TRAVEL

Uncorked: Sarah May Grunwald talks Lazio wines

Wine.  I drink it, I love it, and I don’t really know much about it.  Enter Sarah May Grunwald, my friend and personal wine mentor who is always there when I need a great bottle, on site and in-the-cantina research and yes, especially when I need make sure that I know what I am drinking, and talking/writing about. Sarah is a walking encyclopedia of vineyards and vintners, a DOCG demi-goddess,  and most importantly a hands-on gardener who gets into the dirt for wine, spirits and food.  Sarah and I have talked wine for years, and now Sarah will share her wine brain and take us into the vineyards on CiaoBella.

Hey, who are you? I’m a new world girl, a native Californian born to Australian parents. I’ve lived in Italy for 15 years, but I started becoming a wine lover long before that when I lived in south Australia for university.  South Australia is one of the main wine regions in the country and my roommates were studying enology, wine culture and viticulture in general. That was my first introduction to wine that went beyond picking up wine out of a fridge out of a 7/11.

Don’t you have a lot of wine education? I have a certification as a sommelier through Associazione Italiana Sommelier.  I study wine with Sandro SanGiorgi at Porthos Racconta and I’m currently a diploma* student at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust WSET. It is difficult and I have to study a lot as it encompasses the entire world of wine whereas sommelier certificate was mostly Italian wines which helped me for what I want to do because I find that outside of Italy wine education Is does very poorly with Italian wine- they don’t give you enough education about the diversity in Italian wines so have both international education and Italian wine education. *The diploma is one of the highest levels of wine expertise, follwing the Masters of Wine, aka the most prestigious wine qualification.

So if you were to continue with a Masters of Wine, would I call you Madame or Mistress of Wine?  You can call me Mistress of Wine now.

Darius Arya leans into Sarah May for TRAVEL: In Situ

Let’s talk about wine, more specifically what is so important to you about Lazio wines? Well, I live here. I live in Castelli Romani and I am surrounded by vines. When I first moved here, I started really appreciating the work that goes into the finished products that’s in the glass. It’s really poetic- its work that people do to convey a natural setting- very hard work, little reward except the alcohol and yet every glass is different.  My passion is simply because I am local. It goes along with my life philosophy- how I eat, how I shop, what I do, everything comes from within 20 miles from where I live.  I do drink wines outside of Lazio but on a day to day basis I drink Lazio wines.

What’s the most expensive wine you’ve ever purchased? I don’t want Ettore [her husband] to hear  this. . .  You know, Italy has something that a lot of other countries don’t - you can drink really well and not spend a lot.  I don’t remember how much it cost but the most expensive wine I bought was a bottle of Fiorano from the 1970s, which is a Lazio wine made near Ciampino.

It seems like everyone is talking about Lazio wines.  I just had dinner in Milan who surprised us by picking Silene, a Cesanese - not just because we live in Lazio.  The wine industry is very prone to trends, just like any other industry.  Right now, everyone is drinking Cesanese, comes from southeast of Rome.  It’s like with the Georgia wines, why are we are seeing them?  They [Tourism boards] are bringing sommeliers to taste the wines and they like them.  You aren’t just going to find them.

For people like me who really enjoy wine but have no wine memory, how should we drink?  Find wines that you like and keep drinking them... and also leave room for experimentation! 

It’s no fun if you’re not sharing a bottle with Sarah, so lift your glasses with my favorite encyclopedia and Darius Arya on  Travel: In Situ, Darius’ peripatetic podcast going on site for history, culture and travel (iTunes, SoundCloud and everywhere else you download your podcasts).  Join Episode 6 “I’ll Drink to That” where Dariusand Sarah drink up history and Lazio.  Line up these Lazio reds to taste along:

Casale dela Ioria

Sete Freaky

Ortaccio Rosso

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Sarah May Grunwald is a certified Sommelier, former professor of wine and current WSET Diploma candidate.  She goes knee-deep into Lazio wines on Guild Somm, and contributes wine, food, culture and travel articles  to Wine Chronicles, Eat Sip Trip, Veg News, Curiosity Magazine, Wine Sofa, Culture Trip, World Footprints and more.  Sarah curates and leads wine-centric excursions and experiences in Italy, and is founder of Taste Georgia, cultural consulting and itineraries in everyone’s favorite former Eastern bloc country Georgia.  Follow her on Instagram @Sarah_May G.

13 Best Things to Do in Florence

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There's never a question of what to do in Florence; rather, it's a question of how much and when. With its varied selection of museums, galleries, boutiques, and storied sites, the Tuscan town has something for everyone, from contemporary art buffs and super foodies to sports fans and serious shoppers. To experience the city to its fullest, you only need to step out into the street. Here, a list of our must-sees to narrow down your itinerary.

- This article originally appeared in CN Traveler, January 2019.

Ilaria Costanzo/Courtesy Explore Florence — The Oltrarno: History + Artisans

Explore Florence: The Oltrarno, History + Artisans

This ultra-professional walking tour kicks off in the historic Piazza Santo Spirito. It's best for those wanting to learn more about Florence's artisans—the craftsmanship and skill that's in danger of disappearing—rather than folks hoping to shop for international fashion brands. Groups are small, since it's a private tour, and you have to book yours in advance. The guide, Alexandra, is knowledgeable and passionate.

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Bargello Museum

Italy’s largest collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures is housed in the Bargello, a former prison and an austere medieval fortress. The museum’s architecture alone is worth the visit—beautiful Gothic arches, crenellations, a bell tower, and a dramatic courtyard—but the big draw is its blockbuster names. Donatello’s David, Michelangelo’s Bacchus, and Ghiberti’s designs for the Cathedral doors are front and center in this capsule museum, which has somehow remained less trafficked by tourist crowds.


Stadio Artemio Franchi

The hub for soccer in the city, Stadio Artemio Franchi is the stadium and home to ACF Fiorentina, Florence's Serie A soccer team. Serie A is Italy's top soccer league, so you're guaranteed to see the country's best teams compete here. It's also a great place to bring kids and learn about Italian soccer culture. Get Tribuna Onore seats, which offer views of the midfield away from the teams' more rabid fans.

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Giardino Bardini

Grand in design, but intimate in scale, the Giardino Bardini has a pergola-covered stairwell leading up to the Belvedere panoramic terrace. Know that ascending requires a slight effort—the stairs are shallow and long. It's the perfect pit-stop if you're sick of traipsing around museums, as the garden doesn't present anything all that urgent to do, other than the obvious: stop and smell the flowers.

