Castellina sits in the heart of the Chianti Classico area. Just in case you are not sure the road maps have it signed as Castellina-in-Chianti, obviously to differentiate from a town of the same name elsewhere.
The Tuscan fare is well rehearsed in cook books and Italian ristorantes worldwide. On a cool drizzly October day it made sense to eat some Tuscan soup.
And while noticing a wine tour of Americans descend on one large trattoria we jumped next door; full of locals, children included at Il Cantuccio Caffetteria and Wine Bar. The advent of the shiny glass, mood-lit, stainless steel vinimatic single glass wine dispenser powered by argon has been a boon for winery tourism here.
Il Cantuccio blends the traditional family fare with better service through better choice; there was a single glass menu as in Australian restaurants, too many wine lists in Italy force diners to choose a bottle, and miss the pulse of the wines in the region through fewer options to try.
The soup dish came without a spoon so you can guess its texture; white beans disintegrated, typical dry local crusty bread (seems to always taste stale but with a crust to die for), hearty vegetables and vegetable broth.
The primi platti, first course has to be a cutting board (made of olive wood) of cured meats and cheese; fennel-infused coppa (neck muscle of pig), various others well aged, peppered, always prosciutto crudo (preserved pork loin and leg too-shaved off a stand), crumbly 12-month-old pecorino, sublime, salivating saltiness.
Drinks: had to re-acquaint with the sole white of the area, Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2008 by Terruzzi and Puthod (89), nice and pale, nose unwooded, and palate just fine; good texture with the bitter sweets of nectarine, tang, mouth feel and flavour intensity from some good winemaking (winemaker had aged on yeast, a totally good wine drinking package).
The red of choice was Tre di Brancaia 2008, IGT (92), very well made with freshness and good texture, a real find here amongst wines which often tire in the glass from lack of zip. This Brancaia had subtle new oak, and close knit tannins versus the normal grainy ones.
The blend of tourism and culture in this town is quite engaging. The enotecas are slick and polished yet the decor is rustic; olive oils and pasta sauces for sale sit between wine in racks.
The Le Volte Enoteca across the cobbled street from Il Cantuccio stretches for an unusual two rooms to accommodate tutored tours and tastings. I tried to taste the set of Chianti stored under the flashy dispenser but was politely declined unless I took a tour. Probably not.
It’s brand is La Castellina, a suitable name in this part of the woods. I purchased Squarcialupi Riserva 2006, 14% (84) Gallo Nero neck label and all; but it was disappointing, old oily oak aromas and too much intervening brett to really appreciate its flavours.
The point of merlot and cabernet having been blended in as 15% of the mix allowed, other than sangiovese was lost.
The Enoteca did better with my choice from further south: Crocedimezzo (meaning half of the cross) Rosso di Montalcino 2006 13% (89, white neck tag) from Barbara and Roberto Nannetti’s property. This was a trifle muted in colour as expected for the second tier after Brunello di Montalcino.
But the wine had forest aromas, subtle sweets from residing in barrel for 18 months or so, and fruitiness rather than the excess palate dries. Pleasant, good drinking wine.
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