Wine Tasting on Vacation

With the Covid-19 pandemic fading away (but not gone) many of us are taking vacations again.  There are some trips for the explicit purpose of wine tasting, in which days are spent visiting wineries, getting to know the different varietals produced and enjoying being around the vineyards.  But sometimes vacationing is just to see friends and family and to take in the sights, in cities rather than in the country.

If your travel plans are leading you to Antarctica or the Sahara, there’s not much local wine to enjoy.  But almost anywhere else in the world, in North America or overseas, there is wine made nearby wherever you go.  You may not have the time to go to wineries, as we did not during our brief stay in Dubrovnik, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot about the wines they make wherever you are going.

Here are some tips to add a wine tasting adventure to any vacation.

  • Do a little planning before you go. A simple Google search on “Best wine bars in…” will give you a head start.  So will a search on “Favorite wines in…”  In the latter case, you should refer to the region, not the specific destination to which you are headed.  “Favorite wines” in France, for example, won’t help.  But if you’re headed to Lyon, for example, a quick look at a map will tell you that Beaujolais and the Northern Rhône are close enough that you’ll know what to look for on wine lists.

A place to learn about Croatian wine.  The Latin at the bottom of the sign means “Not enough wine, not enough of anything”

  • Visit an enoteca. Which is just a wine shop that offers a degustation, which is a fancy word for a tasting.  We found one in Dubrovnik, where the owner was pleased to introduce interested visitors to the history, geography and, of course, the taste of Croatian wines.  Over the years, we’ve done the same thing in Paris, Rome, Sydney, San Francisco and other places.  There’s bound to be a place to try wines anywhere you might go.
  • Take a food tour. This is also something we’ve learned to love in our travels.  A guide – hopefully, a knowledgeable guide – takes you around to places where they serve local food specialties and often the wines that pair well with them.  We were once on such a tour and all that was offered was one small glass.  On a recent food tour in Rome, wine was served in carafes on the table, white and red, for everyone to help themselves.  When we ordered another, our guide said that only the first glass was included.  We assured her that we had bought ourselves some wine many times before and had no problem to do so again that day.
  • Take advantage of where you are. We don’t suggest wine for breakfast, but a glass (maybe two) at lunch, aperitif, dinner and even for a nightcap isn’t a bad idea.  Hey, you’re on vacation, so you’ll probably want to indulge a bit anyway.  We’re just suggesting that focus on learning about the local wines.  Never order the same wine twice, so that you get as broad an exposure to local wines as possible in a short time.  If there are two of you, share tastes and double your learning.  Of course, be careful about how much you drink if you’re going to get behind the wheel of a car.


Due east of Rome and across the Adriatic Sea you will find the small, historic city of Dubrovnik.  In its long-past commercial heyday, it was a colony of the Venetian empire.  There are still many Italian influences in its architecture and cuisine, while the language is most definitely of Slavic origin.  It was a popular tourist destination in the 19th and early 20th centuries, welcoming travelers such as Lord Byron and Agatha Christie.  War and ethnic rivalry kept visitors away until after the Second World War, and even then a trip to Tito’s Yugoslavia wasn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.  With the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, Dubrovnik suffered terribly from Serbian attacks.  It was only with peace that the “Pearl of the Adriatic” was (re)discovered.

The main square of Dubrovnik

Most visitors are attracted to Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This was where the Venetians reigned and it still has vestiges of Venice, without the canals.  There are a few squares, some grand and some petite.  Most of the Old Town is in a narrow valley between a small hill on one side and a really steep one on the other.  The streets are narrow and packed with tourists following guides with their ubiquitous flags and umbrellas held high.  We understand that the streets are impassible in the summer.  Even in cooler weather, there are many visitors.

Dubrovnik’s harbor, with a portion of the walls.

The most renowned monuments in Dubrovnik is the first that you see when you approach the Old Town, the medieval walls around it.  These are as much as 25 meters (around 82 feet) high and more than a mile around the town.  Visitors can tour the walls but be prepared to climb 25 meters of stairs to get there.  Still, there are many pleasant sights and vistas all around the town.

Of course, where there are walls there must be gates, and there are two into the Old Town.  You get to cross an actual drawbridge and consider how difficult it must have been for attackers to breach the city before artillery and airpower.  Once inside, there are more than enough shops and restaurants to keep visitors occupied for days, though there is a limit to how much octopus, squid and Plavac Mali wine anyone can take.  Many of the restaurants are on narrow streets on the hillsides.  It can feel cozy or claustrophobic, depending on your outlook.  We particularly enjoyed the ones that had a view of the harbor.