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Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi, an illustrious collection of who's who in priceless Renaissance art, is a Florence must-see. Plus, thanks to a curatorial investment by director Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi is slowly modernizing its approach. The newly arranged Room 41, dubbed the Raphael and Michelangelo Room, now focuses on the artistic exchanges between the two masters; the re-opened Room 35, meanwhile, is dedicated to Leonardo and displays three paintings originally created for churches. Upgrading the experience further is a new reservation system, where visitors take a timed ticket from one of seven machines outside the museum and come back later to explore, without ever having to wait in line.

Aquaflor Firenze.

AquaFlor Firenze

The yesteryear atelier is one of those beautiful finds that make you feel like you're actively involved in creating not just a scent, but Florentine history, as you sniff through the unparalleled collection of raw materials, essential oils, and scents. With the help of Sileno Cheloni, the nose of Aquaflor, you're led through olfactory discovery to create a perfume that's personalized just for you.

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Palazzo Strozzi

One of Florence’s best kept secrets, Palazzo Strozzi is a beautiful, freestanding Renaissance palazzo with an ambitious contemporary art program. Whether its Carsten Holler’s latest experimental piece or an Marina Abramovic retrospective, Palazzo Strozzi constantly amazes through innovative, often interactive, exhibitions. Although the historic structure remains intact, the gallery space inside is thoroughly modern and aptly renovated for art shows. Most exhibitions require advanced reservations, and the shop sells wonderful made-in-Florence gifts.

Francesca Pagliai/Courtesy Tuscany Again

Tuscany Again: Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art Tour

Tuscan Strongholds of Contemporary Art is a personal tour designed specifically for those interested in modern art in and around Florence. Expert guides plan bespoke itineraries based on travelers' preferences, leading intimate groups to futuristic buildings and offering their take on the collections within. Most notable: the architecture itself as well as the survey of Arte Povera, Italy's art movement of the 1960s. Transport is included and reservations are required.

Gucci Garden

Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele is always pushing the limits, and this time he blurs the lines between monument and merchant at Gucci Garden, an interactive complex where fashion, food, history, and art commingle. Located in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence’s Piazza Signoria, Gucci Garden is Michele’s colorful journey through the Florentine fashion house’s past, present, and future. The multi-level boutique-slash-museum includes a store selling exclusive Gucci Garden designs, a gallery space with contemporary exhibitions, and a ground-floor restaurant by rockstar chef Massimo Bottura.

Collezione Roberto Casamonti

Open to the public, the private home-cum-gallery of collector Roberto Casamonti showcases about 250 works of modern and contemporary art from his personal collection of more than 5,000 works. Italian and international artists, including pieces by Warhol, Picasso, and Basquiat, are all represented here. It's a well-lit, inviting, and organized space that doesn't draw a ton of visitors, so it's easy to walk around. In fact, you'll likely have a room entirely to yourself.

Antonio Quattrone/Courtesy Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is a gorgeous and large new museum dedicated to the Dome and Basilica, as well as restoration projects. Home to the largest collection of sculptures from Medieval and Renaissance Florence in the world, this museum has an active restoration lab and school on site. Other highlights include Ghiberti's doors, Michelangelo's The Deposition, a model of the original, never-completed façade of Santa Maria del Fiore, and a room dedicated to Brunelleschi's architectural masterpiece: the Dome of Florence cathedral. Be sure to hit the gift shop on the way out; it sells great books.

Silvio Palladino/Courtesy Curious Appetite

Curious Appetite: Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour

Craft Cocktail and Aperitivo Tour of Florence kicks off at a given meeting point in Piazza della Repubblica or via dei Tornabuoni. The custom tours are private or small group and are tailored to your preferences—say, a particular liquor or cocktail. You'll visit multiple cafés and bars on foot. Reservations are required, but you can book as late as 24 hours in advance.

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Medici Chapels

The Medici Chapels are two beautiful chapels in the historic Basilica of San Lorenzo, which set the stage for the Renaissance. They're a great stop if you're short on time, a Michelangelo buff, or want to feel like a Medici prince or princess—even for an hour. The site more than lives up to the hype; in fact, many people find the chapels truly mind-blowing. They'll make you want to delve even further into the history of the Medici family and Michelangelo. Tickets, which cost €9 (about $10) and can be booked online or in person, are required.

5 European Cities To Visit In 2019

Prague. Credit: Prague City Tourism

2019 is all about your next European adventure — it’s not just where you’re going but what you’re going to do. We’ve got a lineup of incredible events happening in five of the continent’s most dynamic cities.

Prague
A haven for culture lovers, the Czech Republic hot spot was named a UNESCO Creative City of Literature in 2014, thanks in part to its incredible array of browse-worthy bookshops (the historic city has Europe’s highest concentration of tome-lined storefronts) and literary cafés.

Throughout the year, Prague celebrates its book smarts through a series of festivals dedicated to literature and art, including May’s poetry-focused Microfestival and October’s Prague Writers’ Festival.

Four Seasons Hotel Prague.  Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Prague

Four Seasons Hotel Prague. Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Prague

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel, January 2019.

One of the more delectable draws is the 17-day Czech Beer Festival (May 9 to 25). In recent years, the event has become a culinary attraction, where chefs and restaurants partner to showcase a wide breadth of classic cuisines and pairings.

When you’ve had your fill of local dishes, digest at Four Seasons Hotel Prague, a true Bohemian rhapsody sitting on the Vltava River in Old Town. The posh property is a beautiful labyrinth of the Czech Republic’s varied architectural styles, uniting three historic structures (classical, Renaissance and 18th-century baroque) with contemporary builds to create an irreplaceable compilation both inside and out.

Milan
It should come as no surprise that Italy’s fashion capital is also a top global destination for design. Nothing shows off Milan’s stylish side better than Salone del Mobile (aka Salone), a five-day showcase bringing together the world’s best designers (interior, industrial, fashion, tech and fine arts) in a celebration of upcoming trends and movements.

From April 9 through 14, expect fabulous exhibitions, clever collaborations and electrifying launches as well as coveted parties by artists, designers and fashion houses.

Between gatherings, rest your head at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended ME Milan Il Duca, a stunning, strategically located stay within walking distance of the famous Quadrilatero della Moda (fashion district) and the modern Porta Nuova quarter.

The boutique luxury hotel fits Salone’s vibe well with 132 chic rooms adorned with Molteni&C furnishings and a buzzy rooftop bar.

