The two weeks at L’Ariete agritourismo provided a great home base for touring the wine regions of Umbria and Tuscany. Umbria, produces white wines, and it’s prized red, unique to Umbria from the region of Montefalco, is made from the Sagrantino grape. The Sagrantino grape produces a very dry tannic wine with a little fruitiness, and is best when it’s allowed to age for several years to taste it’s true potential. Sagrantino di Montefalco is the premium wine, requiring 100% sagrantino grapes and tastes best with longer aging, where the Rosso di Montefalco is an everyday drinking wine that is a blend of sagrantino and sangiovese, and delicous to drink with traditional pastas and cheeses of the region.
To whet our Italian wine tasting palates we headed to Montefalco, and brought Udo and Dagmar, our friends also staying at L’Ariete with us. Our first stop was Arnold Caprai winery, a massive producer shipping wines all over the world. It had a bit of the “commerical winery” feel to it but served us some great wines with fresh bread covered in olive oil and rock salt, which softened the hard sagrantinos nicely.
After a delicious lunch at the top of Montefalco we went to Adanti winery where we were greeted by a very charming older gentleman that guided us through our tastings. The space was less sparkly and new than Arnold Caprai, but the hospitality warmer and more genuine, and the wines, much better! Our host was Alvaro Palini, a man with a twinkle in his eye, a mischevious and spritely air about him far younger than his years. He spoke only Italian and French, so we mustered through in French as best we could. Alvaro was once a tailor working in fashion in Paris for 18 years (no wonder I was charmed!), and then returned to his roots in Umbria to produce these fabulous wines. Alvaro gave us a few glasses and placed a row of whites and reds in front of us and let us loose to pour our own tastings. The white, Arquata Grechetto DOC, was a combination of Grechetto, a grape only grown in this region, and Tuscan Trebbiano grapes. Our favourite reds were the Arquata Montefalco Rosso DOC, and Arquata Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. The latter we bought to bring home to Vancouver to rest while we salivate over it until it’s fully ready in ten years or so.
Lunch in Montefalco at an all local and organic cafe – Bruschetta con olio with their house made olive oil was the special, mmm!
In Tuscany, it’s all about Sangiovese. This grape makes a delicious full bodied red wine that ages well, especially when oaked for 12-18 months. Other than the Super Tuscan wines, almost all red wines in this region are Sangiovese.
Our first tasting in Tuscany was in Montepulciano where we had a great morning visit at Cantine Dei. It’s a family run estate that just fell into wine production after the first small recreational wine they produced 25 years ago turned out so well. The prized wine of Montepulciano is the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but all of Cantine Dei’s wines (the Rosso di Montepulciano, their IGT/SuperTuscan and their vino Nobile) were smooth, balanced, elegant and ready to drink.
Playing with the friendly dog that the family had rescued and ‘adopted’ from the side of the highway three days earlier
Vino Nobile aging in oak
A quick 45 minute drive and we stopped in Montalcino for lunch, home of the big, delicious, and more expensive Brunellos. The restaurant was called, Il Grappolo Blu and we ordered pasta with pancetta, peas, rosemary and chilli peppers, and rabbit stewed in a Brunello red wine sauce for our main. So good!
After lunch we headed to the beautiful Tuscan estate of Ciacci Piccolomini where we quickly made friends with Martina, our guide for the next couple hours. We got a full tour of the facilities and saw a lot of post-harvest action at the winery. We tasted 5 red wines, accompanied with bread and olive oil. For the most part the wineries in this area produce a Rosso di Montalcino, a Brunello di Montalcino, a Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and a Super Tuscan. Ciacci’s suite of these wines were amazing. Full, fruity, spicy, soft and balanced. Yum!
Rolling hills view from Ciacci Piccolomini
After maceration and pressing, these grape skins and seeds were being sent to make grappa
From Ciacci we had a fun drive on the gravel roads through the rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves to our next stop, Poggio Antico. There are over 200 wineries in just the area of Montalcino and we were fortunate to pick two great ones. We found Poggio Antico down a a long tree-lined road. We tasted several of Poggio’s wines, including their Brunello Riserva. We splurged and bought a Brunello that we can lay down in our closet/”cellar” for a few years.
Driveway to Poggio Antico
View from the estate
Massive 43 hectolitre Slovenian oak barrels – commonly used in Tuscany
En route to Florence for a few nights we drove through the middle of Chianti country and visited the “Butcher of Tuscany”. Our guide book spoke highly of it so we weren’t sure if was going to be very good, or just very touristy. Turns out, it was more than very good! Dario Cecchini, the Butcher of Tuscany, has 3 restaurants and a macelleria (butcher shop) all on the same block in the small hilltop village of Panzano in Chianti. We chose MacDario, his own take on fast food. The menu choice was either a burger with sage fries or a mixed plate of meat, accompanied buy a number of his homemade sides and sauces including homemade pepper jelly, mustard and ketchup – all amazing! Dario is overly passionate about how his meat is raised and handled, and uses every possible inch of the animal. The place was packed when we arrived on a brisk sunny afternoon and had to wait about 30 minutes. We were ushered through the back door to the butcher shop to hangout while we waited for seats to open up. I couldn’t think of a better way to wait in line…in the butcher shop you are invited to pour yourself a glass of Dario’s own Chianti wine, eat from trays of meats and cheeses, and watch Dario and his fellow butchers man-handle the meats. A notable snack was their Chianti butter, a spreadable treat of lard, rosemary, cracked pepper and salt…Mmm.
Dario Cecchini doing what he does
With a mostly empty stomach and a healthy wine buzz, we both ordered his burger, a large portion of breadcrumb-crisped, rare-cooked beef, served without a bun, alongside sage roast potatoes/fries and some greens. The beef was delicious and super flavourful, especially with the homemade sauces. We had a good chat with our friendly Canadian server (one of the many butchers who has come to learn from the master – four of twelve working at Dario’s were from Canada) about being a butcher and by the time we left Mitchell was convinced this was his ticket out of the rat race and that he was going to become a butcher. Not sure if his sensitive nose could handle it, or if he’d like working weekends, but a tempting idea nonetheless.
Here’s a snippet from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, when he visited Dario in Panzano:
Anthony’s Visit to Tuscany
We topped off our Tuscany experience in the beautiful city of Florence, staying in a downtown apartment for 3 nights before heading south for the last leg of our trip. We didn’t do anything touristy and just walked the streets and lived like a Florentine for a couple days. Our apartment had a well-equipped kitchen so we cooked up a tasty Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us with some of Dario’s fennel dusted pork chops and Chianti wine.
Zanobini wine bar – fun Enoteca full of crazy locals where we sampled several Chiantis
The Duomo in Florence, a less than 5-minute walk from where we stayed
One of Florence’s famous leather markets – We did quite well here!