Continued from When in Rome for a Week
Just when I thought Rome was my happy place, I experienced Tuscany! During our week long stay in Rome before our 10-day Mediterranean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line, we took the train to Tuscany twice. As a wine lover, how could I not? Florence is only an hour and a half train ride from Rome, so we were able to leave before sunrise and rendezvous with our tours fairly early. Pre-tour walking around Florence was wonderful! We were able to see shopping districts, Palazzo Vecchio, and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo).
Of course we had to stop for breakfast (yes, wine for breakfast) and lunch (yes, wine for lunch) before our tour(s). And time permitting, we had dinner before our train back (yes, wine for dinner). Everything just…tastes better on vacation in Italy. And we walked a lot, so I think it cancels out or something.
One special treat was stumbling upon Smalzi, a wine bar in the Piazza del Duomo with self serve wine dispensers. I realize we have them here in the States, but in Florence we were like kids in a candy store. We pre-paid some amount, then chose between 1.5oz, 3oz, and 6oz pours for each wine. We sampled seven Italian wines, including a Brunello di Montalcino. Can I install one of these dispensers in my kitchen?
One of our traveling companions arranged tours with Viator and Tuscan Sunshine tour companies, and she did well (thank you, Angela)! On one half-day tour led by Viator in the Chianti Fiorentino and Chianti Senese regions, we visited Castello del Trebbio, a 12th century castle on an estate that produces wine and olive oil. We were given a tour of the castle and the underground cellar where wine is maturing. If I had been tasked with counting the wine bottles in that cellar, my head would have exploded. It was a beautiful site down there!
After the tour of the gorgeous castle and cellar, we were treated to a wine tasting of three estate wines, one bianco (white wine) and two chiantis. We also tasted their estate olive oil, which we brought home a bottle of in addition to the wines we purchased. Everything was wonderful! I would love to go back to Castello del Trebbio to stay in their bed & breakfast and take some cooking classes. Not to mention the wine…
Our other half-day tour led by Tuscan Sunshine, was a private car tour for just the three of us. We were picked up at the train station in Chiusi (about halfway to Florence from Rome), and taken to the town of Montalcino for a quick walk through the town, to Poggio Antico for a private tour and wine tasting, then to Pienza for lunch, and finally Montepulciano. It was probably the most efficient tour I’ve ever taken, and quite possibly the most fun! We loved walking through the hilltop towns and the winding drive through the Siena region of Tuscany. For anyone slightly affected by motion sickness, do take dramamine.
Poggio Antico is a Sangiovese vineyard and winery in the Brunello region of Tuscany. From the deck of the tasting room, you could squint just right and see the Mediterranean across the estate and the Tuscan hills. The estate was gorgeous, and the weather couldn’t be more perfect. Our private tour (in English) was of the production, aging cellar, and bottling areas. Afterwards we tasted six estate wines and olive oil in their charming tasting room.
It was a wonderful experience to taste Sangiovese in its many forms. We tried Rosso di Montalcino, a minimally aged Sangiovese, three Brunello di Montelcinos, Madre, and Lemartine. We were so impressed we ordered a case to be sent home, which included a bottle of their estate olive oil.
After we tasted perhaps too much wine, we giggled on the way to Montepulciano, the town featured in the second Twilight movie, New Moon. Montepulciano is beautiful! Our driver drove us to the top of the hill, dropped us off at the Il Palazzo di Comunale at the Piazza Grande (where the clock tower is). We had about an hour to tootle before we were to meet him at the bottom of the hill. Naturally we found a neat winery tucked into a corner of the piazza, Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano where we had a tasting and bought some wine (you’re not surprised, are you?).
Our driver then took us for another tour and wine tasting at Ercolani. We toured the Underground City, which included two Etruscan tombs, oak barrels, and old olive press, and other historical artifacts. Afterwards we sampled Ercolani’s Vino Nobile wines, olive oils, pecorino (Tuscan sheep cheese), and spices. This day could not have been more exciting.
At this point, my husband and traveling companions had to practically drag me onto the cruise ship. I didn’t want to leave Italy, but there was more fun to be had on the ship and in Greece and Turkey (and one more stop in Naples, Italy…yes!).