the picture as well, however: people who grow grapes, but for one reason or another don't make wine -- their day job doesn't give them enough time, or they simply don't want to jump through all the hoops that selling the wine one has made requires. Some of these people sell their grapes to their neighbors. Others instead join cooperative wineries, supplying the grapes to the cooperative, which then makes the wine and sells it to the public.

Cooperative wineries come in all shapes and sizes, with reputations ranging from very good -- Produttori del Barbaresco's wines were among the first really good wines made in Barbaresco a century ago (the cooperative was founded in 1894 by Domizio Cavazza, the head of the enological school, closed by the Fascists in the 20s, and reopened in 1958 by the Parish priest, who made the first three vintages in the church basement) and still set the standard for Barbaresco today, while St. Michael Eppan (San Michele Appiano, in Italian) sets the standard for the Südtyrol -- to dismal, places where people buy wine by the gallon from gasoline pumps that have (I'm not making this up), rather than octane levels, the alcohol contents of the wines they dispense. The higher the alcohol, the higher the price.

The reason for the disparity is fairly simple: some cooperatives promote quality from the outset, rewarding members who grow really good grapes and employing the best techniques to make the wine (San Michele Appiano also runs a winemaking school), and then aim their wines at wine lovers and other high-end markets, for example top restaurants. Others instead simply pay members for their grapes by volume (more grapes = more money) and aim their wines at local consumers whose first criterion in selecting a wine is its cheapness.

Many of Tuscany's cooperatives (e.g. the one with the gas pumps) fall into the latter class. As did, until recently, the Cantina Viticoltori Senesi Aretini, a cooperative founded in 1973 in Sinalunga (north of Montepulciano and west of Cortona), whose 250 members farm about 240 hectares of vineyards distributed between the provinces of Siena and Arezzo. However, conditions are changing -- demand for cheap wine has been falling for a while in Italy, and Italian consumers are much more interested in quality than they once were. In short, the future for humdrum wines is bleak, and therefore Angiolo Del Dottore, who became president of the Cantina a couple of years ago, decided it was time for a radical change: He contacted Maurizio Castelli, one of Tuscany's leading consulting enologists.

Maurizio was underwhelmed by the cellars, but quite impressed by the vineyards of the farmers. "The grapes were very good," he said, and though few enologists of his caliber would be interested in working with a coop, he decided to accept the challenge. A leap in quality of the kind he and the Cooperative's management had in mind required strict day-to-day supervision of a sort Maurizio simply doesn't have the time to provide, so he called upon Mery Ferrara, a young enologist with an iron will -- "she scares people," he says -- to handle the project. The first vintage under the new direction was the 2006, and they have just presented the Riserva. To be frank, it impressed me, as did the current vintage wines.

Viticoltori Senesi Aretini Arianna Bianco Vergine della Val di Chiana DOC 2008
This is a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia. Pale slightly greenish gold with brilliant reflections, and a very fresh nose with floral accents, honeysuckle in particular, and hints of honeydew melon. On the palate it's light, with bright white fruit, a mix of plum and grape with hints of gooseberry, supported by fairly brisk acidity and slight petillance that adds a peppery sparkle to the tongue, and flows into a clean tart finish with yellow plum acidity and underlying bitterness. Pleasant in a clean, direct key; it's quite refreshing, and will be a nice summer wine. Expect it to go quickly.
1 star

