Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tbilisi Sulphur Baths

*Interior shots by food stylist Erin Merhar
Interior photo from the pool by Erin Merhar
 The name Tbilisi derives from an old Georgian word meaning “warm place.”    The word applies to both the glorious sulphur baths on which the city was founded, as well as the generosity and warmth of the Georgian people. I visited the sulfur baths during the International Wine Tourism Conference feeling quite depleted after a long flight, late night feasts and preparation for two presentations at the conference. I had a reservation at 9:00 and, though I was up until 3:00 the night before drinking exquisite Georgian wine with new friends, there was no way I was missing that appointment for a private room with massage and scrub. My body and soul ached for that appointment.
      The legend of Tbilisi's foundation is based on these baths, which are built around naturally occurring hot sulphur springs that can be located by smell alone. Hot sulphur water helps a variety of ailments including skin disorders, arthritis, autoimmune disease, muscle tension and sports injuries. The baths are designed to allow the visitor to relish in the warm bounty of the earth, to provide a relaxing experience enjoyed with with friends and family. The baths are in the old town, dome-shaped and reminiscent of both Etruscan funeral mounds in Cerveteri and a scene from a 1970s sci-fi flick. Slipping into the baths, one feels as though he or she has entered the womb of Gaia herself.
Little beehive domes of the sulphur baths

      When I arrived I wasn't sure I was at the right place. My partner for the morning was late, so I decided enter the private room and change. Then, I opened the door to an oasis: a private pool. There was a large bath in the center of the room that brought to mind a full-immersion baptismal. The water temperature was perfect. It was hot, but not overwhelmingly so, and there was space for at least 10 people. We had a private sauna, showers and an ice cold bath. There were also two marble beds for a massage and scrub (both part of the package). We had the pool for and hour and half—though 2-3 hours would have been more ideal. I had to speak at the conference later that afternoon, so I couldn't linger. I was afraid that if I stayed too long, I'd be too tired to even participate.
      I entered the warm pool and just sat there, relaxing and letting the water wash away the filth from body and the tension from soul. The sulphur springs flowed continuously, renewing the pools as I sat. After about 20 minutes, a topless lady came in to scrub and massage us with a special exfoliating glove similar to those used at a Turkish hammam. At the baths, women scrubbed women and men scrubbed men. Since we were a female party of two, we were taken care of by a lovely woman with a gentle face and strong hands adept at removing layer upon layer of dead skin to reveal new skin I never knew existed. Who knew I had freckles? After exfoliation, she massaged me from head to toe and I felt like butter under her warm hands. She released me back to the warm pool and her next patient took her turn.
     Everyone has their own bathing or showering rituals, but nothing compares to an intimate, sumptuous, and invigorating full-body deep exfoliation. The baths were an intimate luxury very few of us in the West experience. Who else bathes us but our own mothers? Even then, baths between a mother and child lasted only until we were of a certain age, after which we lost that connection and began to bathe alone. Allowing a stranger to touch and bathe you—without a common language—can be intimidating. Eye contact, smiles and hand gestures were our only language, yet I knew when I needed to turn over or lift up my arm.
      Since I've been back in Italy, more than one person has remarked that I seem lighter and more carefree. Before I left for Georgia I felt a lot of pressure from my work life, home life and the normal day-to-day problems of life. We had experienced a great and devastating death in the family and I felt broken. I was burdened by my feelings of deep grief and felt my life slowly unravelling. I could not control the sudden waves anger or sorrow I was experiencing. But those burdens were lifted in Georgia. They were washed away, exfoliated from my body and my spirit, and drained into the Mtkvari River to the Caspian Sea. They are no longer my burdens.
      In the warmth of the springs under a tiled dome I felt every nerve and muscle of my body relax. I focused on my breathing; I meditated and felt deeply relaxed and sleepy. Before I left, I plunged into the ice-cold pool to awaken myself once more. This use of hot- and cold-water therapy has been found to have cardiovascular benefits and to help migraine sufferers. My body stayed warm despite my quick cold-water plunge. Afterwards, I felt reinvigorated and ready for the day ahead of me, ready to speak to a room full of people with my colleagues and participate fully in the journey ahead of me.
I came to Georgia for the wine, but the baths prepared me for the warmth and generosity of the entire land. A visit to the sulphur baths is an essential part of the Tbilisi experience. Rent a private room, or join the gender-segregated pools. The springs are a gateway to understanding the foundation of the city. They are a part of life and not just for tourists. 

