This will be an ongoing blog given that I’m always exploring new vineyards and wineries. On my first trip to Europe– the bike trip in Provence–we were constantly stopping at small vineyards and caves which was my first real introduction to wine; and as an aside biking and wine tasting can be challenging. There were several people on the trip who were quite knowledgeable about wine and treated us novices to wines such as Chateau Neuf de Pape. I didn’t keep track of the names of the vineyards (something I always do now) so when I got back to Dallas and attempted to buy some wine from a vineyard near Gigondas, it was a disaster. [2018 Postscript: You can read about some new wineries and vineyards we visited during our 2018 trip in my Sempre Chianti and Montecatini Terme posts.]
Badia a Coltibuono
My second bike trip was in Chianti–Florence to Siena to San Gimignano and back with lots of towns in between. We, of course, had good wine with every meal but my favorite experience was at Badia a Coltibuono. Once a monastery this beautiful winery located between Radda and Gaiole is, as I understand it, owned by Lorenza de’ Medici. There are a cooking school, restaurant and accommodations on the site. (website http://en.coltibuono.com/)
Like many vineyards throughout Tuscany, it produces both excellent wines and olive oil. Our trip leaders arranged for us to have an olive oil tasting after a tour of the grounds where we saw what may have been the original press. The person taking us around described how the oil is made and the difference between the various pressings. Then we went inside and were given bread and several types of oil to taste.
In 2010 I took my sister to Badia and then in 2014 I took my sis, her daughter and her daughter’s friends there. On the last trip we were all hung over from a major indulgence in wine the night before so we walked up the road from the shop to the main buildings enjoying the beautiful scenery and the cool air.
On my second bike trip in Italy we rode through southern Tuscany from Siena to Montalcino and the surrounding towns. On our way to Montalcino most of the group stopped at an enoteca between Buonconvento and Montalcino. Several people ordered wine to be shipped to the U.S.; a new concept to me, one that I’ve embraced over the years.
It seems like we did a lot of wine tasting in a short time in Montalcino which is easy to do with the number of enotecas in the town (more about those later) and the number of great vineyards in the area. That was my first introduction to the big Brunellos of the region which are still some of my favorite reds.
Our first tasting was at the Banfi wineries (and the pictures here are from later trips since the photos from my first trip didn’t do the winery justice.)
I can still remember finding out we were riding our bikes to Banfi which is no easy task especially having ridden up to Montalcino on the switchbacks earlier in the day. But at least it was mostly downhill until we hit the gravel road to the winery. Most everyone got off their bikes at that point and climbed in the van.
I also remember being totally agog over the grounds and the beautiful facility where they sell their products. There is also a lovely area for tastings. We were no slouches in the wine tasting department at that point but I’ve always found the Banfi staff to be highly professional yet friendly and they didn’t seem put off by the crowd of sweaty bikers.
I brought my sister to Montalcino and Banfi in 2010 and here’s my journal entry (and some pictures) from that visit.
‘At breakfast I told Roberto I wanted to take Sue to Pienza, San Antimo and then to Banfi wineries. He gave us a map of the surrounding areas and we headed off to the car park.
Despite the maps I still got us lost and almost took the car over a cliff. I kept getting us on the road to Banfi instead of San Antimo and thought I could cut over to the right road through a little hill top village. Wrong! I tried to turn around on a steep street and couldn’t get us in to reverse; instead we kept inching toward the wall–the only thing between us and the valley below. I finally got out and flagged down a local who got us turned around with just a small boo boo on the bumper.
So I went back in to Montalcino, took the main road to Siena and then found the turn to San Quirico, then back tracked to Bagno Vignoni, Castiglione and San Antimo, ending at the Banfi wineries.’
Even now I remember what a great time we had there and the laughs we had when I got Sue to try grappa; I thought she was going to have a heart attack.
In 2014 we brought my niece and her two friends to Banfi and had another great experience.
After my niece went home, my daughter arrived and we gave her the same tour. This time we ordered a case of wine which was fairly expensive since my daughter mainly wanted the Brunellos but we also included some whites which were not only very reasonable but quite tasty. In fact we had a sparkling white from Banfi at Thanksgiving this past November 2016.
