Are you dreaming of traveling to beautiful destinations again like I am? I don’t know about you, but every morning I wake up concerned for the health and well-being of the world, yet I still yearn for a time when we can all experience each other’s cultures once again. The COVID rollercoaster has been stressful, and a unique situation for all. But, in these times we must strive to find the silver lining, and sometimes? We need to create that joy, and beautiful escape for ourselves. For me, that happiness has come from traveling to Italy from home.
For today’s adventure, we will explore Italian culture through beautiful scenery, history, food, wine, and classic Italian cocktails. I love to travel, and wherever I go, I seek out the wine of the region. Wine-making has such a rich history all over the world! It truly is the window to the soul of any culture. In order to help us navigate Italian beverages and wines, allow me to introduce the Sommelier from my favorite Chicago dining spot. Anton Valkov of The Press Room.
Our first destination as we travel to Italy from home, is Milan. You will gasp at the sight of The Duomo di Milano, a giant in gothic architecture, while being star struck by the fashion within The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Teatro Alla Scala, the world renowned opera house is also here in Milan, and what better way to set the mood than through music!
As you prepare to enjoy your very own Apertivo, I encourage you set the stage with Italian Opera. Andrea Bocelli’s vocals will enchant you in “Music for Hope: From the Milan Cathedral.” Or you may prefer to listen to Pavarotti and Callas in “Italian Opera Class.” Either way, you may just close your eyes for a moment and find yourself in front of the Trevi Fountain.
Did you know? The Apertivo, or apertif (derived from the latin word aperire) is a pre-dinner cocktail and a snack meant to “open” the palate.
THE APERTIVO: AN ITALIAN TRADITION YOU MUST EXPERIENCE IMMEDIATELY
I enjoyed my very first Apertivo in The Navigli, or the canals, with my friend Nicola. This was my very first time in Italy, and he so kindly agreed to show me the dining scene of Milan. I miss traveling mostly for the people I spend time with along the way. You never do forget the meals you share together.
The Navigli is a bustling area of restaurants, and unique shops, and is the perfect place to unwind as the sun goes down. We drank Negronis, and grazed over everything from olives, salty chips, nuts, meats and cheeses.
When it comes to an Italian Apertivo, Anton of The Press Room recommends a Negroni, an Aperol Spritz, or just Campari on the Rocks with an orange peel. For your snack, salty foods pair beautifully with a traditional Italian cocktail whether it’s a few olives and salty chips, or a gorgeous spread of charcuterie.
He also has a very special memory from another cocktail he enjoyed while in Milan: “I went to Bar Basso and tried “Negroni Sbagliato,” (a messed up Negroni). It was here that the drink was created. It’s said that the bartender made a mistake when someone ordered a Negroni. Instead of gin, he used sparkling wine.” Negroni Spagliato has become my own personal favorite. It’s hard to believe it was an accidental discovery!
Tip: Excited to make your own Italian Apertivo? Click here for Anton’s cocktail recipes.
SPARKLING ITALIAN WINE TO THE RESCUE
Cocktails not your thing? Not to worry. When it comes to starting with wine, I always enjoy a glass of Prosecco, which as many of you know is a Sparkling Italian Wine. Prosecco is a subregion of Veneto in the North East part of Italy.
If you adore exploring different wine regions like I do, Anton also recommends trying Alta Langa. This sparkling wine hails from a sub-region of Piedmont of the same name, in the North West corner of Italy. I find it to be the more unique and delicately balanced younger sister of Prosecco.
Without a doubt, a glass of Sparkling Italian Wine will take any day in quarantine and make it a special one. So close your eyes and let the sounds of Pavarotti wash over you. And finally, let us raise a glass of bubbles to the Front Line Workers, and everyone else that is working so hard to keep us healthy and safe. Salute!
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop thinking about Pasta, Pizza, and Red Wine! Our next stop as we travel to Italy from home will be Dinner, Wine, and Dessert in Florence and Rome.
Florence & Rome: A Tale of Two Delicious, & Iconic Cities.
I love both Florence and Rome for different reasons, and swoon at the thought of being surrounded by so much history and culture once again. In order to set the stage for our journey, allow me to paint a picture of these remarkable cities through stories of my own.
In Florence, you might stroll through the Piazza Della Signoria. Awesome sculptures line a square that is vibrant at all hours of the day. The Duomo di Firenze is nearby. You will never forget the first time you see this architectural giant with your own eyes! At the end of the day, you chase the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio. You climb the stairs to the Piazzale Michelangelo and gaze upon Florence- all lit up in a warm glow. Lastly, you enjoy a glass of Chianti from one of the vineyards that you visited in the Tuscan Countryside and start to ponder whether or not you should grab gelato for the walk home.