Interior shot of private pool by Erin Merhar

Bakhmaro run by Gulo (599 58 81 22)
There are totally 7 rooms for 20 - 50 Lari, 2 rooms for 60 Lari and VIP for 100 Lari (for 20 persons).
Open 07:30 – 01:00.
Address: Grishashvili 5

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Georgia: Here Wine Lives

I had the honor of visiting the Republic of Georgia for the International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi last week. Very few places have impressed me as much or left me with so much desire to come back that I feel pain.  Georgia is the cradle of wine.  Wine in Georgia is a tradition of place and of people.  Through the ages and through invasions and oppression the people persevered through wine.  The vine (there are over 500 indigenous grape types) is the symbol of both country and people and grape motifs are everywhere. What makes Georgia so fascinating is that their own style wine making has survived. This ancient heritage of Qvevri is now protected and recognized by UNESCO.

Watch this short video on the ancient tradition of Qvervi making.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Top Nine Roman Gelatos

With the hot months around the corner it is almost gelato for every meal season, so I asked Antiqua Tours intern Annie Epstein to write a post on her top nine gelati she has had in Rome.  Annie is a Study Abroad student and great asset to us.  Right now she doesn't have a blog I can link to but I am sure we will be hearing about her in the future.  I am looking forward to tasting gelato this season with our guests. I have linked to The Rome Digest for information on where to find each venue and opening hours. 

Gelateria del Teatro is known for creating pure flavors derived from fresh, well-sourced ingredients, so it’s no surprise that the mint stracciatella has a penetrating herbaceous flavor. A bite of the pale green gelato will pack a creamy punch reminiscent of a just-picked sprig of mint and a bit of chocolate crunch.
  1. Pistachio—Vice
Although one should never visit Italy and miss nocciola, hazelnut, it is also important to branch out within the nut world. Try the pistachio flavor at Vice for a lightly sweet and pleasantly creamy experience. The pistachio, abundant in Southern Italy, is another less appreciated nut in the United States that deserves to be embraced. The nutty taste is a welcome break from heavy chocolate or light fruit, falling just in the middle of the gelato spectrum.
  1. Ananas e zenzero—Fatamorgana
On a whim, I chose this flavor for no better reason than the name. Ananas, I came to find out, means pineapple. Zenzero means ginger. Together, the two flavors create something brand new. The first bite of this pale yellow sorbet has the delicate flavor of very fresh pineapple that finishes with the subtle zing of ginger. Fatamorgana avoids a saccharine pineapple taste and applies a deft hand to the ginger, yielding a floral, multidimensional sorbet that deserves lingering over. It’s perfect for a hot afternoon in Rome.
  1. Fragola—Fior di Luna
Throughout Rome, gelaterias boast florescent red tubs of fragola, strawberry sorbet. Don’t trust these places. Instead, venture to Fior di Luna, tucked away in Trastevere, for a superior experience. When I visited this gelateria, the last flavor on my mind was strawberry. I was drawn to the tubs of gelato rather than sorbet. But from behind the counter there appeared a small spoonful of deep red fragola for me to try. The vegan sorbet tasted as if I’d just stuffed fifteen perfectly ripe strawberries into my mouth. Get it while you can—this gelareria offers the flavor only when strawberries are in season!
  1. Chocolate and fig—Fior di Luna
Another wonderful flavor option is chocolate and fig. While chocolate is satisfying on its own (and Fior di Luna offers a variety of chocolate sorbets of varying cacao percentages), chocolate gelato combined with fig is everything rich and lovely about chocolate with a hint of syrupy fruit. This flavor makes for a satisfying dessert, but the fig keeps it light enough to pass as a snack any time of the day.
  1. Orange—Fior di Luna
Fior di Luna takes pride in its products and takes care to source the best possible ingredients, while adhering to natural restrains such as seasonality. Thus it’s no surprise that the arancia or orange sorbet is a glowing example of the importance of ingredients. The gelateria utilizes the Italian arancia moro, which the shop explains is rich in antioxidants and accounts for the pink-orange color of the sorbet. This ancient Italian fruit is given a chance to shine and the showcases the floral complexity of the red orange. (Italian speakers can read more here: http://www.fiordiluna.com/content/arance-moro)
  1. EstasiFatamorgana
Coffee-chocolate lovers should experience estasi at Fatamorgana, made with coffee, chocolate, and whole hazelnuts, a flavor that’s not too creamy and slightly bitter. Espresso is beloved the world over, so I would be remiss to neglect to include a coffee gelato option. The nutty crunch of hazelnuts melds with the intense coffee bean flavor, softened by a bit of chocolate. The classic combination of nuts, coffee, and chocolate is never a letdown.
  1. Ricotta, fig, and almond—Gelateria del Teatro
Gelateria del Teatro manages to accomplish a flavor that’s tangy, sweet, nutty, and just a bit sour. Despite the use of ricotta, this gelato is light and refreshing. The crunch of the almonds, paired with the floral note of figs, perfectly compliments the ricotta-based gelato. The ricotta, fig, and almond gracefully accomplish a flavor that wins the hearts of sweet and savory dessert lovers.
  1. Chocolate and wine—Gelateria del Teatro
Dark chocolate and red wine is a widely accepted complimentary pair—why not turn them into an antioxidant-packed gelato flavor? Teatro seemingly uses little sugar in this flavor, allowing small bits of chocolate to sweeten each bite. The red wine shines through, bringing out the deep flavors of dark chocolate. This is chocolate gelato all grown up (and a little tipsy).

