How to buy an authentic Italian wine?

 

“IN VINO VERITAS…”

Here’s one of the many subjects I was lucky to pay attention to during the now distant years of Tourism classes back in Italy: DOC & DOCG products

I have developed a significant interest in wines. Before I buy them, I always prefer to pick an authentic one.

During my school years, I was lucky to have really prepared teachers and learn interesting stuff that I like to recall in my adult life. I remember that one day we talked about the collateral issues the Globalization brought in the last 2 decades. One of these issues was actually an important one because it explains the importance of how to protect a brand and avoid those sad episodes of fake distributions.

i-vigneti-di-bolzano.mb.0002cd.jpg
photo: internet

Nowadays there are multiple countries that are mass producers of wine with global distributions…

I won’t spend time writing the history of wine because I would need much more of your attention, and your time is definitely short and valuable.

ToscanaVigneti.jpg
photo: internet

Going back to the idea of those countries that have a huge contribution in their Gross Domestic Product thanks to the production of wine, I would like to talk about Italy. The Globalization in the beginning gave a huge hand to the wine producers opening the gates to other markets, overseas, and gaining lots of notoriety among international producers.

Globalization provided a great hand, but it also has its side effect. This side effect is more like a small dot, but with a huge power. It can destroy the image of a company and make it implode, sending it into bankruptcy.

In the last 2 decades, Italy fought against companies who falsified and sold fake wines using well-known brands without paying any royalties or using original grapes. The process of identifying and enforcing punishments of the fake companies was long and expensive. Through this process, Italy found a good way to avoid these episodes.

How?

In 1963, an attorney Rolando Ricci invented the DOC term (*Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and thanks to his role in the Italian government, he helped build the proper law that endorses it. Nowadays almost all the wine producers in 20 regions of Italy use the DOC label which helps you to identify an original product to be sure you’re paying for the real one. Meanwhile they built the label DOCG (**Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) which certifies that the wine comes from the original production area and not from somewhere else.

DOCG.jpg
example of DOCG etiquette

There is only a way to make sure the wine you bought is an authentic Italian one. How? The cork’s cover has the label DOC or DOCG on. That’s how every single Italian wine leaves their authentic wine factories.

vino-per-top-1920x1080.jpg
photo: internet

New Orleans and its eccentric culture

I still remember how shocked I felt when I learned of the horrific news of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, leaving behind almost 108 billion in damages…

Before leaving our small Midwest town and flying to New Orleans, Louisiana, I can admit that I had some concerns on how the atmosphere would be like once landed.

All I can express after 10 days of full immersion in a city well known for its amazing food, live Jazz music, and fun, is that New Orleans won my heart and soul. As an artist, NOLA is one of the top towns to freely express yourself.

A quick amazing truth about this incredible city is that every single local reserves for you a smile and a Good Morning. It’s humbling how welcoming they are.

The curiosity brought me in the heart of the downtown and out into the suburbs. After walking every kind of sidewalk, I personally evaluate New Orleans as a 4.5/5 stars in terms of safety. Honestly the high temperatures of mid-June are more serious than the public safety. The scariest episode was when a local tried to guess where I bought my Birkenstock sandals (with a purpose to make me smile and get some coins in his cup).

After long walks in neighborhoods like The French Quarter, Garden District, Treme-Lafitte, and Faubourg Marigny, I returned back North with a huge luggage full of memories that I will always remember and be eager to share with others.

There are multiple ways to relate your vacation and try to suggest your experience to your friends. The way I would like to build the narration of my NOLA adventure is by using 5 main points: Transportation, Accommodation, Food, Entertainment, Tips.

 Transportation:

Before you even have the idea of going to NOLA, I would highly suggest you to consider buying your flight ticket at least 5 months in advance. Flying to NOLA at times can be really expensive, especially for those who love “in-budget” trips. Once you’ve landed, don’t forget to claim your luggage. The spirit of New Orleans wins your attention and you might forget something at the airport. You don’t want to pay another $36 dollars for the cab ride from downtown to the Airport.

Anyway don’t forget about the miracle of technology. This is very important! Consider having the Uber or Lyft mobile app.

Why?

First of all they can tell you straight away the quote for your anticipated ride. Second, you will save a lot of money in transportation. Don’t make the same mistake I did. I tried to use the cheaper way of moving my 3 heavy and huge luggage bags from one Airbnb to another by using the local and infamous “Streetcar”.

