You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Monday, February 25, 2008

Room without a View -- Part 4

So we liked the first tour so much we decide to take another one... we find an internet cafe, which seem to be on every block in Florence. We see a couple interesting tours and I send an email but figure it would be too late to get a confirmation because it is 11pm at night and we want to do something the next day. The next morning at the hotel I walk upstairs to look for Carmel, the proprietor, who is originally from Boston. She wasn't there, but her husband, Pino, was. Since our phone didn't work over here, he was nice enough to call up the tour company and then tell us where to go to make our reservation. So we end up getting a winery tour; I think the tour company was Caf Tours.

This time it's a big group; a whole bus full and we pull out of Florence and drive to a winery that is located in the Chianti Classico region, which is directly south of Florence. We learn that there are several Chianti regions, but only one Classico region. To know if you got a bottle of it you have to look for the Black Rooster symbol, or the Nero Gallo. It is their insignia and a symbol of higher quality. It's a black rooster on a gold background, circled with red. The story goes that Florence and Siena were always fighting with each other. Siena is another major town that is about an hour south of Florence. After awhile people decide they are sick of getting sacked and pillaged and want to settle this. So what do they do? Yes, they hold a cockfight! The Florentine picks his best black rooster and the Siennese brings his white. The other thing is wherever they meet up is the duel and whoever wins gets the distance they covered. So the Florentine beats it double time and gets further to Siena. And his black rooster kicks ass and wins the fight. This area that he wins becomes the Classico region, belonging to Florence and the little badass rooster becomes their symbol.

And the Florentines and Siennese still hate each other. Kind of like the Vikings and Packers.

So we drive up this big hill and go to the winery. The harvest is already over but the view is pretty spectacular anyway, so we go into the cellar and see the barrels of Chianti, and that is mainly what they produce here.

Now I will try to talk about wine without sounding like a jerk.... To be a Chianti a wine must have no less than 80% Sangiovese grapes, and the Chianti reserve is aged for about 2-3 years in oak barrels and makes it taste a little smoother. Chianti used to get a bad rap for being a cheap, gut-rot kind of wine, but the Chiantis they make today are much higher quality than the ones people used to drink in the 70s. If you want to pick a good one and you know nothing about it, look for the pink label on the neck of the bottle. It should say DOC (good) or DOCG (best) which guarantees the quality and that the vineyard followed strict government regulations when producing it.

Then there are the SuperTuscans, which don't get a rating because they don't have to follow the strict Chianti rules. These wines are also made with Sangiovese grapes, but then are blended with any number of other grapes, usually the French Merlot and Cabernet, which makes them taste a little richer. Most people tend to prefer SuperTuscans, myself included, because of the blends. They also tend to be more expensive than Chiantis.

Now I will talk about the Brunello. It is also made with Sangiovese grapes, but of a different variety. It's a darker grape, hence the name bruno. Brunello literally means The Brunette. It is only made, I think, in the Montalcino area of Tuscany. Its sister, Rosso di Montalcino, is less expensive but good substitution for it. They have been making this wine for a long time, but for a while only people in Europe knew about it. It still is produced in small batches by small vineyards so I don't know how easy it would be to get it here, you might have to join a wine club. I don't know how to really describe what it tastes like, but if Sophia Loren were a wine, she'd be a Brunello. You don't forget it.

After our tour of the cellar we go up to the tasting room. We sit with two girls on vacation from Ireland, and a couple from Japan who brought their two kids with. The kids get to drink pear juice instead of vino. We start with Chardonnay which is very good (I usually don't like Chardonnay; it's never my first pick.) Then we try a Classico reserve, then a SuperTuscan (which everyone seems to like). We have little appetizers along with the wine. Then we have Vino Santo (holy wine). It's a desert wine and served with biscotti cookies. You dip your cookie in the wine and eat it; it's pretty good. They call it Cantucci.

By this point everyone's drunk. Matt's half in the bag. I've crawled all the way in the bag and tied it shut.. Frankly, I don't know how I walked down the stairs. Then we went to some church (don't really remember it), then went to an overlook, but it was dark by that point. Then we went to a little hilltop town called Castellina where we had dinner. More food! More wine! Yay! We had penne arrabiatta and sausage with beans. The sausage with beans were the best thing I have ever eaten! I almost licked the plate (Becca Braun knows what I'm talking about), but I didn't want to look like a piggy American. Italians like to call the Tuscans "bean eaters" like it's an insult or something, but holy smokes, they make good beans! We finished off with a really good tiramisu and... more wine. I would like to tell you what happened on the rest of the trip, but I honestly can't remember.

We spend the rest of our time in Florence by taking trains out to Pisa and Lucca for one day, Siena for the next. We see the leaning tower; which looked just like the pictures. Apparently during WWII, the leaning tower almost got blown up. The Americans came into Pisa and were on the opposite of the Arno. They thought the leaning tower was a German spy lookout. They called it, "The Tiltin' Hilton." Luckily, they didn't blow it up.

Lucca was a neat town, it is surrounded by ramparts and there are only certain openings along the wall where you can enter the city center. On Sundays, the townspeople walk the ramparts around the city, which is about 2.5 miles long. It is really beautiful there. When Napoleon came through and conquered it, he liked it so much he gave it to his sister as a present. That sure was nice of him.

Next edition... our road finally leads to Rome.

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