Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Perfect Summer Lunch

Michele and I were trying to decide where to go for lunch with our friends Tom and Donna when Donna invited us to join them for lunch in their beautiful garden since it was going to be a beautiful day. Tom and Donna have a brownstone in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. Donna is an excellent cook and Tom has a good wine cellar. We gladly accepted the invitation.

The first course was figs, which I love, with prosciutto.  The figs were ripe and sweet and the prosciutto freshly sliced.  It’s always a great combination.

Their were also French breakfast radishes to eat plain or with coarse salt and sweet butter.

We  had Champagne  Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV  Made from 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It has tiny bubbles and a fruity delicate freshness. It has become one of my favorite champagnes.

For the main course, we had a Nicoise salad.  The fresh tuna steak was cooked to perfection, charred on the out side and pink on the inside.

On the side there potatoes, eggs, olives string beans and tomatoes.

With the steak we had Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco 1999.   Produttori del Barbaresco is a wine cooperative, arguably the best in Italy. It has roots going back to 1894 when there were 19 members, but the co-op as we now know it dates from 1958.  Today there are 52 members. Over the years, a few members have left the co-op to go out on their own. The wine is aged for two years in large oak barrels. It has hints of cherries, plums and faded roses with a touch of leather it was a perfect combination with the tuna steak.

For dessert we had homemade strawberry and blueberry ices with raspberries and a splash of grappa.  It was an idyllic summer afternoon with good wines and old friends.



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Italian Varietals from California

My friend Tom Maresca, a wine writer, wanted to do a tasting at La Pizza Fresca in NYC of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Aglianico from the Caparone winery in California. I did not know the winery and was very skeptical because I have never tasted an Italian varietal from California that I really liked.

I looked the winery up and saw a quote by David Caparone in “Italy’s Noble Red Wines” by Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman. This book was for me the bible of Italian red wine for many years and I have very fond memories of evenings with the Wassermans. They wrote, “Italy has three indigenous varieties capable of producing wines of breed and character. These noble varieties are Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Aglianico.”

These would be the three Italian varieties that Dave and his son Marc Caparone, the winemakers, use to produce wine. They produce the wines by themselves and do not have any employees.

I contacted the winery and Marc Caparone  said the Nebbiolo is from clone CVT 30, the Sangiovese clone comes from Il Poggione, and the Aglianico is the original clone at UC Davis that his father found there in 1988.

All this sounded very interesting and since Tom liked the wines, I knew I would enjoy tasting them.

There were 6 of us at the tasting, Tom, Diane Darrow,  his frequent co-author, Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW, authors of the “Wine for Dummies” books, and Michele Scicolone, author of The Italian Vegetable Cook Book, The Italian Slow Cooker, 1000 Italian Recipes.

The Caparone winery in Paso Robles California was founded in 1979 by Dave Caparone. It is located northeast of Paso Robles, California. They pride themselves on being the oldest small, artisan winery in the region and making wines with good varietal character, intensity and longevity. They make wines that complement food.

The winemakers do not blend wines and want to make wines that will last for decades. They look for balanced grape maturity. Balanced maturity occurs at moderate grape sugar levels, which means moderate alcohol levels. All of the wines tasted were below 13.5% alcohol.

In order to achieve balance and complexity, each wine is in contact with the grape skins for four to six weeks before pressing. This softens the tannins and adds to the overall balance of the wine. Each of the wines receives two full years in 100% neutral French oak barriques (59 gallons) and are not fined or filtered. The wine remains in bottle for one year before release.

Sangiovese 2014 Paso Robles macerated on the skins at fermentation for 30 days. This is a wine with nice red fruit. It did have the characteristics of an Italian Sangiovese, however, if I was given this wine blind I would have said it was a Chianti Classico Riserva with a bit too much oak and concentration or a “Super Tuscan”.

Sangiovese 1996 the wine was showing no signs of age 18 years later. It had become mellow; the red fruit was still there with a touch of violet. After drinking this I realized that the problem I had with the 2014 was that it was too young.

