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Bella Bistro Culinary Wine Tours

Each year we like to find people who share the same passion of travel, food, wine and experiences. We have traveled to many different regions in Italy. Exploring the country, tasting the local cuisine, sampling the wonderful wine and cooking together in a variety of kitchens.

I am happy to say this is my photograph of Marilena Barbera, when I had the privilege and pleasure to be with her during a grape harvest.

This is a translation of an interview with my great friend and wine maker Marilena Barbera from Menfi Sicily

This article was written by Andrea Vini Artigianali. You can check out the original interview here

For years Marilena Barbera has been considered among the top influencers of wine, both for her social activity and for her commitment and attention to the problems surrounding this world, always uncensored, but with a great desire to tell and share.

Our series of interviews continues with her at the time of COVID-19, (here part I, part II and part III) but precisely because of her natural tendency for sharing and writing, we decided to dedicate a post to her in which she can tell us the his about worries (many, in this case) and hopes (few).

1. How is the work in the vineyard going?

This year we started pruning a little later than usual. The trend of the past harvests, in fact, the best suggestion for us to postpone the work as much as possible to avoid an excessive advance in the ripening of the grapes, and therefore to arrive at the end of July with the skins still leathery in order to better fight the heat and excessive insolation. To compensate for this planned delay, we hired a very large team of pruners, so that the work in the vineyard ended as soon as possible and gave us time to dedicate ourselves serenely to the cellar work very quickly. So we finished pruning in mid-February, and by the end of the month we had already completed the first plowing of the land, including burying green manure.

The budding took a long time. Initially, because the extraordinary drought of the winter months slowed down the vegetative awakening of the vineyards. In recent days, due to the drastic drop in temperatures, both day and night. At the moment, only the early varieties have completely sprouted (Chardonnay, Merlot, Alicante), while the second and third epoch varieties are still in the initial stages of budding.

All in all, a series of lucky coincidences, considering that already in early March rumors began to circulate about quarantine and forced slowdown of production activities. A quarantine that started for us three weeks ago.

2. What are the main current and future concerns in this particular period that we are experiencing?

Without sugar coating any words, the situation is dramatic, and it would be better if we all started to realize it, without many rainbows on the windows and #everythingwillbefine in large letters.

The last shipments of 2020 started on March 5th. Already at the beginning of the second week of March we started receiving emails and phone calls for canceling orders, in two cases we returned goods that had already been sent to Italian customers.

Orders from abroad that had been sent to us by our importers between the end of February and the beginning of March were blocked a few days before the expected preparation date, and postponed to a date to be determined.

On the collection front, it is possibly an even worse situation: no one pays, not even for supplies delivered before Christmas. Understandably, our customers are not in a position to honor their debts, and those of them who still had some liquidity surely find themselves having to choose between paying their employees, guaranteeing them their jobs, or their suppliers

From a legal point of view, it is a paradoxical situation: on the one hand, as a farm we could be open, because we are considered by the government to be an “essential activity”; on the other, having NO OPEN CUSTOMER, we cannot afford to accumulate costs, for which coverage is currently not expected.

Therefore, given that we may continue to work by law, we are not granted the concessions provided for the accommodation and catering and administration activities.

All this in the absolute silence of the trade associations and the media.

Evidently, serious and immediate and medium-term concerns for the present and the future arise from this situation.

In the immediate term, the catering and administration activities are not expected to reopen, and even after the reopening, it is not expected that it will be possible to return to normal for several months. It will be a different normal, however, from what we are used to: I think of wine bars, the well-established habit of aperitifs, tastings and wine-related events that had proliferated enormously in recent years. These habits, which kept wine consumption high and varied especially in some very active niches, cannot reasonably be expected to remain unchanged.

In the medium term, I fear that we will suffer a fairly long wave on foreign markets. Countries like the United States, where the epidemic is still in its infancy, and which do not have effective social safety nets like ours, will see a huge contraction in wine consumption, especially of wines defined as “off the beaten path”, whose recent popularity it had allowed us to win much more adventurous and curious customers than in the past.

3.Any positive notes that give some hope for the near future?

Do you have a backup question? It is impossible for me to answer this.

I read from many articles that many have the hope of converting their sales from the traditional channel to the online one, as if it were enough to open an e-commerce to replace their distributors and dozens of hotel, restaurant, catering customers with armies of consumers willing to buy overnight wine platforms on the net.

Instead I fear that precisely on the innovative channels we will find ourselves soon the ruthless competition of the big companies that until now had left out the direct channel.

It will not be a good time for anyone.

I first met Marilena in April 2008 at Cantine Barbera in Menfi Sicily

Marilena and I met in April 2008 so just about twelve years ago. I was featuring her Inzolia & Nero d Avola wines at my restaurant Bella Bistro in Arvada Colorado. We literally became instant friends. We were so much alike in so many ways, it’s like we had been separated at birth.