Viticoltori Senesi Aretini Orcia DOC 2008
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections. Bright, very fresh nose with lively red berry fruit supported by grilled bell pepper and some berry fruit jam. In a word, zesty. On the palate it's medium bodied, with bright berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have a very slight greenish veneer from grapes, and flow into a clean fresh berry fruit finish with a bitter tannic underpinning. There's not much acidity, but it's quite fresh, and quite approachable; it will drink well with simple pasta dishes or meats, and, because of the richness of the fruit and smoothness of the tannins will be a good bet with not too spicy oriental dishes as well.
1 star
Viticoltori Senesi Aretini Chianti DOCG 2007
Dusky black cherry ruby with cherry rim paling to white on the nail. Fresh bouquet with brambly greenish vegetal acidity, balsam, hints of graphite shavings, and tart berry fruit with some underlying chalk dust too. On the palate it's bright and fresh, with fairly rich cherry fruit that gains definition more from dusky bitterness than from acidity, and is supported by smooth sweet tannins. It's quite direct, an up-front wine that will do a fine job of accompanying foods, for example meat-based pasta dishes, light stews, or quickly grilled meats, and, because of the character of the tannins, with mildly spiced Chinese, for example from the Cantonese School.
2 stars
Viticoltori Senesi Aretini Chianti Riserva 2006 DOCG
Deep pigeon blood ruby with black cherry rim. The bouquet is bright, with lively cherry fruit supported by jammy berry fruit accents, and is pleasing in a cheeky tomboyish sort of way. On the palate it's fresh, and bright, with rich berry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that have a slight burr and flow into a clean fairly rich berry fruit finish that gains depth from some black currants. Pleasing, and very approachable; it will drink extremely well with foods, and while there are Chiantis that display more depth or complexity out there, this is a classic food wine of the sort that will go so fast you'll be tempted to look for a hole in the bottom of the bottle.
2 stars
Bottom line, I was quite favorably impressed; the wines are fruit forward, welcoming, and very pleasant to drink. And I was even more impressed when we were told how much they're going for: Prices (at the cellar) range from 2.5 Euros/bottle for the white, to 5 for the Riserva. One could spend much more and do much worse. Granted, these are wholesale prices from the source, but an honest importer could do very well by this cooperative, supplying customers with good inexpensive wines, and given the current economic situation a good quality/price ratio is even more important than usual.

The Cantina Viticoltori Senesi Aretini is a specific example, but it's not unique; I have tasted through wines of other cooperatives blessed with forward-looking presidents like Mr. Del Dottore, and have noted similar (though perhaps not so dramatic nor sudden) improvements. For consumers this cannot help but be positive, and I expect the trend to continue.

This time's proverb is Neapolitan: Ommo senza vizie, menesta senza sale - A man without vices is like a soup without salt.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cinghiale (What to do with that Chianti), Buying a Suit, and More: Being the 157th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola


The major addition to the Italian Wine Review this week is my notes from the Chianti Classico presentation. The latest additions to Italian Food are two more favorite recipe roundups, one dedicated to Flowering Crucifere, i.e. broccoli and friends, and the other to bread soups. I decided to do bread soups now because I recently posted a recipe for Pan Cotto (a very, very frugal bread soup), which a reader had asked for, and it has drawn all sorts of commentary from others who remember the recipe from when they were growing up.

The favorite recipe collections can be reached via the favorite recipe collections page, while the pan cotto (with comments) is here. One of the most interesting comments came from Sally, who sent me a link to a Youtube Pan Cotto video, part of a fascinating series done by a 93-year old woman named Clara, who prepares the dishes of the Great Depression (the Original Depression?) and reminisces about the past. Beautifully done, and an excellent way to spend a few minutes; you may find yourself enjoying the rest of the videos too. I did.

Returning to matters at hand, Chianti Classico, and to a greater degree Chianti Classico Riserva work best with substantial foods: Stews, roasts, and the like, and given the dismal winter weather we've been having of late, the idea of something that will warm the kitchen (and the heart) sounds pretty good.

Wild boar is perfect for this sort of thing. And good for the winemaker too, because Tuscany (and much of the rest of Italy) is awash in wild boar thanks to Italian hunters, who decided (in the 60s, I was told) to bolster the native Italian boar with Eastern European boar, which are quite a bit larger. They're also much more vigorous, producing litters of up to 15 piglets (as opposed to the 4-6 of Italian boar), and the result has been a disaster for agriculture, with herds of boar scouring the countryside much the way deer do in some parts of North America.

Winemakers have responded by erecting serious fences (over the objections of hunters) around their vineyards because a herd is quite capable of stripping a vineyard of fruit in the course of a night. "Looks like a mechanical harvester came through," one guy told me. Nor do they limit themselves to vineyards, or show much fear of humans: a family of boar ate one of my neighbors' gardens, and we often see them on the other side of the fence separating our yard from the woods. Bottom line: anything that will reduce their numbers is quite welcome, and these recipes offer a welcome way of dealing with the catch. Should you not have wild boar, pork will work (I once had semi-wild pork from Texas when in the US), as will other furred game.

