Category Archives: Florence

Fun With Wine And Google: Piazzano

For a brief while our friends at Sovereignty Wines had an allocation of a very nice DOCG Chianti from just west of Florence, via the Piazzano estate.  We liked it so much it demanded an investigation via Google Earth:

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West of Florence, in the heart of the Tuscan wine paradise.

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Drilling in a bit, we get some perspective for the closeness to the Firenze metropolitan area, while maintaining the rural roots that embody the terroir.

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Beautiful.  We’re getting closer.  Note the purposefully repurposed plots of land, the agrarian sense of the place nestled close to developed areas…yet far enough out there in the Tuscan countryside to be what you’d want a Tuscany winery to be.

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Aerial closeups.

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And finally some earth level views that give up a sense of how magical this place is.  The upright Tuscan cypress, the dry but fertile fields…magic all around.

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Look at that view.  You can see why expatriates from other countries give it up, all of it…the houses, the cars, the bank accounts, etc to go live in and amongst the Tuscans.


Fun With Wine and Google, Moronna Edition

Had the pleasure of trying I Sodi del Paretaio thanks to our friends at Sovereignty Wines, and we weren’t disappointed in the slightest.   What a fantastic example of the Chianti DOCG.


After trying that we certainly wanted to know where our wine came from, and so off to Google Maps it was.   I Sodi comes from the Pisa province and a little town called Terricciola, from a winery on the appropriately named Via del Chianti no less.

 Badia 1

You’ll find it a little more than halfway to Pisa from Siena.   What a lovely part of the world.

Badia 2

I love the names of the towns here.  They roll off the tongue quite lyrically.   You’re in the heart of Chianti country.

Badia 3

You can see quite clearly at this elevation that the land has been extensively re-purposed for agricultural purposes but is still green, rolling hills.

Badia 4

And as we descend, we see the winery amidst cypress trees and vineyards in the Tuscan countryside.  Fantastic!  And if you follow the little dirt road out of town toward the signs for Badia di Moronna, you see this:

Badia 5

If you’re like us, you dream about getting to visit places like this you haven’t been before.  Time to add this one to the list.

Vino With Val!

What a fantastic tasting!

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We had the privilege of attending a wine tasting with Val Caruso today, and it was remarkable; the theme was Tuscan wine, and Val boldly guided us through a well-traveled, well-documented region without a trace of redundant-feeling looks at wines you’d expect (and likely have already tried).  Her approach is very much in keeping with ours:  get off the beaten path!   As you can thusly guess, this was not merely a run-through of off-the-rack Chianti you can find just anywhere.  More on that in a second.

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Val started us with a wine from our friends at Fattoria il Palagio, but not the Tuscan IGT or their Cellini Chianti that we typically source over at Sovereignty Wines, but rather a perfectly light and refreshing Vernaccia that made for a perfect aperitivo.  We snacked on some goodies and listened as Val discussed the wines, the producers, and the changing culture of Italian winemaking (to wit, specifically how Italian women are coming to the forefront of the wine biz in Italy, to the benefit of both Italy and viticulture alike).

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We discussed stylistic differences between wines and winemaking philosophies, both traditional and the somewhat iconoclastic happening region-wide.  Extensive discussion of what constitutes “Super Tuscan” anyone?  Excellent.  We learned about the challenges faced by Italian vintners as they continue to push back against frankly inaccurate and outdated stereotypes that persist about Tuscan wine and and Italian wine generally; it’s quite clear from the outset that Val knows her stuff and has spent extensive time traveling the region and meeting the people pressing the grapes.

