Tips for your visit to Prosecco Road #3 – Get to know your wine

Tips for your visit to Prosecco Road #3 – Get to know your wine

A slow journey along the Prosecco Road allows you really get to know the wine you are drinking in a way not found in other parts of Italy. Because it doesn’t have the masses of tourists found elsewhere in the country, visitors to the Prosecco region can really immerse themselves and bask in warm Italian hospitality. There are no lines and no crowds, and no one seems to be in a hurry.

Prosecco region, Valdobbiadene, Italy

A view across the beautiful Prosecco region.

OK, now let’s talk about the wine.

What is DOCG?

The Prosecco region has a DOCG denomination. DOCG is short for the fancy Italian words, “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.” It is part of a labeling and control system that Italy has created to help consumers know the regionally created products they are buying are genuine and of high quality. Because this system is key to understanding wine in Italy, our hosts Deb and Massi of Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver made sure to explain it to us right away.

denominacion de origen controlada e garantita

This marker shows that we are in a special agricultural area, “Denominacion de Origen Controlada e Garantita.” This means the grapes for the wine were grown in a specific region and that the wine is guaranteed to meet exacting specifications for quality.

DOCG wines are made from grapes grown only in the specific region known for the wine’s production.

Any bottle bearing a numbered DOCG seal was created following a well-defined set of rules for the blending of grape varietals, and has been tested not only for taste but also at the molecular level to exacting quality standards.

DOCG label

DOCG is not exclusive to Prosecco. Here is a DOCG label on a bottle of Chianti Classico. Because of the label, we know this bottle was crafted to exact standards.

If a wine doesn’t pass any of these tests, it doesn’t get approved for the little numbered paper seal. In other words, if you see a seal with the letters “DOCG” on an Italian wine, you know it was created and checked to meet exacting standards so is a good representative from the region. The Prosecco Road is full of wineries producing DOCG wines.

Bisol Prosecco

A glass of DOCG Prosecco at the Bisol winery.

Visiting the Prosecco region

Along Prosecco Road, it is very easy to visit lots of wineries that produce DOCG wines, as they are extremely close together. I’m talking about sometimes just a few feet away from the next. Because each one offers visitors a unique experience, you really can really learn a great deal about the wine and region. At the Bisol winery, for instance, you can tour the museum in their original cellar and soak up the history of wine making both at that winery and in the region.

Bisol museum

Bisol winery cellar museum.

Bisol museum wines

Historic wines in the Bisol museum.

At another winery, you learn a little bit about the different soils in the region as well as what each soil type brings to the Glara grapes grown in it. You also hear how those grapes are blended to create the different wines offered.

Adami winery display

The Adami winery had a display showing some of the different soil types in which grapes are grown.

Grapes galore

Grapes are everywhere throughout the region, often running right along the road like a hedge. Vines of Glara grapes decorated people’s front yards and were planted right next to buildings as if the grape growers didn’t want to waste one single square foot of this fertile land. Seriously, we could have stuck our hand out the car window and touched a vine if we’d wanted to.

Prosecco region grapes

Glara grapes growing in the Prosecco region

Many of the wineries are small, family-owned operations without a formal tasting room staff. Instead, it is often the wine maker or close family member who pours and explains each wine to you. And what generous pours! In many cases you can get a little tour of the winery, as well. Imagine how much you can learn with so many mini-tutorials during your visit.

Vigne Matte winery

An antique spittoon at the Vigne Matte winery.

Le Colture winery

Steve and Ann pose at the Le Colture winery.

And with so few tourists around, even in the high Italian tourist season, we often had the wineries to ourselves. It was such a wonderful, relaxing way to enjoy sampling some of the world’s best wine.

Deb and Massi

Our hosts, Massi and Deb, at the Vinge Matte winery. We were the only ones there except for the neighbor’s cute puppy who just loved following us around.

Other tips for your visit to Prosecco Road:

#1 Hire a driver and local guide

#2 Stay at an agriturismo


Our tour of the Prosecco Road and transportation were complimentary from Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver. The opinions expressed are our own.

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Tips for visiting Prosecco Road in Italy. #3 - Know your wine.