Altis Avenida Hotel. Credit: Altis Hotels Group

Lisbon
Portugal’s sun-drenched capital has been making its way onto everyone’s travel bucket list over the past few years, and its time you made it to the city. From May 17 to 20, Lisbon hosts Festival Internacional da Mascára Ibérica (International Iberian Mask Festival), a costumed parade and four-day celebration of the historical and cultural ties that exist between Spanish and Portuguese regions.

But if you want a more contemporary vibe, book a weekender in July for Super Bock Super Rock (July 18 to 20), one of Europe’s top music festivals. The 2019 lineup includes Lana Del Rey, The 1975, Metronomy, Kaytranada, FKJ and Superorganism.

Whenever you choose to visit, be sure to book a room in the historic Altis Avenida Hotel. The 1940s-era building charms with art-deco touches, a central locale and the spectacular Rossio rooftop restaurant

Le Richemond Genève. Credit: Genève Tourisme

Geneva
As headquarters of the United Nations, this scenic Swiss city is a cultural melting pot. Just stand on its pristine sidewalks and you’ll hear dialogue in more languages than you can imagine.  

Summer is prime time to visit this mountainside metropolis. Stop by in June to take in the internationally renowned Montreux Jazz Festival (June 28 to July 13), then drive over to nearby Vevey for the epic Fête des Vignerons (July 18 to August 11). Held only five times a century (last celebrated in 1999), this UNESCO-recognized event is Switzerland’s oldest and largest wine festival.  

Perched on the banks of Lake Geneva, Five-Star Le Richemond Genève provides a picturesque respite between outings. With nearly 145 years of history, this is a grand masterpiece of marble floors, gold-filigree finishes and vintage pieces.

Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, France. Credit: Manuel Zublena

Cap Ferrat, France
This unspoiled promontory on the French Riviera is a historic haunt for the wealthy and rowdy, including actor Charlie Chaplin, The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and U2 front man Bono.

Situated midway between Nice and Monte Carlo, this tiny peninsula offers a gorgeous getaway during the 77th Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix (May 26 through 29).

Consider Five-Star Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel the perfect pitstop between races. This glamorous, 17-acre waterfront retreat puts you just 20 minutes from the glitz of Monaco. You can even organize Riviera boat transfers from the harbor of Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat to the main event.

Before you make any plans official, remember that the high-end hotel is a seasonal property and closes each winter until March 1. Visit after April 26 to take advantage of its renowned alfresco restaurant, Club Dauphin.

Weekender: Ski escape to Courmayeur, Valle d'Aosta

Enjoying Monte Bianco from Le Massif. All photos by Erica Firpo.

Enjoying Monte Bianco from Le Massif. All photos by Erica Firpo.

Italians are lucky. Aside from amazing food, architecture, design, fashion and art, Italy has incredible geography within a drive from the cities: beaches, countryside, hilltops and mountains. And oh those mountains… approximately 40% of the country is mountainous whether its the peaks of the Alps, the smooth crests of the Appennines or the crazy slopes of an active volcano Mount Etna. Skiing is more than just a pastime, it’s a integral part of Italian culture. Each year, school kids get off for a settimana bianca (white week), and almost annually Italians queue the cinemas to catch the latest Vacanze di Natale film, a groan-inducing comedy series that usually takes place at an Italian ski resort.

Even though I hate the cold, I love ski culture. There is nothing quite like the vibe of a settimana bianca or white weekend, and Italians know it. It’s all about good skiing, fun friends and great, territorial food in the mountain chalets. Year after year, my friends head back to the same white peaks that they’ve always gone to, but each year, we try to test out a new location. Last year, I fell in love with Courmayeur, and I think it’s time for a weekender.

Courmayeur

COURMAYEUR

Courmayeur. It sounds French, right? Nope, Courmayeur is 100% Italian. The quaint Alpine hamlet is located in Italy’s most northwestern region, the tiny bilingual Italian/French Valle d’Aosta, most famously known for Hannibal’s incredible overland march, bringing elephants through Valle d’Aosta’s Little San Bernard pass in the 3rd century BC. Meanwhile Courmayeur is considered to be Italy’s best kept winter secret, Picturesque to perfection, Courmayeur has been a travel destination for over a century. The town is a labyrinth of cobblestone-laden streets, vintage architecture, historic coffee shops, busy ski shops, centuries-old churches and gorgeous contemporary boutiques and chalets. It is where Italy’s very mountain guide society (and the second in Europe) was founded but most importantly, Courmayeur has the honor of being overshadowed, literally, by Europe’s highest peak Monte Bianco.

SkyWay: aka that famous scene in Kingsman 2

Punta Helbronner is hella high.

My Way or The SkyWay

At 15,777 feet above sea level, Monte Bianco is incredible. And incredibly cold. Sharp white, snow-capped peaks cut the cerulean blue sky like an early 20th century Russian avant-garde painting, which quickly turns into a futuristic installation thanks to the SkyWay, that futuristic globular funivie that links the Italian lowland to Punta Helbronner, an overlord look out at 11,371 feet. The courageous will hike up Monte Bianc, ski across the glacier to Chamonix, France or heliski, whereas the rest of us are happy just to enjoy the view. I’d save the skiing for Courmayeur’s slopes, a network of what seems like a million pistes but what is in actuality 31 with lifts. Beginners please note that I am the definition of basic and spent a few days dedicated to Courmayeur’s smooth beginner trails. I organized private lessons, graduated from the bunny slopes, scared myself to death on the chair lifts, and got a great work out.

Ski pass: 49 euro/day, 240 euro/five non-consecutive da

View from Chateau Branlat

Inside Chateau Branlat

Inside Chateau Branlat

Chalet Bites

I’ve learned that the best reason to ski in Italy are for the rifugi, the cosy mountain-ski chalets where eating is an art form. In the case of Courmayeur, the rifiugi are incredible and the food scene is even better. According to Courmayeur Mont Blanc’s official tourism site, there are twenty chalet-restaurants on piste- each with a different, very personal vibe, whether its gourmet cuisine or specialized, local Valdostan delicacies. Ski in to Chateau Branlat, a wooden chalet with beamed ceilings and funky decor, or snow mobile to La Chaumiere, a traditional Valdostan home built into the mountain. i discovered Maison Veille when I was lost skiing and need a restroom. The tiny igloo-like hut was cozy caffe that become a party spot in the evenings.