For more information on our food tours or if you are interested in organizing a gelato tour in Rome, contact us at info@antiquatours.com  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Georgian Wine

Well, today I am off to Tbilisi, Georgia.  I am so excited to taste these incredible wines and learn about Georgian wines.  Expect lots of posts on my Instagram.  I am joining a great group of bloggers before and after the International Wine Tourism Conference.  Below is a beautiful video posted by Anthony Swift at Wine Pleasures.

Stay tuned for posts about the people, food and wine of Georgia! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Top 9 Wines From Lazio

Malvasia Puntinata is an indigenous Lazio wine grape

To celebrate the redesign of our website that focuses on Rome and Lazio wine, food and culture, I've put together a new Top 9 post on my favorite wines from Lazio. We are now offering new wine tours and excursions which focus on the enogastronomic and cultural treasures of Lazio. Lazio has a abundance of indigenous grape varieties, unique terroir and an incredible amount of culture. We have a Lazio Wine Seminar and new excursions from Rome, including a visit to a very unique natural wine producer. Here are my picks. Please check out the new website and let us know what you think. 

Olevano Romano is a short drive from Rome and offers history, wine and great food

The Cesanese wine grape is indigenous to Lazio

Top 9 Wine Picks from Lazio

  1. La Visciola- This biodynamic producer makes my favorite Cesanese del Piglio. They produce a few different bottles from small plots of land. The entire production is tiny! If you want to experience the essence of Piglio and especially the Cesanese grape, choose their wine. Natural wine enthusiasts will not be disappointed. They are very low intervention in the cellar and use ambient yeast for fermentation. The wines are well made, structured and in some cases improve with age. If you love “Orange wine” try the Donna Rosa. It is made from Passerina Frusinate and had skin contact for 12 hours. No website available.
  2. Damiano Ciolli-He produces two wines, both made from the Cesanese grape. The Silene is the simpler of the two and perfectly expresses the wine grape. The fermentation occurs in cement tanks. Since 2011, Damiano Ciolli has completely abandoned barriques and is now aging the more “important” Cirsium in large oak barrels. His wines are more refined than most wines of the area and express the volcanic origin of the soil, as well as the potential of the Cesanese.
  3. Castel de Paolis-If you had to pick one of the many producers of Frascati Superiore, Castel de Paolis would be a good choice. They produce what I consider to be the benchmark Frascati against which all other Frascati should be measured. They are aromatic, fresh and express the volcanic soil from which the vines grow.
  4. Le Coste-Gian Marco is a radical wine grower, a true vigneron, and Lazio's answer to the natural wine movement not only because his wines are so different but because of the deeply personal philosophy from which they are born.No website available.
  5. Sergio Mottura-Makes a beautiful range of fresh and mineral whites made from 100% Grecchetto. They are elegant and often have saline notes as well as wonderful mineral tones. The wines are very well balanced and quite food-friendly. The cellar is dug out of volcanic tuff stone, which explains the high levels of minerals in the wines.
  6. Marco Carpineti-I love that this organic winery in Cori grows only indigenous grapes. I am especially fond of their whites and the passito, Ludum, which is made from 100% Arciprete (bellone) wine grapes.
  7. Falesco-I quite enjoy their methodo classico brut sparkling made from 100% Roscetto wine grapes. Roscetto is a rare, low yielding wine grape from Northern Lazio that almost went extinct and has traditionally been used as part of the blend for the historically interesting wine Est! Est!! Est!!! This lovely spumante has classic bread and toast aromas as well as mineral, fruit and floral notes. It's a lovely spumante to start a celebratory dinner with.
