Monday, November 5, 2012

From Ragusa to Regaleali

It had been a long time since I’d slept in a twin bed, but I had been so tired from the previous day of travel that it didn’t matter. With the shutters shut and the alarm off, my friend Tracy and I had even slept until 9:30 at Locanda Don Serafino.

We dressed and packed up quickly and headed downstairs for a great European breakfast of breads, muffins, yogurt and cheese. Unfortunately, we forgot we weren’t in Starbucks when it came to ordering coffee and just asked for “lattes,” forgetting to specify “café” before it. We enjoyed the glasses of warm milk before playing it safe and requesting cappuccinos!

We had a bit of time and went for a short walk in Ragusa Ibla before Francesco Ferreri picked us up and took us to the Valle Dell’Acate winery.  The drive seemed a lot more interesting after a good night’s sleep and we identified the almond, orange and olive trees along the way, as well as the green houses filled with tomatoes.

It was starting to warm up and it was a beautiful scene as we walked around the winery and vineyards.

At Valle Dell’Acate we were able to see some of the original wine-making equipment from “back in the day,” including a crushing pit that reminded me of the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel were crushing grapes in their bare feet!

In that same museum area was a picturesque window that looked out into the vineyards. This winery was well into the 21st century, though, using solar panels for 50% of its energy.

After we learned about the variety in the soil and land at Valle Dell’Acate (which means valley to river to sea) that produces the difference in the wines, we were able to taste quite a few. The 2011 Zagra, a blend of 60% grillo and 40% insolia, was my favorite for its ripe peach and apricot notes.

We also did a vertical tasting of the Bidis (chardonnay and insolia) and could really taste the difference between the years and the aging.

Before we left Valle Dell’Acate we had a lunch of fresh cheeses, calzone, breads, olives and fruits. It was the kind of meal I could eat every day, especially with the wine.

Nunzio had come to pick us up to take us to Regaleali. It was a long trip up the mountain on bumpy dirt roads. There were times when I looked down and couldn’t believe the incredible views and other times I was afraid to look down. At one point we had to stop the car on a cliff and wait for a herd of sheep to cross!

When we finally arrived at the Anna Lanza Cooking School I realized it was worth it. The villa was just as I pictured small town Italy to be, with a courtyard filled with chickens heckling and laundry hanging, and the addition of vineyards and sweeping views of the valley below.

Visitors to this villa and cooking school have included celebrity chefs (like Mario Batali) and people from all walks of life. Joining us for the visit were Jim, a movie producer from Hollywood, and Rosalinda, a banker from New York. There was also a group of interns and visiting chefs joining in.

Fabrizia Lanza told us about the cooking school her mother started (in the land of her family’s winery) while she instructed all on how things should be prepared. We even got to take a long walk through her garden which had the most extensive collection of flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits I have ever seen.

We had some delicious Pizzelle and chickpea fritters with Tasca d’Amerita Sparkling Rose as we sat in the courtyard and enjoyed the warm night.

Dinner was eggplant, rabbit, salad, pasta and fruit. All from this area and freshly made. We drank a 2007 Rosso del Conte with dinner, made from the local Nero d'Avola, which blends so well with the Sicilian cooking.

Dinner was just wonderful, as much for the food as for the company. We all sat around the big table and ate the freshest fruits and dishes as we shared stories about ourselves. My thoughts came back to the big dinners my Aunt Mary used to make, but the American-style version had left you more stuffed than satisfied.

We ended the meal with sweet and light cream puffs, and a glass of Diamante d'Almerita, a late harvest mixture of moscato and traminer aromatico that is heavenly.

Since there was a full house at Fabrizio Lanza’s villa and they only had a single room left, I volunteered to stay up at the winery about a mile away. I got a ride up to the property. It was almost identical to the other villa and my room was cozy. It was a bit strange when they said goodnight and I realized I was the only one left there, but I closed my eyes in the big four poster bed and reminded myself of the adventure that came to the lone woman in Under the Tuscan Sun!


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