Bulgaria – a paradise for wine lovers

September 19, 2014


Vineyards in Trier

For someone like me, a native of Trier or Augusta Treverorum, as the city was called in Roman times, the move to another ancient Roman city, in this case Sofia, Bulgaria is not a big thing. Sofia was called Serdica (or Sardica) then, possibly named after the Celtic tribe Serdi.

Constantin the Great is supposed to have said “Serdica is my Rome”. And here we have the third city in which I lived and which belonged to the Roman empire. But he did not make Serdica the seat of his government. For this he choose Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople. By the way I lived in another Roman city: that was Vicus Bonnensis or Castra Bonnensis, the present day Bonn, my alma mater where I studied agriculture.

If I had lived two thousand years ago, a move from Trier to Sofia would have been a move from one province of a wast empire to another. Latin would have been the lingua franca. I would have had access to all the Roman infrastructure common in those days: a bath house, a circus, an amphitheater and so on.


Constantine Basilica in Trier

Both my native Augusta Treverorum (the city of Augustus in the land of the Treverer) and my current home Sofia got their name from the native Celtic populations (the Treverer in my case). Both were major cities of the Roman Empire. Trier was located in the Roman province of Belgica, Sofia in the province of Thrace. Both places history is tied to the Roman emperor Constantin the Great.

There are also differences. Augusta Treverorum is famous for its wine cellars and its wine production, vineyards reaching deep into the city. Sofia does not have vineyards in its vicinity. However, the old province of Thrace was famous for its wines, and so is present day Bulgaria.

I admit that there is still a lot of room to improve its produces’ fame but more and more Bulgarian wines are available in wine shops in other parts of Europe, especially Germany and England.
Needless to say I use my spare time here in Sofia to explore the many wines of Bulgaria. My welcome present by my colleagues consisted of a wine guide, Di Vino 2014.

I would like to invite you to come along on this journey and explore the richness of the ancient land of Thrace, and it’s contemporary wines.

Le Voyage

Le Voyage by Katarzyna Estate

Restaurant review: Taverna Cestia, Rome, Italy

August 25, 2010

While working at FAO and living in Rome at the end of the 1980ies, our main restaurant was Taverna Cestia, near Piramide, just a couple of blocks from the United Nations. We went often and all the waiters knew us very well. Usually that meant that we did not have to look at the menu (they knew what we liked to eat), and if we stayed longer than the opening hours permitted, we were somehow accommodated (usually the offering of burning ‘Sambuca’ signaled that it was time to go home).

So it was clear that when in Rome, we would go and eat there. And that’s what we did during our summer vacation 2010 as well. It was a very hot day. We had shown our daughters the Terme di Caracalla. We were thirsty and needed refreshment. ‘Melon with prosciutto’ and ‘bruschetta di pomodori’ are just the right stuff to start a meal.

Ham and melon

Tomatoes on grilled bread

Olives in a coat

Taverna Cestia is famous for it’s ‘spaghetti alle vongole’, but I always liked also the ‘penne al arrabiata’.

Penne al ragu

Spaghetti alle vongole

In the past we always ordered a liter of house wine, usually a white wine in summer (a refreshing Frascati) and a red one in winter. Also this time we had a bottle of this divine liquid. We did not regret our choice.

Frascati wine by Casalgentile

The back label of the Frascati by Casalgentile

That the food at Taverna Cestia is very good is proven by the next picture. Tripadvisor awards four out of five stars.

Taverna Cestia Di Salvi Gioacchino C.
Viale della Piramide Cestia, 67
00153 Roma, Italia
Tel.: +39-6-5743754
Subway: Piramide

Garbatella highlights: Pizzeria ‘Er Panonto’, Rome, Italy

August 23, 2010

Address Pizzeria ‘Er Panonto’ in Garbatella

I have told you about Garbatella, the neighbourhood in Rome where I once lived. I have also mentioned our old pizzeria, Er Panonto. Frankly speaking I have no clue what ‘Er Panonto’ stands for. But the place is just great, a traditional family affair, a Roman pizzeria at its best.

We had dinner there when we visited Rome in July this year. The following pictures give you an idea of the food which is very traditional and needless to say: super delicious.

Antipasti buffet

Bruscetta di pomodori

What a delicious pizza

Frascati wine from Colli Albani near Rome

I love the wines from the Colli Albani, the Albanian hills, as they are called around Rome. ‘Er Panonto’ buys the ready made wine and bottles it for its pizzeria. Some people claim that Frascati wine has been made in this region for more than two thousand years. I guess that’s true.

