To have good friends is one of life’s great gifts. To have good friends who live in Tuscany is more, really, than anyone deserves. This province has been for the longest time the most consistent and beautiful of all wine producing regions of Italy. It is home to many world-famous wines i.e Brunello di Montalcino, Sassicaia, Tignanello, Pomino, Ornelaia, Chianti Riserva, Vini Noblie di Montepulciano, vino santo, and many others too numerous to mention.
In Tuscany the light has an odd, peculiarly Tuscan quality of being simultaneously soft and sharp. Looking from a distance, the colours of trees, fields and buildings are all clear and well delineated, yet there is softness that escapes the ability to describe. One simply has to experience it. Maybe this is the reason why many old, world-famous painters, went to Tuscany to apprentice and settle
Here one sips good Chianti while dinner is being prepared. Rosemary and garlic are in the air. During the harvest, all villages smell of fresh grapes and fermenting grape juice – a lovely smell to enliven your nostrils.
Pisa with its famous leaning tower is here, as are the marble quarries in Carrera. They have been cutting marble for millennia and exporting all over the world. Then there is Siena, a lively town with a piazza lined with cafes, and big enough for the annual horse race, Tuscan style! The horses must run on the cobblestone-covered piazza and round the sharp corners. Needless to say, the spectacle results in a few injuries and a lot of commotion. Siena was once a republic and is the originator of the modern banking system including the forerunner of stock exchange establishments.
You can literally feel the wealth when walking the narrow streets lined with buildings dating back centuries and still reflecting opulence.
Vineyards and olive groves are everywhere. All display a mathematical precision, are cared for lovingly, and their fruit is always carefully, almost with reverence, harvested.
Truly Tuscanextra virgin olive oil has an indescribably delicious, perfumey and delicious taste. It has always been expensive and use sparingly in salads. For cooking, homemakers blend it with regular olive oil. (The difference between extra virgin olive oil, virgin and regular is acidity. The lower the acidity of the oil, the better is its quality. Pomace oil, extracted from olives pressed several times should not be used for cooking).
In 1970’s the good reputation of Chianti, and its “heart“ called classico were rapidly declining. Now with the financial help of banks and industrialist from Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto vineyards have been revitalized and quality improved significantly.
As a result of this, vineyards in Chianti have been expanding inexorably. Chianti Classico producing better fruit and wine is now a revered region. Sangiovese–based (the best red grape variety of Tuscany) wines of well-managed Castelli (chateaux) and riserva quality provide the best that display depth, multi-layered flavour, body, cherry undertones, long and pleasant after taste along with refinement. Most wineries have tasting rooms and receive visitors with pleasure. A majority of them also operate osteria (rustic restaurants) serving local specialties prepared by local housewives, for whom good food means pride and joy. Tuscan local wine and osteria seem to be created for each other.
Tuscans invented the term agritourism and practice it successfully. Many wineries located in castles or simply large mansions converted a few of their rooms to hotel accommodation often with a kitchenette. Some offer swimming pools, others tennis courts, and a few both.
For those more interested in cooking, schools show how local specialties should be prepared and provide an opportunity to taste . Wine enthusiasts can drive around to sample or visit colourful, noisy, intriguiging and interesting local markets.
Renting a car for a day or two and driving in the region can be great fun. If you want, just relax and enjoy the pure crisp, less polluted air. Ask for a glass of wine and enjoy!
Brunello di Montalcino, the red wine of the 13th century town complete with its walled garrison, is an extraordinary product capable of aging more than a century. Visit the garrison, if for nothing else, to taste many of the finest wines, but particularly Brunellos, superb honey and pecorino cheese in the enoteca (wine shop) located within.
Once you taste a fine Tuscan pecorino, your idea of flavourful cheese will change forever.
Tuscan country roads are narrow with twists and turns that require full attention, but driving is fun, full of surprises after each bend.
It is immensely satisfying to enjoy a glass of Brunello di Montalcino, strolling to the edge of a villa at dusk, and looking back across the valley where vines give superb fruit to make pleasurable ands satisfying wines, that can be consumed with or enjoyed on their own.
A short drive from Montalcino brings you back to Siena and another half an hour to Firenze (Florence), the cradle of jewellery making, paintings, sculptures and leather-ware. Firenze is the home of Uffici galleries jam-packed with Renaissance art that actually deserves a full-day visit. Book ahead, and better still, ask when the doors open. Every minute of your visit will reveal another treasure.
A vacation in Tuscany can cover art, sightseeing, relaxation, cooking, wine appreciation, food and learning how to dance to local tunes!
The region can be reached by car (a two-hour drive) from any of Rome’s international airports by using the autostrada north.