Monday, August 11, 2014

At the International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi Georgia

Magical Tbilisi

At the end of March 2014, I participated in the International Wine Tourism Conference that took place in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. I spoke about wine tourism in Lazio and also participated in a panel on Social Media with fantastic colleagues. The highlight of the conference was the opportunity to participate in a familiarization media trip organized by the National Wine Agency in Georgia.
The program began two days before the conference and included a post conference visit to the Kakheti wine region. The program took us to a variety of wineries ranging from a Soviet era factory specializing in sparkling wine, to tasting the gorgeous qvevri wines made by the Alaverdi monk and learning about their 1000+ year wine making heritage, and then having the honor of joining the Sullivans as they opened their qvevri at the Twin's WineCellar in Kakheti.
A number of my fellow participants have written excellent articles about the trip and conference that offer the reader more in depth notes. Check out Vines and Designs, My Custard Pie, Just the Bottle  and the most moving piece by Allison Markin about finding her Georgian family. 
Conferences like this have a lot to offer those of us in wine tourism, we can learn from our peers, get to know an otherwise unknown region to us and of course the networking opportunities alone are worth the ticket price.
Being in the Republic of Georgia taught me a lot about one aspect of wine tourism that is often overlooked and that is the art of hospitality. Wine tourism should take the guest beyond the wine. I spoke about this briefly in the limited time I had for my presentation. Wine tour guests are not wine professionals for the most part. They are people on vacation that have an interest in wine and food. Our job is to highlight the local wine AND the region while making our guests feel comfortable and happy. Georgians have truly mastered the art of hospitality and I would advise anyone in the hospitality or service industry to visit Georgia to understand this. I was so impressed with Georgia I have returned since the conference, started a #DailyGeorgia post on my instagram feed and I have two upcoming trips planned. I will participate in this year's harvest and see for myself the magic of qvevri wine making.

I am looking forward to the next Interantional Wine Tourism Conference in Champagne, France!