  8. Fiorano- The greatest white wines ever made, and I have had a few now. I can say they produce some of the best (and more elusive) wines I have ever tasted. Good luck ever finding any, production from the original prince stopped in 1995.  The Tenuta di Fiorano is now making wines, but reviews are mixed.  
  9. Roèt-The 100% Malvasia Puttinata, made by Roberto and Ettore, is a true vino contadino I drink almost every day. Each sip reminds me that wine has its roots in the land and that sometimes we wine people need to take a breath and relax. Wine snobs should stay clear; this recommendation is for true lovers of natural farm wines.

    This list is not in order and is not a complete list of Lazio's wine. 

    many of these wines can be found HERE 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Antiqua Tours in Tbilisi, Georgia

Photo courtesy of Anthony Swift at Wine Pleasures

At the end of March, I will be speaking at the 6th Annual International Wine Tourism Conference which will be held in the beautiful city of Tbilisi, Georgia 29-30 March, 2014. I will be speaking about the culture of wine, wine as culture, and the people who make the wine integral to this very special culture. I hope to demonstrate to my audience how people in wine tourism can/should include the overall history and culture of a region as a selling point for their wine tours, especially in unknown or unfamiliar regions. Wine-loving clients have often already been to wineries and want to experience something unique. After a while something many of us experience is something I call, “barrel overload.” Yes, technical questions are important, but what makes a winery special is often its relevance in the culture or its history. Except for a few tweaks here and there, most wineries start to look and feel the same. So what can we do differently?

I am going to discuss these points and hope to relay the information as a Socratic seminar rather than lecture about what I think people should do. I plan to talk specifically about the region I am passionate about: Lazio as a wine region. Lazio has a wealth of indigenous grape varieties, terroir, and an incredible number of traditions surrounding wine. My talk will integrate points about both the culture of wine and wine as culture with Lazio epitomizing a region overlooked for its incredible wine potential and wine heritage for the sake of a major city, Rome.

I am also excited to meet colleagues and learn how I can improve our services for Antiqua Tours guests. After all, our guests are usually on holiday and at the end of the day, all they want is to experience fantastic wine, food, and culture.

If you are attending the conference, please stop by my seminar. From the conference programme:

Wine as Culture
An overview of the importance of local cultural heritage in visiting a wine region. Case Study of Lazio. We will discuss why the humanities and people of a region as important to experiencing a wine region as the vines and wines themselves. People as Terroir (wine makers, local farmers, visiting nearby towns) and as an example we will talk about the Lazio wine region and getting visitors beyond Rome for a well rounded cultural experience which includes people, wine, food and cultural heritage. Why wine is not enough in wine tours. Learn why cultural heritage can sometimes sell wine regions, especially in unknown regions. And most importantly: Be a cultural ambassador to your region!

March 29, Session 1.4 at 16:00 in Queen Tamar

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Top 9 of 2013

Well, another year has passed and it seems fitting to list some of my top wine, craft beer and food moments of 2013. Studies and the success of sites like BuzzFeed show that people respond positively to lists, so I have decided to end 2013 with a new feature on my blog, and that is The Top 9. Why 9 and not some other arbitrary number? The obvious reason is my love of cats and the fact that they have 9 lives, so 9 it is.

