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Posted by on Dec 8, 2013

Ramblings by Dave: Italian Wine, Lovers, Recyclables and Chapstick


Wine tasting in Italy is pretty difficult. I’m not saying it’s difficult to stand at a bar and drink wine, mind you, that’s quite easy. But drinking Italian wines on their own has its challenges. While many wines are more enjoyable when accompanied with food, it seems like it’s more-so with Italian wines. The high acidity levels of Chianti can be paired with tomato-based sauces that are also highly acidic. Aged and oaked Chiantis that may be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot go well with game.

That said, we’ve tasted some wonderful wines while in Tuscany over the past week. Whites aren’t the first thing you think of when you come to Tuscany, but one region, San Gimignano, is known for its own white grape, aptly named Vernaccia San Gimignano. We found the best were Reservas that were aged in wood barrels and tasted a lot like Chardonnay. Speaking of white wine, we walked into a winery (I knew we were in trouble when I saw huge oak barrels outside the property with signs encouraging drivers to stop in) and were told we could have three tastes for 4 Euros. OK, we said, then were asked whether we wanted red or white and we said we’d start with white. The woman said to us, “You know, this region is known for its reds.” Uh, yes, we did, but we also like to try white wines made from grapes we may not get to taste much like Trebbiano, Verdicchio and Vermentino. Needless to say, we left that winery empty handed.

We also got to visit Brancaia, another winery I used to work with.

We also got to visit Brancaia, another winery I used to work with when I was at Hess.

Hey U.S. restaurants that still gauge people with 100%, 200% and 300% mark-ups for wine, guess what? Italian restaurants are getting by just fine with 10% mark-ups. At least that’s what we were told while enjoying a nice dinner the other night. I’ve said it before, but I don’t have a problem with a mark-up on food at a restaurant because oftentimes I can’t re-create that same dish at home (Jill can, of course). But when I know what a wine costs at the retail level I have a hard time paying triple that in a restaurant. Oh, many Italian restaurants also have a house wine you can get by the carafe or even half carafe that’s decent and reasonable (we paid 7 Euros or roughly $10 for a carafe of wine at a recent dinner). Sure, wine is a way of life here and there would be bloodshed if restaurants tried to screw customers like the U.S., but there’s no reason for U.S. restaurants to continue this practice. Oh wait, that’s how they make money. Thank you Harold for handing down this beef to me. I’m happy to continue to wage the war.

I was playing some music the other day and Jill said, “Oh, Postal Service.” And I said, “Yes, how did you know?” She said, “That song’s on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack. It’s a really good album.” Still shaking my head.

I had a tube of chapstick I brought with me on the trip (technically Burt’s Bees lip balm and yes ChapStick people I know you technically own the ChapStick brand name, but by this point you’re just like Kleenex ) that had about two or three turns left in it before it ran out. So I brought another one as well. The first one is still going strong. It’s like the Hanukkah oil that lasted for eight days. It’s a miracle! I have a friend who is constantly applying chap stick (or lip balm) during the day and I often wondered why she had to keep doing it, wasn’t it working? Doesn’t it seem like your lips get chapped quicker when you use chapstick/lip balm? Jill will apply it at various times during the day and I’ll always ask her, “How did you know right then that you needed chapstick?” Her typical reply, “Umm, because my lips are dry.”  I think she’s tired of that question. And most likely me.

This chapstick has been through 16 countries, can you tell?

This chapstick has been through 16 countries, can you tell?

Anyone wondering what a world would be without Japanese cars should come to Italy. They’re not non-existent, but very, very rare. So rare that you’re surprised when you do see one. Fiat and the French manufacturers have cornered the market on small cars (with Volkswagen represented to a lesser extent), while BMW, Audi and Mercedes own the larger car market. I’m not sure Lexus, Acura or Infiniti are even sold here.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Italy is for lovers,” or is it “Italian is for lovers?” Anyway, whatever it is it’s true. We’ve seen Italians making out on park benches on subways and many other public places. You can just stare and they’re so deep into it that they have no idea you’re staring. Anyway, smart people have also noticed. You can find public condom machines all over the place in Italy, not just in the bathrooms of dive bars. Here’s one right out on a walkway in a respectable little village we visited.

A condom machine in one of the main squares in San Gimignano.

A condom machine in one of the main squares in San Gimignano.

When we lived in Berkeley we would religiously put out the recyclables early in the evening on Tuesday night, then listen as scavengers went through our recyclables and took the things (glass and aluminum) that could make them money. By the time the recycling truck arrived the next day I’m guessing all they picked up was newspaper. Mind you, this was a recycling operation we were paying for that was reduced to collecting the one thing that wasn’t very valuable. Maybe it’s time for something different. In Italy and the rest of Europe, recycle bins like these are placed all over and in most neighborhoods. You’d really have to be a dedicated dumpster diver to dig out the cans and bottles from these. The only issue from my perspective is that Americans would be too lazy to take their recyclables much further than the curb.

Recycle bins out on the street in Naples, Italy.

Recycle bins out on the street in Naples, Italy.



  1. This post reminds me, did you and Jill get some of Jen’s and Mom’s lip balm while in Oakhurst?
    Let me know and I will mail some to you if you want. xo

    • We did – and LOVE it! I’m waiting for it to be sold in Oakhurst stores before buying my next one 🙂