Pickled garlic

At the Tbilisi market

A local bar

My great friend and winelover Irakli

Local politcal graffiti

Mako and Eko pouring Italian wine into a vessel from 1600 BC

Eko's Tsolikouri

Street art in Tbilisi

Our guide Dushenko

Me with the Caucasus in the background


Sinaghi in Kakheti

Georgian cats are just as grumpy as cats elsewhere on earth

Turkish coffee with Daniel

Vineyards and mountains

Signs of vines EVERYWHERE

Freshly foraged wild greens


Opening a qvevri




At Twin's Wine Cellar



Oh the Caucasus must be the most beautiful mountain range on earth

Tbilisi Sulfur Baths

IWINETC panel on Social Media

At Eko Glonti's house

Georgian wine makes one do silly things

With new friends

At Vino Underground in Tbilisi

My partners in crime

Les Vignerons

Beautiful people

My Georgian soul mate

Tbilisi at night

Monday, July 28, 2014

Frida Kahlo in Rome

By Antiqua Tours Caelan Fortes

Unless you have found yourself a hermit in Rome, it is impossible to travel anywhere in the city without seeing the face of Frida Kahlo. Whether plastered on a pole or against the metro’s walls, you have undoubtedly met Frida’s fixed gaze while out and about. From underneath her trademark eyebrows, her eyes call locals and visitors alike into the Scuderie del Quirinale, where an exhibition on her life and works has been on display since March 20th.
Frida has long been lauded as the feminist avant-garde icon of the twentieth century. Her exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale explores the length of her artistic career with a collection of works from all over the globe. In fact, some of her portraits are on display in Italy for the very first time! What’s most interesting about Frida’s work is that her paintings and drawings do not simply chronicle her life; instead, they are a reflection of and a response to the artistic vocabulary of different eras, cultures, and movements, across nations, synthesized in her own unique way.
Interestingly, art was not Young Frida’s, or her parents’, vision for herself. She was studying to be a doctor when she was nearly killed in a bus accident as a teen. Rather than letting this more-than-minor incident destroy her morale, she took to painting as she convalesced and described it as a “reawakening of life.” To compare all of the “first world problems” we view as day ruining – like traffic or a lack of Wifi - to Frida’s artistic beginnings really puts life, and our reactions to its curveballs, in perspective.
Frida did not exist in a bubble. She explored and immersed herself in different cultures, values, and artistic movements, all while desperately trying to stay true to herself. It is this intellectual curiosity and exploration of identity that draws me the most to Frida. For instance, the star of one room is her “Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States.” Here Frida juxtaposes Mexican and American symbols while placing herself in the middle, an autobiographical Venn diagram. As explained in the description, by standing on an elevated surface between these disparate cultural objects, she is allowing them to energize her without letting them transform her. As a Taco Bell-loving American one month into living in Rome, I like to think I can relate to the struggle of cultural assimilation while clinging to tradition - at least to some degree!
One of my favorite pieces is not even by Frida, but simply of Frida. By photographer Leo Matiz, it is entitled “Frida Drinking a Beer” - and it is exactly how it sounds. I stared at the photo for so long that the exhibition’s art guards began to eye me, as if I were going to stick the picture in my Longchamp and run away with it. It is a truly humanizing shot, and not something I see in exhibitions often. A pleasant reminder that this highly venerated artist was, in fact, a real person capable of normal leisurely activities, it was as if you were to walk into a modern art exhibit and see a photograph titled “Picasso Pouring a Shot” or “Matisse and His Mimosa.”
The exhibition ends with Frida’s still lives, which act as metaphors to chronicle her physical and emotional deterioration. The curator’s notes describe the works in the final room “as a metaphor of love which, through pain, consumes like fire. Her whole capacity on loving appears burnt-out and wounded. The long and terrible suffering she bore had prostrated Frida Kahlo gravely and she was witnessing, the funeral pyre of her own desire.” The tumultuous love of Frida and Diego pervades the whole exhibition, from his nude portraits of her to her surprising painting of his mistress. Their love story is one out of a Lifetime movie, but far better and more eloquently documented.
Frida suffered widely and deeply, and this torment is palpable in her paintings. She internalized these injustices and struggled with them, but, most importantly, she took efforts to not be defined by them. This, I think, manifests itself in her many self-portraits and their various iterations - a journey to be self-aware and self-actualized despite being highly self-deprecating. Frida’s troubles with love and loss are universal and identifiable problems. You leave the exhibition wondering, “What if that were me? How would I handle it?” Frida should be venerated for her strength along with her artistic prowess; her life and works act as a lesson on suffering for all.
This exhibition, while heavy, is definitely worth a view. You do not have to be a Frida fanatic to appreciate her life, a series of travesties documented colorfully and soulfully. Her exhibition will be on display until August 31st. Stop by the Scuderie del Quirinale during your stay in Rome - and even enjoy for lunch or dinner at its bustling cafe!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Climbing in Florence

