Vintage Wine Travellers

Last December we had the pleasure of embarking on an astonishing journey in the Italian region of Tuscany during which we have visited five wineries; stayed at some very charming Agri-tourism lodges and tasted some world classed wines.

Italians trace their gastronomic heritage to Romans, Greeks, Etruscans and other Mediterranean people who elaborated the methods of raising, refining and preserving foods. But dining customs acquired local accents in a land divided by mountains and seas into natural enclaves where independent spirits developed during the repeated shift of ruling powers that fragmented Italy from Roman times to the Risorgimento. Each province boasts distinctive foods and wines, which needless to say, have an inherent affinity for one other. Today, in a world of ever more uniform tastes, Italians retain their customary loyalty to distinctive local foods and wines.

Planning our nine day journey was an easy task… a mere couple of phone calls through our contacts abroad and a couple of hours on the net to plan our route. On the 21st December we left Malta to arrive in Fumicino Rome at 11:00hrs.We drove to the town of San Gimignano and Teruzzi & Puthod Winery, the journey up to San Gimignano was about three and half hours. The drive was quite a pleasant one passing through the various villages.San Gimignano rises on a hill (334metres high) dominating the Elsa Valley with its towers. Once the seat of a small Etruscan village of the Hellenistic period (200-300BC), San Gimignano began its life as a town in the 10th century taking name from the Holy Bishop of Modena, St. Gimignano, who said to have saved the village from barbarian hordes.

We arrived at San Gimignano at around 15:30hrs and we were amazed by this fortified town. Like all busy tourist towns, the village was filled with buses, jam packed with tourists taking photos of the amazing views all around. There are a handful of musems and galleries, but the town’s main square and the winding lanes make it a charming destination for those seeking the heart of Tuscany. The historic centre of San Gimignano is a UNISECO world heritage site. From the bus stop or car park situated outside the walls of the town, one enters through a gateway. From the open space and civil buildings at San Gimignano’s heart, another shop-and-bar lined street descends on the far side. These busy streets and shops aren’t unpleasant, and they’re not too tacky. But for atmosphere, dive down one of the smaller alleys and you’ll find a charming, traditional town where almost every view is tranquil. There are plenty of well-sign posted restaurants and bars in San Gimignano where you can dine. Some of the most central restaurants in San Gimignano are to be found scattered around the main piazzas, such as the Piazza della Cisterna, the Piazza della Madonna, the Piazza XXIX Marzo, and the Piazza del Duomo, where dining venues overlook the cathedral and include the family run Cantina Foresi, known for its Panini.

In the morning we were invited over to visit Teruzzi & Puthod estate which was founded in 1974 and since the beginning has been known for the quality of its wines and its investment in technological development. Its vineyard extends on over 90 hectares and produces more than 1 million bottles for the Italian market and 20 countries all over the world. With more than 30 years of activity, Teruzzi&Puthod perfectly unites technology and winemaking tradition and is the most important winery of the San Gimignano area and one of the most prestigious Italian brands to export high quality wines abroad. From December 2005 it is part of Gruppo Campari.  Over the years, this has enabled the cellar to achieve ever greater success in Italy and abroad, especially with fresh tasting, fruit forward whites. The estate came into being in 1977.Today’s important growth of the vineyards is the result of the careful cultivation of the land through the years. The ongoing recovery of territory has always permitted the winery to increase its vineyard. We commenced our tasting with company’s flagship ‘Terre di Tufi’ which is the Pinnacle of the range and a cult wine since 1984, this Super White Tuscan is a blend of Vernaccia (80%), Chardonnay (7%), Malvasia (7%) and Vermentino (6%), barrique-fermented and barrique-aged 4-5 months in new French oak. This wine is ripe and exotic, full-bodied, with firm acidity, ample aromas and flavors recalling pineapple, peach, citrus, apples, vanilla, cream, piecrust and spice, luscious texture and lingering finish. The second wine we tasted was the Teruzzi & Puthod Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This is a light white wine with good acidity and flavours of citrus and slate. This would be a great aperitif or would go very well with seafood. As for cheese, I would recommend trying it with Brie or another creamy soft cheese. The third and last wine we tasted was the Peperino which shows a brilliant ruby red color and nuances of ruby red, moderate transparency. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas that start with hints of black cherry, blackberry and raspberry followed by aromas of blueberry, violet, rose and vanilla. The mouth has good correspondence to the nose, a tannic attack and however balanced by alcohol, good body, intense flavors. The finish is persistent with flavors of black cherry, raspberry and plum. Peperino ages for 8 months in barrique.

After the wonderful tasting we decide to end our San Gimignano experience at a local restaurant for lunch with our newly made friends. We had some salami alla cacciatora. Today, Italian salami “alla cacciatora” is produced in ten regions. This type of salami is called “alla cacciatora” because it became a favorite food among hunters. Its small size made it ideal for carrying in knapsacks and for easy consumption whenever hunger kicked in. Alongside with the Salami we had some very nice Pecorino Toscano, which is cylindrical and the colour of its rind ranges from yellow to deep-yellow if the cheese is of the soft variety. The paste is a close textured and resistant to the knife. The colour of the paste ranges from white with a hint of yellow if soft, to pale yellow if semi-hard. The taste is fragrant, savoury and distinctive. As main course we indulged in a wonderful plate of Contre filet with Prosciutto di San Daniele and red wine reduction. We finished our meal with a mandatory espresso and a shot of grappa di Chianti.

Our next stop was Greve in Chianti, which ia about an hour drive away from San Gimignano. Greve is a market town deep in Chianti, in the Chianti Classico wine-growing area. It has a somewhat unusual triangular piazza lined with porticoes, still busy, and a church dedicated to the Santa Croce and which contains a triptych by Bicci di Lorenzo.The Museo di Arte Sacra has opened in the former convent of San Francesco and houses paintings, sculptures, vestments and liturgical furnishings all of which point to the artistic nature of Greve.

We stayed at the beautiful agritourism of Castello Verrazzano winery; The Castle of Verrazzano is located on a hilltop in the Chianti Classico area, the first grape growing and wine producing area in the world to be determined by an official proclamation, made by the grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici in 1716. Its high position, over the Greve valley, was once of strategic-military importance; today it is possible to easily overlook the vineyards which fan out across the slopes to the edges of the wood further down the valley.

The castle was first an Etruscan, then a Roman settlement before becoming the property of the Verrazzano family in the VIIth century. There is a great tradition of winemaking here: the “vineyards situated in Verrazzano” are mentioned in a manuscript which dates back to 1150 and is preserved at the abbey of Passignano. The excellent climatic conditions of the vineyards, combined with improved farming techniques are aimed at obtaining a better phyto-sanitary state plant of the grapes, and the limited production yield per hectare (about 60 quintals of grape) enable to produce fine wines, characterized by the maximum expression of the terroir-vine combination. A completely organic fertilization and the agronomic techniques adopted, including the practice of “grassing” aim at a rigorous respect for the environment and its balance. The harvest, which usually takes place between September 25th and October 25th, is done exclusively by hand through a careful selection of grapes.

I look forward to telling you more about our wonderful experience in Tuscany.

Until next time.

This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue of Gourmet Today.

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