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Entries in wine (2)

Tuesday
Oct082013

Days 15-16, More Tuscany (and saying goodbye)

We spent our final full day in Italy at wineries in Tuscany. After carefully winding our way down from our lofty accommodations we drove through the sweeping hillsides to Altesino for a booked wine tour. On the way we stopped in another small town (thankfully less steep and with wider streets) for a morning snack and made it to the winery just in time for our tour. 

In terms of size, Altesino fell somewhere between Bertani and Montegrossi. It had multiple buildings and much larger rooms than Montegrossi, but will still clearly a smaller operation. The view from the winery was spectacular, and the "snacks" they served us with the tasting actually made a delightful lunch.

We found one more winery (Poggio Antico) for a tasting on our way back, then the rest of the day we spent exploring Montepulciano, looking for a store with good cheese and meat for our late afternoon snack, and ducking into a few odd wineries there. Just up (up) the street from our hotel, the oldest winery in town (by their claims) was open for free self-guided tours. It was dark, dank, and eerie, and it still had the original Etruscan well (again, by their claim), around which the building had been built...a long time ago. The tour was great, but we passed on the wine. Really the most notable thing about Montepulciano for me were our evenings spent on the balcony, and we spent our last night there the same way we'd spent the first, with good food, drink, and company. 

The last of anything is always bittersweet. I know I awoke the next morning with that sad and lost feeling I always have when a vacation is threatening its end. I dreaded the plane rides home (and the laundry I'd have to do when I got there) and I was sad to leave behind such beauty, but after such a long absence I looked forward to seeing our dogs and getting back to life as we know it.

On that last morning (which was really the 17th day, since I never counted our first lost day of travel), we were up before the sun, and Jon, Calvin and I took our bags out to the cars where we awaited the rest of the crew. After weeks of warm sunshine it felt like fall had come in over night. A wind had picked up, and we watched lightening flash on the horizon. All was still and quiet. The countryside spreading below us was so dark that we only knew the view by the previous night's memory, and the only sounds were the soft chirps of the bats, the cooing of the pigeons (oh so many pigeons), and the crowing of a rooster off in the distance. As we stood there a few raindrops began to fall. It was a peace that felt weighty and powerful.

Those moments spent in the early morning dark belong in my memory with the evening in Verona on the hill with the bats, and the noon hour in Florence listening to the bells on top of Giotto's Tower. These were the stolen, unexpected, and yet completely unforgettable moments of the trip for me, the moments that could not have been captured in photographs. 

And then we were heading back to the airport in Rome, driving the winding streets in the dark, rain sprinkling the windshield and wind blowing yellow leaves across the road. It was a fitting goodbye, very different from the warm, sunny welcome we'd received.

The flight home came with personal TVs, lots of food, and not a wink of sleep, so that when we walked into our house that evening, having gained six hours of time, we'd been awake for a good twenty hours or more. Now if we're lucky, the time change will help us get on track to earlier bed and rising times so we have more productive days. That, however, is probably wishful thinking.


The Tuscan wineries have a thing about dogs?

Altesino

Poggio Antico

we went to Italy at harvest time

shopping in Montepulciano

Old winery in Montepulciano

Etruscan well?

Monday
Oct072013

Day 14, Chianti (and more)

By the time we packed up and left Florence I think we were all ready for the quiet of Tuscany's wine country, where our next reservations awaited us. Getting there was still a battle, though, as once again our drivers found themselves navigating twisting roads where no roads had any business being, and this time the mountain towns were even higher, hillier, and more tightly packed.

On our way, we stopped at the small Montegrossi winery in the Chianti region for a tour and tasting. It was place of beautiful rolling hills, century old buildings, and traditional practices: we watched as their seasonal help worked to bring the harvest in by hand, filling buckets one at a time, then driving small loads up to the small building with a small tractor.

When we arrived we surprised them by being slightly early (most people, they said, get so lost in the hills that they are notably late), and we had some time to wander the grounds looking for our hosts, who were busy managing the annual harvest then in full swing. Curtis and Calvin took a short jog with with the friendly winery greeter, a dog who was more welcoming than the usual canine grounds keeper, and not at all helpful about alerting his family to our presence. The rest of us wandered, taking in the antiquated surroundings.

Did I mention that the winery was small? Practically the polar opposite of the large scale Bertani site we toured outside Verona, on our tour at Montegrossi we we saw their one room of aging barrels, their one small bottling room, and their one, slightly larger, boxing and storage room. They stand on tradition, and follow organic practices. At the tasting they had only one of their wines still in stock for us to taste, the rest were sold out, the danger of a really good, really small winery.

Then, after getting us the winery on time, the GPS failed us on the way to our final mountaintop stay. I can't blame it, though. The little mountaintop towns all through Tuscany are so steep and so compact that I imagine it was having trouble recognizing what level of town we were on, so that it seemed as though we were right next to the hotel when in reality were several stories below it on a different street altogether. At least, that is what I assume happened. In any case, after a couple of tries, a few hairpin turns and several harrowing navigations of "fall-off-a-cliff" streets, we found ourselves truly on top of the mountain where we were to spend our last two nights.

Magical.  I've used that descriptor a couple of times now, but it's still the best way I can describe our stay at the top of Montepulciano, the medieval hilltop town that traces its roots back to the Estruscans but was later rebuilt on fine wine and food. The stayed in an old building, a hotel only steps away from the actually apex of the hill itself. All of our rooms had gorgeous views and terrible decor (really there's no need for both to be beautiful). One of our rooms was the hotel's only "suite", meaning simply that it had the one balcony in the place, and that's where we spent our evening, enjoying wine, snacks, and an unbeatably picturesque backdrop, before walking up the street (and I do mean up the street) for dinner, which we ate at an enjoyable restaurant on a patio overlooking the very same view (which is less picturesque after dark).

Montegrossi

Our view in Montepulciano

On the balcony in Montepulciano

At dinner