Nebbiolo 2014 Paso Robles Nebbiolo macerated on the skins for 45 days, in completely enclosed stainless fermenters. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. It was light in color like Nebbiolo should be. In a blind tasting I might have said it was like a Nebbiolo from the north of Piedmont but in a much lighter style with more red fruit and less of the tar, tobacco and dried fruit character.

Aglianico 2014 macerated on the skins at fermentation for 30 days. The wine was dark in color and drinking very well right now. It did have the characteristics of an Aglianico Taburno with hints of black cherry, blackberries and plum.

Aglianico 1996 this wine was not showing any signs of age and had developed into a very drinkable mature Aglianico. This wine reminded me of an Aglianico del Vulture. It still had the black fruit flavors and aromas but had developed hints of tobacco and cedar.

At the Caparone winery, they believe the finest wines are created by nature and are a reflection of the vine and the place where it grows, not of the gadgets and chemicals used so often in modern wine making. They take great pains to interfere as little as possible in the wine making process. Their techniques are mostly a collection of traditional wine making practices more like Europe than California. They do not what excessive oak in their wines.

There were difference opinions and discussions  about the wines which just made it more interesting and enjoyable.

The wines went very well with the food and pizza at La Pizza Fresca.

See Tom Maresca’s article on the Caparone wines  (



Filed under Aglianico, Caparone Winery, Nebbiolo

Pecorino Toscano and Winery Beer

J63 Tasting Beer and Pecorino Toscano DOP

Recently Michele was invited on a press trip to Tuscany for Pecorino Toscano DOP and I went along.  Pecorino is produced from sheep’s milk and it comes in many varieties.  We had an opportunity to visit several producers and learn about the production.

One of the cheese producers we visited was Caseificio Busti located near Pisa. It is a very large operation and includes a retail store and a restaurant.

To accompany the cheeses, we were scheduled to taste some locally made beers made by a winery.  One of the beers actually contained a small percentage of wine.

After touring the Busti facility and seeing how the cheeses are made, aged and stored, we headed to the cantina for lunch.  We tried at least a dozen different types of pecorino Toscano, including fresh cheeses, aged cheeses, and flavored cheeses and everything in between.

The beer is produced by the 500-hectare Torre a Cenaia Antica Tenuta  in the municipality of Crespina Lorenzana in the Val Tora at the foot of the hills of Pisa not far from Pisa and Livorno.  During the tasting we met Ester Filippone, the export manger for Torre A Cenaia, and she told us about the beer known as J63.

The J63 Craft Agricultural Brewery is in a country house in the village of the Torre a Cenaia estate. It is brewed from barley grown in the fields of the estate so the raw materials are right there. The beer is not pasteurized or filtered. The Estate is a member of the COBI-Italian Cosortium of Producers of Beer and Barley. The mark Birragricola issued by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture is on the back label of every bottle.


The beer is named for Julia, a martyr, and later a saint in Livorno. At some point, her body was stolen from Corsica and brought to Brescia. In 763 her body reached Torre a Cenaia where it stopped for one night.

The #63 is the house number of the Brewery, Julia arrived in 763 and in 1463 Luca Pitti, ancestor of Count Robert Pitti of Cenaia, was appointed Captain of commons and acquired in his coat of arms the Red Cross which today distinguishes the brand and the products of Torre a Cenaia. So the beer is called J63.

Ester said J63 production is inspired by the Belgian style whch captures the specific character from the use of our territory and the ideas of the brewmaster Lucca Briganti


Pecorino Toscano DOP


JIPA Birra Agricola Toscano– style Pilsner made from Water, barley, malt, hops-Premiant(CK) Saaz(CK), Strisselspait (FR) and yeast which is low fermented. The color is straw yellow and slightly hazy. The foam is white, fine, compact and very persistent. The alcohol is 5%. The beer has grassy and delicate malty notes with hints of honey and green apple.

JLIPS Birra Agricola Toscana con mosto di Vermentino made from water, barley malt, wheat flakes, hop yeast (Top fermentation) and Vermentino grape must 5%  Style Italian Grape Ale. The Vermentino must is added fresh while boiling. Vermentino grapes are grown on the estate. The color is golden yellow and the foam is fine, compact and persistent. It has fresh floral notes with hints of white fruit and grape aromas and nice minerality and a light taste of malt. The Alcohol is 6%. This was my favorite — the addition of  Vermentino  made it very mellow. 

