Showing posts with label Wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wine. Show all posts

9 March 2019

Bettino Ricasoli - statesman and winemaker

Prime minister and inventor of modern Chianti wine

While not tending to his ancient vineyards, Bettino Ricasoli was twice prime minister
While not tending to his ancient vineyards,
Bettino Ricasoli was twice prime minister
The politician and winemaker Barone Bettino Ricasoli was born on this day in 1809 in Florence.

Ricasoli, who is considered one of the driving forces of the Risorgimento alongside Giuseppe MazziniCount Camillo Benso of Cavour, Giuseppe Garibaldi and others, succeeded Cavour as prime minister in 1861, the second person to hold the office in the new Kingdom of Italy.

After withdrawing from politics, he concentrated on the family vineyards around the Castello di Brolio in the Tuscan hills between Siena and Arezzo, seat of the Ricasoli family since the early 12th century.

It was there is 1872, seeking to create a wine with universal appeal, that he developed the formula for Chianti wine that is still used today, made up of 70 per cent Sangiovese grapes, 15 per cent Canaiolo and 15 per cent Malvasia bianca.

Today Barone Ricasoli - the oldest wine producer in Italy and the second oldest in the world - is the largest winery in the Chianti Classico area, with 235 hectares of vines and 26 hectares of olive groves in the area around Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga.

Bettino was the son of Baron Luigi Ricasolo and Elisabetta Peruzzi, who came from a family of Tuscan bankers. He attended the Collegio Cicognini, the oldest school in Prato, and spent two years travelling around Europe with his personal tutor. He was orphaned by the age of 18 following the deaths of both his parents, inheriting the castle and the estate but finding it to be heavily in debt.

Vines fill most of the slopes surrounding the ancient Ricasoli family seat at Castello di Brolio in Tuscany
Vines fill most of the slopes surrounding the ancient Ricasoli
family seat at Castello di Brolio in Tuscany
Decreed to be of age by the Duke of Tuscany, and therefore the legal owner of the castle and its vineyards, he quickly enrolled at the Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence in order to acquire the agrarian and financial skills he needed to run the business successfully. He managed to save it from collapse, helped by his marriage to Anna Bonaccorsi, the daughter of a noble landowner from Tredozio in the Tuscan Romagna, who brought with her a considerable dowry.

A follower of patriotic political philosophers such as Cesare Balbo and Massimo d’Azeglio, Ricasoli he became politically active in 1846, urging Leopold II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to make various liberal reforms. The following year, he founded a newspaper, La Patria, with a mission to define “the constitution of Italian nationality”.

In 1848 he was elected gonfalonier (mayor) of Florence after Leopold authorised the establishment of a Tuscan constitution. He encouraged support for Piedmont-Sardinia against Austria in the First Italian War of Independence.

Barone Ricasoli's chianti is renowned
Barone Ricasoli's
chianti is renowned
However, after Leopold was overthrown by the radical democrats Giuseppe Montanelli and Francesco Guerrazzi, who proclaimed a new republic, he reclaimed power only after turning to the Austrians for help, which so disgusted Ricasoli he abandoned his political career and exiled himself to Switzerland.

When he returned to the Castello di Brolio he took a circuitous route to avoid Florence, so that he would not have to set eyes on the occupying Austrian troops.

Ricasoli stayed out of politics until 1859, after the Second Italian War of Independence achieved its goal, when he was appointed minister of the interior in Cavour’s government of Tuscany, promoting the union of Tuscany with Piedmont, which took place in March 1860.

Elected to the Chamber of Deputies of the new Italian government in February 1861, he succeeded Cavour in the premiership in June.

As prime minister he admitted the Garibaldian volunteers to the regular army, revoked the 30-year exile of Mazzini for his membership of an illegal political group, and attempted - unsuccessfully - a reconciliation with the Vatican, with whom the new kingdom was still at odds.

He resigned in 1862 but returned to power in 1866. On this occasion he refused Napoleon III's offer to cede Venetia to Italy on condition that Italy gave up their Prussian alliance, and reached a compromise with the Vatican only for the Chamber to reject it, upon which he resigned again and withdrew from politics for good.