A view of the coast of Dubrovnik.

There is another aspect of Dubrovnik that should not be overlooked.  It is a coastal city with excellent beaches and paved promenades that run along the cliffsides.  Many Europeans consider it more of a resort town; they have enough history where they come from.

The promenades are not made for dedicated hikers.  They are well paved and lit at night.  But they are for those who enjoy seeing natural beauty.  It is possible to go down rather vertical stairways to sit on the rocks on the sea.  We preferred to stop at wine bars along the way and look at the sea from above.

Continue reading Dubrovnik

About Croatian Wines

We were only in Croatia for a few days, as part of a longer trip.  We did not have the time nor the means of transportation to visit wineries, which we would certainly have done if the purpose of our visit was wine tasting.  As it was, we were simply tourists in Dubrovnik, but we did want to take advantage of being there to learn as much as we could about Croatian wines.

Normally, we wouldn’t write about wine tasting in a region without actually seeing the vineyards and speaking with the people who make the wine.  But as there is hardly any wine exported from Croatia, we thought it would be a good idea to share what we learned with Power Tasting readers.

Croatian wine regions.  Map courtesy of

A few notable facts:

  • Wine has been produced in Croatia for thousands of years, going back to the time when the eastern Adriatic coast was settled by ancient Greek settlers. The mountainous geography and the Mediterranean climate has long made Croatia an ideal place to grow grapes.
  • Wine is made all over the country, from the Dalmatian coast in the south, Istria in the west, to the eastern highlands and the region along the Danube.
  • The Croatians make wine from grapes we’ve never heard of. And they taste unlike any wines we’ve ever sipped.

The dominant red wine grape is Plavac Mali, pronounced “Plavass Molly”.  It produces a dark, intense wine, which we would categorize with Merlot.  It can be a little rough around the edges, but that may have more to do with the limited production facilities in Croatia.  There are no large producers, just small vineyards making wine for their neighbors and fellow countrymen.  So what we call “rough” they might term “honest”.  And to be fair, we did taste a number of Plavac Mali that went down smoothly.

We tasted two white wines from a variety of producers.  They were called almost the same thing, but what a difference a single letter can make.  Malvazia, with a z, (also sometimes spelled Malvazija) comes from Istria, the Croatian province not very far from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, which is best known for Soave.  But the Istrian wine is much fruitier, with hints of honey and honeysuckle.  From what we saw of restaurants and wine bars in Dubrovnik, it’s the most popular white wine there.

In the south, quite near to Dubrovnik, they grow Malvasia, with an s.  This is the same grape used to make Malmsey Madeira, a luscious dessert wine.  But the Croatian version is quite different.  These white wines are austere (in the same vein as Chablis), acidic and distinctively perfumed.  They go well with shellfish, much like a Sancerre, but are not especially good wines for sipping on a pleasant sunny afternoon along the beachfront.


Sadly, with rare exception, you won’t find Croatian wines in the United States, which is a shame.  There are a few stores in New York that carry a few bottles, but that’s about it.  The production at individual vineyards is too small to attract many American importers and the wines are too unknown to make a large place on wine store shelves.  These are wines worth getting to know and we recommend that travelers to Croatia make time for them.


How to Go Wine Tasting with Limited Time

When we are on a wine tasting trip, we are pretty serious about it.  We chose in advance the wineries we want to visit, make appointments, pay attention to what we’re tasting and take notes.  But then there are times when we are travelling just for the sake of travel.  Sometimes we find ourselves in previously unknown parts, foreign or domestic, where we know that wine is produced.  We want to try the local wines but we don’t have time to go to vineyards, talk with the servers and generally educate ourselves.

So we do the best we can with the time we have.  Here are some tips on getting a rapid introduction to what the locals are drinking.  In our most recent travels we were in Italy, so we’ll use Italian examples.

