Fall in Italy is when food gets serious.

Both in terms of work load—it’s wine harvest time!—and in terms of flavors.

The richest produce that comes out of Italy, from olive oil to truffles to figs to the deep purple grapes that flavor schiacciata, makes its appearance in the fall.

So it’s little surprise that some of the most important food festivals on the Italian calendar fall at the same time.

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venice san marco

Image © Italian Concierge

This month, Italians celebrate the biggest holiday of the year: Ferragosto. Literally meaning "august vacation," the August 15 holiday coincides with the Feast of the Assumption, celebrating the Virgin Mary's ascension into heaven, but the religious celebration has taken a backseat to the beach in modern times.

In August, businesses shut down, Italians head to their vacation homes on the coast, and cities empty eerily of residents. You can have Italy's greatest cities to yourself for a "golden day" like the day trip I recently wrote about for Susan van Allen's "Golden Days in Italy" blog.

If you're stuck at home, follow the Italian summer on our Pinterest board or through our summer-focused August newsletter:

  • Tis the Season for . . . the Mare!
    To Italians, summer is practically synonymous with the seaside. Many beaches in Italy - usually the sandier, better looking ones - are private beaches or called bagni or stabilamenti. Here's how to navigate them.

  • Events this Month: Aman Resort Opens in Venice
    In a 16th-century palazzo in the San Polo quarter, near the Rialto Bridge, the new hotel is composed only of spacious suites with garden or canal views.

  • Traveler Tip: Italian Gestures
    When I saw a wonderfully tongue-in-check short documentary on Italian hand gestures in the New York Times last month, I couldn't help but smile. Our quick guide will help you learn these gestures at home.

  • Things We Love: In Piazza della Signoria B&B
    Sometimes my favorite things are as simple and stunning as the view from a hotel room window. This luxurious boutique hotel lies right on the corner of Florence's Piazza Signoria, where nearly a century of Florentines have gathered to party, protest, and parade.

  • August Recipe: Panzanella
    Tomato, basil, and old bread -- the most basic ingredients find a surprisingly new life in this summer Tuscan peasant dish.


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wine grapes
Image © Italian Concierge

After a meal in Italy, you may be offered the ubiquitous grappa or limoncello as a digestif. And if you eat Italian at in the U.S., you may find a dessert wine like Moscato on the menu. But like most things in Italy, the best treasures are local specialties.

I’m particularly fond of ending my meal with dessert wines called vini di meditazione, literally meditation wine, often called “a sweet wine for pensive moments.” Its the perfect way to contemplate the flavors of your meal, the meandering threads of long Italian post-dinner conversation, and your gorgeous surroundings.

Made for sipping slowly, these wines aren’t just sweet, they burst with aromas both strong and varied, due to their production from grapes that remain on the vine longer than most and a prolonged aging period.

One of the best things about these wines is that though they are typically saved for after the meal they pair with everything. Offer them with cheese instead of an aperitivo or prosecco. Or try them with spicy food, as they hold up excellently against strong spices and piquant flavors.

Since these wines can be extremely difficult to find in the U.S., they are definitely worth bringing home.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Passito from Pantelleria
    The Passito from Pantelleria, with a nearly 3000-year history dating back to an ancient grape from Carthage, is one of the most famous vini di meditazione. Intense aromas of apricot and peach along with a thick fig taste make it the perfect pairing for the local fruits in Sicily, where the wine is produced.

  • Schiaccetra from the Cinque Terre
    When you hike the sentieri (mountain trekking routes) in the Cinque Terre and spy row after row of grape vines precariously ordered along the steep clips, you understand why Schiaccetra is so precious. Like many Italian dessert wines (passiti), Schiaccetra is made from raisinated grapes. The Schiaccetra from Buranco in Monterosso was served when the G8 summit was held in Italy in 2011.

  • Malvasia from Lipari
    Malvasia is a versatile grape cultivated all around the Mediterranean and fermented on its own or with other grapes, sometimes into the Tuscan Vin Santo. But the variety from Lipari, a Aeolian Island off of Sicily, is one of the most distinct, with an eerie orange flavor and incredible richness due to the volcanic soil in which it is produced.

  • Sagrantino Passito from Montefalco, Umbria
    For decades, the deep, inky purple Sagrantino grape was only used to make this passito, but in recent years the dry Sagrantino has become one of the most sought after Italian red wines. Unlike other passiti, the Sagrantino passito is a dark wine, with a thick syrupy look like blueberry pancake syrup.

  • Ramandolo from Friuli Venezia Giulia
    This unusual vino di meditazione is not nearly as sweet as its counterparts and has a color that verges more towards copper than the usually golden hue. Made from the northern Verduzzo grape, Ramandolo is reminiscent of an Austrian dessert wine due to the northern clime in which it grows.


Read more about my favorite Italian souvenirs in this month’s Little Black Book:

 


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In the second part of my trip report on my current travels, I share some of my latest special ricordi. You can also read more about one of my other favorite things to bring home (wine!) in the new "Wines to Bring Home" section.
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In honor of the beginning of warm weather and the Florence Gelato Festival, celebrated in one of the origins of the beloved treat now enjoyed worldwide, this month we’re taking a look at Italian gelato.

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2008 - 2012 CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER ITALY SPECIALIST

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