(6-30-17 – 7-2-17)
I have never had a more perfect weekend than the one we spent driving around the Tuscan countryside. Neither Chris nor I have spent much time in Tuscany, so it was wonderful to finally experience such a famous part of Italy.
And it is easy to see why it is so famous. Rolling hills giving way to majestic mountains, picturesque hilltop towns full of quaint medieval buildings and church spires, fields full of grape vines or sunflowers. It was so gorgeous it was almost like it wasn’t real, just some dream landscape.
We set out from Rome around mid morning and stopped in Orvieto for lunch. I had studied abroad there ten years ago and haven’t been back since, so it was fun to revisit a town I had once known so well. We had spaghetti alla carbonara at Mezza Luna, which is pretty famous for it and rightly so. The plate was huge – two people should definitely split – and delicious. Completely stuffed, we walked around for a bit before gettting coffee and gelato (of course!) and then once again hitting the road.
Our B&B in Montepulciano could not have been more lovely. Villa San Bartolomeo sits just outside the town, far enough for a spectacular view, close enough for easy access. Our rooms were spacious and comfortable, and the breakfast buffet was different each morning with plenty of delicious variety.
Then there was the wine. We visited four wineries total, once Friday evening then three on Saturday. It was so fun to drive between each one and explore different parts of the valley. While we basically tasted the same wine – variations on vino nobile di Montepulciano – the experience at each was unique.
Montemercurio – the first winery we visited ended up being my favorite. It was pretty small, started in the early 2000s by a nineteen year old whose grandfather had initially planted a small vineyard only to make wine for the family. The grandson then planted more vines in addition to his grandfather’s with the intention of a commercial winery but still preserving his grandfather’s methods. The wine was delicious, and the best part was getting to try some vin santo, a sweet after dinner wine, which the grandfather had barreled in 1990 – long before the start of the winery and with the intention of being only for the family (a bottle cost €100, just FYI, but it was the most delicious wine I have ever tasted).
Villa Sant’Anna – we took a tour here, which was really interesting. I learned that wine needs to “rest”, or continue to age, in bottles after the bottling process, and that vin santo requires a special yeast and ages for at least 8 years. The tasting was excellent also, as it included a plate of meats and cheeses, to help show off how well the wine paired with food. The best thing about Sant’Anna, however, was that it was owned and run by women – a mother and her two daughters. I really admired her for being so successful in a very male-dominated field (at least in Italy), and it was really fun to learn about her history.
Icario – this winery was really different. The building was sleek and modern, and very minimalist, whereas the other two had been in old farmhouses that had been refurbished to accommodate the business side of things. We soon learned that the winery had recently been sold to a German family, which explained the strict organization. Despite what I thought to be a lack of charm, the wine was good and the woman leading our tasting was lovely – very friendly and warm and *very* happy to give us recommendations for the best pizza in town. She also had agreed to come meet us on Saturday even though the winery is usually closed to visitors on that day, so we really appreciated her enthusiasm.
Fattoria Pulcino – after a bit of a frenzy trying to get lunch (the recommended pizza place was closed) and an inability to find the winery at which we had made a 4:00 appointment, we ended up at Fattoria Pulcino. This was absolutely the weakest of the three by far. Though we sat on a nice terrace with amazing views over the valley, our tasting lacked any information about the wine and the wine itself was not as good. It was definitely an establishment that catered to huge groups of tourists – their parking lot was enormous and there must have been 50 long tables, each with 2 dozen seats, inside. There was also some grumbling about how we only bought one bottle, which definitely pushed us toward the negative opinion. But, given the splendor of the previous majority of the day, we weren’t too put out.
For dinner on both nights, we drove into town and just walked around until we found a place that looked cozy, and each night we were successful! Both were delicious meals, though I can’t remember the names of the restaurants.
Obviously the atmosphere was a major part of what made the weekend so great, but the company was what turned it into something truly wonderful. Being able to spend time with Noon and Helena was a joy, and it was just so pleasant to have a weekend where we didn’t have to worry about ancient sites or timelines (beyond getting to the next winery!). It was incredibly relaxing and I already can’t wait to go back. 🙂