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Tips for your visit to Prosecco Road – #2 Stay at an agriturismo

Tips for your visit to Prosecco Road – #2 Stay at an agriturismo

If you’re wondering what an agriturismo is, don’t worry. You’re in good company. I had no idea the word even existed before our trip to Italy this summer. In fact, it wasn’t until I stayed in one that I gained a good understanding of what they are and how they can take your Italian vacation to the next level.

Agritourismo businesses area everywhere in the Prosecco region near Valdobbiadene, Italy.

Agriturismo businesses are great places to stay in the Prosecco region near Valdobbiadene, Italy.

Simply put, an agriturismo is a small, family-owned tourism business, like a bed and breakfast, attached to a larger agriculture-related business that produces and sells something. Along the Prosecco Road, you won’t find a Hilton Garden Inn, but you will find all kinds of agriturismo businesses catering to the handful of tourists who have discovered this beautiful area.

Our hosts, Deb and Massi of Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver, arranged for us to stay at the Roccat winery agriturismo business. Beautiful flowers greeted us outside the front door, a sample of the warm hospitality we were about to experience.

Flowers at Roccat winery

Lovely flowers outside the Roccat winery agriturismo inn.

The family renovated an old barn on their property into a six room bed and breakfast in the year 2000. Each is clean, comfortable and has a private bath with toiletries provided. Breakfast, served in a charming, sunlit room is simply wonderful. They serve locally made jams, as well as meats and dairy products from nearby farms. There are cereals, as well, along with baked goods from a local bakery. My favorite was a wonderful cake. I had two pieces each morning. Don’t judge. If you tried it, you would, too.

Breakfast at Roccat

The breakfast spread at the Roccat winery agriturismo. It is included with the room.

Roccat breakfast cake

This homemade cake at the Roccat Agriturismo was the perfect breakfast food.

The rooms provide a cultural experience you won’t get if you stay in a chain hotel, and we liked that. Be aware, though, that the air conditioning is to Italian standards, meaning it doesn’t cool the room as much as Americans might be accustomed to. Also, like most places in Italy, washcloths are not provided, so if you typically use one you might want to pack one in your bag.

What was great about staying at the agriturismo is that after breakfast, we went out the back door and were in the middle of the winery. The morning of our second day there, we met the wine maker, Clemente, and walked about 20 steps to the area where they produce and bottle the wines.

Roccat winery winemaker

Clemente at Roccat winery.

There, Clemente explained to us the process for creating Prosecco and explained how it is different than Champagne made in France. While both wines undergo a secondary fermentation that puts bubbles in the wine, the method used for that fermentation is different. In Champagne, it happens in the bottle. In Prosecco, it takes place in large vats. At the end of the Prosecco process, the temperature in the vat is dropped below freezing, killing the yeast and stopping the process.

Cold fermentation vat

Huge vats of wine are chilled to below freezing to stop the secondary fermentation. The ice on the door to this vat shows that the process is being stopped.

Once the secondary fermentation is done, the winery seeks permission from the governing authorities to bottle the wine. When they have it, they send it through pipes to the bottling machine.

Roccat winery bottling machine

Clemente explains the bottling process.

To learn a little more about the wine making process, watch this video. Massi does a great job translating what Clemente explained.

After our tour, we walked the 20 or so steps back to the tasting room at the agriturismo, a room they call the tavern, and sat down to sample the wine.

This beautiful great room is ideal for group gatherings as well as wine tastings.

This beautiful great room is ideal for group gatherings as well as wine tastings. Photo Credit: Roccat Winery.

It was a little earlier than normal for drinking wine, so I won’t say the exact time that we started other than to say it rhymes with “hen dirty” in the morning. Again, please don’t judge. We were conducting important research so we could share with you, the readers of our blog.

Roccat winery tasting

Clemente pours a generous sample of Prosecco at Roccat winery. It was delicious!

Our stay at Roccat gave us a glimpse into Italian culture and wine that you don’t get at most hotels. Without this experience, our visit to Italy simply wouldn’t have been the same. That’s why staying in an agriturismo is our number two tip for your visit to the Prosecco Road.

Other tips:

#1 Hire a driver and local guide

#3 Get to know your wine


Our tour of the Prosecco Road and transportation were complimentary from Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver. The opinions expressed are our own. If you would like to know more about Roccat winery, click [HERE].