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And it was on to the reds.  As mentioned above, what made this tasting compelling was the distinct lack of the more predictable wines you’d expect to hear about and taste at a Tuscan wine event–no Chianti Classico, no Brunello, and nothing in a straw basket bottle. Not that there’s anything wrong with those wines, mind you, as they’re some of the best in the world to our mind and to the minds of many a wine critic.  But as we’re fond of saying, to get a feel for the *real* Italy, getting away from our biases and out of our comfort zones is incredibly critical.  Val takes great care to select blends and varietals that expand your sense of what Tuscany can do, and as a result we got to taste producers and labels that frankly one might not just stumble across at the typical wine store.  It just communicates that psychological connection to a place that you can only experience through food and wine, and communicates it well.  Not just about tastes and smells, it’s taking in a feel for what it is to be Tuscan.  Fantastic.

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While Sangiovese blends made appearances, there wasn’t a Chianti to be found.  Creative, outside of the box thinking from Val made for a great, unique tasting.

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My personal favorite was the Sasyr (as you can probably guess, a portmanteau of sangiovese and syrah).  The syrah rounded out the sangiovese nicely, and while it has all the character you’d expect of a Tuscan gem, it was just different enough to make you really want a full pour.  Val can help track down any of these locally here in Colorado Springs, and likely also help you find them elsewhere via her wine distributing friends.  Needless to say we’re big fans of the idea behind this sort of tasting–go try something new!

Looking forward to more events with Val, and to visiting the space where the tasting was held, Soiree here in the Springs.  What a great spot!

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Got a lovely birthday present last week in the form of Baracchi’s Smeriglio (which translates as small falcon, as the bottle hints); dark, almost opaque in color for a sangiovese, this wine hails from a part of the world more foreign travelers are starting to discover (Cortona).  It’s a bit off the beaten path, but worth the effort for the intrepid traveler according to friends who call it their roots; per our friend Valter at Valter’s Osteria in Salt Lake City, the best way to get there is Trenitalia to Arezzo, and then private car service from there.  On our list of things to do!



On the nose, you can immediately sense that the ABV is pretty robust, and the label confirms (14%).  Not overly floral or fruity, just solid Tuscan minerality as you sniff, and slightly underripe plum and dark fruit on the sip.  Long finish.  Was perfect with some ravioli, and would stand up to proteins and heavier sauces just fine. You should try it if you find it.  $22 at Sovereignty Wines here in the Springs.

Fun With Google Earth And Wine, Badia e Coltibuono Edition

One of the more lovely treats Doug Sassi brought home with him from recent set of tours was a bottle of Badia e Coltibuono’s Chianti Classico.  The 2010 is a perfect expression of the Sangiovese/Canaiolo blend style and the strong nose is instantly transportative, reminding the taster of the sights, smells, and tastes of Italy.  Not content to just imagine?  Let’s dig in via Google Earth:

Badia 1

As you can see they enjoy a woodsy area of Tuscany northeast of Siena and south of Florence–the heart of the Chianti region.  This is the sort of place that has made traveling authors swoon for generations, and end up finding a way to move there.  It’s not an accident.  Scrolling in:

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Italy isn’t a huge country (about the size of California), but it still makes more wine than any other country by a long stretch, and it is because they still respect the old ways of doing things while managing to incorporate them and improve upon them with modernity.  Because they live predominantly in well developed and livable urban centers, they can preserve these large swaths of wine producing country nearby the big cities–they have managed to avoid suburban strip mall sprawl in a way that we Americans have not.  Moving in:

Badia 3

To get there from the main road, you have to navigate through that lush Tuscan forest.  Does not sound like a chore to me in the slightest.

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Now you’re talking.  I love the pool nestled on the property by the entrance to the woods.  As you can see from the higher up shots, most of the grape growing appears to happen a bit further out.

Badia 5

Well, that’s awful.  Cannot imagine any of our clients will want to go here.  🙂  But just to make sure, we will go inspect the place personally to make sure it is up to snuff and report back shortly.  If we are not heard from in six months, send risotto, porcini mushrooms, prosciutto, and help in the form of wine fund replenishment….as we’re likely to offer to pick grapes and handle the landscaping for free and possibly sell off everything we own in order to get to live here.  Wow.

