Uncorked and Cultivated took a listening tour of Chianti Classico, Montalcino, Maremma and Piemonte in advance of our tours starting September 2011.
PART 1- ORVIETO, CHIANTI CLASSICO, CHIANTI RUFINA, MAREMMA AND MONTEPULCIANO
This wine-friendly, cucina-seeking visit sought out the vineyards (tenutas) not able to be visited without recommendations, eating houses of differing styles within the vicinity, and places to stay which exhibited both quality and wine tourism friendliness.
First stop north of Rome, on a two lane A1 highway desperately in need of revitalisation was the old hill town and fort of Orvieto (and wine style of the same name) in the region of Umbria. Just off the A1 at the Orvieto off-ramp take the “funicular” or cable car in front of the station. Above is the old town bustling with people around lunch time.
Chosen was Trattoria La Palomba in via Cipriano Manente (tel 0763 343395) 13/20, quite traditional, chequered red and white tablecloths, family-run, lots of pizza and many sagrantinos (the local red grape); we settled for the local homemade peasant dish of strand pasta-umbrichelli (a fat Umbrian form of spaghetti) topped with Roman-style arrabbiata tomato sauce, flavoursome from ripe tomatoes rather than many ingredients (just garlic, capsicum and a lick of pepper/chilli). Best kept simple (USD 10.70).
Wine was a glass of Arcosesto IGT from Cantina Altarocca nearby, 2008 bianco, a fairly phenolic blend of unwooded grechetto, procanico and malvasia. (USD 8). Slow Food recommends this so La Palomba fits the traditional/artisan category, operated since the 50s, check was USD 30.75.
Continuing up the A1, we headed for Siena by turning off at Sinalunga, chasing down our rural accommodation in Santa Maria a Poneta (tel 0558 073234), local area Barberino Val D’Elsa, the Bordonis (Susanna and Riccardo) who specialise in equestrian activities, olives and own label Chianti (Fattoria Il Paganello www.ilpaganello.com).
It is just 5 km north east of the Siena-Florence fast road, turning off after Poggibonsi when travelling north. We tried the Lunari apartment (E 100 daily), www.santamariaaponeta.com ; very comfortable for two, exquisite servicing, great owners, obliging, and close to all central and southern Chianti Classico properties. Il Paganello Chianti Classico 2008 (92) 13.5%, I was relieved to taste, is modern Chianti grown in Tavernelle, the fruit glows as does the colour, and charry French oak mixes with the sour cherry tannins of the sangiovese grape.
In Castellina be aware of the high level of tourist development, and many enotecas spruking deals. You can do a degustazione for USD 40-50 in several locations, all wines are served from gassed dispensers; a taste, a part glass or full glass.
We elected for the smaller Caffetteria Il Cantuccio and Wine Bar (tel 0577 741143) 13/20, next door to a trattoria bulging with tourists; surrounded by late-Renaissance palaces, near the fortress, historical monument, the church of San Salvatore and the medieval walkway. Ordered salumi served on olive wood cutting board (assorted local cured meats or affettati toscani, brawn, proscuitto, hard percorino) then , washed down with the only local neutral white, vernaccia di San Gimigniano (USD 5) and a wonderful IGT, Tre di Brancaia 2008 (USD 4), juicy and flavoursome followed by a ripper, modern Chianti Classico, Querciabella 2008 (93) from Greve (E6), total check USD 30.75.
For Sunday lunching try the Slow Food rated Le Panzanelle near Radda in Chianti (0577 733511), 14.5/20, take the top floor for a view, enjoy roast rabbit, coniglio with capers and anchovies or beef stew (cheeks) with a deliberate gigantic dose of black pepper. The area wines were Tenuta di Castiglioni IGT 2008, cabernet, merlot, franc, sangiovese, fair, good to see fresh flavours present, more Italianesque than a varietal blend and a hefty Brunello, Castel Giacondo 2005, full bodied, maturing, oxidative traditional style. With several gelatos a sip of vin santo, Quaranta Altari 2006 15.5% from Rufina reminded me of this distinctive, barrel-oxidised, chestnut kernel-tasting sweet wine, the check USD 99.
A must visit ristorante is La Leggenda dei Frati (tel 0577 301222) 17/20, in Piazza Garfonda in Abbadia Isola, a rejuvenated monastery, now a small coterie of drinks and eats 3 km from Monteriggioni, just north of Siena on the fast road. This is modern Tuscan food flavours taken to a high level on plate presentation, degustizone portions with imaginative, rarely found taste combinations and exquisite dishes as a result. But it does not lose its Tuscan food heritage while at the same time touching on international taste concepts. The bread had class-ashed vegetables, semolina or sago. There was salt cod three ways: poached with white sauce, small glazed chickpeas, fried with black sesame plus cooked lemon slithers and in a crepe as puree. The pidgeon came on a grilled polenta circle, fanned, both legs and both breasts, juicy pink, topped with a pale game glaze of cinnamon touched grape sauce. Gelatos of the day were pear, goat yoghurt, laurel and lager beer.
