Thursday, October 21, 2010

Montalcino - October 21, 2010

I tell you, I have no idea what day it is anymore. Is it Wed? Thurs? Fri?  All I know is this is the last day in Tuscany before we move on again. Our B&B host circled a number of places on the map. The right side of the map, culture; the left side, wine. But she also told us, “you don’t want to be drinking wine as there is no crime here so the Polizia may pull you over.” Check. So we started out at 10am by going to the abbey at Sant ‘Antimo. It dates back to 790 for the original buildings and the other buildings are from the 1100’s. I caught a couple of the kitties trying to get into the church (they wanted to confess that they killed a mouse just for sport) but the monk chased them out. He gestured to me that they wanted food. Next time we come to Italy, I’m bringing cat treats. I must have petted at least 50 cats since we’ve been here.
The map that Lucilla gave us was a photocopy and doesn’t show any highway numbers, just names of towns. So with OnStar as the navigator (that’s me), off we went to find some of the places on the culture side of the map. Bagno Vignoni was the first on the list and was also the first time we got lost and drove off the map. Whoops. OnStar, recalculate. Back we went and this time, we took the correct turn and found Bagno Vignoni, which is a quaint little town with a hot spring running through the centre of it. We felt the water and yup, confirmed, it was hot. They wouldn’t let Kelly strip down and take a splash in the pool. Party poopers.
Next on the map, Pienza. Down the hill, up the hill, around 95 corners (I feel ill), down another hill, up another hill (more damn corners), and another one or two hills and we found Pienza. That was easy. Lots of beautiful buildings here and overpriced trinkets. I ended up buying some spaghetti spices, a wine jug with a nice Tuscan scene and insalate tongs (salad tongs for you non-Italians) with ceramic sunflower ends. The sunflowers they grown here look so beautiful. It was chilly in the shade of the buildings so we found the one café that had seating in the sun and sat down for lunch. The menu was completely in Italian so we could only pick out the words we knew. Kelly pointed to the menu that seemed to be paninis and asked if they were the sandwiches. She quickly got a “you dumb tourist” look on her face and crinkled up her nose and shook her head. No sandwiches. Bacon, sausage. Well, there were four things on this part of the menu and she listed two things. We ordered what we thought would be a panini or similar but what we actually ordered was fried cheese with bacon and bread. Okee dokee.
It was now 2pm and we’d had enough culture. Time for wineries! So we decided to drive back to Montalcino then head south to the wineries. OnStar was on board once I turned the map upside down and got in it. Off we go. We saw lots of signs for wineries but it wasn’t clear if they were open to the public or had tastings. We stopped just outside of Tavernelle at Caprili. When we pulled up, the lady gave us questioning look until I said “wine tasting?” She went inside and opened the door for us. She poured us a 2004 Brunello Riserva, which was lovely. I saw that the 2005 Brunello won a silver in San Francisco this year and asked for a small tasting of that as well. Nope, they only pour the 2004. Ok. So we bought a bottle of the 2004 and carried on.
We drove further south to Poggio alle Mura to the Banfi estate, most of it on an unpaved road. What a beautiful property Banfi is. There’s a castle there, which now has 14 hotel rooms as well as two restaurants and large tasting/wine room. I tried the 2008 Rosso, the 2005 Brunello di Montalcino and the 2005Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura. We didn’t get a Cougar Town pour, but it was larger than the stupid machines in Montalcino.  All of the wines were nice and we decided to buy the P)oggio alle Mura. I also saw a Tuscan scene on a tile that was framed. I debated buying it but in the end, I got it. To my pleasant surprise, it was 20% off when we went to pay for it and the 12 euro wine tasting was free for purchasing a bottle of wine. The owner was a lovely woman from New York. She and her husband bought the property 30 years ago and built everything from scratch, other than the castle. They did a lot of restoration to the castle to outfit it for the hotel rooms (which was done somewhat recently). We had a nice chat with her and when we were leaving, she grabbed a bottle of dessert wine and gave it to us. How sweet! We put it in our hotel room fridge to drink tonight.
It was about 4pm now and even though we’d only gone to two wineries, we thought we should head back before it got dark. As we’re driving back, we see a couple of pheasant on the side street so Kelly stopped the car so I could get a picture. They took one look at me, screamed HUNTER! and flew away. No photo op there. Hunting season is in full swing here and you see people in camouflage with rifles when you least expect it. Apparently they’re hunting deer, wild pigs, hare, pheasant, song birds – basically anything that moves (even tourists??). Once we neared Montalcino, there was a very large tractor in front of us for a bit. He was busy beheading the road side markers – Thunk! Hey, do you know that we haven’t seen a single Ferrari or Lamborghini? Lots of Minis, Audis, Renault, Lancia, Fiat – Fiats are like Fords here, Peugot and Alfa Romeo. Even the cop cars are Alfa Romeo.
We got back to Montalcino, dropped off our stuff then headed out back to the Caffé for a bottle of 2005 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino (the bottle we couldn’t sample at the winery). On the way here, a brown purse jumped out of the shop window and into my arms. What’ a girl to do but rescue it from some it’s fate of sitting in a widow for months?  I’m such a humanitarian. Good thing we came here with one empty suitcase… The gelato place by our B&B has been closed every time we passed by but this time, open! We’ve been having gelato withdrawal. I had the crème carmel and something very creamy with pastry flakes. Kelly had banana split and vanilla. We found out why our canolli search has been unsuccessful – apparently that’s really only sold in the Naples area. Boo. If we’d known, we would have had a couple in Sorrento. They’re soooo tasty!
Sitting in the Caffé La Fortezza, they brought us a map of the wineries in the area (that would have been handy yesterday…) and info on Montalcino wines. Brunello wines only get better with aging – 10 to 30 years. They age in oak casks for two years, then in bottles for four months (Riserva six months), they’re only available for sale five years after the harvest year (six for Riserva) and wines can only be sold in a Bordeaux type bottle. I think we might put our two bottles of Brunello away and drink on our five and ten year anniversaries.
We went back to Grapolla Blu for dinner for fresh pasta. We both had Tingi pasta – which is a thick spaghetti type pasta. Mine was with cherry tomato, garlic, basil and olive oil. Kelly’s was meat sauce. They were both excellent, but mine was better. We had that with a bottle of Chianti Riserva and Kelly finished it off with a chocolate soufflé.
Do you think that Lindsay Lohan can move over and make room for us in detox? We need it for wine, gelato, pizza, pasta – we’ve OD’d on it all. We haven’t tried Grappa yet so we may need to add that to the list soon.

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