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Tips for your visit to Prosecco Road in Valdobbiadene, Italy. #2 - stay at an agritourismo

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Five tips for wine tasting in Tuscany

Five tips for wine tasting in Tuscany

I’ve done wine tastings before. You pull into a winery, hear all about their wonderful product while sampling a flight of four to five wines poured out in small, two-sip portions 10 seconds apart, decide whether to buy, and then head out the door. So, when we set out on a complimentary wine tasting tour in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany with our hosts Deb of Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver, that’s about what I expected. I could not have been more wrong.

Massi, Deb, Steve and Ann

Massi, Deb, Steve and Ann stop for a picture in Tuscany.

The wine tasting tour Deb and Massi took us on in Tuscany was completely different than anything we’ve ever experienced and we loved it! We think everyone who can should taste wine there. And when you go, remember these five tips to help you have the very best experience possible.

1. Have a driver and guide

Having a driver and guide made all the difference in the world. Driving in a foreign country means learning new traffic patterns as well as new road signs. And in Italy it means learning a whole new culture of driving where lane lines and stop signs are often only seen only as suggestions and driving in the wrong parts of town will result in hundreds of dollars in fines. I’m not kidding.

Massi the driver and van

Massi the Driver knew all the best routes and with him driving, we got to enjoy the view.

I didn’t have to worry about any of that, nor did I have to worry about trying to figure out where we were going which it turns out was down lots of winding, hilly one-lane roads with about 2.4 million roundabouts. Instead of arriving white-knuckled and stressed from the drive, I was relaxed and glad to have had the opportunity to enjoy the scenery rather than focusing on the road.

Tuscan hills and vineyards

Looking over olive groves and across the vineyards of Tuscany.

Having a guide was wonderful because we began to hear the stories of the wineries and the wines before we ever arrived at a property. We learned about the natural, organic method used by wine makers in Tuscany, and about how the rose bushes planted at the end of the rows help growers notice potential disease before it reaches the vines.

Roses in Tuscany

Roses like these help wine makers gauge the health of their vines.

We were educated about the grape varietals in the wines, and about the significance of the letters “DOCG” on a label on the neck of a bottle. By the time we got out of the car, we knew something about where we were and what we were tasting. Our experience was so much richer because of it.

2. Take it slowly

Each of the properties we visited were small, family run operations. After arriving, we met our hosts and spent a good amount of time chatting and getting to know them before we ever tasted a single wine. For the owners of the wineries, it felt like it was more about building relationships and showing pride in their work than making a sale. And we liked that.

Wine tasting in Tuscany

Steve and Deb relax on a terrace, enjoying the wine, food, and view.

At one winery, we had a tour of the cellar, seeing the stainless steel vats where the grapes fermented, turning into wine. We then learned about how they use oak barrels to fine-tune the flavor of their wine.

Wine barrels

Wine barrels.

Next, as a bonus, we saw how they press their own olive oil from trees on their farm. As we chatted, we heard the story of how it took 10 years for them to get a permit to build the cellar and their home above, that before then, they had to work out of a shed and constantly move equipment in and out. By the end of the conversation, we actually knew the family and understood the passion they put into their craft.

Steve and Ann with winemaker

Steve and Ann stop for a photo with Sam, one of the wine makers.

When it came time to taste the wine, there were no hurried two sip pours. Instead, the wine maker offered enough of each wine for us to savor, along with heartfelt conversation that made us feel at home on their beautiful properties.

3. Savor the food parings

At each winery, the wine maker offered us food pairings as we sat sipping delicious wines. This wasn’t a plate of cheap crackers or bowl of pretzels, either. Instead, they would pour a wine and then disappear into the house, returning with beautifully plated Italian snacks including prosciutto, bruschetta, cheeses, and olive oil. Every morsel was delicious and served to make the wines even better.

Food pairings for wine tasting in Tuscany

With one tasting, we sere served some bruschetta, as well as prosciutto, salami, cheese, and honey.

At one winery, the owner gave us a sampling of organic jams that she cans from fruit she grows in her garden. We put dabs of these on pecorino cheese from the region and delighted in every single bite.

