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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

A tasty bit of Italy under a Tuscan moon

Photo: The villa at the Cortona, Italy, winery Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro.

I had a bit of a laugh the other day. My friend Karen had handed me Frances Mayes’ latest book, a collection of Tuscan recipes, and in the book’s author notes she was referred to as “the bard of Tuscany.” Talk about public-relations overstatement.

I have nothing particular against Mayes. Her first book “Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy” was an entertaining rendition of her adventures involving travel to Italy, finding a run-down villa outside the Tuscan hill town of Cortona, renovating it and building a life – and, subsequently, a writing career – by recording her experiences.

The 2003 movie version of the book, which starred Diane Lane as Mayes’ character, was fun to watch, too – even if it was mostly fiction. (Diane Lane? Really? Why not Gwyneth Paltrow? )

Still, Italy has many such “bards,” many of them homegrown. And some of the best foreign types are British.

Anyway, I’ve had my own Tuscan experiences over the years. My friend Karen and her husband Allen live there, just outside Cortona (they split time between Tuscany and Lombardy, where they own a spacious apartment in the lake town of Como). We just spent a long weekend with them and, besides enduring a rainy Saturday walking around scenic Perugia, we attended a wine event Sunday evening at the winery Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro.

If you’re ever in the area – and because Gonzaga University has its well known and highly regarded Italian program set in Florence, I know many Spokane residents who do visit Florence regularly – you might want to check the winery out. Besides its being known for making a particularly good Syrah (Migliara - Cortona Syrah D.O.C), the winery is now renting/selling apartments (complete with outdoor swimming pool, gym, etc.).

In true Italian tradition, the event we attended began late, what with some of the 50-odd guests thinking (or at least claiming they thought) the 6 p.m. start time was supposed to be 6:30. But when things finally did commence, we got a tour of the estate (which dates to the 17th century) and the winery production area (dating to 1967). We were served some of the tasty whites, along with some antipasti, which set us up well for the sit-down dinner.

The main meal, which was held in an upstairs ballroom and had us placed at a table of eight with two extremely friendly Italian couples, consisted of a primi (cheese ravioli with a hint of mint), a secondi (roasted duck with potatoes) and a dolce (a muffin with nuts and raisins set atop a cream and strawberry sauce). And it was all washed down with three different reds, including the Migliara.

The price: 50 euro a head (about $65), which was indeed a bargain.

As we drove away into the dark Tuscan night, brightened only by — I kid you not — the beginnings of a near full moon breaking the horizon, I thought that the evening would have pleased pretty much everyone. Even, dare I say it, the “bard of Tuscany.”