Back in the town, tiny osterie and Michelin spots creep up in quiet corners, like Al Camin, a traditional osteria/trattoria and Petit Royal, the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Hotel Royal and its captivating La Tour, a private medieval tower with show cooking for couples. Superstar chef Heston Blumenthal fell in love with Courmayeur and combined his passion for food and skiing to create The Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience. Think of it as a three-day food fest with incredible Michelin-starred chefs, skiing and local cuisine.

Pro tip: Everywhere I went accepted credit cards, but it can’t hurt to have a little cash for some of the mountain top rifiugi.

Traditional Valdostan vibes at Chaumiere

Superstarred chefs Marcus Wareing, Sat Bains, Claude Bosi and Jason Atherton in 2018’s Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience

Let’s Go Downtown

Courmayeur is the kind of place where everyone skis hard, eats late, goes out late and then gets up incredibly early for another of skiing. The two best take home tips I discovered were that in order to love (and acclimate to) Courmayeur, you must drink a lot of water and get a non-consecutive days ski pass. Of all the amazing things you can do in Courmayeur, most of them revolve around snow- skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, snow biking, snow kiting, et cetera, but Courmayeur also has a social life a few hundred meters below.

For a bit of daytime culture, head to the Museo Alpino Duca deli Abruzzi, a two-level chalet home that houses the Alpine Museum that tells the history of mountaineering, its heroes, and the region, along with a small exhibition space showcasing photos of Valle d’Aosta’s traditional communities and events. Après Ski the Via Roma, Courmayeur’s thoroughfare and a windy street where all of the posh and quirky shops are located, as well as several caffe and cocktail spots.

Courmayeur is small, so get out and explore Valle d’Aosta. The region is network of castles, and almost every weekend there is a traditional festival in the small towns. And then there are wonderful museums from archaeological and ancient remedies to planetariums and prisons.

Museo Alpino Duca degli Abruzzi.

Alpine Wine, showcased at Pavillon du Mont Fréty (the midway station to Punta Helbronner).

Ski In, Ski Out

So far, my experience has been at the Grand Hotel Royal e Golf, a beautiful yesteryear ski lodge looking out on the mountains, with a lovely outdoor pool. The vibe is a bit Grand Budapest Hotel with its fabulous decor, doormen and bellhops. Location is in smack in the middle of town which means it is not at all ski in/ski out but once I realized I didn’t need to a ride pistes, it was a short and charming walk through town to the pistes. Eventually I felt like everyone knew me. A second option is the tiny Bouton d’Or, a family-run property a few minutes walk from Courmayeur’s main square. for a ski in/ski out vacation, I have my eye on the very new Le Massif, member of Leading Hotels of the World. Last year, I had the opportunity for a hard-hat site visit, and it had me at hello due to its chic contemporary design, its location on top of the mountain and that damn terrace view (scroll back to the top).

Evidence of me as a ski bunny.

Andiamo!

Getting to Courmayeur is quite easy. Airplane, rail, car, I’ve done it all and my experience, the easiest arrival is by car, once you’ve decided where you are coming from. Milanese will tell you to fly to Milan Malpensa MXP, and I agree, especially if you want to add on a few extra days for shopping. If you are a foodie, consider flying into Torino-Casselle TRN (or even Geneva GVA, if you have some banking to do). MXP and TRN offer bus shuttle service to Courmayeur but the least hassle is driving. Car rental services are always available or you can hire a driver service if you aren’t interested in exploring Italy’s smallest region.

Getting to Courmayeur by rail is a bit of a pain, especially with gear. From MXP and TRN, you’ll shuttle to railway stations Milano Centrale or Torino Porta Nuova, then catch a regional train to Pré-Saint-Didier , and finally take a bus to Courmayeur ( SAVDA buses run from airport and train stations to Aosta and Courmayeur). Do the math: you’ll save more time and energy renting a car/hiring driver - approximately 1.5 hours from Torino and just under 2.5 hours from Milan.

5 Places To See Contemporary Art In Rome

Palazzo Merulana. Credit: Palazzo Merulana

Want to spend a weekend exploring Rome as a contemporary outpost? I’ve lined up where you need to go and stay in my latest update on contemporary art in Rome for Forbes Travel, December 2018.

Rome is where the art is, but these days it’s more than just colossal monuments, dusty archeological sites and beautifully decorated Baroque churches.

Contemporary art is finally making a significant mark on the Eternal City’s landscape. The destination is now replete with an itinerary of museums, galleries, concept spaces and creative hubs. We’ve plotted out five top places that bring this ancient city back to the future.

WHAT TO SEE

Palazzo Merulana
One of the newest galleries on the scene, this former municipal office building underwent a three-year renovation in preparation for the eclectic, 90-piece collection of Elena and Claudio Cerasi, prominent local patrons of the arts. Most of the museum’s works are Italian pieces created between World War I and II by artists such as Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico and Alighiero Boetti.   

Art aficionado or not, you’ll want to hang around at CafeCulture, the palazzo’s boutique and coffee shop. The menu features a variety of fare sourced from local purveyors, such as cheeses from ProLoco DOL, hamburgers from famed butcher Bottega Liberati and sweets from patisserie Cristalli di Zucchero.

Contemporary Cluster 
This avant-garde experience is the 21st-century manifestation of those iconic multidisciplinary performances of the 1960s and ’70s: a boutique/art gallery/event space housed in a decadent 17th-century palace on a side street off Campo de’ Fiori. 

The hybrid art and commercial venue hosts monthly exhibitions, weekly performances and DJ sets, while its grounds have permanent and pop-up shops and cafés.

In essence, Contemporary Cluster is a concept store with an artsy vibe that constantly draws an eclectic crowd with almost everything being for sale as a bonus.

Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi
It’s not every day that one of the world’s most famous contemporary art galleries joins forces with an ancient archaeological site. Gagosian, whose imprint in Rome has upgraded the art scene over the past 10 years, has turned to the past for a site-specific, National Roman Museum-partnered installation at the Crypta Balbi ruins.

Through January 27, the first-century theater provides a rustic backdrop for contemporary sculpture Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze. Using an ultra-modern process by which thousands of tiny cavities etched into the rock are filled with pigment, Sze has created a captivating crystalized sunset scene on the stone’s mirror-like surface.  

Sant’Andrea de Scaphi. Credit: Erica Firpo

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise: Sant’Andrea de Scaphis
To find the pulse of the international art scene, head for British art dealer Gavin Brown’s Rome outpost — it’s everything and nothing you’d expect. Located in a nondescript, deconsecrated church on a side street of Trastevere, Sant’Andrea de Scaphis is a single, rustic room of hauntingly charming medieval architecture that usually features a single artist installation.