  • Take a chance. We have often been delightedly surprised in Italy to find very reasonably priced wine lists, much more so than back home, and even less expensive bottles in stores.  So if most of the wines available in restaurants are priced in the range of 20 euros or so, why not let Lady Luck be our sommelier?  A Falanghina may sound like the name of a luxury sports car, but it’s actually a white grape mostly found in the Campania.  We first found it by this go-ahead-and-try-it method; we loved it and have been looking for it ever since.
  • Ask the waiter. If we are sitting down to a good meal, we’ll naturally ask for the wine list.  Sometimes we are told that the “list” is either red or white, so we know we are not about to learn anything.  In other cases, though, we are presented with a list of labels that provide a lot of data but no information.  We’re not familiar with the region, the grapes or the wineries.  So we ask the waiter, “What Pugliese white goes with the meal we are ordering”?  An honest waiter will think about it and recommend something that he, at least, thinks is representative of what the region has to offer.  (A dishonest waiter will just point you to the most expensive wine.  Ignore him.)
  • Find a wine shop. Native English speakers have a great advantage in traveling around the world.  Especially where tourists are plentiful many people, including shopkeepers, speak English.  So when we enter a wine shop, we can generally communicate fairly well. We ask for whatever is made locally and often come up with a wine that is either quite good for the price or simply quite good, period.  Of course, we always travel with a cork screw for just such occasions.  We take the bottle to our hotel room and have our own tasting.




L’Angolo DiVino

This is a continuation of Power Tasting’s irregular series on great wine bars of the world. Previous issues have taken readers to locations in Paris, London, Copenhagen and Lisbon…and now, Rome.

If you google “Best wine bars in Rome” you’ll get various lists made by people with different tastes and experiences.  In almost all cases, you’ll find Angolo DiVino there, often at the top.  It’s a Roman attraction, albeit a bit difficult to find.  Nonetheless, Italians do find their way there and these days you’ll hear other languages spoken, not least American-accented English.

It’s located on a very narrow street called the Via dei Balestrari.  Cab drivers have never heard of the street; GPS gets lost; and in typical Roman fashion, everyone you meet on the street will give you directions, whether they know where it is or not.  The key is that it is only a block off of one of the corners of the Campo di Fiori, which every cabbie can definitely find.  Ah, but which corner?  There’s a restaurant at one end, called Carbonara.  That’s the wrong end.  But if you turn your back to the restaurant, go to the corner of the Campo to your right and walk one block, you’ll be there.

And once you get a table, you’ll be glad you did.  L’Angolo DiVino is quite small and you may have to wait a while for a table.  Of course, you can order a glass and stand outside sipping while you wait.  Once seated, you’ll be handed the wine list of the size of a short novel.  There must be a hundred wines to choose among.  However, most of them are sold by the bottle and it seems that most patrons, especially groups larger than two people, order bottles.  Buying by the bottle gives you a greater selection to choose from but less chance to experiment with the little-known wines on the by-the-glass list.

There is also food to be had from a rather short menu of bruschettas, salads, cold cuts, olives and cheeses.  It’s possible to make a meal from these dishes, but it seems that most patrons order their antipasto at l’Angolo DiVino before moving on.  We must say that the prosciuttos, salamis and cheeses complement the wines quite well.

You can get an education in Italian wine at l’Angolo DiVino, if you have the time and stamina to work your way through their list.  But you can also get an education in the easygoing way of Roman life.  This enoteca is no different from the hundreds of others scattered around Rome, with a better quality of wine and a less rambunctious clientele.  Voices are not raised at l’Angolo DiVino.  Families get together there.  Couples sit, sip and talk.  And the servers really do know what they are talking about when it comes to the wines on offer.

As said elsewhere in this issue, enotecas are beloved gathering spots in Rome.  Many are neighborhood hangouts.  L’Angolo DiVino is a destination.

And oh, about the name.  Angolo means corner, and indeed this wine bar occupies a corner.  The rest is a play on words, so it’s either the Corner of Wine or the Divine Corner.


The whole idea behind Power Tasting’s winery reviews is that we share our impressions at wineries and tasting rooms where we have had tastings.  In this article, we review a winery we haven’t visited.  A story goes with it.

We were on a wine tasting trip to Tuscany and focused on two regions within the province.  One was the area between Montalcino and Montepulciano, where Brunello and Vino Nobile are made.  The other, of course, was the area of Chianti Classico.  We had been drinking the namesake wine of Querciabella (, a Chianti, at home and liked it a lot so we wanted to meet the people who made it and taste some of their other wines.

Querciabella is located in the tiny town of Ruffoli, on a hillside outside the somewhat larger town of Greve.  On a Saturday, we had lunch in Greve and then drove to the Querciabella vineyard, only to find it deserted.  We knocked on the door of what was evidently a house, and a rather angry man opened the door.  To our embarrassment, our appointment was for Friday.  The proprietor (who we now know to be Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni) had invited his publicist to drive down from Milan to meet us and had evidently planned quite a tasting.  He slammed the door in our faces and he had a right to be angry.