Over the years we have supported each other in our business’s and personal lives. I have a great deal of respect for this incredibly talented individual. She is a business woman, a wine maker, a farmer, an artist, a writer, a photographer and an amazing human being with a heart bigger than Sicily.

Please pray for Marilena, her family, and her business. Her wines must survive this pandemic Covid-19. She is a very special and loud voice representing the wines , the agriculture, the history, the cooking and the passion of Sicily.

A Sicilian Wine Makers Interview During Covid-19

Do you think you can handle waking up in this environment every morning?

Sunday morning, the start of our first full day at Trulli Andrea in Puglia. I told the guests to sleep in as long as they like. When they get good and ready grab a cup of Italian coffee and head on outside to enjoy the view. Today we will be making pizza’s in our fantastic pizza kitchen. I do believe I have given that pizza oven a good work out with all my visits.

Meet Lance our official ‘FIRE STARTER” I love this man!

I really love making pizza here at the villa. The setting is just beautiful. The outdoor dining table is huge. We have had pizza parties, dinner parties and wine tastings at this table. Just recently we had 20 people around this table for a pizza party.

This setting makes for some of the best Italian meals.
Making pizza dough with a garden and olive orchard view
Can you think of a better afternoon, hanging at the pool and making pizza?
Katy will probably kill me for this one. Those who have made pizza’s with me know that everyone must toss, no rolling pins allowed !
Everything tastes better in Italy!

Day two will be continued as we head out to visit the charming town of Ostuni for shopping and apertivo. Then to Carovigno for a wonderful dinner at Osteria Gia Sotto.

Ciao for now…..

Puglia June 2019 – Day 2

Can you think of a better way to start your week then with a shot of limoncello?

We are a group of twelve all traveling from Colorado to Puglia. Ten of these people actually live in the same neighborhood. All I got to say is after spending a week with these folks I want to move into their neighborhood. They fully embraced the Italian culture of cooking together, enjoying long meals, good wine….a lot of good wine. Here we are at P-Beach located near Torre Santa Sabina, if your are arriving in Brindisi by plane or train you should give it a visit. We enjoyed a fantastic seafood lunch with some Puglian wine right on the beach.

My tempura shrimp & burrata at P-Beach

I always love the expression on my guests faces when we arrive to our Trulli style villa in Puglia. As much as I describe it to people, and they see photos all over my social media accounts, they are blown away when they arrive.

Trulli Andrea locate near Ceglie Messapica in Puglia

I usually suggest that guests do their hard core travel and touristy things before they arrive to our villa. As you will see in later posts, this is a villa you really want to sit back and enjoy. Most guest have been going non stop visiting places like Rome, Florence, Venice and the Amalfi Coast before arriving to us. High tourist areas where you literally are going non stop all day. I can physically see my guests instantly relax, de-stress and decompress within one hour at Trulli Andrea.

Totally relaxing in one of our pools. Yes there are two pools.

For our first meal at the villa we have a local chef come and prepare a meal using local products, flavors & recipes. Chef Loredana Nisi has come to the villa every time we visit. Its very nice for me so that I can visit with guests, get them familiar with the villa, grounds, get their laundry started and get their wine service started!!!!

Chef Loredana preparing for our dinner.
This tiramisu was amazing..

It has been an amazing first day at Trulli Andrea. Guests are tucked in for the night. It is a very peaceful and serene property. The owner of the villa actually purchased the land around the villa, to insure that it remains very quite and tranquil. Buona Notte my guests, sleep well in Puglia.

Sunsets are just amazing here at Trulli Andrea

Puglia June 2019 – Day 1

Many of you who saw my posts this summer from Tuscany regarding the truffle hunt. It definitely was a highlight for me and many of our travelers. For those of you who have asked how to purchase these high quality truffle products, I will show you some of my favorites.

Truffle Butter…….yes

Is there anything better then truffle butter? With scrambled eggs, add a spoonful to risotto, a pan sauce, polenta and the possibilities are endless.

Truffle & Parmesan = Heaven

You can use this Truffle & Parmesan Cream to make a quick pasta sauce. Just a little of your hot pasta water and a couple spoons of this cream and you have create a tasty & beautiful dish.

Truffle Oil

Let’s face it, its really hard to find high quality truffle oil. Many at the markets in the USA have a truffle essence and not real truffle. What can’t you use truffle oil on? Sure takes my popcorn up a notch. I put some in my pasta dough, a truffle cream sauce with fresh rosemary & garlic.