By intern Caelan Fortes


Last weekend, my roommate and I decided to take a spontaneous day trip to Florence - just under two hours away by fast train. The ordeal began as somewhat of a debacle, featuring us sprinting across the terminal to catch our train, but a stressful morning quickly made way for a fantastic day. As a walking art history cliché, Florence has long been my mecca. I could wax poetic about the David, speak ad nauseam about the Uffizi, but, a true tourist at heart, the most poignant part of my day was my climb up the Duomo.
Brunelleschi’s Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile, located in Piazza del Duomo, peek out over all of Florence’s buildings. Built in 1418 by Brunelleschi, the Duomo towers over the city at nearly 142 feet - larger than the domes of the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica!
After admiring and photographing the Duomo from every conceivable angle, we geared up to make the 463-step climb. We purchased a combination ticket, which allowed us entry into the Dome, Campanile, and Cathedral - all for just ten euros! The various tour books and blogs I consulted all warned of long queues, so I was prepared to wait in line for an inordinate amount of time. To our surprise, we reached the Dome’s entrance in less than an hour!
Despite signs prohibiting writing on the walls, tons of names were scribbled or carved on the Duomo’s walls. Signatures like “Pepe <3s Joanna,” “ALYSSA SPRING 2K14,” “The Millers were here” all marked the climb. To me, the graffiti served as a bit of comic relief - a Renaissance marvel building now functioned doubly as a tourist yearbook.
After a countless number of steps, we were spit out onto a walkway lining the interior of the dome, directly under Giorgio Vasari’s fresco of The Last Judgment. Paralleling only Michelangelo’s painting of the same topic in dynamism and gore, its colorful registers house many Renaissance themes. Nude figures abound, sinners being roasted alive, skewered, and flagged. Pleasantly juxtaposed, the devout were being welcomed to paradise. Some used this landing, and its propinquity to the painting, to snap pictures of the fresco, while most took advantage of the walking respite to transition from “heavy panting” to “mildly out of breath” before we continued on with our journey.
The final set of stairs, fittingly, is the steepest, but the climb is so rewarding. You step off the staircase and into an absolutely breath-taking panoramic view of Florence. We could not have picked a more idyllic day to climb. Straight ahead, you could make out the shapes of visitors who braved the climb up Giotto’s bell tower. The red terracotta rooftops fit together like legos, punctuated by the occasional cathedral. Far behind, the rolling hills formed a beautiful backdrop. The visual segue between city and nature was stunning. The scene is absolutely unreal. There are also plenty of seats from which to admire the city and catch a breath before beginning the hike back down.
Despite a barely conquered fear of heights, the climb was so worth it. Nothing makes you smaller than walking into a cathedral, and nothing makes you feel lighter than climbing one. If you have the time (and endurance), I would definitely recommend climbing Giotto’s bell tower, as well. It offers an incredible view of the Dome.
There’s a reason why most guides on Florence often list the Duomo as must-see. Experience it for yourself! Visitors are able to climb the dome Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 6:20pm, and Saturdays from 8:30 to 5pm. It’s ten euros to climb the 463 steps to the Dome’s steps; however, there are plenty of combination ticket options for exploring all the buildings of Piazza del Duomo, and most are valid for twenty-four hours if you want to do so in shifts!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Born Invisible: Sheila McKinnon's Exhibit in Rome

BORN INVISIBLE © Sheila McKinnon
It has been over a month since our last post.  Our fantastic intern Caelan Fortes visited this exhibit in Rome. Here is what she has to say about it:  

 “BORN INVISIBLE” is an exhibition of Italy-based Canadian photographer Sheila McKinnon, featuring fifty photographs and a video presentation. The selection aims to highlight the ongoing debate about women’s rights and social injustice. Through photographs of young girls and women, “BORN INVISIBLE” comments on the “heredity of silence [by capturing] the inaudible presence of voiceless girls and women, phantom beings whose lives are often decided without their consent.”
Adamant that photography goes farther than documentation, McKinnon’s works are not simply portraits of these young girls, but striking depictions of their situations and their plights. As she notes in her video presentation, McKinnon realized she “could speak with [her] camera and they couldn’t speak for themselves.” The presentation is far from pretentious; it is an important and beautifully presented social commentary on a very real humanitarian problem.
What is unique to McKinnon is the purposeful composition of her pictures. To call her photographs “poignant” is an understatement. Her manipulation of color and juxtaposition of light and dark is stunning. As with a map, McKinnon deciphers her compositional elements in the video presentation. Squares and rectangles indicate protection; inverted colors indicate the variability of the exterior; lit faces indicate an emphasis on the heart. There is nothing haphazard about McKinnon’s work; each photograph is infused with meaning.
Most poignant to me, and noted far before I’d stumbled upon the presentation, was the depiction of the girls in medias res. In nearly every photograph, the subjects are holding onto an object in some way. While working with the girls, McKinnon remarks in her video presentation, she observed the connectedness they had to both other people and to their livelihood. Thus, it was important for her that the girls not be isolated from their environment, but instead immortalized in action. I found this particularly stirring. These girls, though voiceless and paralyzed figuratively by forces beyond their control, are not idle. Sheila, too, is not idle in observing their suffering, and she is calling on us to also not stand as idle bystanders to these social injustices.
In comparison to the other photography exhibit in the Museo di Roma, which focused on refugees, BORN INVISIBLE stands out because of it is subtleties. Sheila McKinnon has taken what is undoubtedly agonizing adversity and an ostensibly permanent condition and presented it in a gentle, sometimes playful way. The exhibit is not explicitly pain-centric; the girls are not injured, suffering, or tortured. In fact, most are smiling and their actions joyful. McKinnon does not go for the “money shot” in a series of histrionic images meant to force empathy out of the viewer. Instead she depicts the quotidian. It is this nuance that struck me the hardest. This humanitarian problem, for us an abstract third party to read and sympathize with, is embedded in the lives of these girls. It does not discriminate whether they are suffering or whether they are content. It is in this way, though, that a viewer can understand how deeply these injustices permeate the lives of McKinnon’s subjects. In her video presentation, McKinnon lectures, “what we choose to see with our eyes is only an illusion.” I think her exhibition really touches on the fallibility of perception. A smiling girl going about her life and a voiceless girl deprived of basic human rights are not mutually exclusive.
“BORN INVISIBLE” is a perfect testament to the varied ways advocacy can manifest itself. Public protests, fundraisers, and the ilk serve the same purpose; however, McKinnon chooses to draw attention to a deserving issue through art. With her photography as the illuminating spokesperson of the suffering of these girls, art becomes the liaison of voiceless victims, giving them presence and importance. A contemporary Dorothea Lange of the third world, Sheila McKinnon epitomizes advocacy in art - observing a problem, acting on it, and creating an awareness of it in an impactful, eloquent, and moving way.
While exploring the beautiful neighborhood of Trastevere and all its shops and restaurants, allow yourself a pit stop to the Museo di Roma in Trastevere. Tickets are only 7.5 euros, with a reduced fee of 6.5. This wonderful exhibition is on view until September 28!

