Wine tasting in Tuscany

Posted by jswt | Posted in Italy - Rome, Italy - Tuscany | Posted on 15-04-2013

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Wow… these past couple days in Italy were unbelievable and beyond anything I could have imagined…

As my train from Rome rolled across the countryside, I was going past one of those almost imaginarily beautiful small towns etched onto the side of a mountain with a castle and church at the top, when the train slowed to a stop at my station. I got out and was happy to see A&A, who promptly took me straight up the mountain into the ancient old town for some snacks and drinks (and good catchup!) followed by a climb up to the church at the top of the hill. The jawdroppingly gorgeous views, the sweet warm air of spring, and the faint haze and scent of burning olive branches in the fields gave me goosebumps and I couldn’t stop smiling. We learned that in Tuscany, everything is closed on Weds afternoons, but we managed to sneak some eats and wine from a couple places to take back for dinner. The villa where they were staying was about 20 minutes out of town, up into the hills, with a very treacherous cliff lined dirt road through the woods for the tail end – definitely not something you want to do in the dark or with a head full of wine. They’d been offered the place by friends back home, and it was just simply amazing – a cluster of abandoned buildings dating back to the 400s that the owner had renovated and turned into a delightfully isolated pocket of paradise. A is a chef with a restaurant back home (and was also trusted to cater our wedding), and put together a seriously delicious dinner while we drank our way through a few bottles of wine and laughed into the night.

The next morning, I was woken by the sound of birds at sunrise – yes, it was so quiet that the birds were amplified. We had a quick bite, packed our bags and headed off on a mystery adventure that A was keeping secret. We drove for about 45 minutes to Sienna, and climbed up into the old town for a quick coffee and bite to eat before getting back on the road and heading deep into the countryside, where we pulled up to a beautiful small estate castle called the Castillio de Bossi. This castle was owned by the B[check] family, and is one of their estate wineries, and the surprise A had was that we’d been invited to a tasting and to spend the night! The woman who greeted us apologized but had some work to attend to and had to delay our tour, but we were ok with spending time walking the property and sitting out back with some nice cold bottles of their Rose to pass the time. Additional guests arrived, who were from a wine distribution company based out of Montreal, and we chatted and drank in the hot sun before getting wonderful tour of the property and learning some of the history of the castle (it dates back to ~1000BC). We were shown to our rooms, and as we had some time before dinner, we decided to go into the nearest town and explore a little – it was a cute medieval town, but of course most was shut down for the afternoon lull. We returned to the castle, freshened up, and went outdoors for some pre-dinner wine and cheese with our hosts. They were incredibly hospitable and gracious, and as I was there with trades folk, most of the conversation was about wine and it’s surrounding business – but through pieces of conversation I pieced together that they were from a different world than that which I can relate: yachts, many houses around the world, estate wineries… Very nice and understated people. There was a hilarious moment while we talked, where our host looked out over his fields and said “There is a deer down there, do you see it?” and leapt up and went inside the house to return with a *very* impressive sniper rifle (“It is from a company in Switzerland… They only do custom orders, and I asked them to make this for me”) and told us that he can hit things up to 1000m away. The deer had already made it’s escape, but we toyed with the gun while continuing to eat cheese and drink wine – a truly surreal moment. The cook rang us to dinner, and we all proceeded to the dining room where the fire had been lit and the table was spread for a feast, and we were given a very special treat: they’d opened a bottle of 1961 Chianti from their cellar! I’ve no experience with old wines, so I didn’t have much of the era in which to compare it, and I definitely don’t know all the “wine terms”, but the colour was a ruby red unlike anything I’d ever seen, the nose was rich after 50+ years in a bottle, and the tastes had a level of complexity and depth that I’d never picked up in younger wines. We were treated to many other fantastic bottles, that all paired beautifully with a gorgeous meal of ham, bruscettas, and rosemary deer that the host had shot himself. Dinner led to desert which led to cuban cigars and our host talking about the intricacies of the wine business across borders and cultures and was quite enlightening. Well after midnight it was time for bed, and A and I wanted to get into the ancient sword collection and clang some nice duel tones in the courtyard, but thought better of it and we all retired to our respective wings where I slept deeper than I can remember sleeping. The next morning we awoke and gathered in the dining room for a nice breakfast and coffees, and found out that we were going to the same winery as the other guests and decided to merge our visits, so we said our goodbyes and extremely appreciative thank yous to our hosts, and drove off to Montacino…