A tasting of fortified wines during a WSET class
9.  Discovering I actually love dry Sherries like Fino and Manzanilla. Actually considering my love of rotten, fermented food and my passion for Kombucha brewing, lacto-fermentation and yeast in general, it is no wonder I have a newfound appreciation for FLOR, which infuses wonderful nutty notes to these often salty wines that are perfect with olives (another lacto-fermented food I make).

GianMarco and his lovely dirt
8.  Visiting one of my favorite Laziale wine producer's for Katie Parla's birthday. Gianmarco Antonuzi of Le Coste gave us an in-depth tour of his vineyards, showing us the health and life of the soil, the young bush trained vines and then taking us to the cellar where we tasted many different wines from the barrel for about two hours. Gianmarco can easily be described as a wine anarchist and a hardcore naturalist. No compromising, ever. Lazio is a region of incredible potential, and Gianmarco is the poster child of natural wine making in Lazio if not all of Italy. A true visionary. 
Umbria wine Master class with Patrick Farrell, MD, MW
7.  Participating in the first #winelover anniversary wine weekend over Valentine's weekend in Umbria. We tasted some interesting wines and I met a great group of people that share a passion for wine. Cool wine friends are always welcome!
Picking grapes, 2013
6.  Participating in my third grape harvest and helping make Roèt.  Since Roèt is essentially a field blend it is difficult to say how much of each variety is in the wine. This year, as I picked grapes, I got to know each grape and was able to identify them.  This still doesn't help me with my next-to-zero math skills.

Flora and my favorite beer
5.  Finally getting over my hatred of hipsters in San Diego and embracing the craft beer scene thanks to my best friend Hanna. We enjoyed amazing raw, unfiltered sour beer from all over the West Coast. My favorites came from California wine making region the Russian River Valley and Oregon. Another thing I discovered- in beer- Brettanomyces is delicious. My favorite beer on sour beer night was the Logston Seizoen Brett Farmhouse Ale from Oregon. I could drink this beer for days. 
4.  Launching The Rome Digest in March with Gina, Irene, Katie and Hande. It has been an extremely positive experience and feedback from the community has been great. Along with launching TRD, we spoke on blog collaboration at the Digital Wine CommunicationsConference in Spain, which was, of course, a huge honor. 
Soul mates?
3.  Meeting and bonding with Dora and Patrizia of Poderi Sanguineto I and II. Not only do they make wonderful, earthy Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, they are real salt-of-the.earth people. They make honest, traditional Tuscan wines which are a rarity amoung today's overly-polished wines of the region. They also have dozens of cats and Patrizia and I bonded over our great love of cats. She offered me a cat and introduced me to her favorite queen, a very old and noble lady. I fell in love with these endearing women.

Kopke's 1940 Colheita Tawny Port
2.  Port wine. We were chosen to participate in a press trip host by Greengrape through the Douro Valley in October pre dwcc with some fellow delegates. What can I say? I fell in love. Vinho Verde, Port Wine, Douro Doc are all fantastic. The Douro Valley is a place of extreme beauty, ancient history, gorgeous wine and unique terrior. I had the opportunity to taste many different types of port from Vintage to Ruby to LBV to Tawny to the benchmark 2011. The look like jewels in a glass. The most incredible wine I tasted during our trip in Portugal was Kopke's 1940 Colheita Tawny Port. (An entire post will be dedicated to this trip) This is a special edition wine to celebrate 375 years of the oldest Port Wine House. Only 375 bottles were produced. It was an ethereal and delicious moment.

My love...

1.  And last but not least, it should be no surprise for those who have joined the cult of Fiorano. My number one wine, food or beer moment of 2013 was at my birthday dinner. Ettore and I shared a 1975 Fiorano Semillon Vino da Tavola. These wines are the world's greatest wines and fairly unknown except to a few crazy cultish people. Another great example of the incredible potential of Lazio as a wine making region. Let's get beyond cheap Frascati in 2014!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!