Badia 6

Imagine touring this place, tasting their wines, and then taking a bottle for a walk in the woods here.  You too will be looking for a black market organ harvesting operation to sell a kidney to in order to expatriate yourself here.  It looks that amazing.

The kicker:  they offer a cooking school and overnight accommodations, and a restaurant that opens March 15th and runs through early November.  Sounds like a place worth investigating.

Fun with Wine and Google Earth, Tuscany Edition

It’s been cold (as in single digit temps, dipping into the subzero range) and snowy here in The Springs, whereas Doug Sassi and his clients have been enjoying balmy mid to upper 50s in Venice this week.  Did we mention we’re jealous?

It was time to feed the kids, and nothing is more likely to please the palate of cranky two and three year olds than daddy’s homemade cherry tomato porcini mushroom garlic laden red wine tomato sauce over some noodles with lots of reggiano cheese.  And for the grownups, a taste of the Italian countryside courtesy of our friends over at Sovereignty.  We went for one of our very cost effective and reliable favorites, the Rosso Toscana IGT from Fattoria il Palagio.  80% Sangiovese rounded out with some Cab, it really sings (and for around $9) with a savory red sauce.  Nothing fancy or complex, just a harmonious red table wine that like most of the wines we favor reminds you of, well…being tableside in Italy.  Time to take a look at where our wine hails from:

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About halfway on the road between Volterra and Siena and south of Firenze, Fattoria il Palagio is smack in the middle of Tuscan wine country, nestled in the triangle formed by Firenze, Siena, and Livorno.  It’s really where you want to be instead of being snowed upon.  Another click inward reveals lots of woods, naturally, and rolling farmland.  Tuscany’s agrarian roots are readily apparent.

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Another click closer shows us the 10,000ft view of a small vineyard near a small town; you can tell already this is a place that has reverence for doing things in a traditional fashion.  There’s nary a WalMart or BestBuy to be seen.  No parking lots, no strip malls, no Starbucks.  Just Tuscany.

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Imagine the patience and love it takes to tend to neat rows of grapes trained so tidily for the seven generations Fattoria il Palagio has been in operation.

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Time for the street view:

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I don’t think it gets any better.  Cypress trees, long gravel driveway, clear blue skies…you can smell and feel the warmth of the place.  Google’s robot-on-the-car unfortunately didn’t make it any further up the road, but a glance at Fattoria il Palagio’s website makes the place look even more inviting.  Huge upside:  they offer locally pressed olive oil as well.  Definitely adding this place to the list of places to send clients who want an authentic Tuscan wine tasting experience.  The view to the right as you head into town from the vineyard is elegant:

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More Tuscan goodness as you make your way into the hamlet of Castel San Gimignano:

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Time to go *here*…pronto.

Deal Alert! Spring 2015 Special (Get It While It Lasts)

We’re offering a great package deal for our Introduction to Italy with Doug Sassi–fun for the experienced traveler who wants to get an artist and art historian’s inputs on “must-see” Italy, and an immersive trip of a lifetime for the first time Italy traveler.  For the artistic community, we can include our Drawing From the Masters option–with professional drawing instruction from Raphael Sassi–for a nominal surchage (inquire with group size and dates).

Pricing for this will be based on a departure from PHL, please inquire about departures from other airports as you require.


Arrive in Rome via an overnight flight we’ll book for you.   Spend three days and nights in a boutique hotel near the Pantheon, with Doug Sassi’s art and art history expertise guiding you through all of Rome’s captivating attractions, including:

  • The Sistine Chapel (Vatican)
  • The Rooms of Raphael (Vatican)
  • Saint Peter’s Basilica
  • Michelangelo’s Pieta and Moses
  • Castel Sant’Angelo
  • Spanish Steps
  • Pantheon
  • Piazza Navona
  • Campo dei Fiori
  • Arch of Constantine
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Circus Maximus
  • The Coliseum
  • And many, many more