Tuscan jams

One wine maker offered us homemade jams made from fruits and vegetables in her garden.

4. Stop along the way

Because we had a private driver and guide who knew where we were going and how long it would take to get there, we could stop along the way and explore some locations we never would have found on our own. One fond memory is a stop in a little walled town called Castellina in Chianti.

Tuscan flowers at a winery

Everywhere we looked, we saw beautiful flowers, like these at one of the wineries we visited.

There, we explored the narrow streets, while learning that hundreds of years ago the cities of Florence and Siena constantly fought over control of the town. Today, there is a statue showing how the town has been influenced by both cities.

Castellina in Chianti

This statue, in Castellina in Chianti, shows how the city was pulled toward both Florence and Siena.

Ann has always wanted a big olive wood board to use to serve meats and cheeses at home, and Deb and Massi knew just the place. They led us to a store and said the prices here would be better than anywhere else. I have to admit, we were impressed enough with the price that we bought one, but curious as to whether it really was the best price we kept our eyes open for the rest of the trip. Looking back, I’m happy to report that the board we bought was anywhere from 20-100 Euros ($25-$125) less than any other board we found.

Olive wood serving board

We bought one of these beautiful olive wood serving boards. Deb and Massi knew just where to get the best deal.

And, because we thought it was a beautiful place with a really cool tunnel-like construction along the city wall, here’s another gratuitous picture from Castellina in Chianti.

Tuscany through a window

Peeking out a window in the city wall of Castellina in Chianti.

We had one other unique stop on our tour through the Chianti region, a stop at a Antica Macelleria Cecchini butcher shop that was featured by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations. We posed for a picture with Don Dario Cecchini, shouting, “carne!” (meat) instead of, “cheese.”

Steve and Ann with butcher

We stopped to pose for a picture with this butcher who was featured on one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows.

As we walked away from the butcher shop, Deb and Massi told us they also offer a meat lover’s tour that stops at this place for a multi-course dinner featuring some of the best the shop has to offer. I can’t wait to come back and sink my teeth into that juicy tour.

5. Revel in the affordable prices

While Ann and I aren’t experts by any means, we are pretty up-to-date with pricing of wines because its something we enjoy.

Chianti wine bottles

Chianti wine in the traditional basket. While a decoration today, originally, the wine bottles were round so they were put in a basket so they would stand up.

Sitting in Chianti, drinking some of the best wines the region has to offer, I couldn’t believe how good the prices were. We were shocked to learn that good bottles of wine were available for 10 Euros, or about $13.00. Even with the cost of shipping factored in, the prices were very reasonable and, I daresay, less than we’d pay in the United States for a similar wine. At times I almost laughed when I saw the price list because I thought they had to be kidding. But that’s fair market price in Italy, and one of the advantages of visiting wineries in Tuscany. Get a few bottles, ship them home, and savor your savings along with the wine.

Oak wine barrel

An oak barrel is used to hold wine as it ages. The oak imparts flavors to the wine.

At the end of the day, I reflected that wine tasting in Tuscany was not at all what I expected. The beautiful scenery, the excellent wines, new information, and friendly company made it far better.

Massi and Deb

Massi and Deb. We sure miss these two.

I am so glad we had access to the expert knowledge of Italy Unfiltered to share with us some of the best wineries the Chianti Classico region has to offer, as well as Massi the Driver to take us right to their doors. We will long treasure the memories we made that day, especially in October when the weather is cool enough for safe shipping and the wine we purchased there arrives.


Our wine tour and transportation were provided to us free of charge by Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver. The opinions expressed are our own.


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Our incredible private tour and cooking class in Chianti with Italy Unfiltered

Our incredible private tour and cooking class in Chianti with Italy Unfiltered

After spending a day on our own exploring beautiful Siena, Italy, our hosts Deb of Italy Unfiltered and her husband Massi the Driver picked us up at our hotel and we began our complimentary tour of Italian food, wine, and culture in the Chianti Region. As we got in the car, Steve confided in me that he’d already set his belt one notch looser in anticipation of the day.

Deb of Italy Unfiltered and her husband, Massi the Driver.