Frascati wines are usually blends of two-three varieties. According to the DOC laws about 50% of the wine needs to come from Malvasia biance di Candia grapes. The rest is from Trebbiano, Malvasia del Lazio, Greco, Bellone and other local white varieties. I like the wines because they are fresh and light with high acidity; in short they are ideal summer wines.

Enoteca “13 gradi” and Angelo Consorte, in Garbatella, Rome

August 15, 2010

The precinct of Garbatella in Rome

When we lived in Rome, we had an apartment in Via Tamburini in Garbatella. During our holidays in Rome we could not resist to visit the old stomping ground and wander around. Apart from having “reconnecting” with “our” old pizzeria (more about this at a later stage), we also found a treasure of a wine shop, an “enoteca”, as it is called in Italian.

Name cards of Alfredo Pinot, manager of Enoteca “13 gradi” in Garbatella

By accident we stumbled into Angelo Consorte’s wine shop named “13 gradi” (13 per cent). After dinner we just wanted to take some wine with us to the old farmhouse where we stayed near Appia Antica. We were lucky, “Enoteca 13 gradi” was still open.

The inside of the treasure house

Angelo Consorte and me

The four of us immediately felt at home in the place. We waited for another customer to be served. I used the opportunity to browse through the shelves and had picked up six bottles which I lined up in a row.

Then we started to talk to Angelo. He took Margit for a local, the rest of us was obviously foreign (we have broken Italian only). We introduced ourselves and had a great conversation.

Angelo was very kind to help me identify the wines I wanted to try. He analyzed my selection which helped him to get an idea what types of wines I intended to try. Here and there he replaced a bottle with another one and in the end we walked out with eight bottles for which he made us a really good price.

We learned that Angelo had traveled along the Mosel and Rhine rivers by bike and was quite familiar with the wines from my home region. In fact he is involved in the organization of winery tours on bikes, very interesting I found.

My girls had a good time

My take from “13 gradi”

In the end my take was the following:

– 2008 Marabino, Noto, Nero d’Avola
– 2009 Le Favole, Bosco Bando, Traminer Aromatico, Friuli
– Graf von Meran, Riesling by Unterberger, Alto Adige
– 2008 Pinot Grigio, by Nals-Margreid, Alto Adige
– Marcarini Fontanazza
– La Luna des Rospo, Silente
– Zeno Blauburgunder Riserva, Alto Adige
– La Corte del Pozzo, Valpolicella Fasoli Gino

I apologize for the sloppy registration. I missed out on some of the vintage indication. But I will provide an account of these wines in the context of their consumption (usually with food and during lavish dinners).

However, I also noticed that my notes are not complete (after all I was on holidays and not on a wine tasting venture). I might skip one or the other of the above wines. Some of them we took with us as gifts for friends and therefore I do not posses all tasting notes.

Angelo is certainly a find. Please visit him at “13 gradi” when in Rome. He has a great selection of Italian wines and a great passion for them. Below his address.

Enoteca “13 gradi”
Piazza Bartolomeo Romano 4
00154 Roma
Tel.: +39-328-5589211 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +39-328-5589211   
E-mail: a.pinto@13gradi.it

PS: Thank’s to Alfredo Pinto earlier mistakes in my blog entry could be corrected. What would we do without the internet. Thank you Alfredo for making me aware of my misconceptions.

Restaurant review: Orazio, Rome

July 15, 2010

It is wonderful to be again in the town which was my home for three years (1988-90). Rome is just stunning, a wonderful city. In 1990 I witnessed here the soccer world cup. Ten years later I was invited as visiting professor by the Food and Agriculture Organization to conduct a study on property rights in Asia. In 2010 I am back because my children thought that the celebration of my 20th wedding anniversary deserves a special treat.

Everywhere I go, I am also somehow confronted with my past. As all old man, I am reminiscing. One special place is the restaurant ‘Orazio di Caracalla’. It was here were we had – after the ceremony at the “Campidoglio” (capital hill) – our wedding lunch. The restaurant is located right at the end of the Terme di Caracalla on the way to Porta Latina. It has a splendid garden and a big car park with old trees.

Menu of ‘Ristorante Orazio’

We casually strolled in after visiting the Colosseum on a beautiful summers day with blue sky and temperatures around the mid thirties.

As with many good restaurants in Rome, little changes over the years. Interesting I also find that the waiters seem to be part of the place. So it is at Orazio. They are observant and discreet, and very friendly.

Mixed starters

On hot days, plates of antipasti are always a welcome start of a meal. Both dishes (above and below), the mixed selection of starters and the melon with ham, were just delicious.