Exhibits rotate every few months, so it’s unlikely you’ll run into the same works twice. The historic space is hosting a politically charged display by American graphic designer Sam Pulitzer, “May The Last Nationalist Be Strangled With The Guts Of The Last Technocrat,” through December 8.

Palazzo Rhinoceros. Credit: Pino LePera

Palazzo Rhinoceros
The name Fendi is synonymous with Rome’s fashion scene, but the designers’ youngest sister, Alda, opts for a more innovative interpretation with Fondazione Alda Fendi — Esperimenti, her nonprofit arts foundation.  

The group’s latest experiment is Palazzo Rhinoceros, a new creative hub in the Velabro neighborhood that opened in October. Architect Jean Nouvel rebooted a centuries-old palazzo into a multi-level gallery, 24 luxury apartments and a rooftop restaurant, without altering the building’s historic bones.   

While the interiors are stunning, some of the venue’s highlights are actually found outside, including a can’t-miss portrait projection of Alda by Pierre et Gilles on the façade and a life-sized resin rhino that lurks in the front yard.   

Hotel Eden’s La Terrazza. Credit: Hotel Eden

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Eden
Rome’s undeniable harbinger of style and hospitality, this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star stunner is dripping in fashionable touches — think art deco details, custom furniture and resplendent marble accents.

For a picture-perfect end to a day of gallery-hopping, dine at La Terrazza, the luxury hotel’s rooftop restaurant boasting some of the best views of the city.  

Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina. Credit: Melia Hotels & Resorts


Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina
Located on the bluffs of the famed Janiculum hill (between Trastevere and Vatican’s Borgo neighborhood) on the site of an imperial villa, this Four-Star retreat is a city-center oasis that comes complete with a 1920s-era pool and lush greenery.

Though its origins are ancient, Gran Meliá’s style is contemporary: sleek modern furnishings, wide-open spaces and the sophisticated My Blend by Clarins spa.

The Rooms of Rome
Stay in the heart of the action when you book into Palazzo Rhinoceros’s fully immersive-art experience on the edge of the Roman Forum. Each of its 24 rooms is minimalist chic, meticulously designed and curated by the aforementioned Jean Nouvel, the superstar architect behind the cutting-edge Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The stylish rooms are outfitted with luxe touches, too, like Bang & Olufsen TVs, fully equipped kitchens and L’Occitane amenities.

{ART}Sarah Sze recycles Time at Crypta Balbi

Split Stone (7:34), Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi. Photo by Erica Firpo.

There are so many ways to experience Rome but there is nothing I like best than the time-bending contradiction of ancient and contemporary in the exact same moment. Rome isn’t simply ancient, or Baroque, or modern. It’s all of that at once, which is what makes visiting and living in Rome so thrilling and stressful. It’s knee-jerk to say Rome is chaotic- because it truly is. Hit pause for a second, you’ll see that the chaos is just all of the layers of time fighting for space.

Timeless. Timely. Time waster. Sentimental. Rome practically begs you to take a bigger bite of its personality. And lately, museums, cultural sites, monuments and galleries are serving it up in on a time-bending platter. Latest is Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze, a Gagosian Gallery/Museo Nazionale Romano collaboration appearing this month and through January.

Looking close for the pixels. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Rock of Ages

Head down to the subterranean of Cripta Balbi and you come face to face with a split boulder. It’s Sarah Sze's latest installation and counter-part to her self-titled gallery exhibition at Gagosian. Two halves of a monumental granite rock that sneakily resemble a geode sit in the travertine-lined remains of the 1st century BC theatre of Balbus- just one incarnation of Cripta Balbi, an archaeo-museum that is all about recycled space. Walk around the site and you’re stepping through millennia-spanning detritus from its incarnations as ancient theatre, medieval house, Renaissance convent and 19th century orphanage. Walk back to Split Stone, take a closer look. Sze permanently drilled a slick and pixelated image of sunset (that she snapped on her smartphone!) on the face of each stone.

This is not the Crypta Balbi show that Darius would dream of, but it’s the kind of show I have been waiting to see- recycling Rome through an incredible (yet barely visited) archaeo-museum and inserting the very contemporary into its historic context. Because that is Rome every day life- imperial leftovers while we wait for the bus, Baroque backdrops while we visit the dentist, unification monuments while we shop at H&M.

“Rome is a constant intersection of ancient and contemporary, all the time mixing together”, says Sze. It’s a never-ending conversation of permanent and ephemeral, analogue and dialogue, and old and new, aka Rome every day.

I want to see this show- How do I do it?

It’s pretty easy. Split Stone is in situ at Crypta Balbi, all you have to do enter the museum. Here’s a tip: Cripta Balbi is one of the four locations of the Museo Nazionale Romano- an incredible, four-venue ticket which at 15 euro for a 72-hour period is one of my favorite ways to explore the city- ancient and present day. Each of the four Museo Nazionale Romano venues focuses on Ancient Rome, with a large stress on sculpture, and each is a unique architectural experience- an ancient bath structure (Diocleziano), a Renaissance palace (Altemps), a late 19th century townhouse (Massimo) and an ancient Roman theatre/crypt/medieval residence/archaeological site (Balbi). All four museums hide in plain sight -Palazzo Massimo and Terme di Diocleziano by Termini Station, Palazzo Altemps by Piazza Navona and Crypta Balbi by Largo Argentina.

Tickets: 10 euro per site, or a 15 euro cumulative ticket which lasts 72 hours

Split Stone closes January 27, 2019.

A Secret New Hotel in the Center of Everything Great in Rome

The Adelaide Salotto at Hotel Vilòn. All photos courtesy of Hotel Vilòn.

A charming new hotel in the center of Rome embodies everything that contributing editor Erica Firpo loves about her home town — beauty, discretion, charm, and aesthetics. This article originally appeared in Fathom, October 2018.

ROME – One of my favorite things to do is muse about where I would have an affair in Rome. After a few years of testing out the possibilities — from an off-the-beaten-path bedroom nook to a corner suite in a posh hotel — I've realized I have some basic requirements. 

Whereas some people just need a room key, I need just a little bit more. First, location: The address must be in the absolute hub of the city center, but at the same time extremely unassuming, with no doorman, flags, or fanfare, so I can slip in and out of the crowd unnoticed. Second, luxurious: I need to feel the affair is worth it, not from its price tag but by its top quality, from sheets and showers to artwork and design. Third, view: I want a terrace where I can take in the city, but absolutely no way can it face anything public.