Of course, our first stop of the morning was for an espresso. This is a very Italian thing to do when you are having what Massi likes to call an “espresso deficiency.” I’m used to my Americano style coffee and still need a bit of milk in mine, so I ordered a caffe macchiato which is espresso with a dollop of foamed milk on top, typically served in a something that resembles a shot glass.

Cafe machiatto was a great cure for our espresso deficiency.

Now with the proper amount of caffeine in our systems, we headed down winding roads and up and down hills into the Chianti Clasccio region of Tuscany. The drive was incredibly beautiful and we were thankful that we had a personal driver and tour guide to not only tell us about the food and wine of the area but to actually get us there as there is no way we could have found this place by ourselves.

The family home where we did our cooking class and explored their winery.

The family home where we did our cooking class and explored their winery.

When we arrived at our destination, Deb and Massi greeted the owners who appeared to be old friends and they welcomed us into their home and winery. Our time with there began with a private cooking class.

Steve and I laced up our aprons and we got right to work. Our first lesson was in making traditional tiramisu, one of my all-time favorites.

We "mostly" separated six eggs for our tiramisu.

We “mostly” separated six eggs for our tiramisu.

We mostly separated six eggs and began beating the egg whites with an electric mixer. Sadly, we had spilled just a touch of yoke into the whites which was enough to ruin it. No worries. We started again and the second time around was successful.

As you can see, the the little bit of yolk that accidentally fell into the white ruined the process.

As you can see, the the little bit of yolk that accidentally fell into the white ruined the process.

Steve beat the egg yolks with a bit of sugar and then we folded the whites and yolks back together along with some mascarpone cheese.

Next, we dipped individual lady finger cookies in cooled espresso and placed them in a small, square dish. Then, we added a layer of the cream filling and sprinkling of cocoa powder before repeated the process again.

Our tiramisu, ready to set in the refrigerator. We marked each our creations with a colored band so we could see which one turned out the best.

Next, our instructor insisted that we take a few of the extra lady fingers and dip them in the left over espresso, then dip in the cream filling, and eat! Of course we had to try, I mean, we wouldn’t want to offend our host.

Then, because we’d worked so very hard on our tiramisu, our host broke out the Prosecco and served it with some fried pizza dough that had been sprinkled with sea salt. Prosecco and a snack? This was my type of cooking class.

Steve got very happy when the glasses of Prosecco and the fried pieces of pizza dough came out for a snack.

Steve got very happy when the glasses of Prosecco and the fried pieces of pizza dough came out for a snack.

Next, we learned to make fresh pasta using semolina flour, farm fresh eggs, and just a touch of Tuscan olive oil.

We kneaded the dough before rolling it into a ball and covering it with a bowl to prevent it from drying out.

Next, we used a rolling pin to roll our pasta out into a long rectangle. Once the dough was smooth and thin, we rolled it like a scroll from the top to the middle, and then up from the bottom so the rolls met in the middle.

After kneading and rolling the dough, we rolled it up from each end until they met in the middle.

Then we cut the rolls into small strips, separated them with our cutting knife, and voila — we have pasta!

Next, we cut the rolls into thin strips with a sharp knife.

The fun part was slipping the knife under the noodles and lifting in the middle to see them all unrolled.

Our third and final dish was traditional Tuscan bruschetta — that’s pronounced bru-sketta–which is an antipasto dish consisting of grilled bread topped with garlic and olive oil or other fresh things like tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella.

Tomatoes, basil, and garlic are the main ingredients in tomato bruschetta.

I’ve made bruschetta many times before, but a new tip in our class is to leave any extra tomato seeds and juices on the board after cutting the tomato. These hold much of the acidity of the tomato and can make the bruschetta too runny.

After our cooking class was finished, we wandered outside where Massi and Deb told us more about the gardens and vineyards on the property. We had fun checking out 50 year-old wisteria and some 100-year-old grape vines. The property was just beautiful — full of color and life.

One of the 100-year-old grape vines.

The property was filled with beautiful flowers and plants, including lots of fresh lavender.

Then, we walked up a view steps to a patio where the table was set for the most amazing wine tasting and lunch. My jaw must have dropped when I saw the view. It was just incredible.

This view was just stunning.

