26 February 2011

This post first appeared on my website.

I was about to sit down and write “enough wind already” but instead I took a basket of washing out to the line. Hardly a breath of wind. What had happened to the northerly tramontana which has been rattling our bedroom door loudly night after night, making my sleep fitful? (L sleeps through anything and doesn’t know what I’m talking about.)

The tramontana whips along the valley below our house, shooting up to hit us full-on from the north north east. It’s fun to start off with: the sky goes an impossible blue and the visibility is startling, and the air tingles. It gives us a fine opportunity to bandy the word ‘bracing’ around. I like that word. It sounds health-giving and purposeful. But there’s only so much near-zero buffetting one can take. And a week of it is more than enough.

Now it’s calmer. But no less cold. Icy, in fact. You can tell it’s snowing all around. Next week looks horrible, meteorologically speaking. The snow has disappeared off forecasts for this area, but it has been replaced with endless slushy rain. I think I would have preferred the snow: at least it’s clean.

What, I wonder, will happen to the darling buds of my darling apricot tree, which is rather inadvisably shifting into spring gear? I have no fears for the broad beans, which will withstand almost anything (but I tightened their fleece covering tightly around them this evening, just to be sure). And as for the tiny twists of sweet pea which, unexpectedly, have come up in such abundance beneath the Kiftsgate rose on the far wall of the chicken house: well, so far I have never succeeded in making a single sweet pea grow to maturity here, so if I lose them, it will simply be par for the course.

I’m not (much as I adore sweet peas, a fact underlined by my sticking seeds into the ground each year with no hope in my heart) going to lose any sleep over them. The daffodils – the first tiny bloom is a dot of yellow among the tangle of weeds on the bank beneath the field maple – will carry on regardless and so, I presume, will the wild irises (Hermodactylus tuberosus) which are already producing their shy black flowers.

We have been getting heavily into Brunello. Well, Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino. Last Sunday we bravely waded through Benvenuto Brunello, a tidal wave of about 150 producers, each with their Rosso 2009, their Brunello 2006 and their Brunello riserva 2005 – a daunting sight. My brain shuts down at those events. So, for the most part, do my taste buds though every now and then something makes such an impact that it registers: the Rosso of Le Potazzine was palatable; the Rosso of Baricci was a pleasure; the Brunello produced by Fuligni seemed delicious though my judgement could have been conditioned by my fascination with the immaculately coiffed grandmother seated, staring into space, beside the younger woman who was dosing out the wine into tasting glasses. L is so much more efficient than I am, steering me from table to table. I’m too fascinated by the characters and the back stories.

You can tell the small producers from the big ones from a mile away: the former have rosy-faced elders and a rather dazed look; the latter have smooth-pattered PR people.     Then there are the topers: Sunday was for the ticket-holding public, rather than the press or trade. There was the raucous blowsy woman ticking her girlfriend off loudly every time she sipped and tipped the remains of her glass into a bucket: “che, lo butti? Ma che sei pazza?!” (What? You’re chucking it? You must be crazy!”) The fifteen-year-old in her silk dress and ruby-red lipstick, hoping to hook a handsome wine-producer’s son but too unsteady on her teetering heels after a couple of sips of wine to make any moves at all. The immaculate youths in their immaculate Barbours, no doubt with immaculate SUVs parked outside – gentleman farmer-style but managing a country existence without a speck of dust or mud.

Tomorrow we continue our Montalcino experience in profondità. The Circolo del Vino Città della Pieve is visiting Sesti (what? no website?) whose wines were wonderful. We’re going to drink through their years. Then try to drive home. Is this wise?

What a difference an article makes. My big spread on Venice in the Telegraph yesterday drove huge numbers of people to my site and blog. Well, when I say ‘huge’, I mean… it went into double figures which, quite frankly, I consider a triumph most days. This morning a lady from Venice even called, to lavish praise on foreigners who really know how to sell Italy’s charms. I think I was flattered.

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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