 Museo di Roma in Trastevere, 
Piazza S. Egidio 1B, 
tel. 065816563.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 Gelato Festival in Rome

Roman Gelato
May 15-18, The Auditorium Parco dellaMusica will host the 2014 Rome Gelato Festival. Over the four day event there will be tastings, seminars, demonstrations and more. Rome's best artisans will be present and guests will be able to taste exciting new flavors. Guests will also have the opportunity to participate in classes and learn how to make gelato such as gluten-free or vegan options.

The event starts at 12:00 every day and runs until 24:00 every night except Sunday when the event will end at 20:00. For more information and to purchase tickets check out thewebsite.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Top 9 Wine Bars in Rome

Once again, Antiqua Tours intern Annie Epstein has managed to create a fantastic list for winelovers in Rome.
Comparing two Italian sparkling wines

  1. Al Vino Al Vino, Via dei Serpenti 19
Al Vino Al Vino is a bustling enoteca that is well worth a visit (or two). A favorite among locals and regulars, the atmosphere is upbeat and cheery. The wines by the glass are written on a chalkboard above the bar and the offerings are usually Italian. The wine list is excellent, but to take a visit to Al Vino Al Vino to the next level, order the caponata. The enoteca renders a unique version of the sweet-sour eggplant dish, which pairs well with a glass of wine or three.
  1. Il Goccetto, Via dei Banchi Vecchi 14
This wine bar is beloved by locals and considered a classic by wine aficionados, all the while remaining accessible to tourists passing through Rome. The vintage décor and walls lined with bottles of excellent wines from around the world inspire visitors to step out of their wine comfort zones. Il Goccetto offers an extensive wine by the glass menu (and generous pours), as well as tasty canapés and cheese plates.
  1. Bibenda Wineconcept, Via Capo d’Africa 21
Bibenda Wineconcept, while not known for its food, is wine geek heaven. The rooms are filled with wine books and gadgets, not to mention Italian and French wines. Stop in for glass or buy a bottle or two for later; Bibenda has bottles that fit every budget. The sommeliers are extremely knowledgeable, so go with questions and they’ll be happy to help you.
  1. Bulzoni, Viale Parioli 36
Enoteca Bulzoni has been managed by the same family since 1929 and still maintains its dedication to selling top-notch Italian wines and spirits. The focus here is on natural wines, though this enoteca seems to have a bottle for every occasion. The offerings range from table wines to rare vintages. Though Bulzoni Italian-focused, it does offer bottles from France, Germany, and Austria.
  1. La Barrique, Via del Boschetto 41b
This enoteca is a great spot for a quality meal and fantastic glass of wine. La Barrique focuses on natural wines and offers bottles from Italy, France, and Germany. On top of their excellent by-the-glass offerings, the enoteca offers small plates and pasta. La Barrique is a great place to buy a bottle or settle in for a glass of wine and a meal.
  1. Palatium Enoteca Regionale, Via Frattina 94
This Lazio-centric enoteca, located a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps, offers some of the best products of the region. Palatium Enoteca Regionale offers wines of the area, meals made with local recipes, and goods produced in Lazio. This Roman treasure is a great spot to discover an underappreciated Lazio wine and snack on a plate of local cheeses. The menu is seasonal and many of the ingredients are for sale.
  1. Enoteca Provincia Romana, Largo di Foro Traiano 84
This enoteca, sponsored by the county of Rome, also utilizes local ingredients and local wines. The enoteca has recently introduced pastas dishes to its menu, as well as seasonal vegetable dishes and salads. It hosts a delightful aperitivo and boasts affordable wines. The enoteca is usually bustling and a fun location for dinner for those looking for more than aperitivo.
  1. Passaguai, Via Pomponio Leto 1
Passaguai, sight for sore eyes after a day of pushing through crowds at the Vatican museum, is a casual wine bar that offers a great wine by the glass and homemade snacks. The enoteca makes its own preserves, mostarde, and olive oils. Passaguai also has prepares a delicious cheese plate. Stop in and refresh with a classic wine and cheese break.
  1. Litro, Via Fratelli Bonnet 5
Litro is a hip new enoteca in Old Monteverde that offers a premium selection of natural wines. The enoteca offers a range of by-the-glass options as well as bottles. Be sure to check out the orange wines available. Stop in for the enoteca’s cold small plates or its tasty Lazio cheese plate. Litro seeks out wines from smaller Italian wineries; so if you have questions or need help deciding, ask the friendly staff.