We began tasting wine, made right there on the property, along with the bruschetta we’d made and some other cured meats and cheeses.

At lunch, we tried the bruschetta we’d made along with other pizzas, cured meats, and cheeses.

Then, two types of pasta arrived, both using the noodles we’d made just a few minutes before. One dish had a mild tomato sauce with fresh torn basil while the other had a spicier red sauce and thyme. Both were delicious.

The pasta we made!

Throughout our intimate lunch, Deb and Massi shared their expertise about Tuscany and tradition. We learned so much about Chianti Classico wine, food preparation, and everything that goes into owning and operating a small, family winery in Tuscany.

The black rooster is a quick and easy way to spot a Chianti Classico wine.

After a long and relaxing lunch which ended with sweet bites of our tiramisu, we headed into the winery where Massi told us all about how the wine is made, stored, and perfected. We had ample opportunities to ask questions and take photographs, things we don’t always have the opportunities to do when traveling in group tours.

Chianti Classico wine.

As we headed back to the car, I couldn’t help but think that this opportunity would not have been possible without the help of Deb and Massi. They knew this family personally and were able to provide us with a Tuscan experience that is not easily found on TripAdvisor or in a Google search. The personalized experience they gave us made our day special, and it was all the more special because we only did things we wanted to do.


While the tour and transport services were provided to us free of charge by Italy Unfiltered and Massi the Driver, the opinions in this post are our own. To learn more about Deb and Massi’s services, email them at dlarsen5@icloud.com.

Watch a video about our day in Chianti with Deb and Massi at the link below.

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How we learned how to cook like an Italian on our trip to Tuscany.

 

We’ve been invited to tour Italy with Deb and Massi the Driver and we can’t wait!

We’ve been invited to tour Italy with Deb and Massi the Driver and we can’t wait!

Yes, we’ve been invited to tour Italy with Deb and Massi. She’s from upstate New York, backpacked through Australia and New Zealand, and worked in Silicon Valley and in Texas. He’s small town boy who grew up on a Tuscan hunting estate and winery and took a job in a salumeria just 20 miles from his home. Somehow they met, fell in love, and were married in a bar-b-que line in Austin, Texas. And this summer, we get to spend five days touring the Italian countryside with them. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

Deb and Massi

Massi and Deb, with whom we’ll be spending five days this summer.

Three years ago, long before I’d even thought of leaving my career as a middle school principal, Ann and I booked a cruise on the Celebrity Reflection for this summer from Rome to Greece. Because the ship will whisk us away from Italy almost immediately, and now that I’ve got some flexibility since leaving my job, we thought it would be nice to see a little more of Italy before our cruise because, well, Italy.

Italian countryside

This should help answer any questions as to why we’d want to see Italy.

As the date for our trip came closer, we began making plans and asked a question in an Italian travel group on Facebook.

Deb Larsen of Italy Unfiltered, responded by telling us that she and her husband, Massi, (Massi the Driver), would like to host us for some amazing experiences like winey visits and cooking classes, offering their services free of charge. Now, if you think for one minute that the promise of fresh Italian meats, cheeses, pastas, and wines as well as beautiful views of the Italian countryside could lure us in, then you would be 100% correct. I mean, look at these pictures! We. Can’t. Wait!

Italian charcuterie board

A beautiful Italian charcuterie board.

Let me tell you a little bit about our hosts. Deb is a world traveler who isn’t afraid of adventure. After finishing culinary school in upstate New York, she caught the travel bug and backpacked around Australia and New Zealand using the skills she’d learned in school to support herself. After three years, she figured she’d better head back home, but didn’t have money for airfare, so she worked her way home on a container ship. A container ship!


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Italy Unfiltered with Deb and Massi the Driver


Once back in the U.S., she took a job in marketing in Silicon Valley and learned the ins and outs of the internet. Later, she moved to Texas where she began an estate sale business. After being in the rat race for a bit, these jobs took their toll, so she decided to go with a friend to Italy to recharge. She immediately fell in love with the country and told us that, “Italy was this magical place.”

Beautiful Italian sunset

We would agree that this view seems pretty magical.

