Monday, 16 July 2012

Slow Day in Tuscany

One more view from Rio Maggiore (Cinque Terre)

Chianti wine tasting from Montefioralle vineyard owned by Fernando Sieni

In Fernando's wine cellar

Montefioralle - a small hill town with only 100 families

Tuscan hillside with grape vineyards in the background

This valley marks the boundary of the Chianti wine-making region

We stopped at a castle - originally a military fortress
In its own way, today was as great as yesterday--in some ways even better!  We spent the day with Simon (a Brit who's lived in Italy for years and is married to Manuela - a Sicilian woman and wonderful cook) and six other tourists doing a slow tour of three Tuscan villages--mercifully far away from the tourist crowds in Florence.  Simon runs a very casual tour with frequent stops at points of interest and opportunities to take photos of the spectacular Tuscan countryside. Unlike other tour guides with larger groups, we were never rushed. We didn't look at watches once the entire time. We piled into Simon's Volkswagen van and quickly left Florence behind.
Our first major stop was at the Montefioralle vineyard owned by Fernando Sieni.  The vineyard itself only covers 5 acres and produces 3000 bottles of wine each year plus olive oil.  Interestingly enough, 1000 of the bottles are consumed by Fernando and his extended family.  The vineyard was originally owned by the church before Fernando's father purchased it and eventually handed it down to him.  In his 70s, Fernando operates the vineyard the way his father taught him. He leads a simple, fulfilling life--in the manner of Italians for centuries.
When we arrived, Fernando met us and showed us to a lovely table in a shaded area beside his grape vines where we sampled six Chiantis (2006-2010) plus a reserve wine and a vin santo (dessert wine)--which we have a bottle of in our suitcase!  As he explained each wine in Italian, Simon translated.  The conversations were interesting and wide-ranging--from the origins of wine to Fernando's trip to Turkey. Accompanying the wine was delicious bruschetta with salami, prosciutto, olive oil and a slice of sharp parmesan cheese.  Fernando is a very personable and knowledgeable character who was very interested in where all his guests were from--he brought out a massive atlas and wanted to know where we were from in Canada.  We spent a comfortable hour enjoying his wine, hospitality and conversation with our group.
After sampling the wine, we had a tour of how the wine is made.  Compared to large vineyards, Fernando's operation is very small and hands-on.  We saw the vats where the wine matures before it's put into oak casks (from France--French oak apparently isn't as porous as Italian oak).  When it's time for the wine to be bottled, a commercial operation pulls into the driveway and within a day, the wine is bottled and labelled.  In the village (less than 50 metres from the vineyard), Fernando has a modest wine shop that's open by invitation only.  He will ship wine to North America, and we were tempted except the Saskatchewan Liquor Commission would charge excess import fees! With shipping and taxes, we estimated the wine would triple in price. Too bad!
Down the road at Panzano, we had a delicious lunch at Cantinetta Sassolini. John had maltalgiati (irregularly cut sheets of thin pasta) with duck sauce and Cathy had a delicious fish dish (not sure what it was called but it was like a crispy crepe filled with cod fish filling).
Panzano is a typically pretty small Tuscan village that overlooks hillsides of vineyards and olive groves. Life is very slow here. We only saw a couple of locals during our walk.   The rest were having a post-lunch siesta to avoid the midday sun.
We stopped at Greve in Chianti for a brief stroll around the piazza and had gelati before returning to Florence by 6 pm.
The tour lives up to its name because today was easily the most relaxing day we've had since our arrival in Italy.
Tomorrow? The best of Tuscany tour. Stops in Sienna, San Gimignano and Pisa (likely mostly for a photo op at the tower). 

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