A wine tasting in Rome

We offer tastings and tours ranging from natural wine seminars, exclusive tastings of Lazio wine and more.  Contact us for more information at 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Churchkhela, Puri and Mzhave Niori at the Tbilisi Market

Tbilisi Food Market 
Me, pickles and a fermenting goddess

 I'll admit that the primary reason I decided to join the International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi,Georgia was for the location. For a few years now, I had been wanting to discover for myself the rich wine and culinary culture of Georgia. I narrowly missed the DWCC post-conference trip from Izmir in 2012, and had had tentative plans to visit in 2013, but life got in the way and it just never happened.

In the interim, I studied the food and wine of Georgia and planned itineraries in my head. Travel information was scarce and mostly related to mountains and hiking, and the guidebooks tended towards pathetic regarding food and wine information. So, when I saw the announcement that the 2014 IWINETC conference would be held in Georgia and they were looking for bloggers and speakers, I jumped at the opportunity. My speech was accepted and I managed to join the pre- and post-conference media trip as well. I was very excited to join fellow food and wine lovers in the birthplace of wine. 

When I received the tour itinerary I was slightly disheartened to see that a visit to the Tbilisi market I had been reading, studying and dreaming about was not included on the schedule. But that would not deter me. I had a few hours of free time so I decided I would go on my own…even though I had yet to fully understand the concept of Georgian hospitality. When you read in guide books that Georgians believe, “A guest is a gift from God,” it is not lip service. From taxi drivers to invitations to homes, I was almost embarrassed by the level of hospitality in Georgia-knowing that I could never reciprocate in the same way. A week before the trip, I posted on the Wine and Culinary Tourism page on Facebook that I was looking for a guide and almost as soon as I posted, I got a reply that a guide would be waiting in the lobby at 10:30 am on the day of my arrival. I invited my fellow FAM trippers and the lovely guide Mariam met us in the lobby, threw us in cab and gave us our first view of the city. Of course, that view was seen while swerving in and out of the congested Tbilisi traffic until we arrived at the market about 10 minutes later. 

Churchkhela at the Tbilisi Market

At this point I am sure I will start to sound like a living foodie cliché, so forgive me. The Tbilisi market needs to be included in any visitor’s itinerary. It was an explosion of colors, flavors and aromas. Before going I was mostly curious about the walnuts, fruits, pickles and Churchchela, strings of nuts dipped in grape concentrate, otherwise known as “Georgian candy.” The vendors were gracious and kindly let us sample their products. They were more than happy to explain the use of various seasons and spices such as the marigold and fenugreek powder, plum sauces and garlic salt. It was a sensory overload. 