Easy, right?

Not at all, which is why I love Rome.

The Eternal City is the chaotic culmination of history, culture, and personalities that become an infernal nightmare when trying to hide an affair. True Romans have lived and breathed for at least sette generazioni(seven generations), so six degrees of separation takes on a logarithmic new dimension where everyone knows everyone else and nothing goes unnoticed.

Or so I thought until I stepped off via del Corso, aka the main thoroughfare for the all-ages scene, and onto via dell'Arancio, a nondescript side street with a row of doors. The doors were a side entrances to private apartments within Palazzo Borghese, a vast urban villa estate whose famous residents include papal families and Paulina Borghese, Napoleon Bonaparte's sister.

What makes the Borghese stand out among Rome's incredible palazzi are the gardens — an arcadia in the city with a courtyard with statues of ancient gods, 96 granite columns, a nympheum, and a beautiful garden with three allegorical fountains. Getting access to the gardens is all but impossible. You are lucky if you can take a peek during the few days the gardens are open to the public. 

Or you can book yourself into a garden-facing room at Hotel Vilòn, a rip-the-plastic-off new hotel in the very center of the Eternal City, part of the latest lineup of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. One of the discreet doors on via dell'Arancio, the former Borghese family property became a School for Maidens in 1841 and was until recently home to  Daughters of the Cross, an order of French nuns, who I presume weren't using the rooms for the affairs I was fantasizing about.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

Rates

Rates start from €462.

Checking In

Location
In the very center of Rome's historic center, just off of via del Corso, conveniently on a side street away from the crowds and the noise, but close enough to walk straight into the thick of it.

Hotel Style
Sultry, from the minute you walk across the harlequin-tiled marble entrance floor. Rich hues, lavish marbles and woods, and lots of well-chosen contemporary and photography. The rooms chill down with neutral hues, mahogany floorboards, and accents of dark blues and violets. The vibe is intimate and private, and overall style is that very chic Italian best friend you've always dreamed of.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

This Place Is Perfect For
Me. And anyone who likes a little sexy oasis in the city center.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone who is looking for a full-service hotel, as there is no spa or gym. But honestly, you're in Rome. Just walk out the front door.

What's on Site
The gorgeous lounge bar and restaurant Adelaide, and the hidden open-air atrium lounge.

Food + Drink
If I could, I would park myself in Vilòn's Adelaide salotto every single afternoon. The lounge feels like a fabulous film still, and no wonder: Set designer Paolo Bonfini created the ambience with rich colors, patterns, and prints, playing off that gorgeous octane blue. Photographer Massimo Listri hand-selected all the artwork and included his monumental photos from the Uffizi museum, and architect Giampiero Panepinto added the whimsical design pieces. Oh, wait, did I mention the cocktails are incredible? Vilòn's barman/mixologist curates the menu with classics, forgotten classics, and Adelaide's own drinks. The Adelaide salotto flows into the Adelaide restaurant, a stately salon that serves a tasty buffet of treats all day long, as well as lunch and dinner with Roman cuisine inspired dishes. Everything is served on beautifully mismatched Richard Ginori porcelain.

Number of Rooms
18 guest rooms and suites. Room categories range, from smallest to largest, are: Double, Charming, Charming with Terrace, and Charming Deluxe. The three suites are Vilòn, Melangolo (named for via dell' Arancio's medieval nickname), and Borghese.

In-Room Amenities
My favorite amenity by far are the plush bath robes — by far, the most comfortable of any Rome hotel — and the octane blue slippers which general manager Giorgia Tozzi spent months sourcing. And I should mention that the all-white marble bathrooms are divine. Ladies, keep an eye out for the Saugella Detergente Intima next to the bidet, it is preferred intimate cleanser of signore italiane. Keeping up with 21st-century tech, rooms have large Sony televisions teched-out with Apple TV, WiFi with great connectivity, and the lighting system is the ultra-innovative Domot by MicroDevice. My pet peeve in any hotel is the outlet situation, and at Vilòn, they were on point, no need to move any furniture. The mini bar stocked with free drinks like Italian specialties Gazosa, Chinotto, and Aranciata, as well as international favorites and snacks, including my very favorite dark-chocolate covered toasted hazelnuts.

Drawbacks
Parking. Then again, if you're in Rome, you don't need a car.

Standout Detail
The garden-facing terraces. Yes, the signature suites are fabulous, but book me a Vilòn Charming room looking onto the Borghese Palace's private garden, and I'm happy.

Checking Out

What to Do Nearby
This neighborhood, Campo Marzio, is by far my favorite in Rome. Absolutely everything that encapsulates the Eternal City is here. Ancient monuments like Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis, a 1st-century temple in an ultra-mod Richard Meier-designed glass box. Also: fabulous piazzas for great coffee, ice cream, and people-watching at Caffe CiampiniLa Matricianella is my pick for a picture-perfect lunch. As for shopping, via del Corso is the teen beat gauntlet, and nearby Piazza di Spagna and Via del Babuino are for big spenders, but I prefer the side streets around Largo Goldoni including via della Frezza and via del Fontanella Borghese.

Or Go Explore the Rest of the Country
Rome is the perfect city to kick off or end any Italian vacation. She's got personality for days, so if you're in need of a respite, consider Rome the pre-party, and hop the train to any coastal town for a bit of R&R or to Milan for a fashion binge. For day trips and overnighters, Italy is at your disposal from Rome’s Termini train station. Naples for a pizza? Why not? Florence for a quick stop at Palazzo Strozzi? Sure! Add to the list a myriad small towns, and Italy is yours. If you are more interested in off-the-beaten paths like Sperlonga, Bomarzo and Cività di Bagnoregio and train connections are tight, your best bet is hiring a car. Or if you've spent all of your time traveling the peninsula, afterparty in the Eternal City. Nothing like a plate of carbonara to calm you down.

Good to Know
Rome is a contradiction. It's a crazy and chaotic city that needs at least a few hours of relax — like a long lunch in a pretty piazza — every day. High tourist season kicks off a few weeks before Easter and lasts through July. Romans vacate the city once the heats sets in (and after the July sales kick off around July 5), but the city is stifling hot. By August, the temperatures cool down and the city is empty of all residents. My favorite time for a visit is late October-November and early February.

Getting Around
Rome is a city for walking, but, for the more intrepid urban explorer, the ATAC public transport system of buses, trams, and metro is well connected. Rule of thumb: Buy your tickets in advance at the tabacchaio (small tobacco item stores) and date-stamp them as soon as you enter the metro or board the bus.