It  goes very well with aged Pecorino Toscano 


 Jrubra Birra Agriciola Toscana made from water barley, hop (American Pale Ale for hops) malt (Doppeblock for malts, yeast- low fermentation. The color is orange with red highlights and slightly hazy. The foam is fine, abundant and persistent. Alcohol is 7.5%. There are herbal aromas, malted notes with fruits in alcohol, and dried fruit flavors.

Pecorino Toscano

One of the cheeses was aged in fine straw which gave it a grassy quality.

Meditation Beer

JBlack made from water, barley, malt, coco beans, hop and top fermentation- Belgian abbey yeast. The style is Belgian Dubbel The color is very dark, clear with fine abundent and persistent foam- Esther described it as the color of a monk’s frock. Alcohol is 8%. The beer has toasted notes, licorice, coco and fruits in alcohol. Esther said most of the flavors are produced by selected Belgian yeast. Esther said this is an important mediation beer perfect for long winter evenings and with a good cigar. This was the heaviest of the beers. This beer goes very well with sharp  cheeses.

Pecorino Toscano cheeses are full of flavor and range from mild to sharp.  They are quite different from the salty pecorino cheeses used in other parts of Italy for grating.  They are excellent with wines, and this was the first time I had them with beer.  It was  very interesting and enjoyable experience.


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Pizza in the Shadow of Vesuvius

When Michele and I were in Rome last month we took the fast train to Naples one day to visit our friend, journalist Marina Alaimo.  Marina drove us to Cantine Matrone in the Vesuvius National Park to meet Andrea Matrone, the owner/wine maker.

After our visit to the vineyards, we were anxious to taste Andrea’s wines, so Marina, knowing our passion for Neapolitan pizza, took us to Sakura Piscine Magma Pizzeria in nearby Torre del Greco.

The pizzeria is part of a hotel complex with a large swimming pool popular with tourists and locals alike. It was a warm afternoon and we sat at a table overlooking the pool. Ciro di Giovanni, the owner and his wife Nicoletta joined us.

He told us that his pizzas are made with local ingredients.

Ciro suggested we try the Sakura Cocktail, a specialty of the house. It was a tasty combination of San Marzano tomato sauce, vodka and ginger beer, garnished with fresh basil.

As always, we started with a pizza margherita. This one was a classic, with an airy, tender crust, sweet tomato sauce and the freshest mozzarella fior di latte. The pizzaiolo, Claudio di Siena, told us that he lets his dough rise for 24 hours.

We let Ciro order the rest of the pizzas for us. Next up was a Pizza Radio Siani, named in memory of a young radio journalist who was martyred. The topping includes the piennolo tomatoes grown on land confiscated from the Camorra, provolone del Monaco, and fior di latte mozzarella.

Andrea Matrone enjoying the pizza with his wine


Then we had a Pizza Riso, or smile pizza, so called because the toppings included peperoncini di fiume, small red or green peppers that look like happy smiles, provola (smoked mozzarella) and tomatoes from Vesuvio.

There was also a Pizza Orto, garden pizza topped with yellow cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mozzarella and thyme.

We ended our pizza feast with slices of a fried pizza turnover filled with ricotta di buffala, ciccoli (nuggets of pork) and mozzarella fior di latte.

It was wonderful afternoon  of  eating and talking about pizza and wine in the shadow of  Vesuvius.



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Cooking with Pecorino Toscano by Michele Scicolone

Chef Giuseppe Villani welcomed us to the kitchen at Villa Fattoria Granducale Alberese in Parco Alberese in Tuscany. The chef and his helpers had been preparing for our cooking class featuring Pecorino Toscano cheese and my colleagues and I on the Pecorino Experience press trip, enticed by the aromas wafting through the door, were anxious to get started.

