Monday, June 23, 2008

Tuscany - Through Its Wine and Food - Part Four

Ah, bella Tuscany! I count myself fortunate to take a group of people to Italy and share with them the Italy that I know, in the same way that I have come to know it - through its wine and food. Yes, indeed, I LOVE doing that. I feel that through wine and food, one can understand a culture. It is not the only way, but it is one way. I like that old saying - "a way to a man's heart is through his stomach." I believe it is also be true for women. When I see the look on people's faces when they taste something that is quintessentially Italian, or a flavor that we do not have at home, you see this look of "Ah Ha!" or "Wow!" Then when one tastes the local wine with the local food and has spent time with the locals, all the elements start to come together and one's understanding of the culture bloom on many different levels. But enough of philosophy.

My most recent Tuscany tour began in Florence, where after a welcome dinner, we departed the following morning for Montepulciano, in southern Tuscany. Our first stop was to the spectacular Avignonesi winery. Our VIP tour was lead by the lovely and elegant Signora Fulvo, the owner, who led us down into the ancient barrel caves,

then into their Vin Santaio, where there very special Vin Santo is made, or should I say where it rests and makes itself. The mother for their Vin Santo is centuries old, and they treat their aging wine like gold, as they should. These little half bottles of very precious liquid sell for over 100 euros a bottle and fetch perfect scores, yes 100 points, from top wine magazines. Amazing. Here is a shot of a barrel of Vin Santo:

We also visited the stunningly beautiful property of Vignamaggio in Greve. Vignamaggio is the ancestral home of the Monna Lisa - yes, there really was a Monna Lisa and Leonardo da Vinci painted at this property on several occasions. Because of its beauty and views, I understand why. With their delicious array of Chianti Classicos and Super Tuscans, we were served a typically delicious lunch.

After lunch, we walked around their immaculate gardens where "Much Ado About Nothing" was filmed. Leaving was the difficult part. "Celebrating the Harvest" (my title). One of the many garden sculptures at Vignamaggio.

One of the highlights of the trip was a day of cooking lessons at Badia a Coltibuono winery, the home of Lorenza di Medici and her family. She founded the famous cooking school and now her son runs it, deftly teaching typical Tuscan dishes with a great sense of humor. Everyone loved it so much that after the long lunch with dessert, dessert wines, grappa and coffee, I had a hard time getting everyone on the bus!

My group, firmly planted, not moving from the comfort of Coltibuono.

Some of Coltibuono's cellar collection.

Some of the many bottles enjoyed at tastings and at meals.

We started our Montalcino tour at Poggio Antico winery, owned by the talented and lovely Paola Gloder. Her Brunellos are always elegant, stunning and top-rated. The winery and grounds are extraordinarily situated and beautiful. And by the way, there is a fantastic restaurant at this winery if you are ever in Montalcino.
Next stop was Costanti winery, ancestral home of a long line of Counts. Yes, Conti Andrea Costanti gave us the royal treatment. Don't let his title deceive you, he is one of the most accessible, gracious, generous and sweet human beings. He is devoted to making small amounts of some of the best Brunellos coming out of Montalcino. They are worth seeking out! He spoiled us with giving us a magnum of 1999 Brunello to have over lunch. That was one of the best bottles of wine we had on the whole trip!

Our last winery tour was in Chianti Colli Fiorentini, close to Florence, at Le Sorgenti. The make elegant Chiantis as well as some powerful Super Tuscans. The winemakers cooked us lunch in this gorgeously painted room.
In between all this wine tasting and fine dining, we had time to tour Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra. This was a tremendous group of people, all genuinely interested, kind, easy-going and responsible. The tour could not have been better. We celebrated its success with a fabulous meal our last night in Florence. At Il Latini, known for their roasted meats, we not only ate like kings, but drank like them as well. The staff treated us great and stuffed us like pigs! Most of us took a late walk around Florence that night to help digest what we ate.

I invite you all to come on one of my tours. I will be posting two 2009 trips on my website in the next month or so. Hop on over there and sign up on my email list if you want to receive more information when I have it.


erin :: the olive notes said...

How much fun! It sounds like a great time. I would love to go on a wine tour. I've been reading a 'food and wine pairing' book and it's got me even more interested...

My Mélange said...

Brings back memories my dear. I love that area.

I saw a bottle of Monsanto in one of those pictures. I loved that winery!!!

And Il Latini. Most people give it such a bad wrap as a tourist trap, but we found it friendly, warm, convivial...and the food was delicious and so, so cheap!!!! We dined with a lovely couple that night, and managed to polish off 2 magnums of Chianti and a bottle of Moscato d'Asti that was on the house ;)

Sounds like your tour was great Jeni!!!

Psychgrad said...

Looks like such a great time! One of these days, I'll have to take a trip like that - it's hard, as a tourist, to know where to go for good food.

Johnna Knows Good Food said...

This looks like soo much fun! Wine is so great;-)

The Passionate Palate said...

Erin - It was fun. And it is amazing how much better food and wine tastes when it is paired correctly.

Melange - I adore Monsanto too! I knew we had a lot in common!

Psychgrad - I would love it if you took a trip with me. Join us!

Johnna - you, too! It is so much fun.

african vanielje said...

All those lucky lucky people who came on your tour Jeni. It looks so amazing. One day I will be one of them. Sorry I've been so scarce!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Looks like a fantastic tour, Jeni! I agree that the more you learn about the food of a culture, the more you understand the people - there is just so much that goes into it - land, climate, available resources, society, economy, etc.

I love when you philosophize! Thanks for sharing this virtual tour with us!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Lady, that is absolutely fantastic.
What a wonderful trip! I do wish I could tag along on one of them.

You are obviously doing what you should be, look at all the people whose hearts you touch with your work, and most of them didn't even go!


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

The Passionate Palate said...

AV - no apologies necessary my friend. I do hope we could meet up in Italy one of these days!

Jenn - I knew you could relate to my philosophizing! Thanks for the comments.

Scarlett - you have no idea how much I needed to read your words! Thank you.

Annabelle said...

What a great blog! It just makes one want to start packing the suitcase. I've never visited Italy but it's on the list of things to do before ...
Do you conduct tours to Venice, as that is a major goal of mine.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Bella Tuscany indeed, and Bella Jeni too...


Hugs to you sweet friend. Hope you and your husband are doing well.

Scarlett & V.

african vanielje said...

Bella, maybe next time you visit Italy you could stop off in Somerset on your way back?

Dana said...

This trip looks amazing Jeni!I would absolutely love to have you as a tour guide in Italy!