Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuscany Part 2: Red, Red Wine

On our 3rd day in Italy we got down to business and finally did what we came to Tuscany to do: wine taste! My friend Nary and her husband had come to the area a few months before and had a good experience with Franco's Wine Tours. We decided to hire Franco to show us around the Brunello di Montalcino region and the excursion included a tour and tasting at two small wineries, a trip to an olive oil producing factory, and a 3 course lunch with more wine tasting, of course.

Franco picked us up at our hotel before picking up two Australian girls on their ‘gap year’. A gap year is a tradition in Australia and much of the UK where in between highschool and University or between University and the work force, young adults take a year off to travel abroad.

It was fun to have some Aussies on the tour with us and it amazes me that some countries produce 19 years olds mature enough to go backpacking through Europe on their own for an entire year. When I think about what I was doing at age 19…well I wasn’t mature enough for a solo trip to Italy, that’s for sure. I mean, these girls were using vocabulary words like ‘indigenous’. Consider me impressed. Back on topic…
Our first stop was an olive oil factory where we learned all about the process of producing the yummy oil. It was a really smart business model since many of the farmers chipped in to buy the plant and now they take turns using the equipment. They also produce fuel from the olives so that they don’t have to use gas for their machinery. Literally, olive oil.  

We thought it was pretty cool, though admittedly an expensive process. I was very impressed with how balanced the agricultural mindset was in Italy. They strive to be green and organic but are realistic about the confines of fuel-less farming and the inefficiency in technology right now. It was refreshing coming from America where things such as green technology are debated in absolute black and white terms. Back on topic....
Olive oil is harvested and produced in winter so we were able to taste some of the freshest stuff around. The color was almost snot green, but the taste was a lot more appealing. Some of it was so spicy that you needed a glass of water nearby while you snacked on it. Definitely the best olive oil I have ever had, and I’m glad we learned a bit more about the process. But let’s be honest, we didn’t come on this tour for the green stuff, so let’s talk about the red.
Our first winery was Collemattoni, a very small family run business that produces olive oil and 3 kinds of red wine (Table wine, Brunello, and Rosso). Before this trip I had never even heard of Brunello or Rosso wine. Brunello is heavily regulated and wine makers must follow rigid standards in order to call their wine Brunello. It reminded me a lot of the Scotch Whisky business. The wine must be aged for at least 3 years in oak casks, must then remain bottled for 2 years before being sold, and then it’s recommended that it not be enjoyed until it is a total of 8-10 years old.
We bought a bottle of 2007 so we will see if we can hold off for another 2 years before opening it.  I had to put a post-it on the bottle so that Jonathan doesn’t accidentally open it while I’m off at book club or something. That’s what the 10 dollar bottles are for…
The wine tasting consisted of 5 types of wine, one of the table wine, one rosso, one 2007 Brunello, a 2004 Brunello, and a 2006 Reserve Brunello.
And also a cup of olive oil; to drink. For real. This was my very first wine tour so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I guess I assumed they’d pour you a taste of each. Not so; they poured a glass of each. And when you know the bottle costs near 100 smackers, you don’t want to pour the stuff out.

Which means that in the course of an hour I had about 5 glasses of wine, which is about 3 glasses past my tolerance level. Luckily, we had lunch scheduled next so I could carb load to try to absorb some of the alcohol swimming in my empty stomach. Only problem was that for each of our 3 courses at lunch, we needed a different type of regional wine to accompany the dish...so make that 8 glasses so far on the day.
Probably the most exciting part of the trip was on our way back to the van after lunch, when we spotted a rare species of animal…an American Brittany spaniel.
Since I had 8 glasses of wine at that point, I slightly freaked out and got down on my knees to pet the little guy and take plenty of pictures.
He looked (and acted) so much like Bailey that it made me super homesick for my baby girl. Back on topic...
Next we visited San Carlo Winery.  If I thought Collemattoni was a small vineyard, it was corporate America next to this teeny tiny family run operation. The San Carlo family are in charge of every aspect of the wine harvesting and producing. They even recruit friends to help with the grape picking instead of hiring workers.  
It was great to see the pride they took in their wine, and it made us want to own a bottle. So we scooped up another 2007 Brunello from this vineyard which also has a ‘DO NOT DRINK UNTIL 2015’ post-it on it. Jonathan, you’ve been warned!
The wine tasting here was really special since it took place in their family home. We sat at the dining room table next to the enormous fire place and looked at family photo albums. Since there were only 4 of us on the tour and 3 bottles of wine to finish, we just sat and sipped splendid wine while hearing more about  the wine industry. It got me picturing myself as a wine farmer, and I think it would suit me well…you know, in case Victoria secret modeling or mahjong champion don’t work out as viable career options for me. It doesn’t hurt to have a back-up back-up plan.
At  this point the sun was going down, and due to rainy and cold conditions, Franco wanted to get down the tiny winding roads and back into town.  Since at this point I was about 10 glasses of wine in, I promptly fell asleep/passed out on Jonathan’s shoulder. And since at this point I was about 10 glasses of wine in, and the roads were really curvy, I also got a bit carsick and spent the rest of the night trying to calm my stomach. Let’s just say, we didn’t order any house red with dinner that night…

Again, this post is a bit long winded and I’m hosting a Christmas party tonight, so I will save the cooking class post for tomorrow.

Stay tuned….


  1. So glad you enjoyed your first wine tasting tour!! Sounds like it was a lot of wine for your little body for sure. Looks like you guys had a blast and I get teary eyed just watching my baby looking so beautiful tasting all of that lovely Italian wine. Love you and can't wait to hear about the cooking class. Jonathan looks like he could have a back up plan also

  2. Wonderful journey you have enjoyed. Tasting wine is a good experiance

  3. Sounds heavenly!! I'm really impressed too...ten glasses of wine is a hard day at the office ;)