We were in Tuscany to learn about the region’s iconic cheese, Pecorino Toscano. The name pecorino comes from the Italian word for sheep, pecora. Flocks of sheep graze everywhere on the hillsides in Tuscany and their milk is used to produce a variety of cheeses from fresh ricotta to aged Pecorino Toscano PDO. Different breeds of sheep are raised, and they produce enough milk to supply 17 caseifici (cheesemaking establishments) in the region. Sheeps’ milk cheeses range in flavor from mild and milky when fresh, to nutty and tangy when aged.

Pecorino Toscano DOP

The class began with–what else–a cheese tasting. We tried several varieties of Pecorino Toscano PDO including a fresh variety, aged between 45 to 60 days which was soft and pale yellow in color. The flavor was sweet and rich, and it had a creamy texture. A second variety had been brushed with olive oil before aging which made it slightly drier and more the flavor more concentrated, while the third variety was aged more than 120 days which gave it a flavor of nuts, and dried fruits and a crumbly texture. They all were good for eating with fruits and nuts, honey or jam. The chef told us he uses all three types for cooking.



The first dish he demonstrated was very simple. He spread coarsely grated Pecorino Toscano – a mix of different varieties – in a baking dish to which he added a generous splash of white wine. After baking, when the cheese was bubbling and melted, he arranged a few anchovies on top (he suggested topping it with prosciutto or black truffles as an alternative). He spooned the bubbling cheese over thin slices of toasted bread and served it with dry white wine. You can be sure I will be duplicating this soon. It’s a great dish for lunch or brunch or to serve as a first course.


Next came individual flans with cheese and vegetables, followed by miniature tartlets filled with cheese and guanciale, an Italian version of quiche Lorraine. Then one of the chef’s assistants showed us how to make pici, thick handmade pasta strands. The chef sauced the pasta with “cacio e pepe”, pecorino Toscano cheese and black pepper. He asked me to do some of the pasta tossing, which was a challenge for me given the size of that pan! The pasta was terrific, cheesy, creamy, and peppery.

Tossing the pici with Pecorino Toscano DOP

Meanwhile, the assistants were preparing our dessert, known as fiadoni. They filled tender pastry rounds with a blend of sugar, lemon, eggs and pecorino Toscano before baking them. The little turnovers were irresistible warm, even though I had thought I couldn’t eat another bite.

Since we have been back home, I have been experimenting with other ways to use Pecorino Toscano PDO. Grilled open-faced sandwiches, tossed with green beans and butter, and in a salad have all been big hits. Of course, it is most enjoyable on its own, with a good glass of Tuscan wine.


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Cantine Matrone a Winery on Vesuvio

I first met Andrea Matrone In NYC at an event at Ribalta where he was presenting his wine. The event was organize by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Vesuvio. Five producers from the area were presenting their Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco and Rosso. I wrote about the event and Marina Alaimo, a journalist friend in Naples, saw the article offered to take me to visit Cantine Matrone the next time I was in the Naples area.

Michele and I last month were in Rome for a few days and contacted Marina.

Cantine Matrone is located in Boscotrecase in the heart of the national park of Vesuvio with great views of Vesuvio and the Bay of Naples.

The view

Andrea told us that he worked in many different places around the world to enhance his winemaking skills. Coming back home he and his cousin Francesco Matrone managed to bring new life to the old family vineyards once cultivated by their grandfather. There are four hectares of vineyards divided into smaller plots.


As we walked, Andrea pointed to the Panoramic Vineyard at 250 meters that has one hectare of espalier rows that face south toward the sea. Behind the Volcano is the area know as Vigna Tre Moggi and planted here are a few vines of Caprettone.

Vigna Montagna (La Montagna is the name the locals give to the volcano) is at 300 meters. There was a strong lava flow here caused by the eruption of 1906. Andrea said the soil is young , rich in lapillus (very small pebbles) and minerals. It is among the pine trees. Here there is one hectare of Piedirosso (Pier e palumm).  Here, Andrea said very proudly, is the vineyard dedicated to my grandfather Nonno Andrea.

Andrea in newly planted vineyard showing the lapillus-very small pebbles

Here also is where he has his “new” training system, new to Vesuvius because he is the only one doing it. He calls the new vine training system system “Alberello Alsaziano” because  it is very popular in Alsace. It should be good for Piedirosso because it has longer shoots than the traditional Alberello. This project is particularly dear to Andrea who  believes very much in the potential of his training system  on Vesuvius.  The work of recovery and selection of the plants to be reproduced on their own has been very accurate, to ensure maximum consistency to the territory and to enhance the Vesuvian viticultural identity with respect.

