Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wine and Towers

Today we were supposed to be able to sleep in but both Thomas and I were awake by 6:30am. Since we didn’t need to be on the bus until 9:30am we had plenty of time to kill. So once we were showered and dressed we went down for breakfast – eggs, bacon, pastries, yogurt, pineapple juice and coffee. We then returned to the room and got our things ready for the day and did a little reading (something we haven’t had much time for on this trip). Around 9:00am we went to the lobby and visited with some of the other people in our group and waited for the bus to show up to take us to our wine tasting. We left the hotel at 9:30am and headed for Greve in Chianti to the Castello di Verrazzano.
Castello di Verrazzano & Greve in Chianti Countryside

We arrived at the winery and were joined by Jillian (who works for the winery and is somehow related to the family that now owns the place – by marriage I think since she is from the UK) who took us into the gardens and gave us a history of the winery. The winery was started by the Verrazzano family, the same family of Giovanni da Verrazzano who discovered New York and for whom the Verrazzano Bridge is named after that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn. She even showed us some rocks and a plaque incorporated into the walls of the winery from the building of the bridge. The winery has been in operation for a very long time. She pointed out the vines and explained to us that even though there is quite a bit of property they only have 100 acres of grapes that produces about 180,000 bottles of wine.

Grapes drying at the Castello
She also told us that they make olive oil and balsamic vinegar. From the garden we were taken into the wine cellars where they have the large barrels holding the wine until it is ready. She explained their whole process (most of which I have forgotten) and showed us a special room with hanging grapes that they let dry a little to make one of their special wines. We then entered a dining area and we were seated eight to a table that was set with two wine glasses, a tumbler and a shot glass as well as plates, utensils and napkins. Waiters poured us two glasses of wine (Verrazzano Rosso – a table wine and Chianti Classico Reserve). Jillian then explained wine tasting and gave us these three rules . . .
1.       Color – it should be shiny and bright. Look at it against a white background and see if it has a rich color.
2.      Aroma – it should smell good. Is it fruity or nutty? She instructed us to put the rim of the glass under our noses with your nose in the glass. After smelling it then stand the glass on the table and swirl the wine, then smell again. You should notice a change now that it has bee aerated.
3.      Taste – it should taste fruity and nice. Take a sip and swish it around in your mouth, feel in on your gums. Does it make you pucker? Is it too acidic?
It was interesting to try wine this was and I learned a little bit about how air and movement as well as food affects the taste of wine. She also told us to never hold the wine glass by the bowl, always hold the stem. The warmth from your hands can affect the wine.
Table Setting for Lunch
Along with the wine tasting they brought out some food family style and we passed the dishes around the table. We had penne with tomato sauce with spices, olive oil and pecorino cheese. Then some bread (plain and garlic). Later we had meat platters with salami and prosciutto made with wild boar and we had some cabbage slaw. Next came a more modern wine that the produce, so we did the tasting with that and meat. Then we had a tasting of thebalsamic vinegar they make. It is very thick and rich and we only got about half a teaspoon to taste. What we did was take a little balsamic in our mouths (just a drop) and then a bite of pecorino cheese then another sip of the balsamic – it was incredibly delicious. For dessert we had Vin Santo (the specialty wine they make from the grapes we saw hanging earlier) with cantucci (this is what we call biscotti, but don’t call it that in Italy – biscotti is the term for generic biscuits). What you do is put your cantucci in the wine and let it soak in the suck the wine from the cantucci and then eat it. Again very delicious. We finished the meal drinking espresso with grappa. We all felt like we had died and gone to heaven the tour, wine tasting, wine and meal were fantastic.  After lunch we were able to purchase things from their store. I ended buying the balsamic vinegar (can’t get this in the U.S.) and opted not to get any wine since it would be difficult to pack and bring back on the plane. The balsamic was pretty expensive – 48 for 100ml.

Towers of San Gimignano
We left the winery feeling very good (and I am sure the wine had a lot to do with that) because of the wonderful experience they provided. We were now on our way to San Gimignano – a town of towers. We had about an hour drive and then we saw the town on the hill as we approached it. You could see the towers making the skyline of the town. We parked at the bottom of the hill and exited the bus. We were given about an hour and a half to explore the town. So Thomas and I set off with the plan of walking to the top straight away and then slowly working our way back to the bus. We made it to the top in a short time and enjoyed the views of the countryside and then slowly started making our way down. We stopped in the Piazza Duomo and the Church of Collegiate. We walked back behind the church and visited the Roccca di Montestaffoli – an old fort that is just ruins now. We climbed to the top of an observation tower and enjoyed even more and even better views than before. Here I hid a letterbox and you can read about that at Placing a Letterbox in Beautiful Country.
Once that was taken care of we walked to Piazza della Cisterna. We stopped in at Dondoli Gelateria for some gelato. I had banana & vanilla and Thomas had chocolate. We sat on some steps to an old well or cistern, ate our gelato and watched all the people. Once we were done with the gelato I stopped at a shop to get some postcards and then we took a nice slow walk back to the bus.

The drive back to the hotel was quiet and we enjoyed all the wonderful Tuscan views along the way. We arrived at the hotel and we had a couple of hours until dinner so I worked a little on the blog and getting things packed up for our trip to Venice tomorrow. We met Dave and Deanne in the lobby at 7:15pm and then we made our way to dining room for dinner. They served Ravioli with pepper cream & chives, beef stew with aubergines and cream pudding. It wasn’t a great dinner in fact the beef stew & aubergines was downright nasty.  Over all it was a great day and we enjoyed the winery and San Gimignano tremendously even though it was one of our busiest days. Tomorrow is an early day as we make our way to Venice.

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