Took a week off mid-July and went to Le Marche in Italy. We drove down from the French Alps through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and reached Modena for lunch. The place I had hoped to find, ‘Restaurant Lauro’ full of car memorabilia, seemed to have disappeared, but fortunately I had an old Michelin red Guide to Italy and it helped us out with somewhere else. It was Sunday and Modena was like a ghost town – don’t know if this is always the case on Sunday, or just in summer. We found a great restaurant, Zelmira with a few people sitting outside (where it was almost too hot to sit), and we followed what others were doing and ordered 50cl of house red Sangiovese with ice! It worked perfectly with the first pasta of the trip.
We were staying for 6 nights in Le Marche in the Verdicchio dei Matelica DOC (western, more inland and I think, higher in altitude than the better known Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC). We bought some bottles in Matelica after a tasting at the Enoteca Communale and were not disappointed with these or any that we drank in various restaurants and bars. They were invariably fresh, clean, quite delicate, ideal for summer and flexible with food. Whereas the cheaper ones don’t have much character, better ones showed more depth and a slightly stoney, dried fruit character. Belisario is the largest producer with a good range at different levels and we also found some good wines from La Monacesca.
A tip if by any chance you are in Matelica: Armani have a factory shop on the northern side of the town … it just has a big sign ‘Factory Shop’ – Armani is in very small letters!
What struck us in particular was that whenever you order a drink in a bar here, you get served a substantial snack. In fact on several occasions at lunchtime, I saw someone – usually on their own – effectively have their lunch, by ordering two drinks. Snacks are normally be olives, nuts, but also mini-sandwiches, focaccia and/or pizza chunks. Drinkable wine by the glass is always easy to come by too. Oh, to find something similar in France! See an article that Jancis Robinson wrote about this after a recent visit she made to Tuscany:
A good restaurant to visit between Castelraimondo and Matelica is Il Giardino degli Ulivi. Billed as ‘Agriturismo’ it’s an old house converted into a little restaurant with rooms on the edge of a village with a horse farm attached. Looked nice to stay in. There is simply one set meal – delicious antipasta (photo by Brett, above), classic pasta tomato dish, an unexpectedly tasty turkey main course and yummy puddings. We ended up sharing a table with a delightful Italian couple who fortunately spoke English! I asked them, once I had got to know them a bit about what ‘Agriturismo’ really means – and got a wry smile. “It’s political” … if you want to do up your house and you promise to offer rooms to let with food, or a restaurant using ingredients from your own land, you can get a big grant! So, they are not necessarily all that they seem. This one was good though, but the name ‘Agriturismo’ doesn’t really work in English. Found this blog also talking about the term:
En route back we had a Saturday evening in Bologna, and found a few places closed for summer, but did manage to go to what we thought was a wine bar and turned out to be more of a restaurant: Cantina Bentivoglio – we thought they had jazz every night, but it turns out that in summer it’s more lucrative for them to rent out the jazz room to groups – there was a huge German group when we were there, who ended up singing … The main restaurant where we were was very atmospheric with some impressive empty bottles/magnums on display. We decided to go south for the wines, rather than drink the local Lambrusco, and drank a half of delicious Grillo white followed by a Taurasi 2005. Excellent!
Our final Italian stop was in Courmayeur below Mont Blanc, where we were able to find a good bottle shop open to buy a selection of Italian reds to take back for a change from French wines. The mountain town was full of wealthy Italians from further south cruising the expensive shops, wrapped up in warm clothes to protect against the cool mountain air, a contrast to the consistent 36°C+ temps further south. We ate in a local restaurant – Italian Alpine food (subtly different from French Alpine food – fonduta, not fondue, cheese melted into milk for Brett and I ate a filling venison stew with polenta – not seasonal, but good). We washed it down with a light Aosta red – Torette, which did the trick well.
As I’ve always thought, you can eat better in Italy than France as a general rule, unless you are addicted to the really rich creamy, salty French style. And the wines are consistently good in quality, again, more so than in some parts of France.
AND, feedback from www.winetravelguides.com subscribers is – no surprise – telling me that Italy is the priority for new Guides once I’ve managed to get the site going well enough to justify expanding beyond France. Can’t wait!