IMG_3467-779050657-1499526186740.jpg
New Orleans
DSC_7206.JPG
New Orleans Streetcar

Bad choice! Frustrating to say the least!

That’s right, for only $3 you can have a great deal with an unlimited Day pass on the streetcar. We quickly learned that it’s better for sightseeing, not for moving stuff.

Trust me, an Uber will be much less hassle. It takes you at least 5 days before you will become familiar with the Streetcar…not to mention all of the connections and different lines depending on the neighborhood you’re headed to.

Don’t be scared if you find yourself on a road called TCHOUPITOULAS. Don’t try to pronounce it. Ask a local and he will save you 10 minutes. New Orleans has strong French and Spanish influences that have continued on with the locals and you might find out incredible historical facts.

Accommodations:

In the first point, I mentioned how you should book your flight ticket with a considerable advance notice. When you have to deal with the accommodation issues, I kinda’ feel like you should book your hotel even before your flight ticket. The “in-budget” travelers know best what I’m talking about. New Orleans has really incredible hotels and, seriously, you can even find and close good deals if you are smart enough.

What to do?

Well, 6 month before your trip, use every single tool you have to find good deals. Believe me that a $180 per night hotel is a great deal. Rooms are typically charged up to $400 dollars…especially if there are conferences in that time period, and you don’t want to spend that kind of money right? You can do so many things with the money you saved by booking in advance.

But hey, there’s always somebody who will mess with their vacation preparation. The person typing these words made the same mistake. In that case don’t feel frustrated; there’s a solution to everything. If you’re not afraid of meeting a rat sometimes, then you are more than welcome to save some money by using Airbnb in the French Quarter, and maybe you will be lucky enough to live in a Shotgun House*, like we did.

Anyway, Airbnb can help you save money, but be aware that you might meet sometimes some rats or some bugs. The fact that you might find rats is because New Orleans has been there for a long time and they wash the streets every single morning. We all know that when we clean some places, these animals need to find other places where to live. Don’t be scared, they won’t attack you.

Food:

Now that you landed in Nola and found your accommodation, let me explain how to keep the starvation under control. I’m kidding, that’s going to be something really easy for you to manage especially if you know how to use a mobile app like Yelp or Trip Advisor. A huge tip I could give to you, based on my limited experience, is not to worry if you’re not a big fan of seafood. There are so many other options. You might wanna try their incredible Muffulettas sandwich. They are super large, fat and round sandwiches. Don’t be greedy and don’t let the starvation lead you. Remember that you actually can share a Muffuletta sandwich with your friend or lover and still be full after. It don’ madda ** if you’re starving, order just one and cut it in half. Big Easy (NOLA’s nickname, but I caution you from using it in town if you want to be treated as you wish) will offer you many other solutions if you don’t mind exploring the town a little bit more. If your body allows you to walk under the Southern sun and reach the VIEUX CARRE (French Quarter)’s French Market, don’t forget to try the Alligator dishes. They are even better than pork. If you can believe it?!

DSC_7121.JPG

As a seafood lover, you should not leave without trying their amazing raw or fried oysters, the Jambalaya, or the Creole. I won’t explain to you what those dishes are because I want you to be curious. The biggest advice I have for you instead, is to find time for yourself and go to Antoine’s Creole Restaurant. Your Facebook friends will definitely fill your post with comments and likes. You will be able to let them know that you just ate in the oldest restaurant in the United States with a history of 175 years.

Try what I mentioned in this third point and you will be able to say GUMBO YA-YA!

Entertainment:

It don’ madda if you won’t be able to explain to yourself what in the world the word LAGNIAPPE means. All you have to do (don’t forget!) while in New Orleans is:

LAISSEZ LES BONS TEMPS ROULER!

If you don’t want to check the weather every hour for tornados or storms, then LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL! Doing that you allow yourself to walk along the banks of the Mississippi River or take the pretty River Cruise for a dinner/jazz night and listen to some quality music. If an $80 dinner cruise is something you consider out of your “in-budget” trips rules, then you definitely wanna check world famous streets like Frenchmen or Bourbon street.

IMG_3405.JPG

You will be probably be happy to know that you’re walking along the same streets as the infamous annual Mardi Gras parade happens. Frenchmen Street and Bourbon Street are two very different places. If you’re a “party people” lover, then I would suggest you to go have a few (or more) drinks on Bourbon Street.