In Rome, you rent a room in the Trestevere, and learn to enjoy espresso at all hours of the day. You tour The Colosseum and The Roman Forum with the great Rick Steves in your ear. History is around every turn! Strolling through the streets, you make your way to the Trevi Fountain where you shed a tear at its beauty. You throw a penny over your shoulder and into the fountain…you can’t help but get swept away in the romance of it all. Because when in Rome! And finally, in the shadow of The Pantheon, you enjoy a glass of a chilled Sicilian Red with a handsome Italian man. Truly the perfect way to wait for your perfect plate of Cacio e Pepe. Aren’t you glad you threw that coin into the Trevi Fountain?
I hope these stories inspire you to re-live your own Italian memories. Never been to Florence or Rome? Many movies have been filmed in both of these dynamic cities, and are just waiting to help you virtually travel to Italy.
Virtually Travel to Italy With a Movie
Movies Based in Florence and Tuscany: “Inferno,” “A Room with a View,” “Under the Tuscan Sun”
Movies Based in Rome: “Roman Holiday,” To Rome with Love,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “La Dolce Vita,” “Eat, Pray, Love.”
Anton’s Guide to Pairing Italian Food with Wine
Whether it’s your 1st time traveling to Italy, or the 4th, how do you know what wine to drink? The wine regions of Italy can be confusing, but not to worry! Anton is here to help you find the perfect wine to complement your favorite Italian classics.
Did you know? “di” or “d’ ” signifies where the wine is from. So a Barbera d’Asti is a wine made up of Barbera, from the town of Asti.
Pasta Bolognese: Choose a Dolcetto, which is “a lighter red from Piedmont that will complement the herbs in the sauce and won’t take over the flavors of the tomato sauce and the meat”
Cacio e Pepe: Anton says he’ll always “go with a Barbera, where I always find a peppery note.” Barbera is a grape found in the Piedmont Region of Italy. Look for either a Barbera d’Asti, or a Barbera d’Alba.
Pasta Carbonara: Anton recommends “a Chianti Classico Riserva. The acid will cut through the creamy sauce and will balance it out.” Chianti hails from the Region of Tuscany.
Pizza and Wine: A Love Story
I live in Chicago, home to the deep dish pizza, and when a slice of pizza is in front of me? I enjoy a glass of red wine. However, it has come to my attention that I have been making a big mistake with my wine and pizza pairings over the years.
I enjoy spicy pizza, and sometimes I reach for a red wine with lots of tannins, (i.e. Chianti), and my tastebuds end up feeling overwhelmed. After consulting with Anton, I now understand why the two together have felt so intense! And not in a good way. So what SHOULD we be drinking?
Pizza: It is best to choose a “Lighter red that is low in tannins. If there is a spice in the pizza, the tannins will burn your mouth. Recently, I had Primitivo with Cheese pizza and it was spot on.” Noted. A Dolcetto from Piedmont is also a pairing made in heaven! Don’t be afraid to serve it chilled.
Dessert: The Greatest Ending to Any Story
By now, you may be watching the ending to “Roman Holiday,” while you decide to start learning Italian. Parfetto! Or maybe you already started planning your next trip to Italy. Well, I am with you! Turn on those beautiful Italian Arias, and keep dreaming. We WILL go back someday!
Let us end this bitter-sweet trip by enjoying a few scoops of gelato before we stroll home through the cobblestone streets of our dreams. Or maybe you’d like to enjoy a few sips of Limoncello before turning in. It’s a citrusy and refreshing dessert liqueur.
My Mother always ends family dinner by offering us a small glass of her homemade Limoncello. It’s a special touch that will impress your guests (someday!), and can also be used in a cocktail. Don’t be intimidated- it’s the perfect project for quarantine. Click Here for Janie’s Limoncello Recipe.
Finding the Joys of Travel in Your Everyday Life
And here we end our journey through Milan, Florence, and Rome. I hope this experience inspires you to find the joys of travel in your everyday life. Culture and adventure are all around us! We just need to work a little bit harder to find it right now.
Many thanks to Anton Valkov for his expertise in all things wine and cocktails! And thank you to The Press Room for being my favorite place to write in the company of friends. We will all get through this – let’s do our part by wearing a mask, and supporting each other as best we can. Please stay healthy, happy, and safe.
Want to know more about Julie? You can find her on Instagram as @adventuresofJulieanna
Want to read more about Milan, Florence and Rome? Julie is a guest writer for the great @dutchbloggeronthemove, and more articles from Julie and Lisa can be found at https://www.dutchbloggeronthemove.com/