The Querciabella winery.  Photo courtesy of Winedering.

So this article is our attempt at amends.

In a region of Italy where winemaking goes back for millennia and many labels have histories over the centuries, Querciabella is a relative newcomer.  Founded in 1974 on a single hectare in Ruffoli, it now encompasses over 100 hectares in Chianti and Maremma.

Querciabella is famous for several reasons.  While they make Chianti at several quality levels, Querciabella was among the pioneers in producing Super Tuscans.  Eschewing the traditional rules of Chianti winemaking – at least 80% Sangiovese and no more than 20% of grapes such as Canaiolo or Colorino – Querciabella started mixing Sangiovese with French grapes, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The first Super Tuscans were produced in the 1970’s; Querciabella’s first was released in 1981.  That wine was Camartina, the winery’s flagship to this day.  Their Turpino is a Bordeaux blend with no Sangiovese at all.  And they also make a 100% Merlot, which they call Palafreno, but only in years when conditions are ideal.  Querciabella has only released it a dozen times.

They are also famous for their commitment to sustainability.  All their wines are organic, biodynamic (without the manure-filled cowhorns), and vegan.  No animal products of any sorts are used in their winemaking.

We can attest that their Chiantis are not to be looked down on.  The Classico is accessible but has lots of Chianti character.  The Riserva is more of the same with greater depth.  Querciabella has had a Gran Selezione since that designation was allowed in the previous decade.  It’s a single vineyard Sangiovese, using their best grapes.

They also make a few white wines.  Naturally enough, these wines are blends of Italian and French grapes, too.

A word about Querciabella’s labels.  They all have drawings evocative of restaurants, for reasons unknown.  They’re cute, belying the seriousness of the wine behind the labels.

So should you be wine tasting in Tuscany, make a point of visiting Querciabella.  Just don’t tell them we sent you.

Roman Enotecas

You can find great wine bars around the world, as Power Tasting’s irregular series on such places evidences.  But in Italy, in Rome in particular, bars called enotecas fill a special niche.

Around Italy, especially in towns in wine making regions (which is most of the country) you’ll find wine stores offering degustazioni, or tastings.  These are primarily meant for the tourists; you almost never see local people in them.  The idea is to pour a little of four or five wines in order to entice potential buyers to come inside to purchase some bottles.  That’s not the same thing as an enoteca.

Likewise, there are plenty of bars, in Rome and elsewhere.  There you can get a Scotch or a glass of wine.  Italians don’t just drink wine; they too like a stiff one every now and again.  But these bars are not enotecas, either.

Outside a typical enoteca in Rome.

The real thing is a wine store with tables and a list of wines by the glass or the bottle.  There are tables and often some food to eat, but they are not really restaurants, either.  The menu is more for snacks and sliced meats and cheese, not complete meals.  People do sit at the tables to drink their wine, but just as many take their glasses outside to mix and mingle with their friends.  Tourists are not made to feel unwelcome, but more attention goes to the customers who will be back tomorrow, and for years after that.

Hanging out inside a typical Roman enoteca.

Enotecas fill the spot in Roman lives that pubs do for Londoners.  Yes, alcohol is involved and people do choose specific enotecas based on the wines they serve.  But more often, the local enoteca is just the place they go because it’s close and, well, everybody else is there.

In many restaurants, we have found a predilection for serving wines from the local region.  Some enotecas have wine lists that constitute an education in Italian wine.  Most enotecas have wines from all over the country.  Of course, quality differs from place to place, but for the most part we have found that most enotecas serve wines that are reflective of their grapes and terroirs.  Thus, you have everything from a northern Lagrein to a Sicilian Nero d’Avola (and everywhere in between) available to you and most are quite drinkable if not the very best of their sort.

When foreigners arrive in an enoteca, they are marked as tourists immediately because they consult the list of wines by the glass.  The regular clients seem to have the list memorized and, moreover, they know that they want the Verdicchio or the Montefalco because they always want the Verdicchio or the Montefalco.  We have found that if you act like you are guests in someone else’s house (or bar), the servers are quite friendly and willing to help you select something to your taste.

And then there’s the matter of price.  Enotecas are, at least to those of us who are used to the cost of drinking wine in American bars, ridiculously inexpensive.  It is rare to find a glass of wine priced at more than 10 euros (around 11 US dollars at current rates) and most run between six and eight euros.  And the pours aren’t skimpy, either.

So when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  Stop by an enoteca.