 

A mile long of all kinds of pubs, gentlemen clubs or jazz clubs, will definitely make you feel in the center of the world and the king of the party. Be smart though! The drinks are $10+. Cheaper drinks are very hard to find, so ask first.

 

After 5 days of exploring almost all places on Bourbon St. (Gentlemen clubs excluded) we moved to another Airbnb in Marigny, near Frenchmen Street. That was a radical, positive change. We were able to hear another kind of music and meet interesting people. Walking through the Frenchmen Art Market made me think how interesting and inspirational New Orleans could be for artists from allover the world. Marigny and its charming Frenchmen Street was definitely the right place to finally listen to great Jazz music.

IMG_3529
The River Cruise

Once the night is over for you, remember that along the Frenchmen Street you might meet interesting Street Chefs. Time to try the best street food ever (especially for the Wild Boar meat lovers) on an open BBQ flame.

The nights in New Orleans fly by and before you realize, your watch will indicate 8am. Pay attention! There is a good reason to leave the cozy bed! Wash your face, brush your teeth and run to Café Du Monde! For $6, you will have 3 of the authentic NOLA’ Beignet and a café au lait (coffee with milk).

DSC_7271.JPG
Cafe Du Monde

There’s not a better way to start the day. While there, stop and take some pictures or selfies in Jackson Square or in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. You will be amazed how well they conserved their 1724 cathedral.

 

Buy a Fleur de Lis souvenir for your mother and then walk on Royal Street. Be aware that the old-fashion couture mixed with the modern fashion of NOLA might make you empty out your wallet. Next, consider buying a book from Beckham’s bookshop about voodoo to learn about the story of that sect and its beloved Marie Laveau. That will definitely make you book on Groupon a haunted tour in the Saint Louis Cemetery No.1.

IMG_3642.JPG
Marie Laveau tomb

You might be interested in seeing the creepy tomb of the Queen of Voodoo and Nicholas Cage’s future tomb. You will be shocked to witness within the cemetery, the recent artifacts of a man who is allowed to practice the voodoo there.

DSC_7320-1765752704-1499534758316.jpg
Saint Louis Cemetery No.1

As an American Horror Story fan, you might be happy to hear that Coven season was filmed in NOLA. If you buy your haunted tour from Groupon, the guide will stop by that specific place and let you take some photos.

If you’re a fan of alligators and not afraid of meeting them face-to-face on an airboat tour, you should definitely book a tour in the Swamp. That will cost you an entire day. As an alternative, I would find time for a Streetcar tour in the Garden District. Enjoying a relaxing walking tour of the historic mansions was one of my favorites. Sandra Bullock owns a home there!

DSC_7258.JPG
Garden District

Don’t forget the National World War II museum and the Plantations tours. Something I didn’t find time for, but I would be interested in if one day I will stop again in New Orleans.

Tips:

Looks like I’m nearing my 2000 words goal and I have to respect the title. Well the first tip is that you should read my future posts to find out where I stopped for those amazing lunches and dinners. Now that I went over 2000 words, a big advice I could give you is that you should definitely go visit the Louis Armstrong Park and read the story about the Congo Square! Another piece of advice…the water is not cheap. The cheapest way to drink water is a $4 gallon of water in a convenience shop. Or the $1 water bottles along the river from the local bike stands.

Thanks for reading it folks!

* The Shotgun Houses are typical New Orleans houses. They are row houses in which all rooms on one side are connected by a long single hallway. The good side is that you can open the front door and shoot a bullet straight through the back door, without hitting a single wall. Based on what a tour guide said (obviously lied) New Orleans an Louisiana is the first place in United States for the number of love murderers. You can come home and find out if somebody is in your bed and shot a bullet and put him down. Funny woman…

** typical NOLA expression to say “It doesn’t matter”

Do Scarpetta when in Italy!

Do you remember the feeling you get after you have booked your flight and the hotel where you will stay during your next vacation?

Only you can know…

My guess is probably feelings of excitement or fear because of the language barrier. Or maybe you belong to that kind of group of people who go for it without too many problems.

I want to share with you, from my personal experience, the way I feel sometimes after completing the hardest step of my next vacation of booking the hotel and buying the flight ticket: I want to impress the people I will meet along my next travel adventure. Well, impress maybe is not the right word to be used in this case. What I probably meant to say is that I want to give a positive image of the country I call home. I want my home country to belong to one of those famous lists of most intelligent country or the country that speaks multiple languages or simply most funny or sunny country in the world.