Truffle Salt

Truffle salt on a chicken breast, pork tenderloin, steak just took your dinner up a notch without even trying. Then a drizzle of truffle oil, or a truffle cream sauce. Pure Heaven

Our truffle guide Luca and the cutest truffle dogs Birba & Giotto

Savini Tartufo from Tuscany


I had the great pleasure of meeting Francesco & Grazia Barba two years ago in Lecce, Italy. The introduction came from a lovely lunch that Cynthia Louthan organized in her and her husband Gianni’s newly restored Masseria. Cynthia & I had become FB friends, through mutual friends, loves & passions. I just happened to be in Puglia traveling and researching for a future culinary tour when I received a message from Cynthia to come to lunch. Good food, wine and great people I am not one to say no. What a beautiful day and the opportunity to taste the great extra virgin olive oil that Francesco & Grazia produce. I knew immediately that I needed to include a visit to Donna Oleria for my Culinary Wine Tours. I am happy to say that I have brought 4 tour groups to visit their farm in Lecce for olive oil tastings along with country lunches & dinners.

I great education on the distinction of extra virgin olive oil

Pino & Paola our bartenders for the evening. The best PinoTonics (gin & tonic) ever!

My new favorite potato salad…

The best fava bean puree ever…Grazia I need to come cook with you for a week.

One thing we can always count on when we visit Francesco & Grazia, is that we are treated like family. They have family and friends at our gatherings and we are always meeting new friends. Like Francesca & Barbera Mocavero that make the most fantastic pork products I have ever tasted. I make no apologies for some cappacola & salami that I may or may not have brought back to Colorado 🙂

Francesco & Grazia preparing us dinner using everything from their farm. Organic grain milled into flour for pasta, fresh tomatoes & basil from their gardens and extra virgin olive oil of course.

Young local musicians playing the old traditional songs of Salento… such talent!

Is it a surprise that Paola & Pino can get the dance party started?

Donna Oleria products


Couscous alla Nina Barbera Menfi Sicily


My first visit to Sicily was the spring of 2008. A restaurant owner at the time, I was visiting a small boutique winery located in Menfi, Sicily. Bella Bistro featured Sicilian wines from Cantine Barbera and the wines soon became a favorite for me and my guests. From that spring visit, female chef (me) & female wine producer Marilena Barbera became instant life long friends.


Marilena immediately embraced me into her family. The huge pleasure for me has been cooking with Marilena’s grandmother (who has since past) and her mother Nina. To be accepted into a Sicilian kitchen with an open invitation for learning the family recipes and traditions is something I am extremely grateful for.


Here our photos of our couscous evening on our recent Sicily tour.

Nina Barbera demonstrating the hand shaping of couscous . The size and shape of this bowl is very important in the process.

Our group from Colorado getting hands on practice for making couscous.

Nina & Marilena Barbera making Couscous for a feast.

Making the broth for steaming the couscous

Nina asked Kathy & Michele to help clean fish heads for the broth the seafood will be cooked in. Funny thing is Kathy is not fond of fish heads or eyes staring at her from a plate. But you do not tell Nina, no.., the rest of us got a few laughs over this.

Nina with a BIG fish head

This is not the best photo, so I hope someone got a better one. But definitely was the best Couscous I have ever eaten .

Cantine Barbera’s wines chilling down for us. A special beer made with a grape that is one of Marilena’s newest creation that was crazy good !


Cantine Barbera you must try Marilena’s wines…. all her passion and love for her Sicilian land packaged in a bottle.

Sicilian Couscous

Is there anything better then fresh Mozzarella ? Maybe a few things : fresh burrata , fresh breakfast ricotta, eating all three of these on a lazy morning in Fasano Puglia. Masseria Lamapecora was kind enough to create a cheese Making tour for my Colorado guests.

Omar arrived in Italy from Macedonia when he was a small boy.

At fourteen years of age Omar started training to make cheese with the owner Giovanni master cheese maker of Lamapecora .

One full year of watching and learning before Omar could put his hands in the hot water with Mozzarella curd.

Tonia is the mother of Giovanni and queen of cheese making. Straciatella cheese being made.

Guests from Colorado getting a first hand look at all the cheese being made.

Fresh ricotta being made by Tonia. We learned that a breakfast ricotta was prepared as a peasant food for the locals who could not afford to go to the local bars and purchase espresso and pastries. May I say it was delicious . The creamiest ricotta with chopped nuts and a drizzle of local honey. You know I will be trying this in Colorado.

Shaped Mozzarella

New baby cow just born

If you are in Puglia you must schedule a visit you will not be disappointed .

Masseria Lamapecora

Cheese Making Puglia

Bella Bistro Culinary & Wine Tour 2017 with Pino Lombardo the father of the Lombardo Family.


What a fantastic week in Sicily with the most incredible people. Our group from Colorado had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with a Sicilian family.