When we finally found the next winery, we were greeted with a huge smile from the woman who runs it with her husband. They are a relatively small and boutique winery producing mostly Brunellos, which are the big and bold wines of the area. We were shown around their very, very nice new cellar and given the opportunity to barrel taste all of their years from 2012 going back to 2009 which gave a great comparison and you could taste how they were developing over time. We then moved to the tasting room where we tried a 1993, a 2004 and a 2009 — the 2004 was the clear winner, and one of their 5-star years. They then brought out some of their olive oil, which was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted – just simple, spicy and fresh and amazing, and really calls into question the slippery goop we call olive oil back home. Our host invited us to join them for lunch, which held a lot more appeal than trying to pick a random place ourselves, so we headed into Monticito which is a gorgeous city built around [shockingly] a castle atop a mountain with endless views in all directions. The restaurant we went to was obviously a serious affair, and every wall was just filled with wine, and they had a library of many of the producers from the area. Our host had brought a bottle of 95 from their cellar, and that and another bottle we ordered made a perfect match to the amazingly delicious bites and pastas that just kept pouring out of the kitchen to our table – I can’t help but marvel at Italian cooking and how it all boils down to the simplicity of exceptional components just delivered up on their own… Just delicious. Glowing cheeks, full bellies and wide smiles pouring out good conversation led to having to say goodbye to our host who had to return to work, and we went and climbed around the castle and city. We headed back towards our home base villa, where A made us a delicious meal and we drank a few bottles of wine from their outdoor patio table watching the sun set over the hazy kaki shades of the tuscan countryside. We hung out and packed up as they were flying home early the next day, and with such good eating and drinking for the past couple days, sleep found me easily.

The next morning we piled into the car about 6am and about 9:30 I said goodbye (and immense thank yous for making a trip beyond anything I could have dreamt it to be) to A&A when they dropped me at a train station on the outside of Rome. I wasn’t flying out until 7 that evening, so I hopped a train into the city, grabbed the metro, and got off at the Plza Poplico (?) and just started wandering. Breakfast and coffee outside a cafe, local shopping area outside the tourist hordes, and then as it was getting quite warm [I was carrying my snow gear from the Baltics] I took a little snack to the spanish steps and found myself a great nook – if you’re looking up the steps, the marble railing on the right curves at the end, and is a perfect place to curl up and watch the world flow by: groups of insanely well dressed Italian kids meeting up for a day out, gangly American tourists, families going to/from church in their finery, the immigrant hustlers trying to force roses into women’s hands and toys into kids grips so they can extract payment from men unable to say no before they’d be chased off by the police (only to come back minutes later). I’ve seen Rome a few times now, and I didn’t feel I was wasting time in the least as I spent hours watching the sea of people ebb and flow, as it’s done every Saturday afternoon on those same steps for thousands of years. When the time came to move on, I went off to find somewhere to print my boarding pass, and after a number of frustrations (dear Russian computer store owner: fuck you to infinity and back) I was starting to get spun out on a simple task and decided to not force the issue, and instead go find some food. When I checked my map to figure out where I was, I realized I was only a block from the small square where I’d eaten previously with a group, so I went back in hopes of having the pumpkin ravioli with vanilla sausage I fondly remembered. I was successful and not let down in the least, and managed to drink a healthy amount of water and wine in the sun before it was time to head towards the airport. I tried a few more hotels and shops trying to find a printer, and finally resolved myself on just going to the airport and paying the without boarding pass checkin fee, when of course one of the most important lessons Italy offers came into play: don’t force it, and it’ll fall into place at the right time. 80c later I’d printed the boarding pass in the Internet cafe, before exiting to find a bus to the airport boarding right out front for the same time and a quarter the price of taking the train = win! As we were rolling towards the airport, we passed the hotel where we’d stayed last year, and I felt a huge wave of joy well up in me that almost drove me to tears – there were moments and memories of time and places scattered across the whole world from the travelling I’ve done, things that cannot fit in a camera, experiences and lessons that I still have no idea to what length they’ll affect me, and so many things good and bad elements I’ve picked up about cultures and peoples and communities and civilizations, and all thanks to this gift of travel that’s been given to me. Instead of crying, I just laughed out loud at the unexpected and unpredictable joys that I’ve had the opportunity to experience, and that the future is bound to bring.

Some of the wines we tasted:

I want to give a special thanks to A&A for throwing me the invite to join them for what was a truly magic few days, and the perfect opportunity to make the most of what might be the tail end of these years of wandering — hugs and doublecheekkisses to you both

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