Savor Milan's Coffee Culture Like a Local

Starbucks’ New Reserve Roastery In Milan. Credit: Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milan

When Starbucks decided to open in Milan, I will admit, I was slightly heartbroken, but after having visited and given a behind-the-scenes peek at the Reserve Roastery, I understand that the Milan venture is very meta. Milanese love it because it reminds them of the US, and no, it's not going to replace the Italian coffee shop. This article first appeared in Forbes Travel in September 2018.

While Europe’s first Reserve Roastery from Starbucks adds a new corner to Milan’s coffee landscape, it’s best to remember that Italy’s fashion capital perfected the pastry scene, introduced espresso to the world and invented aperitivo hour long before the Seattle-based shop started whipping up frappuccinos.

Still, this September-opened artisan coffee shop is just the third in the world after Seattle and Shanghai. The 25,000-square-foot Reserve is a celebratory, steampunk nod to Seattle coffee-making. Venetian marble counters, glass light fixtures and Palladiana mosaic floors offer a locally inspired backdrop to a labyrinth of sorting tubes and a mega-roaster that is said to provide coffee for all of Europe. 

The Reserve Roastery’s menu is a deep dive into coffee culture, from bean selection and roasting to offering multiple brewing methods (Modbar pour-over, coffee press and the visually stunning siphon) and beverages (espresso, cold brew and the proprietary clover-brewed coffee).

During your next stroll around this cultural gem, visit the stylish new Starbucks or any of these five more inimitable bars for a taste of the city’s caffeinated history.

Caffè Parigi. Credit: Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano

Caffè Parigi
Hidden inside Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa Milano, this cozy spot boasts a warm wood living room with a backlit, veined marble bar, art-nouveau-style decorations and giant windows leading to an outdoor garden — if the weather permits, try to snag an alfresco seat.  

The bistro lounge is ideal for a nightcap and its afternoon tea (served daily from 4 to 7 p.m.) is a chic, Parisian-style treat.

What to order: You can get your caffeine of choice during the day, but ask the bartender for a classic negroni to wind down your evening.

Pasticceria Marchesi
This nearly two-century-old, family-run gem is one of the crown jewels of Milanese pastry shops. Designed by architect Roberto Baciocchi, its three locations are beautiful with mint green marble walls, cherry wood counters and clear crystal shelves that show off cakes, croissants, chocolates, jams and delectable confections. 

Traditionally the spot for stylish edible gifts, Marchesi has a gorgeous lounge area peppered with Milan’s fashion fabulous who gather over coffee and afternoon aperitivi.

What to order:  During the holidays, you’ll want to queue for a panettone (Marchesi’s coveted Christmas treat) or the Easter colomba cake. Otherwise, peruse the counter for any of the pastries before heading to the lounge to nibble on your purchase.

Cova. Credit: Cova

Cova
This Via Montenapoleone stalwart has long been a favorite of the international fashion scene. Mosaic floors, gilded mirrors and a crystal chandelier drop not-so-subtle hints that Milan takes its coffee as seriously as its style. 

The 200-year-old coffee and pastry shop is worth a visit for the people-watching alone (the bar is a popular spot for the city’s fashion elite). To take it all in, you’ll need to nab a table where coffee drinks and aperitivo cost a little more, but you’ll also receive plush banquets and stellar service.

What to order: In the morning, stand up for the cappuccino and cornetto (cone-shaped pastry), and ask for a scorza d’arancia (chocolate-covered orange peel). In the afternoon, grab a table and a negroni sbagliato (the classic Italian tipple, but topped with prosecco rather than gin), the socialite signora’s favorite.

Bastianello
At first glance, this whimsical spot appears to be a glamorous candy shop with a beautiful carved wood countertop perfect for a morning cappuccino. But the true Milanese know that you come to Bastianello to linger. 

The elegant pastry and coffee shop is the apex of aperitivo hour — its dining room veranda is where the who’s who of the city’s haute bourgeois meet up for handcrafted cocktails and a smattering of snacks.

What to order: Keep it simple with an Americano and the delectable club sandwich.

Pasticceria Cucchi
This traditional pastry shop and bar may not be as fashionable as some other Milanese caffés, but it’s a local institution nonetheless. Its mid-century vibe (think 1950s-era décor and formally clad waiters) charms an eclectic range of customers, from elegant couples to school-aged kids, as does a menu of snacks that includes coffee, sweet pastries, savory finger sandwiches and cocktails.

What to order:  The morning espresso is a must. Or linger into the night with a bite of El Meneghin (cake made with candied fruits) and a glass of maraschino.

Window Seat: Quadri in Venice

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Venice in its inkiest hours is my favorite time to walk through La Serenissima, and perhaps the only time to peruse St. Mark’s Square. The arcades are lit with a warm glow, reflecting in the basalt pavement and setting the square on fire. Foot traffic is different. It’s not rushed, it’s not crowded. People quietly cross the piazzas to get from here to there. Stragglers are trying to snap a Basilica night shot, while others are hiding behind columns to catch some bars of Brahms or Mozart from the small ensemble orchestras at Quadri and Florians. A St. Mark’s evening is decadent, romantic and slightly heartbreaking, like a fading memory that won’t disappear.

Me? Time and time over, I chose to stay. St. Mark’s is an old friend, and so are its cafes. The square comes at a premium, even with knowing a few secrets on how to enjoy an aperitif at the most expensive bars in Italy. And I am willing to pay for the experience if it is unforgettable. Quadri is more than just one of the epic cafes in the square with a live orchestra and front row seats to Basilica San Marco. It is a gastro-cultural experience. In 2011, the Alajmo brothers took over the more than 200-year-old property, with the intent of creating the very best pastry and coffee bar, along with opening up the first floor to an experiment restaurant. If you know the Alajmo brothers you know that they are full immersion- they idealize, create and personally execute every detail from concept, mentality, and dishes to vibe and design down to the glasses in your hand. At the beginning of 2018, the Alajmos brought in expert conservation artists to restore the Grand Caffe Quadri, original hub to writers and artists of the Grand Tour, and asked their friend and constant collaborator Philippe Starck to come back to the Michelin-starred Ristorante Quadri for a design upgrade.