He died at the Castello di Brolio in October 1880.

The Ricasoli name was sold to a multinational conglomerate in the early 1970s but reacquired by the Barone’s grandson, also called Bettino. The business is now run by his great-grandson, Francesco.

Bettino Ricasoli turned the Castello di Brolio into a kind of English-style neo-Gothic manor house
Bettino Ricasoli turned the Castello di Brolio into a kind
of English-style neo-Gothic manor house
Travel tip:

The impressive Castello di Brolio, which sits on top of a hill 11km (7 miles) south of Gaiole in Chianti, dominates the surrounding countryside. Even though it is closer to Siena, just 20 km away and visible on a clear day, the castle has always been under the influence of Florence and was for many years used as a strategic outposts. As a result, it has been destroyed several times. The castle of today is partly the reconstruction ordered by Bettino Ricasoli in 1835, when he commissioned the architect Pietro Marchetti to modify the castle according to the taste of the Gothic revival, a romantic movement originating in England, transforming it from a fortress into something closer to an English manor house, with Tudor-style windows and crenellated turrets. Parts of the house, the Renaissance gardens and the English woods are open to the public. Inside the castle, it is possible to visit the Chapel of San Jacopo and the crypt with the family tombs and a small museum housing the Ricasoli collection.

Hotels in Gaiole in Chianti by

The Via Bettino Ricasole is a broad street, almost a  piazza, in the centre of Gaiole in Chianti
The Via Bettino Ricasole is a broad street, almost a
piazza, in the centre of Gaiole in Chianti
Travel tip:

The beautiful small town of Gaiole in Chianti, about 40km (25 miles) southeast of Florence, basks in the enviable accolade of being named at number one in a list of "Europe's Most Idyllic Places To Live" by Forbes magazine. The town is a perfect base for visiting the many castles in the area, such as the Castello di Meleto, the Castello di Spaltenna and the Badia Coltibuono, a fortified monastery. The town hosts many events connected with the wine industry plus, every March, a professional bicycle race is held, known as Strade Bianche.

26 April 2016

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella

Hazelnut spread that became a worldwide favourite

Photo of Nutella and bread spread with Nutella
Nutella served with crusty bread is a popular snack
in Italy and around the world
The man who invented the global commercial phenomenon that is Nutella spread was born on this day in 1925.

Michele Ferrero, who died in 2015 aged 89, owned the Italian chocolate manufacturer Ferrero SpA, the second largest confectionery producer in Europe after Nestlé.

He was the richest individual in Italy, listed by the Bloomberg Billionaires index in 2014 as the 20th richest person in the world.  The wealth of Michele and his family was put at $20.4 billion, around 14.9 billion euros.

Ferrero is famous for such brands as Ferrero Rocher, Mon Cheri, Kinder and Tic Tacs.  But, it could be argued, none of those names would probably exist had it not been for Nutella.

The chocolate and hazelnut spread came into being after Michele, who was born in the small town of Dogliani in Piedmont, inherited the Ferrero company from his father, Pietro, who died in 1949 only three years after setting up in business from his bakery in nearby Alba.

Photo of Michele Ferrero
Michele Ferrero became the richest man in Italy
With high taxes on cocoa beans making conventional chocolate expensive to make, Pietro had managed to build the business by producing a solid confectionery bar that combined Gianduja, a traditional Piedmontese hazelnut paste, with about 20 per cent chocolate.

A creamy, spreadable version was produced in 1951 under the name 'Supercrema' but it was after Michele decided to add palm oil to the recipe that the product really took off.  Renamed Nutella, and sold in a jar, it rolled off the production line at the factory in Alba for the first time on 20 April 1964.

Nutella was instantly popular and remains so more than 50 years later. Ferrero now produces 365,000 tons of Nutella every year in 11 factories around the world, with its biggest markets in Germany, France and Italy.

The 50th anniversary of Nutella's invention was commemorated with a stamp issued by Poste Italiane in 2014.  One fan of the product instigated World Nutella Day, which is celebrated by devotees on 5 February each year.