Cinghiale Ai Frutti Di Bosco - Wild Boar with Berry Fruit
This is an easy recipe, but does require 48 hours of marinating time. To serve 4 you'll need:

1 4/5 pounds (800 g) wild boar meat, cubed
2 ounces (60 g) diced fresh lard (optional, you could also use 1/4 cup olive oil)
1/4 cup (25 g) unsalted butter
1 quart (1 l) dry red wine
6 ounces (150 g) dried mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
1/2 pound (225 g) blueberries
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
An 8-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
A small bunch of sage
A sprig of fresh thyme
3-4 juniper berries
An onion, peeled and chopped
A healthy pinch of powdered cinnamon
2-3 cloves
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by washing, drying, peeling, and chopping the carrots, celery, and onion. Rinse and pat dry the remaining herbs. Combine the herbs, spices, and cubed boar in a bowl and pour the wine over them. Marinate the meat, turning the pieces occasionally, for 48 hours.

Come time to cook it, remove the meat from the marinade with a slotted spoon and pat the pieces dry. Remove and discard the vegetables herbs, and spices as well, and reserve the marinade.

Heat the lard or oil and the 2/3 of the butter in a pot, and brown the meat, dusting it with salt, freshly ground pepper, and the flour as you stir the pieces about. When they are browned add a ladle of the marinade, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 2 hours, adding more marinade as the liquid in the pot evaporates.

By the time 2 hours is up the meat should be quite tender. Heat the remaining butter in a pan and sauté the mushrooms for a few minutes. Gently add to them the blueberries, and carefully add the mixture to the meat. Cook for a few minutes more and serve, with polenta.

Cinghiale All'Aspromonte - Aspromonte-Style Boar
The Aspromonte is Calabria's central mountainous massif, and the name -- literally, "The Bitter Mountain" gives an idea of how rugged the topography is and how harsh the conditions are. One of the creatures roaming the mountains is wild boar, and this is a simple recipe for sella di cinghiale, or rack of wild boar. To serve 4:

1 4/5 pounds (800 g) rack of wild boar
2-3 bay leaves
A small bunch of parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Several bell peppers
A rotisserie, either oven or over the coals
Season the meat well with salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse and shake dry the parsley. Peel the garlic and mince it with the parsley. And the bay leaves. Rub the chopped herbs evenly into the meat and sprinkle the meat with the olive oil.

Spit the meat and roast it for 2 hours, either in front of (not directly over; see instructions here if need be) the coals of a hardwood fire, or in an oven you have preheated to 420 F, turning the heat down to 360 F.

Set a drippings pan under the roast to catch the drippings, and baste the meat frequently as it cooks.

While the meat is cooking, stem, seed and rib the bell peppers, grill them skin-side down, and remove the skins then they have blistered. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil, and put them on a platter.

When the rack is cooked, remove it to the platter, let it rest for a few minutes, and serve. Calabrians traditionally accompany this roast with a zesty tomato sauce liberally spiked with hot pepper.

Cinghiale alla Romana in Agrodolce - Roman-Style Sweet and Sour Boar
Italian sweet-and-sour and sweet-and-pungent recipes tend to be quite old, deriving from the aristocratic Middle Eastern custom of using sugar as a sort of "sweet salt," which the Crusaders discovered and brought home with them.

They're no longer as popular as they once were -- tastes have changed, and now Italians prefer more savory dishes -- but they still offer a delightful change of pace. To serve 4:

1 4/5 pounds (800 g) leg of wild boar
2 tablespoons olive oil
A rib of celery, chopped
1 1/2 ounces (45 g) sultana raisins, plumped in warm water
2 cloves
4/5 cup (200 ml) red wine vinegar
3 onions, peeled, and two of which chopped
A carrot, peeled and chopped
1/4 pound pitted cherries (the Italian kind called for is visciole)
1/4 pound (100 g) dried prunes, plumped in warm water
A bay leaf
A clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 ounce bitter baking chocolate, shaved
2 tablespoons sugar
2 sprigs of thyme
1/4 pound (100 g) lean prosciutto, cut in a single thick slice and diced
1 pint (500 ml) dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Butcher's twine

Combine the two chopped onions, the chopped carrot and celery, the bay leaf, the thyme, the garlic, the cloves, half the vinegar, and the wine in a pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Let it cool, transfer it to a bowl, and marinate the meat in it for 24 hours.

Drain the meat and discard the chopped vegetables. Filter the marinade.

Tie the meat with the twine so it keeps its shape. Heat the olive oil in a pot and brown the meat in it, together with the prosciutto seasoning all with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the filtered marinade over the meat and simmer until it has evaporated; add cold water to cover and simmer, covered, for another 2 1/2 hours.

When the time is up drain the meat, untie it, slice it, and put it in a bowl. Filter the pan drippings and set them aside.