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Day trip to Siena after checking out in the morning and hopping a train from Rome for an excursion to this lovely Tuscan gem where you’ll see it’s famous Piazza del Campo and Duomo, and have a lovely lunch.  After more taking in of Siena’s cultural gems, a train to check in at your hotel in Florence (a centrally located boutique hotel just steps from the Brunelleschi’s Duomo), and then walk off dinner and grappa with an evening walking tour to take the monuments of the Renaissance with Doug Sassi.  Sleep well, as the next three days will be filled with Doug’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Fiorentine masters’ works.  With Doug, you’ll have an unforgettable viewing of the following and unlimited access to his lifetime of knowledge about The Cradle of the Renaissance:

  • Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo)
  • The David and the Accademia
  • The Uffizi
  • The Baptistry and its famous doors
  • Giotto’s Campanile
  • Santa Maria Novella
  • Santa Croce
  • Palazzo Vecchio
  • Ponte Vecchio
  • The Leather School
  • Piazza della Repubblica
  • Piazza della Signoria
  • Boboli Gardens and the Palazzo Pitti
  • And of course the view from Piazzale Michelangelo (stunning at night and at dusk)

After the fourth night in Florence, you’ll check out for a lovely train ride through the Emiglia Romagna and Veneto country sides to La Serenissima–you’ll arrive in the afternoon in Venice in time for a late lunch of cicchetti at our favorite cicchetti bar near Santi Apostoli and check in at our “home in Venice“.  After a quick siesta you’ll take an evening walking tour with Doug along Strada Nuova and then on to a lovely meal (dinner in Venice rarely starts before 730 or 8pm) at a local family run trattoria, and then take in the view from the Rialto at night.  You’ll spend three nights in Venice and enjoy Doug’s famous walking tour (when in Italy, his *Italian* friends ask him where to go and what to do in Venice), to include things most tourists and tour groups miss off-the-beaten-path:


And much, much more.  Three nights in Venice with Sassi Italy Tours will prove an unforgettable experience that, on day four, you’ll be sad to see come to an end.  But you’ll be back!  This we are quite sure of.

This package includes:

  • all hotel accommodations in boutique hotels known for comfort, warmth, and welcoming atmosphere that Sassi Italy Tours has vetted and has established relationships with, guaranteeing you’ll enjoy your stay
  • airport transfers from Fiumicino to your hotel in Rome and to Venice Marco Polo via Alilaguna
  • vaporetto passes in Venice
  • taxis and shuttles as required in Rome
  • all museum and historical site entry fees
  • trains between cities
  • unlimited tour guidance from Doug Sassi himself
  • AIRFARE!  Our fee includes booking your airfare from PHL to Rome and back to PHL from Venice.

All you have to do is show up at the airport for departure and we handle the rest!  This package is $4300 per person for departures from December 2014 through February 2015, and $4600 per person for departures in March and April of 2015.  Availability is limited (max group size is 6, 8 people for family groups) and airfares are, as always, subject to change which may impact pricing in the future.

I’ve done some price shopping against the big name tour groups that cram you 50 people at a time onto a bus and give you an impersonal experience, and they’re no cheaper.   This is a chance to have your own private Italy expert for ten days and nights in an enchanted country!  Don’t miss it.

Drawing From The Masters This Spring

We’re proud to announce that the Bemis School of Art’s collaboration with Sassi Italy Tours and our Drawing From The Masters program is formally open for registration.  The initial departure is this February but fear not, more will follow in the future; some slots are already taken but a few remain and we strongly encourage you to contact Tara Thomas and get your deposit in now.  A course description is included at the registration link, and more information can be found here and a FAQ can be found here.


Brunelleschi’s Magic

As I recall from the Nova special on this on PBS a few months back, experts are pretty sure Brunelleschi used a series of ropes from the floor (similar to the first theory examined in this video), making some of this seem a bit dated.  But nonetheless a great peek into the genius of the man who made one of the world’s great structures a possibility.

We have many tours lined up for this fall, but still have some openings–come see it with us!