Building on Nutella's success, Ferrero created the Ferrero Rocher pralines, Kinder bars and Kinder Eggs and a host of other brands. What had begun as a small provincial chocolate factory turned into Italy's most valuable privately-owned company with sales of around 8 billion euros ($9 billion), selling its products in 53 countries.

Michele had a reputation for maintaining good working conditions for Ferrero's 22,000 employees. A fervent Catholic, he had a Madonna placed in every factory and office belonging to the company.

He eventually made his home in Monte Carlo but commuted to Alba by helicopter every day, playing an active role in creating new products until only a few years before his death.

Giovanni Ferrero, the youngest of Michele's two sons, is now the company's Chief Executive.  His brother, Pietro, was unfortunately killed in a cycling accident in South Africa in 2011.

Photo of the Duomo at Alba in Piedmont
Alba's Romaneque Duomo
Travel tip:

Alba, situated about 65 kilometres south-east of Turin, is a beautiful town famed for the production of white truffle, peaches and elegant wines, including Barbera and Barolo.  The town dates back to Roman times and has been fought over through history by Hungary, France, Spain and Austria among others.  Its partisans won a Gold Medal for Military Valour during the Second World War after liberating the town from Mussolini's Fascists.  Notable buildings include the Romanesque Duomo, built in the 12th century, restructured in the 15th century and further restored in the 19th century.

Travel tip:

Michele Ferrero's home town, about a half-hour drive from Alba to the south-west, Dogliani nestles among vineyards and woods of hazel trees.  Wine production plays an important role in the town's economy, in particular the Dolcetto di Dogliani red, which is made only from Dolcetto grapes grown within a small, clearly defined area, of which the yield is strictly controlled to maintain the wine's high value.  The late 19th century church of San Quirico e Paolo is impressive.  Visitors to the area before Christmas can witness the town's Presepio Vivente, in which local people enact the nativity scene on the nights of 23 and 24 December.

(Photo of Nutella by A Kniesel CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Duomo in Alba by Pippo-B CC BY-SA 3.0)


12 January 2016

Revolution in Sicily

January revolt meant the beginning of the end for the Bourbons

The Sicilian uprising on this day in 1848 was to be the first of several revolutions in Italy and Europe that year.

Ferdinand was the Bourbon ruler of Sicily
King Ferdinand II
The revolt against the Bourbon government of Ferdinand II in Sicily started in Palermo and led to Sicily becoming an independent state for 16 months.

It was the third revolution to take place on the island against Bourbon rule and signalled the end for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Naples and Sicily had been formally reunited to become the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1815. Back in medieval times they had both been part of a single Kingdom of Sicily.

The 1848 revolt was organised in Palermo and deliberately timed to coincide with King Ferdinand’s birthday.

News of the revolt spread and peasants from the countryside arrived to join the fray and express their frustration about the hardships they were enduring.

Sicilian nobles revived the liberal constitution based on the Westminster system of parliamentary government, which had been drawn up for the island in 1812.

The Bourbon army took back full control of Sicily by force in May 1849 but the revolt proved to be only a curtain raiser for the events to come in 1860 when Giuseppe Garibaldi ended Bourbon rule once and for all.

The island of Sicily became part of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Travel tip:
Palermo's magnificent Teatro Massimo
Photo: Bjs (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Palermo,  the capital of Sicily, is famous for its history, culture, architecture, food and wine. It has examples of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches and palaces. Palazzo dei Normanni, a marvellous example of Norman architecture, is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly. The Teatro Massimo, the biggest theatre in Italy, has staged operas starring Enrico Caruso.

Travel tip:

Naples has been subjected to persistent foreign domination over the centuries. After the Spanish came the Austrians and in 1734 the Bourbon King, Charles I, renovated the city, building the Villa di Capodimonte and the Teatro di San Carlo. Napoleon conquered Naples in 1806 and made his brother the King, but the Bourbon King, Ferdinand, regained Naples in 1815. In 1861, Garibaldi’s army conquered the city and handed it over to the King of Sardinia, who later became King Victor Emanuel II, the ruler of the newly united Italy.