We arrived at Fattoria Lombardo an organic farm located in Menfi Sicily. The farm is owned and operated by the Lombardo family, and believe me each family member gives 100%. The passion and love the entire family displays for their land, culture, traditions, foods and wine is absolutely amazing.

The Lombardo family put together a Farm to Table Cooking Class especially for our group. Handmade pasta, fresh tomato sauce from the garden. I have never experienced a country lunch quite like this. This truly was one of our highlights during our Sicilian Culinary Wine Week.

Salvatore Lombardo our farm guide

Antonio Lombardo on the tractor

Annella our pasta instructor


Rosa teaching us to make tomato sauce

Garden produce for our tomato sauce

Annella with our pasta for the country lunch

The women of Menfi, the backbone of the kitchen and the special instructors for our cooking class. Rosa (Salvatore’s mother) Annella & Rosa.

Our fresh pasta & tomato sauce


Fattoria Lombardo

Farm to Table in Sicily

This was absolutely one of our best trips yet! If you have not yet traveled to southern Italy – specifically Puglia – you should start planning your trip now. We had some of the best travelers from Colorado, Florida, and California. Our days were filled with fresh cheeses, local produce, the best olive oils, fine wines, family dinners, and plenty of laughter. We traveled by planes, trains, boats, and vintage Fiats to some of the most beautiful country. The people of Puglia welcomed us with open arms and beautiful hearts. Definitely a trip of a lifetime that will always bring back some amazing memories!

Southern Italy Culinary and Wine Tour – Summer 2016

If I had only one way to experience Saigon, it would be by Vintage Vespa at night! It is amazing to be chauffeured through the city by scooter just like the locals. The cool evening air, the sounds of the busy streets, the smells of food cooking.

The clams with fresh ginger, lemon grass and chile were amazing. The mussels with mint, scallions, minced peanuts and crushed pepper were ridiculously good. The snails with caramelized garlic and morning glory shoots were a pleasant surprise. When I thought I could not eat anymore, I managed to save some room for the rice pancakes with shrimp, garlic, onion and bean sprouts. The rice paper roll with star fruit, green banana, lemon grass beef was delish.

This evening was my Anthony Bourdain moment. Truly memorable.

Vintage Vespa & Street Food in Saigon

I love the Tuk Tuks in Cambodia. I especially like the gentleman napping in a hammock inside his Tuk Tuk.

Tuk Tuks in Cambodia

Great cooking class in Cambodia. We made fresh curry paste with a mortar and pestle. Fantastic! We also made a fish roll on a sugar cane stick with a sweet ‘n’ spicy glaze and a coconut tuile. Cannot wait to start cooking back home!

Cooking in Cambodia 

The Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia are breathtaking. They say it took 30,000 people and 10,000 elephants to build. And 37 years to complete.

Angkor Wat Cambodia

Cooking Class in Hanoi with Chef Luong Duc Dung. For lunch we prepared spring rolls with pork shrimp & spring vegetables; BBQ pork shoulder and pork belly with rice noodles, fresh greens & spicy sauce; marinated & steamed catfish with mushroom, tomatoes, dill , tumeric & shallot.


Cooking Class in Hanoi

Shopping in the food market with Chef Luong Duc Dung to gather products for cooking class.

Food Market Hanoi

May I introduce to you by dear friend, Marilena Barbera. If you are a frequent guest of Bella Bistro chance are you have met this charming Italian woman. If you have not had the pleasure of meeting her yet, I do know if you have dined at Bella you surely have had the pleasure of drinking her wine.

I am in Sicily now with Marilena, we are awaiting guest’s to arrive from Colorado. I will be blogging in the days to come of our wine and food adventures. It really is a pleasure to be around someone who has as much passion about wine as I have for food. Truly a friendship that was meant to be from the beginning.

My name is Marilena Barbera, and I am proprietor and winemaker at Cantine Barbera, our family winery based in Sicily.

Our commitment is to produce quality wines only with the grapes we’ve grown and selected in Menfi, in our Tenuta Belicello.

We believe in the magic of making wine, and making it in a fully sustainable way.

We use indigenous yeasts for fermentation, which we select and reproduce in our vineyards. Our wines do not contain GMO and have very low levels of sulfites. We do not use concentration or micro-oxigenation techniques, and we stabilize our wines only using cold temperatures. Filtration is performed through natural cellulose layers, that we compost after use, as well as sludges deriving from water treatment. All our processes are constantly monitored in order to implement the quality and the full traceability of all our wines, and to guarantee environmental respect and protection.

Our customers are people who care about food and about the way it is produced, who are interested in the traditional culture that is beyond a bottle of good wine, who respect the work that winegrowers do to achieve quality, and to make the pleasure of wine possible everyday.

Cantine Barbera Menfi Sicily