Flavour Hunter in Condè Traveller, September 2018

This grand cafè opened in 1775 on St. Mark’s Square and over the years gained a list of regulars than included Lord Byron, Alexandre Dumas and Marcel Proust. But the romantic veneer of the square diminished amid the relentless commercialism that swept over venice at the end of the 20th century (along with pigeon photographers and gondolier hats), and Quadri was no longer the place to be seen.  Then, in 2011, chef Massimiliano Alajmo and his brother Raffaele arrived, a duo with three Michelin starts at Le Calandre in Padua, and it wasn’t long before Quadri earnt one of its own.  The Max and Raf menus highlight each of the brothers’ personalties; Max is the innovative one, Raf the more traditional. But the tasting menu- 16 courses for two- is a combination of oth, with dishes such as cappuccino di laguna, a mix of lagoon seafood and moeche, a soft-shell crab only found in the Venetian islands served with green fronds of samphire-like agretti. 

Yet it is only this year that the restaurant’s 250-year-old interior caught up with the kitchen’s contemporary attitude.  Philippe Starck, the man responsible for projects as diverse as the Mama Shelter hotels, Steve Job’s yacht and the interiors for a new space station, set to launch in 2020, has uncovered the palace’s original stuccowork from beneath layer upon layer of paint. Old-fashioned wall coverings have been replaces with earthy tones modelled on a 16th-century silk brocade - but look closely as there are rockets and satellites as well as portraits of Massimiliano and Raffaele within the fabric.  And on shelves above the doors, whimsical taxidermy rabbits and foxes are ready to take flight, a nod to the winged lion that guards the city.  Reserve a table by the window on the first floor for a front-row view over the square, high above the crowds - because this is once again the most-coveted spot in Venice.a

Peep the Alajmo brothers’ portraits in the brocade. Photo credit: Quadri.

Quattro Atti. Photo credit: Quadri.

Have I eaten at Quadri? Twice over the past two years at Ristorante Quadri and both times (a lunch and a dinner), I have not only relished the view, but loved the dishes. Massimiliano is a genius, fact. He is clever, he is instinctive, he is innovative. His dishes are heart-warming, reminiscent of past lives and history. And most of all they are unexpected. But let’s be serious- I love Quadri for its location, especially the window seat in the evening where I have the glowing piazza below me.

Mornings, I am at Grand Caffe Quadrino as much as I can. I frame myself below the beautifully restored walls and mirror next to the elderly German man who sits in the corner every morning. On a brisk and clear morning, I will sit outside, but usually before the orchestra starts so that I can read. Tip: For the experience with less of a price tag, you can also get stand up service at the bar.

Me enjoying Quadrino, the ground floor Grande Caffe Quadri.

How to Train Your Wine Palate

Training your wine palate isn't difficult. Earlier this year, I ventured to Florence to meet with expert Filippo Bartolotta to discuss simple ways to gain a better understanding of what's in your glass. This article fist appeared in Wine Enthusiast, August 2018.

Filippo Bartolotta has walked miles of countryside in the pursuit of understanding terroir, and he’s spent years tasting flavors to find the building blocks of vintages. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET)-certified sommelier is based in Florence, Italy, where he curates wine experiences around the world, as co-founder of the luxury wine tour group, Le Baccanti, and in collaboration with chefs like Alice Waters and Massimo Bottura.

In his latest venture, he tackles the topic of how to train your palate in a newly published book, Di Che Vino Sei (What Kind of Wine Are You). By breaking down eight personality archetypes, Bartolotta believes wine lovers of all levels of expertise can get in groove with their palates. This practice of “wine training” has worked for the likes of actor Dustin Hoffman and former President Barack Obama.

Wine training is exactly what you’re likely thinking: Hours and lots of bottles dedicated to tasting wines. Part emotional and part physical, wine training is about pace, consistency, dedication and exposure. And it’s not just for the academics, collectors or would-be sommeliers, it’s for anyone who enjoys a great pour.

“The truth of a bottle of wine is when you are sitting down and sipping glass after glass, just seeing what happens,” says Bartolotta. Instead of having an experience bound by rigid rules, the only requirement he has for participants is a healthy desire to drink wine. Here are three of his surefire tips.

Don’t worry about memorization

The palate is a complex experiential combination of the four of the five senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. To those, Bartolotta adds another a fifth dimension, experience. It starts out simply, as participants open a bottle of wine to see how and why they like it.

Memorization is the least important aspect. More important is tasting and more tasting to train the palate to recognize flavors, which breeds confidence and natural instincts.

“I don’t like [to guess wines], you miss the whole the concept,” he says. “Instead, it’s all about developing the gut feeling, because your first impression is the most accurate one.”

Establish a daily practice

To understand and identify the nuances of wines, vintages and producers requires daily dedication. Bartolotta has spent thousands of hours in morning-long tasting sessions to solidify his gut feelings. But anyone can train these skills, whether with sommeliers or on their own.

Not many people have the time to taste every single day, of course. Bartolotta suggests that wine lovers dedicate a few hours weekly or monthly to hang out with good friends and great bottles.

Pick a few bottles from the same region, producer or grape variety, sample them and talk about it. Bartolotta suggests doing it again and again until it becomes part of your life. He says that after consistent wine enjoyment with no pressure, the palate becomes more sophisticated. Flavors become familiar, and instinct develops into intuition.

Eventually, tasting becomes a mindfulness practice, says Bartolotta. By the third or fourth glass, it becomes, as Bartolotta says, “a Matrix moment and you’re Neo, synergistically knowing what you are tasting.” The key is to continue to taste and drink, and to hang out with friends is a great reason to expand the selection of wines and experiences.

Compare and contrast

Pop open two semi-related bottles at the same time, say a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of Prosecco. Compare and contrast simultaneously to help you discover subtleties to what you like and don’t like. Otherwise, if you have a good bottle tonight and another next week, it’s difficult it to say which style you really prefer.

Also, get vertical. Much like tasting different styles from the same producer, vertical tastings are when you taste the same style from different years. Tasting the same label, but from three or more different vintages can help understand how the weather and other variables can affect the wine. And given the region, you can also ascertain whether you like hotter vintages versus cooler ones.

Experienced or entry-level, wine training is less about becoming an expert at blindly identifying wines, and more about self-understanding and preferences. As Bartolotta believes, wine was not invented simply to be tasted, it was meant to be enjoyed.

in Florence and want to taste wine with Filippo? Easy.  His company Le Baccanti organizes customized luxury cultural food & wine vacations and day tours in Tuscany and Italy- so yes, you can sit down at a table with him for a few hours eating, drinking and talking wine.  I did and totally developed a wine crush.