The Panoramica (named for the view) is at 200 meters facing south overlooking the Bay of Naples.  Andrea said this is the best place for Caprettone because here it ripens best. One hectare here is planted with the alberate-80cm by 1,60 meters or 7,200 plants per hectare. Andrea said it will produce only 600 gr of grapes from each plant. Every two plants will produce a bottle of wine. A big chance for a small company.  All of the plants are ungrafted because phylloxera cannot survive in the volcanic soil.

Andrea explaining how he uses the wine press

Andrea took us into his very small cellar and showed us the machine for crushing the grapes and his press.  The small horizontal  wine press works by electricity. Andrea said it is good because it is  like the pressing of grapes on other grapes, in this way it makes a soft pressing, and he like it  because he can control  its every movement.

He only has 6 barrels: One tonneau, 4 barriques and one barrel of 300 liters, which he bought because it was a good price.

All of the barrels are old as you can see from the pictures.

The Wines

Lacryma Christ del Vesuvio Bianco 2015 made from 80% Caprettone and 15% Falangina and 5% Greco. Lacryma del Vesuvio Bianco made from 80% Caprettone, 15% Falanghina and 5% Greco. The Caprettone is distributed over three vineyards located at 30, 120 and 200 meters. Falanghina and Greco are at 30 meters. The Falanghina and Greco are fermented together with a pressing and fermentation without the pomace. The Caprettone is vinified alone with a 24-hour maceration period with the pomace. Then a soft pressing and fermentation takes place without temperature control. Andrea said this helps to obtain a wine with slightly more intense color and a bouquet of aromas that are more related to the varietal and less to the fruity or floral notes due to fermentation. The wine has hints of citrus, almond and a touch of sage with good acidity.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso 2015 made from 75% Piedirosso, 15% Sciascinoso, and 10% Aglianico. The Piedirosso is cultivated in 3 vineyards located at 30, 120 and 200 meters. The soil is volcanic sand/lava and basalt. Sciascinoso and Aglianico are cultivated at 30 meters. Maceration is for 10/12 days and delestage takes place. The wine is aged in stainless steel vats and tonneau barrels. The wine has aromas and flavors of red fruit and cherry with hints of spice and a touch of smoke.

His first vintage was in 2014 and the current vintage is 2015. Andrea said he likes to hold on to the wine a little longer before release. The production is about 10,000 bottles.

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Filed under Cantine Matrone, Lacryma Christi Bianco, Lacryma Christii Rosso, Lacyma Chrisiti di Vesuvio, Uncategorized

Visiting Argillae Winery and Lunch in Orvieto

On the Hello, Grappa press tour in May, Michele and I visited the Bonollo Distillery in Tuscany. We had lunch with Giulia Di Cosimo, the daughter of the owner of the distillery. At lunch Giulia offered us wines from Argillae Winery, also owned by her family.

Giulia was getting married in two months and someone at the table suggested that Michele make a “Grappa Cake” for the wedding. Michele agreed and when we returned to NYC Michele contacted Giulia to discuss the cake.

When Guilia found out that we would be returning to Rome a few weeks later, she said we must visit the winery, which is just outside Orvieto. We decided to make spend an afternoon there.

As we stood on a hill with a view of Orvieto and the vineyards, Giulia told us about the Argillae estate. Argillae was established by Cavaliere del Lavoro Giuseppe Bonollo, her grandfather and founder of the biggest Italian Distillery, Bonollo, Spa. Today Giulia manages the Argillae estate.


She said the estate covers an area of about 220 hectares between the hills of Allerone and Ficulle, northwest of the town of Orvieto. There are 38 hectares of vineyards. The soil is mostly clay (40%), limestone and rocks but what makes it unique she said is that the area was once covered with water and it contains a lot of fossils such as seashells from the Pilocene period. These fossils enrich the soil with mineral components, which pass into the wine.

