Tuesday, March 29, 2005


MARCH 18, 2005

After a dark and rainy Easter Sunday, Easter Monday started off only partly cloudy, and with the chance of clearing up. We had agreed to pick up Marguerite in Todi at two o’clock. Assuming that the weather continued to improve, we planned to drive to Montefalco for a wine/olive oil/bread tasting.

Montefalco is a cute medieval hill town. It sits WAYYYYY up there and has stunning views of the Umbrian countryside. Although it remained hazy, we could still see Assisi off in the distance. The fields and trees are getting greener every day, and scenery is beautiful with expectation.

Montefalco is also famous for its Sagrantino wine, a wine not widely known in the states, at least where we come from, but a wine held in high regard in Italy. This wine is made from Sagrantino grapes and some varieties combine the Sagrantino with the Sangiovese grape, the same one used for the more famous and more expensive Brunello.

We enjoyed a beautiful drive out of Todi…a route that Art and I had never driven before. Most of our drive was atop a ridge, with beautiful views on either side. When we descended into the valley, the hillsides seemed to wrap around us like a patchwork quilt.

We could see Montefalco in the distance long before we got there. These roads curve and wind their way across these hills, making the driving slow enough so that Art could enjoy a little of it too. (sometimes, when we’re driving in heavier and/or more dangerous traffic, we have the rule “no sightseeing for the driver!”)

This festa closed down from one until three each afternoon, and we got there just past three. Parking was already starting to be a challenge, but we lucked into something in the main lot just below town.

We walked the short and slightly uphill route into the city, and once we were through the gates, the medieval charms of Montefalco presented themselves instantly. Shops displaying beautiful if expensive linens were scattered up the street that lead to the piazza. The tablecloths and napkins are gorgeous, but way out of our budget. The price of the bath towels doesn’t even matter since we don’t like these towels at all. Even if they’re a decent size, I still feel as if I’m drying off with a flat weave dishtowel. Give me a fluffy American bath towel any day!

About halfway up the street I noticed a large poster advertising the wine tasting. We entered a doorway and were in a large hallway with posters on the walls telling the history of wine. Another doorway opened onto a courtyard, surrounded by a covered walkway. A few tables were set up out here, selling textiles…knitted booties and scarves. One table had decorated “Easter eggs”…something that’s apparently a VERY American tradition. (I’ve never even seen white eggs in Italy, although I’m sure they have them somewhere.)

I never did understand the differences, but for €10 you could get a large wine glass, and for €5 you could get a small glass. You could sample as many of the wines as you wanted…so I can’t figure out why you’d buy the larger €10 glass. Art sampled several wonderful wines…some of them seemed a little too dry for me and Marguerite, but I think if this wine was paired with the right food (something strong and spicy), maybe that would make it more enjoyable.

There were many tables sampling olive oil. They all had some sort of grill to warm the bread, then they would put small pieces on a tray, drizzle it with oil, then give it a sprinkling of salt. We sampled quite a few oils and found one that we really liked. Marguerite liked this one so much that she decided to buy a one liter tin to take back to Jakarta.

I KNOW that we have enough oil to last until next November, so I couldn’t justify buying any, but I did make a note of their name so that come next fall I can taste their 2005 oil. It was a really fragrant oil with quite a strong and piquant taste….the peppery bite came at the end, in the back of your throat, and was quite a nice surprise!

There were also tables selling various flavored honeys, one table selling chocolates with Sagrantino wine in the center, and several tables selling bread. We found a raisin bread that was made with, what else?, Sagrantino wine, and decided that this would make a great breakfast, especially toasted!

After some wine and bruschetta, we walked up to the circular piazza. A small area seemed to be the center of attention, although we never did figure out why. There were speakers set up, and a man began calling numbers and names. I think they were giving away things, but I never heard anyone squeal with joy when their number was called, so maybe not.

Marguerite and I walked into a small grocery store and marveled at the deli case full of meats and cheeses and all sort of salads and sauces. Whole prosciutto hams hung on the wall behind the counter, and the shelves were filled with an amazing variety of foods, including at least twenty varieties of pasta.

We wandered down another street, through the city wall and onto a small area where we could see the countryside spread out before us. Had it been a clear day we could have seen forever, but we could still make out Assisi crawling up Mt Subasio, Trevi with its hillside location, and the groves of olive trees below us.

On the way back through town we stopped in the small museum. Although we didn’t tour the museum, we did look in the small gift shop, and Marguerite found a travel guide for Italy that she had been looking for…and in English too! We stopped back at the wine and olive oil tasting hall so that Marguerite could pick up a tin of that wonderful oil.

On the drive home, we called Paul and Patty to see if they were home. Since they had been in Jakarta for the first few months Marguerite lived there, their paths hadn’t really crossed, but they had friends in common, and certainly experiences in common. Last week Paul and Patty had invited us to stop by with Marguerite to watch the sunset from their terrace. Although the chances of a beautiful sunset seemed slim, we decided that since we were in the neighborhood, we might as well stop in if they were home.

As luck would have it, Paul was home and Patty was on her way home. Paul was working on the flagstones around the patio, digging out the grass and filling in the gaps with concrete. He didn’t seem to mind stopping his work at all once we arrived.

Marguerite was given the tour while Art and I chatted with some friends of Paul and Patty’s who had just arrived. We all shared a glass of wine and some conversation, then the three of us headed back to Todi.

Once again, the road we took was one we had never been on, and it too was beautiful. Off in the distance we could see Todi, and behind us Montefalco got smaller and smaller, but the large water tower remained visible for quite a while.

By the time we got back to Todi it was about seven o’clock, and we decided to go up into the city with Marguerite and grab a pizza. We decided on La Scaletta, the same restaurant where we’d had our Easter lunch. We all had a pizza and shared a bottle of red wine.

Marguerite had told us that she wasn’t much of a wine drinker, but she seems to have changed her mind now that she’s here. She told us that she usually gets a headache from wine, but this hadn’t been a problem in Italy. We were happy for her, mainly because the wine here just enhances the experience and makes the food taste even better.

It must have been after ten when we got home that night, but we had such a wonderful time…getting to know Marguerite…exploring new roads and enjoying the beautiful countryside…tasting the wine and oil…wandering the medieval streets of Montefalco…spending time with Paul and Patty at their beautiful home….enjoying great pizza and good company…it was truly a wonderful day!


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