Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bike Across Italy - Day 6 - Gubbio to Spello via Assisi (45 miles)

David of 'Team Colorado' tackled the pavement with gusto despite being dressed for some serious dirt

May 17, 2007: Saints and a heavenly wine tasting

Day 6 PHOTO GALLERY

A QUIRKY delight we've become accustomed to is climbing out of a medieval town on cobbled 1-way streets. We have to share it with walkers and cars in both directions, but somehow, everyone squeezes past everyone and all is well.

Today's lunch was a Ciclismo Classico style picnic at a local bar. When I say 'bar' I don't mean some awful sports dive with neon beer signs, odious carpet, a cacophonous TV and a generic rock'n'roll dirges blasting over tinny speakers. A bar in Italia is often a little quaint hole in the wall that might resemble a tiny cafe, serving tiny cups of coffee or beer.

The lunch was provided by a local family, and the simple menu consisted of melon, proscuitto, salad, tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, fresh fruit, bread, grilled eggplant, all doused in a vat of premium olive oil. Then followed vino, beer, and coffee, and these ubiquitous braided shortcakes topped with berry or apricot jam. It was actually a bit better than the lunch the family served yesterday. I notice how when you're spoiled daily with food for the taking, you can't help but compare one meal to the next ..

Fresh pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) with Tuscan honey, parma ham and ... I gotta go take a nap ...
A further spin landed us in the evocative and famous medieval town of Assisi, set high on a mountainside and home to the famous Basilica of Francisco of Assisi. We took a guided tour of the cavernous inner sanctums, covered in frescos by numerous artisans of the day. The Franciscan monks were in evidence, with their black robes and knotted rope belt around the waist, just like the caricatures. The modern day version appears to be gainfully employed giving commentary using sophisticated 'quiet' equipment - and running a souvenir shop. Outside I caught glimpses of Teva-shod monks scurrying to work with bluetooth headsets, mobile phones and laptop bags slung across their chests. Progress ...


Our hotel this evening was at the 4-star Palazzo Bocci in Spello, another spellbinding medieval town that makes you feel like you're pedaling back in time the moment you pass under the arches. This hotel featured an extremely sumptuous frescoed loungeroom the management called 'a conference room.' Such a nice change from the dreary standard boardroom with 360-degree smoggy views of concrete gone mental ...


If this is a wine tasting, I'm quitting teetotalling ...The highlight of the day was surely the wine tasting at Enoteca Properzio, a lauded local selling fine vino and delectable comestibles right opposite the hotel. I don't really imbibe, but have been known to have a glass of red (not too dry like any half glass screamer likes it) because I'm told it's high in antioxidants. So I took my time, arriving a few minutes late, fully expecting to see our group standing around the back garden with picnic style plastic wine glasses, cubes of hard cheese, a basket of Carr's water crackers and a shrimp-on-the-barbie atmosphere. Don't ask me why, but that was the vision in my head as I was led out the back. Instead, I was greeted by tables with white linen set in a U-formation, each place set with a plate, napkin, and several glasses, the members of our group all dolled up, facing the center stage. And what a performance it was. Two stylish men introduced each wine in turn: these were exclusive, 100% organic and limited edition vinos - that is, just 3000 bottles total of each kind. The first was a white that even I pronouced divine, and four reds which seemed to get darker in shade. The last red was so dark, it was described as black, "1 pound of grapes per glass," said the sommelier, and a vintage of just 882 bottles. And the nibblies were anything but hard cheese and crackers.

Impress your friends with this cork trick - but mamma mia, don't do it with any old bottle o' plonk, our sommelier implores ... 

The resident 'olive oil sommelier' came out next - a young woman with curly hair, who showed us a special blue olive oil sniffing and tasting glass. She brought out pieces of grilled Italian bread which she doused liberally in oil and salt to accompany our wine. Another plate of bread doing the rounds iwas drizzled with balsamic vinegar aged for 35 years and yours to take home at 120 euros for a small bottle. Yes, you read it right, and at least one of our party ponied up and bought one."For dipping strawberries, not salad," she said.

Then followed a plate of exquisite cheeses including a truffle flavored variety and an aged pecorino to be drizzled with a sweet sauce they called a marmalade. Then followed more grilled bread spread with pasttes of arugula, sun dried tomato, olive and truffle, called tartufo I think.

The wine sommelier showed us an impressive bottle-opening technique to impress your friends: You cut a ring from the metal foil seal with a knife, but leave it intact, then slip the cork through it.

"Ah, but only do this with a good wine," he said.

There was much gaiety at the cash register as the Team Colorado in particular did due diligence and ordered some of the best of the house. I was going to succumb to the 120 Euro bottle of balsamic vinegar aged 35 years, but I decided to let Sandra have the honor ...

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