The wines drunk were all glass servings (it’s often too risky to order a bottle and get caught with a bretty one-which becomes a waste of money; so I quickly learnt to ask sommeliers to pour glasses-often they will open serious bottles if you engage them politely and ask sensible questions!) The Vernaccia di San Gimigniano this time was biodynamically grown; La Rampa di Fugnano Privato 2007, 13%, from Traxler & Ehrenbold. it looked and smelt aged, deepening in colour, probably from rustic winemaking where very little wine interference occurs. The palate was taut and rich, and quite undeveloped. The Chianti Classico was La Masse di Greve’s Lanciola 2007,14.5% could be a good wine but is too bretty to enjoy once sniffed (brett smells like bandaids or sweaty horse derriere). As we departed the manager informed us that this ristorante will move to Greve and another osteria will open in its place in 2011. www.laleggendadeifrati.it Check USD 115.
Whilst visiting Rocca di Frassinello near Giancarico near the sea, our characterful meal was taken nearby at the ristorante and bar of Al Picio Matto in via Borgo Pesca in Gavorrano (tel 0566 88413) 13/20, which turned out to be a three building town. The starter was an ample selection of preserved meats, supplied on a big rustic board in keeping with the surroundings. A group of local farm workers at the next table were clearly enjoying themselves well into the afternoon as their courses kept flowing. The rest of the ristorante was empty. The second course was local style pasta made in house-pici, a fattened but flavoursome form similar to spaghetti, but the pasta edges were square (hand cut), and slightly fatter. The good sauce was tomato, olive and garlic. And fine and fresh local rose as a glass serve was USD 6.70.
Attendance at American educated Italian-born Gina Stipo’s morning Tuscan cooking class just south of Siena was an important act of participation in the local lifestyle. Gina spoke about how olive oil in cooking was once more a regional activity from Tuscany south, as north of the Apennine mountain range, the olive tree did not grow due to the chill factor. The big freeze of 1985 confirmed that when many olive groves died from a minus zero winter. Gina remarked that northern food styles relied more on animal fats and hence the use of butter in pasta serving in Piemonte. The menu: pecorino flans holing roasted pears, ricotta and chestnut ravioli finished with sage and black butter (pasta making is lots of fun), roasted rabbit and chicken, sage and rosemary herbed, artichokes (preparation of this vegetable is very fiddly), crunchy chestnut flatbread (castagnaccio) and crostata (crusty pastry, layered with mulberry jam). Afterwards the group sat down to eat the meal as it was completed on the stove/in the oven. Gina served Banfi Centine IGT 2006 (89) 13.5%, 70% sangiovese, 30% merlot from Montalcino, Cantina Del Giasto’s San Claudio II Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006 (85) 13.5%, all sangiovese but bretty. The tall wine was Il Grigio da San Felice Riserva 2006 Chianti Classico (91) 13%, outstanding in weight and flavour as traditional sangiovese. Courses from USD 175; five dishes, wines plus participation, www.eccolacucina.com.
A second Tuscan lodging was 5 km south of the hill town of Montepulciano at the Country Resort of Sant’Antonio (0578 799365) www.santantonio.it off via della Montagna (turn off the road to the hot baths at Chianciano). Here the service standards are high from owner Nico Pannevis, as your comfort is paramount and advice about your enjoyment of the region freely flowing. Sant’Antonio is snuggled amongst a recently-planted olive grove with refurbished apartments-once an 800 year-old Franciscan monastery, (single/two stories) in the true Tuscan manner; huge exposed beams to support the double terracotta roofing and massively wide terracotta tiles in all rooms.
There are views of the Valdichiana Valley and Lake Trasimeno Satellite broadband comes as a service (many country parts of Tuscany are duds when it comes to internet or even mobile connectivity), so if you are in the rugged Tuscan terrain, only expect such contact in the main cities or on the flatter, plain areas. We had the one bedroom Brunelleschi apartment (USD 150 daily).
Wines from Capoverso in Cortona are offered on an honour system and I tried most. Capoverso Rosso di Montepulciano 2008, (88),13%, USD 10.50, is unoaked sangiovese grown in the Montepulciano region, soft, subtle, lithe but simple and easy drinking, good wine as an aperitivo. Cartigilio, a merlot IGT 2003, (91),13.%, USD 30.75 is terrific, though now fully mature, Capoverso Toscana IGT 2005, (89), 13.5%, USD 17.25 is great value, traditional sangiovese plus a dash of shiraz and canaiolo with the bitter-sweet cherry fruit and rolling tannins, then the real highlight, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2004, (92), 13.5%, USD 20 www.vinicapoverso.com.
Arrangements for the accommodation near Barberino Val D’Elsa and Montepulciano are directed by the Italo-centric Brisbane-based business of Gemma Green of Passion for Italy; www.passionforitaly.com.au who has hundreds of accommodation listings to suit Italy-bound tourist needs.
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