Melon and ham


Although not in the “carcioffi” (artichoke) season, we could not resist ordering “Carcioffi alla Romana”. I had to go for “penne al arrabiata”, one of my favorite pasta dish.

Penne al arrabiata

The local wine we selected was, of course, a Frascati. This blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano (sometimes other white varieties are added) is ideal accompaniment of Roman food on a hot summers day.

Casalgentile is a very well known producer of the Castelli Romani. It’s ‘Agrospino Bianco’ blend has earned various awards. So have many of Pietro Mergé’s other wines.

A wine from Lazio: Frascati

Family lunch

As the photo above shows, we had a great time.

Ristorante Orazio
F.lli Valentini
Via di Porta Latina 5
Tel.: +39-6-70492401
Fax: +39-6-77207339
Closed on Tuesday

Fine dining in Bangkok: Thai cuisine at Patara Restaurant

March 9, 2009

On the 8th of March 21 years ago, I entered an Italian language class and sat next to a blonde girl from Australia. In the morning of the same day, my boss, Luciano Montesi, had send me out to buy flowers for all the women working in our service. This is how I learned about world women’s day.

It was a glorious day in Rome and I was glad that my friend Jim had taken me to his language class. What I did not know at the time was that I would marry that blonde Australian two years later.


Today, we felt like celebrating this first encounter and decided to go out for lunch. We called the Patara Restaurant which is only one Soi away from us in Thonglor, Bangkok, and they sent their tuck-tuck to pick us up at 13:20 h. All four of us like Thai food, so the choice of Patara came very natural.

Patara is located in Thonglor, Soi 19. The building used to be a private residence in a single house with a large garden, I guess. Inside you’ll find an elegant Thai restaurant, just the right place for such a celebration as ours was.


The interior of Patara


The decoration is very tasteful

We ordered two starter platters, a selection of various small Thai dishes and the three dumpling assortment. Don’t get fooled by the colours. The dumplings are most delicious.


This was the first starter platter


Three kinds of Thai dumplings

Then we ordered the main dishes, among them a tofu in red curry, a green chicken curry, an oxtail red curry, some green vegetables and some rice (which came in four colours, unfortunately my photo of the rice was blurred). All of us like spicy food, therefore we just followed our instincts when ordering.


The main dishes


Green chicken curry


The ossobucco-type dish


Green veggies

The food was so wonderful, so perfect, so delicious; our taste buds went from one sensation to the next. This is Thai food at its best, wow. I could not believe it. Margit and the kids had visited Patara earlier but for me it was the maiden visit. This was the best Thai food in ages.

What about the wine? Food and wine pairings in Asia are at times a challenge. Patara has a well assorted wine list. Since the first encounter had taken place in Italy, I choose an Italian wine. The ‘2005 Campogrande Orvieto DOC Classico Superiore’ by Antinori seemd to be just the right choice.

First, many times we had stopped in Orvieto when returning to Rome from Umbria so that a lot of happy memories are tied up with Orvieto Classico wines. Second, just a day earlier we had this wonderful ‘2005 Antinori Tignanello’, so I thought why not stay with the same producer.


Wine is expensive in Thailand. The bottle was under 2000 Bath, not bad for a restaurant offer. I know that this wine retails for about US$ 10-12 in other parts of the world. The wine has a pale straw colour. It is elegant and fresh. The wine has a good structure and a very pleasant palate of tropical fruit.

As typical for Orvieto Classico, the wine is a Trebbiano blend. Varieties include Procanico, Grechetto, Verdelho, Drupeggio, Malvasia and – surprise surprise – Chardonnay (15 %!). Antinori went up to the maximum allowed as regards Grechetto (27%). With the exception of Verdelho and Chardonnay, I have never tasted any of the individual varieties included in this blend as single wines.




Happy children


After lunch the children entertained themselves in the garden.


These are the ingredients for Irish coffee. It’s worth to order it. It’s freshly made at the table, a spectacular show, truly amazing.


The finished product: Irish coffee


Before we got on the tuck-tuck again, we were served refreshing towels. What a wonderful celebration this family meal was, a delight for the palate, a pleasure for the eyes. The staff at Patara is incredibly professional, very friendly and extremely helpful.


Happy diners

If you want to experience something special and you have the chance to drop in a Patara Restaurant, please do so. I highly recommend it. And if you are in Bangkok, the choice is clear: visit Patara, its’ worth it.

Patara Fine Thai Cuisine
375 Soi Thonglor 19 Sukhumvit 55, Klongtonnua Vadhana,
Bangkok 10110.
Tel. 0-2185 2960-1 Fax. 0-2185 2962

PS: Patara restaurants can also be found in Singapore, Taipei, London and Geneva.