The first thing we all probably try to do is to give a fast look on the Internet to find the most interesting attractions to visit once we land for our vacation. The sad thing is that we get lost with amazing options and we fill up our desktop with hundreds of new web pages.

And then?

Then we probably say to ourselves that we will definitely spend some more time before our departure and better organize our itinerary.

And then?

Here comes the technology and our huge trust of it.

But sometimes it is a trap to be aware of…

Hmmm, why?

Why? You don’t want to return back home with a $300 phone bill because you needed to use Internet abroad for only 5 minutes.

There are wise people that go to the bookstore and invest 40 bucks on a travel book. I really appreciate and respect those people!

From my experience as a traveler, before I leave for a new adventure, I always go to the bookstore and…

…I never buy a travel book. I never feel like I want to spend 40 bloody bucks on a book that I will use only for a week (the incredible and funny thing is that you will find that same book 1 week after you return from the trip, in a thrift shop for only $2).

Well, be sure to know, that when you will be wandering around a new place, your idea of finding free Wi-Fi will turn out badly. Never rely on free Wi-Fi…and you would probably agree.

And here comes the genius, or maybe the first, thing I learned from my 2 weeks work experience in a tourist information office back in my university years:

After you land in a new place, in 99% of cases, you will be able to find an Info sign. That means you have a tourist information office close to you, and you are safe (that means you will not find a $300 phone bill upon your return back home). That also means that you will have free access to a detailed city map and a person who actually might even give you tips while talking in your language or one of the most popular languages like English, French, Spanish…

Now let’s go back because I want to share with you what I like to do when I go on a new adventure….

Let’s say I like to impress or be funny to waitresses or new people that I meet during my time there. The number one rule is to learn common words used to ask for directions or to order the food. That is always a good way to make a person smile or be more cooperative. Everybody appreciates somebody else’s efforts to speak in their same language. I definitely appreciated it during my work experience in the food service industry in Italy back in my early 20’s.

Returning to your probably trip on the “boot peninsula”…

Did you get it?

Yes, I’m talking about one of the most gorgeous and complete places in the world, Italy, with a rich and deep culture.

Well, you might have the luck to spend some quality time with an Italian family or just by yourself…

A huge thing to know in order to fully enjoy the Italian experience: remember the Fare la Scarpetta!

From north to the far south (all the islands included) Italians will appreciate you doing that one important gest.

Fine, I want to finally explain what it is all about!

I can feel how excited and impatient you are…

Follow this plan, step-by-step, and you will be the happiest person in the world in that moment!

Ready!?

I am sure (and I can bet on it) that you will only have amazing dishes while you will have meals out (even if you are a strong loyal lover of hash browns & sausage gravy).

First step: during your order, use “per favore = please” and “grazie = thanks”. That will make them (the waiters) not to forget to bring the drink in time with some ice or the bread (the bread is fundamental for the third step below).

Second step: enjoy the food but not like a dog. Take small bites and truly savor the taste. It might be your first and last time in Italy where you can eat an authentic Italian meal. Chew the food. Tasty right?

Ok…

Scarpetta time!

Third step: I hope you didn’t finish the bread (don’t fall in the trap of the bread). Just for your personal knowledge, the Italian bread fills you up quickly.

“Do not fill your stomach with bread leaving no room for the main course.” – Tanzanian proverb

But…

If you used words like “Grazie & Per Favore”, they will probably bring you a second free breadbasket.

Scarpetta is that moment after you finish the food from your plate. Scarpetta is the last thing to do in order to remember that dish and have the necessary information to use when you will narrate the experience for years to come. Scarpetta (which means “small shoe” in Italian) is breaking a small piece of bread (you can use your hand or a fork) and use that bread to shovel the rest of the food/sauce from your plate. Open your mouth and put that saturated piece of bread in your mouth!

scarpetta
photo: Internet
scarp
photo: Internet

 

Boom!

It is in that precise moment that you will grab the attention of your friends in your future storytelling at dinners about your trip. You didn’t just go to Italy as a regular tourist. You came back richer. You know a genuine Italian custom. It is then, when they will consider you a cool person. They will adore you…

Thanks for reading it till the end!

Because I’m nobody without my loyal readers…