Spice vendor explaining how to use the marigold and fenugreek powder

My favorite “discovery” was learning that like Italians, Georgians have a long-standing tradition and passion for wild food ranging from foraged edible weeds, wild thyme (so good!), mushrooms and fermented or pickled foods. I tasted fermented cabbage, whole fermented garlic (Mzhave Niori), fermented wild greens and wild leeks. As an advocate for home fermentation, I was overwhelmed by the range of pickled goods available. There was so much variety; anything edible was pickled. I bought fermented garlic and the strong aroma followed me all the way back home. Pickled vegetables were available at every meal we had during our trip and without paying too much attention to the health benefits, we unintentionally aided the digestion of some of the heavier Georgian foods. Fermented foods are true Super Foods. I am sure my travel mates got tired of me exclaiming, “Oh my god, I love pickles!” at every meal, but I couldn't contain myself. I really, really love pickles. Good to know that they pair perfectly with the strong Chacha, a beverage similar to vodka that is made from the leftovers of the wine.

Fermented products at the Tbilisi Market

Pickles weren't the only product that excited me. Churchkhela, the sausage shaped delicious strings of nuts that have been dipped in grape concentrate and flour were a delight. They were sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth but not cloyingly so. They'd be great on a hike instead of premixed trail mix. They were simple and delicious, and the one food product I wish I had bought more of.

I also loved the wild honey that was sold in used pickled jars alongside different bee products such as pollen and propolis, as well as honeycomb. I took pollen every day while in Georgia as an immunity boost and—despite sleeping an average of three hours a night—I managed to stay energetic and healthy throughout the trip. 

Honey in used pickle jars

I not only sampled these products, also I learned about local baking techniques. The market had surprises around every corner. Mariam took us inside a small bakery where there were shelves of long pointed bread called puri and the delicious aroma of yeast and wood fire. The oven was not in the wall but in the earth in the form of a cylindrical clay tub that resembled a well. These ovens are called tone. After the dough has risen, been kneaded and been rolled, it is not put in a pan or on a shelf for baking. Instead, it is pressed up against the inner wall of the tone. I had never seen this baking process before and found it fascinating. It was yet another link that Georgian food and wine has to the earth and clay vessels. 
The "tone" photo by Sally Prosser at
 The aromas, colors and flavors are now imprinted on my heart and palate. I am so glad we visited the market before we started our trip. All of the food we tasted and all the meals we shared were made richer by the market experience. Understanding the food and the source of that food is an important part of traveling. At the Georgian table each meal is perfectly balanced between salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. Visiting the market gave me a much better understanding of the Georgian kitchen and what we could expect over the next nine days.

The Tbilisi Market is truly a can’t-miss for food lovers, people interested in a more authentic experience in Georgia, proponents of slow food, real food and people who want to eat like our ancestors. Markets are always great venues to experience of the bounty of the region, and this market is no exception. I learned that the Georgian food culture is real. It has not yet been corrupted by mass production and industrialization. I certainly hope that the Georgians take pride in this and protect it. These pockets of real food culture have almost disappeared in some places and are limited to the elite in others. Food is culture, and in Georgia the culture is rich.

My next visit to Georgia will include an extra suitcase for more edible souvenirs. 

Thank you Sally, Rowena and Erin for letting me include some of your photos in the blog post!

Check out their blogs/posts on Georgia!

 For more on Georgian wine, check out posts by Sarah Abbot MW here and here 

Gorgeous photo of Churchkhela and fruit by Sally Prosser (@mycustardpie)

Mzhave Niori (fermented garlic)

Puri (bread) photo by Sally Prosser (@mycustardpie)

Tone (oven) photo by Sally Prosser

Me with some puri (bread) photo by Rowena Dumlao-Giardina (@ApronSneakers)
Rowena Dumlao - Giardina.
Rowena Dumlao - Giardina.

Jars of raw honey

Bee products

Our lovely guide Mariam speaking with a Churchkhela vendor

The baker taking fresh puri out of the tone

Our guide Mariam (second from right) patiently explaining everything to us. Photo by Erin Korpisto (@vinesanddesigns)