While the meat is cooking, prepare the sweet and sour, timing things so you will have the pan drippings when you need them: finely slice the remaining onion. Put the sugar, onion, and 1 tablespoon of water in a small pot and cook gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the chocolate shavings and stir gently until they have melted. Add the vinegar and continue to cook until the liquid's volume is reduced by half.

Add the pan drippings from the boar, as well as the raisins, prunes, cherries, and pine nuts. Mix well, and spoon the sauce over the boar. Serve at once.

Cinghiale alle Mele - Wild Boar with Apples
Pork and apples is one of the most standard combinations in cooking, and it should come as no surprise that wild boar will also work well with apples. Tangy apples, for example Granny Smiths, whose tang will balance the richness of the meat. To serve 4:

1 4/5 pounds (800 g) boned wild boar, cubed
3 apples, peeled and cored
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup dry red wine
An onion, peeled and chopped
A clove of garlic
A bay leaf
1 tablespoon flour
A shot of brandy
A carrot, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Put half the butter in a roasting pan, heat it over a burner, and brown the meat. When the meat has browned add the diced carrot and the chopped onion, dust with the flour, and continue to cook until they have colored too.

While you are doing this, preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).

Sprinkle the wine over the meat, add the garlic and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper, and bring the moisture to a boil. Transfer the meat to the oven and roast it for 50 minutes. Sprinkle the brandy over it and return it to the oven for another 10 minutes.

While the meat is cooking, peel, core, and slice the apples. Just before adding the brandy to the boar, heat the remaining butter in a pan, and cook the apples for about 10 minutes. Arrange the boar and the apples on a warmed serving dish and serve at once.

La Sartoria Gianni Seminara
I remember how happy my father was to meet an elderly tailor who lived out in the countryside below Siena in the early 70s: He eagerly ordered several suits, and though they weren't cut to the latest fashions, they were very well made, and he wore them (the jackets, especially) until he died in 1988. Now, of course, if you wander the heart of Florence or any other Italian city, you'll see dozens of clothing stores offering everything from the very cheap to the ruinously expensive, and all off of racks. And while it's true that the clothing that's more to the ruinously expensive end of the scale is then fitted to the client, the pieces are still mass-produced.

That's not the only way to go, however: Florence has a great many artisans who work in the fashion/clothing sector, and the this year the city's tourism office organized a program called Mestieri Della Moda, with free guided tours of ateliers and workshops (see their site). In presenting the program they held a sample guided tour, which was quite interesting.

The Sartoria Seminara was started in 1957 by Giuseppe Seminara, who moved to Florence after his apprenticeship and opened a shop in the outskirts of town. It did well, and in 1967 he decided to take the Big Step, moving to Via de'Calzaiuoli, between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Della Signoria. But he didn't open up shop, as it were. Rather, he took possession of an apartment on the second floor of the building (it's at number 10, and the same is on the bell), where clients could come, get fitted, and socialize.

Because tailor-made clothing isn't instantaneous -- it takes a month to make a suit, and involves several visits. Once you get past the idea of walking into a store and emerging with the clothes under your arm, the wait is actually a very good tradeoff, I realized as I looked about the shop. Gianni Seminara, who took over from his father in 1997, has an impressive variety of beautiful fabrics, including many artisinal English and Scottish wools, some woven on older looms -- things you simply won't find in a high fashion clothing store.

And since Gianni and his staff cut the fabric to order, they can give the clothing the cut you desire, though Gianni notes that elegant men's clothing hasn't changed that much in the past 20 years. At least in terms of cut; the fabrics are lighter than they once were, and while one would expect this of summer fabrics, some of which are now so light that it requires considerable skill to work them, it's also true for winter fabrics, because now most everyone has an overcoat. In the past, Gianni says, overcoats weren't ubiquitous, and therefore jackets had to be warmer than they are now.

Bottom line: Tailor-made clothing is high end -- there's no getting around it -- but not more expensive than something from a renowned fashion designer. So, if you're buying elegant clothing for a special occasion or simply (like my father) to use for a long time, unless the label is important to you or you need it tomorrow, a visit to a tailor shop like the Sartoria Seminara makes excellent sense. You can order exactly what you want, it will fit perfectly, the quality will be superb, and the clothing will be unique.

For more information, and the exact location of the shop, check the Sartoria Seminara's site.

This time's proverb is again Tuscan: I Danari non bastano; Bisogna saperli spendere -- To have money is not enough; one must know how to spend it.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.