25 December 2015

Natale – Christmas Day

Celebrating Christmas the Italian way


Christmas Day in Italy is very much a family feast just as in other parts of the world.

After la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), when traditionally a fish meal is consumed and the adults go to midnight mass, Natale (Christmas Day) is a time for feasting.
Panettone, the traditional end to the
Christmas Day meal in Italy

While the children open their presents, the adults savour a glass of good Prosecco or uncork a special vintage bottle while they prepare the festive table.

Friends and relatives who drop in with presents or to exchange good wishes will be offered a glass of wine and nuts, biscuits or torrone (a type of nougat from Cremona).

Antipasti is likely to include Parma ham or Bresaola, served with preserved mushrooms, olives or pickled vegetables.

Stuffed pasta is usually served as a first course, either in the shape of ravioli or tortellini, which are said to have been offered as Christmas gifts to priests and monks during the 12th century. In the south a baked pasta dish is often served.

For the main course, turkey or capon is likely to be served in the north of Italy, with potatoes and vegetables as side dishes. Veal, beef and chicken can be served in the south.

The traditional end to the meal is almost always Panettone, served warm accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine or Prosecco. 

Salute e Buon Natale from Italy On This Day!

Travel tip:

Cremona in Lombardia is famous for producing confectionery. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino specialises in the city’s famous torrone (nougat). The concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was created in the city to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when Cremona was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

Travel tip:

Milan, the main city in Lombardia, is believed to be where Panettone originated.  It is said to have been concoted by a Milanese baker, Antonio (Toni), to impress his girlfriend at Christmas time in the 15th century. The result was so successful that ‘Pane de Toni’ has become a regular feature of the Christmas season all over Italy and now even abroad.


6 November 2015

Vino Novello

Raise a glass to autumn in Italy

Italy’s new wine for 2015, Vino Novello, goes on sale in the shops and will be served in bars and restaurants from today.

The light, fruity, red wine, produced throughout Italy from different grape varieties, is enjoyable to drink and a bargain buy to take home with you.

Vino Novello on sale in Padova
Vino Novello is often similar in taste, body and colour to the French wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, which is exported to a number of other countries after its release in the third week of November.

Like Beaujolais Nouveau, Vino Novello has a low alcohol content and is meant to be drunk while it is still young. The wine should be consumed quickly after the bottle is opened and unopened bottles should be kept for only a few months.

In some parts of Italy there is a tradition that the last days to drink it are i giorni della merla (the days of the blackbird), which are traditionally the coldest days at the end of January.

A major area for production is the Veneto, with the merlot grape being the one most used by wine makers to make Vino Novello. Many wine producing areas hold feste to celebrate and will serve local specialities to eat with the new wine.

Vino Novello is produced using carbonic maceration, which involves accelerating the fermentation process.

Whereas 100 per cent carbonic maceration is used to produce Beaujolais Nouveau, only 30 per cent is required for Vino Novello.

However, one Italian Vino Novello that is produced using 100 per cent carbonic maceration is Bardolino Novello, which is made in the area around the resort of Bardolino on Lake Garda in the Veneto.

According to the Bardolino wine consortium (Consorzio Tutelavino Bardolino Doc), 100 per cent carbonic maceration is used in order to produce an excellent wine.

A wine bar on Bardolino's main street
Vino Novello has a vibrant colour, a fresh bouquet and goes well with chestnuts and dishes made from chestnut flour, such as castagnaccio, a popular cake served in the autumn.

Travel tip:

In 1987, Bardolino Novello was the first Vino Novello to receive DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status. To celebrate this achievement a wine festival is held every year in the first week of November in Piazza del Porto in Bardolino.

Travel tip:

Bardolino is just a short boat ride away from Desenzano del Garda. After disembarking, walk down the main street, which is lined with shops, restaurants and bars where you can sample Bardolino by the glass. Make a point of visiting the church of San Severo, which dates back to the 11th century and the small church of San Zeno, which dates back to the eighth century and still contains traces of its original frescoes. If you want to learn more about Bardolino wine and the history of wine making, visit the museum run by the Zeni family of winemakers at Via Costabella 9. For opening hours visit