The terroir is mostly clay-calcareous and Giulia said this type of soil stays cooler than other soils and works well in hot regions like Umbria. The clayey part retains the water and this helps the grapes during the dry season, while the calcareous part drains well, avoiding diseases caused by stagnation and humidity. Argillae in Latin means clay.

Giulia said that Argillae is a family winery with a clear focus on quality. They do everything they can to protect the environment; to her it is not a philosophy but a way of life. From the hill it was difficult to see the winery and Giulia’s house as they blended in with the surrounding countryside. All of the tanks in the winery are below ground.

Giulia explaining Primo D’Amfora to us

The Wine

Primo D’Amfora 2016 made from Grechetto di Orvietto Drupeggio (aka Canaiolo Bianco) and Malvasia (3% of the Malvasia is late harvest.) The 3 varieties are in 3 separate amphora with skin contact. After two weeks the wines go into stainless steel tanks where they are blended. Then the blended wine goes back into the amphora for another 8 months before it is bottled. Giulia said this is her project because she wanted to produce wine close to the way the ancient Etruscans did. This was the first vintage of the wine and she was waiting for the labels to arrive. This is a full-bodied wine with citrus aromas and flavors, nice minerality, good acidity with a pleasing aftertaste and a long finish.

It went very well with the food we were served.

Giulia took us to lunch at Da Carlo Trattoria In Orvieto.

The owner/chef is Carlo Alberto Cerrini and when I saw “una cucina semplice per persone semplice” written on the menu I knew I would like the restaurant. What even made it more interesting was that Carlo and Giulia are to be married next month!

Orvieto Classico Superiore DOC “Panata” made from 50% Grechetto, 20% Procanico and 30% Chardonnay. There are 4,000 wines per hectare for the Grechetto and Procanico, and for the Chardonnay 3,333 vines per hectare and the training system is guyot. Harvest is by hand and takes place in September. The grape undergoes a brief cold maceration process to obtain the ideal extraction of the aromas and is then pressed very lightly. The musts ferment separately in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. A small potion of the Grechetto must is fermented and refined in oak barriques and everything is then blended together. The wine remains on the lees until it is bottled in March/April. This is a well structured, elegant wine with hints of yellow flowers, grapefruit, nice minerality and good acidity. Giulia said the wine is named for a medieval pitcher used for pouring wine and water traditional characterized by a prominent beak and decorated with animal, floral or mythological motifs.

Carlo sent us out an assortment of his dishes to taste. The first was a type of capocollo that had been sautéed until crispy and finished with balsamic vinegar.

Next we had two crostini, one topped with a chicken liver spread flavored with sweet wine and the other topped with a fava bean and fennel seed puree.

Umbria Rosso IGT “Vascellarus” made from 85% Montepulciano, and 15 Cabernet Sauvignon. The training method is guyot and there are 3,333 vines per hectare. Harvest is by hand in October. The grapes are crushed and destemmed and there is a 25/30-day maceration period with frequent pumpovers on the skins, accompanied by several rack and return procedures. Alcoholic fermentation is in steel tanks at a controlled temperature and malolactic fermentation takes place in barriques. The wine is aged in French barriques with racking on a regular basis, depending on the need. The wine remains in the bottle for another 8/12 months before release. The wine has hints of ripe red fruit, spice, black pepper and vanilla notes.

Giulia said the Vascellari were medieval pottery and ceramic producers in Orvieto. The pieces mainly featured floral, animal and mythological motifs. As a tribute to the craftsman, the label of the bottle takes inspiration from one of the works and it displays the shape of a dragon. In the lower section there is depicted an ancient contract related to a selling of a group of ceramics.

To go with the Vascellarus, Carlo sent out plates of umbrichelli, a type of handmade local pasta similar to pici. It was sauced with pecorino cheese and guanciale.

This was followed by peposo, beef stewed with tomato, red wine and lots of black pepper.

The meal ended with cafè and the best Sambuca I ever tasted made by the Bonollo Distillary

We thanked Giulia and Carlo for a beautiful afternoon and wished them good luck on their upcoming nuptials.


Filed under Argillae Winery, Trattoria Da Carlo