A day spent climbing the winding roads of Montalcino - enjoying the views, the wine and the charming hill towns.
24.09.2017 - 24.09.2017
Wednesday was another wine day..this time we'd have a local Italian guide taking us to another region of Tuscany..Montalcino, famous for its deep, dark Brunello wines. Montalcino is a beautiful, walled city perched high on top of mountains that are criss-crossed with narrow, winding roads and plot after plot filled with rows and rows of grapes.
We were, of course, very excited about the day and all it would bring. We met our guide Franco at a local coffee shop in the morning and piled into his van for our adventure in the Tuscan hills.
Hmmm...you know sometimes you don't always put 2 and 2 together until it's too late. We knew we would have to somehow get to the top of those mountains, we'd seen the crazy curvy roads snaking up the hillside, we'd held our breath at the fearless/dangerous local drivers..but it wasn't until we were swaying back and forth in a passenger van while climbing up the hillside that we put it all together...and almost had to pull over to the side of the road to keep from losing our morning espressos. Wow...what a ride!
We reached our first destination and stumbled out of the van..all a little green around the gills and slightly worse for the wear. Luckily, the fresh air, bright sunshine and glorious views perked us back up and we were ready to visit our first winery.
Our first visit was at a small but growing winery run by a woman and her two daughters...Solaria. We were greeted by the youngest daughter and treated to a tasting of their lovely Brunello wines...accompanied once again by local breads, meats, cheeses and olive oil. It was really interesting to hear about the family and a female-owned business here in Italy. Our guide Franco joined in with the daughter to provide details of the land, the vines, the wines, the winery and the region.
It was time to get back in the van and continue our trek up and around the mountains..we rearranged some folks to help with the motion sickness and headed back up the mountain, white-knuckling it all the way. We drove through Montalcino and then headed even further up to a smaller town, Sant'Angelo en Colle, for lunch. Our tour guide Franco informed us that this little town was where many of the local winemakers came to eat - and he wanted us to enjoy a very authentic Tuscan lunch. Once again, we had a spectacular meal - the food was lovely, the scenery amazing and the restaurant owners were welcoming and gracious. After much serious consultation with the restaurant staff, Franco selected a special menu for us that included bruschetta with local tomatoes, arugula salad with pecorino, two types of pasta, traditional roast pork and two different desserts - all accompanied by local Brunello wines - perfetto! BTW - one of the desserts was a ricotta mousse - a very simple whipped ricotta served with local honey and crushed cantucci - DANG, it was amazing. I am determined to recreate that here at home - maybe I'll even make my own ricotta!.
Our next destination was a very special winery in Montalcino - Le Ripi. This was another one of the visits that our friend Don had arranged for us - so, of course, we got the VIP treatment with a private tour and tasting. Le Ripi is really unique - a very well-respected winery that is completely biodynamic and very committed to the highest standards in everything associated with its wines. (Interesting to note - it's also owned by the family that owns Illy Coffee - so, there has been a significant investment of funds into the grounds and the facilities). Our tour guide first walked us through the vineyards, showing us the land and the unique terrain found in the hills of Montalcino. He then took us into their very unique cellar and walked us step-by-step through their process for producing some of the finest Brunello wines in the region. Luckily, we were visiting in the middle of the harvest season, so we were able to see some wines just beginning the process of fermentation and aging. Of course, we all geeked out over the details and the science of the wine making.
After the tour we settled into their open air tasting room, looking over the mountains and vineyards, and enjoyed some of the delicious Le Ripi wines. Everything about this vineyard and these wines is very interesting and novel - including the poems that the winemaker wrote which inspired the names of the wines -- Amore & Follia (Love and Madness), Amore & Magia (Love and Magic), Lupi e Sirene (Siren Wolves). We spent time talking to our tour guide and one of the wine makers, literally drinking in all we could about this special place and these special wines.
We headed down the mountain - and although we didn't think it was possible, it seemed Franco was going even FASTER than he had on the way up. We made several stops to enjoy the views, visit a monestery and tour a very small hill town, where we petted the local cats and had a coffee at a small family-owned restaurant/bar.
It was well past dark when we made it down to the bottom of the hills and Franco dropped us off at our cars. While it had been a very bumpy ride, the views, the people, the charming towns and the wines had made it all worthwhile.