So magical, it seems, that she stood crying in the airport in Milan when it was time to leave. Seriously. She was in tears. Just as soon as she was home, she began planning her next trip.

Deb traveled to Italy regularly after that. She said that when she kept coming back to the same place over and over again, even in the winter, the locals got to know her. One day she walked in to a salumeria and began speaking to one of the employees in her broken Italian. (Try not stare at this prosciutto too long. There’s more story below.)

Italian salamis and meats

One glance at this delicious looking plate tells us why people visit salumerias.

That employee was Massi. He’d grown up just 20 miles away, on a Tuscan hunting estate and winery where his father had worked. By age 15, he was working at the winery. After high school, he spent some time working for an energy/recycling company and began doing some driving. Later, he took a job at a salumeria in Siena, a store that sold cured meats, cheeses, and wines. It was there he really began to learn about Italian wine and not just the stuff his dad had made in their garage.

Grapes on the vine in Italy

Grapes on the vine in Italy.

He worked hard, and his employer soon rewarded him by taking him on tours of wineries. He took advantage of those opportunities and learned as much as he could.

Massi opens Prosecco

Massi even learned to open Prosecco in the traditional way: with a sword!

Then he met Deb, and let her talk in her broken Italian even though he spoke English well. They exchanged emails. Then phone numbers. Then, they fell in love.

Soon, friends in Austin were asking Deb to help them arrange trips to Tuscany. She worked with Massi to help create perfect, custom experiences for these people. One group led to another. Then repeat customers began to call. Suddenly, they were in business, even bringing an authentic Tuscan meal back to the states for a group of 14 people in California. They served it on a terrace, the ultimate in take-out dinners.

Italian meats ready to be served

Italian meats and bruschetta ready to be served.

Is your mouth drooling yet, looking at these pictures of cured meats and cheeses? Back to our story.

It was on a visit to the U.S. that they decided to get married. They considered Vegas or the courthouse, but those weren’t them. They did, however, love Franklin’s bar-b-que in Austin, Texas, where they’d waited in line together many times for the iconic barbecue. It was the perfect venue. So, they decided to get married in the line that forms daily outside that Austin favorite. Wanting a small wedding, they invited one of Deb’s friends to be the witness and found a justice of the peace to join them in line. Even on their wedding day they had to wait in line, but the restaurant did give them a banana cream pie for a wedding cake. Oh, and their intimate wedding wound up featured on the local news.

Deb and Massi wedding

Deb and Massi exchange vows in the line of Franklin’s Bar-b-que in Austin, Texas

Deb and Massi wedding announcement

The couple left a wedding announcement at Franklin’s Bar-b-que.

We’ve enjoyed getting to know Deb and Massi while preparing for our trip this summer. Planning travel to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone or even speak the language is a pretty daunting task. But working with this great couple has made things so much easier. Deb is from the U.S., so she understands where we’re coming from, and has been super-responsive to all our questions. Knowing we have her as a contact and helping with arrangements has taken away so much trip-planning stress. Massi is Italian, and knows all about the area, history, food, and wine.

Montalcino wine

Wine ages in barrels at a winery in Montalcino.

He knows all the locals and knows where to go to get the experiences their clients want. He’s also a fully licensed tour driver [CLICK HERE], meaning he can take his van to places a rental car isn’t allowed to go and many tourists will never see. And let’s be honest, we’re excited to have a designated driver as we tour Italian wineries.

Massi with his van.

Massi stands next to the van he drives for tours.

Now in their third full year, their business is growing. They offer mostly private tours meaning we won’t be two of 50 crammed on a huge bus full of people, craning our necks, hoping to hear from the back of the crowd. Instead, we’re looking forward to a customized, personal experience built around our interests with ample opportunities to learn about Italian culture, history, food, and wine from real locals. And, after talking with Deb and Massi only a couple of times, we feel like we’ll be enjoying our experience with old friends. We can’t wait to begin our voyage, and share it with you. You can follow on our trip to Italy and all our journeys on social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I mean, just look at this view. Ciao!

Tuscan countryside

A beautiful view of the Italian countryside


All photos used in this post are courtesy of Italy Unfiltered.

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Italy Unfiltered with Deb and Massi the Driver

Italy Unfiltered with Deb and Massi the Driver