Find them at: http://castellobanfi.com/en/hospitality/winery-visits.php
Before our 2014 trip to Italy my niece asked me to find a new vineyard to visit near our hotel in the Chianti area (Belvedere di San Leonino which I’ve written about in another blog). The hotel had several recommendations on its website but I found a website for Fonterutoli Vineyards and thought it looked beautiful. I made reservations for the full tour and wine tasting (which I think was about 25 euros at the time) and we spent nearly two hours there. I thought it was fascinating that the Mazzei family has owned the vineyards since 1435 and their recent renovations have focused on making the facility environmentally friendly, especially with respect to water and energy use. To find them go to their web site t: http://www.mazzei.it/en/Castello-di-Fonterutoli/The-vineyards/
Here are some pictures of the cellars and wine vats along with the very modern and sleek wine tasting rooms.
We later had a delicious dinner at their Osteria di Fonterutoli (which I’ve written about in my blog on restaurants) located in the eponymous village.
On our last full day in the area, we decided to go to their enoteca in the village since it was such a gorgeous day thinking we could hang out and do tastings until our dinner reservation at the Osteria but things didn’t go too smoothly. We each paid 5 euros and had two or three of their wines. My daughter also tasted some of their olive oil and decided to buy a case of wine and olive oil to be shipped home. The cost of the tasting was supposed to be refunded if we bought wine. Since Laura had spent over $200 she asked for our refund. The staff person got pretty snippy with us and so we did not linger and went back to the hotel to wait for our dinner reservation.
Dinner that night which I’ve also written about in my restaurant blog was memorable more for the fact that we got to laughing so hard I thought we would be thrown out.
As I was planning our 2016 trip my niece asked me to find some new vineyards that would fit into our itinerary. I did a little internet research and found Tenuta Torciano. Their wine tasting and lunch appeared to be just what we were looking for plus its location near San Gimignano made it perfect for the day we planned to spend seeing Colle di Val d’Elsa and San Gimignano. I showed the site to my niece and sis and they were both keen to go so I made reservations.
After visiting Colle di Val d’Elsa we got back on the Firenze-Siena highway, getting back off at Poggibonsi. We followed their online directions and had no trouble finding the winery in the small village of Ulignano.
Before going into the restaurant we wandered about for awhile taking pictures and admiring the grounds. We, then, were introduced to the owner, Pier Luigi, who was charming and funny, telling us he had a special room for us. Before seating us he took us towards the front of the vineyards and gave us a history of their winery.
Our tasting room was nice; private and already set up with a plate of cheese, salami and a salad plus a bowl of ribollita. The assistant poured one white and 6 reds ranging from the lightest to the super Tuscans and Luigi instructed us to taste each food with each wine going left to right, noting what food we liked best with each wine.
Luigi left for a bit them came back in with lasagna and gave us a wine glass protocol lesson. About halfway through he had to leave for a meeting and his sister (I think) took over. She was a bit more high pressure sales which was unnecessary because the wines and food were amazing and we already planned to buy. After we finished our reds, they brought us biscotti and an incredible dessert wine. The tasting and lunch were 30 euros and worth every penny.
Afterwards we spent close to an hour in their gardens taking more pictures, (so many I’ve made a collage below) relaxing and, in my case, sobering up so I could drive.
I get their e-mail newsletter and just before Christmas I received a recipe for their lasagna and my daughter and I made it for Christmas Eve dinner. Their web site is: http://www.torciano.com/USA/winery/
Tenuta Casanova is another vineyard I found during my internet research that fit with our itinerary. We arrived a little early for our reservation, having driven over from Radda. We weren’t sure how long it would take, but it was easy to find on the road between Castellina and Poggibonsi.
We first had a tour of the cellars during which the owner, Silvano, gave us a history of the farm and his passion for organic farming that led him to change careers from veterinarian to farmer. He also mentioned that a percent of their profits go to an orphanage in Kenya which he operates with Jack Nicklaus (I think).
We started in a room with casks of vinegar, then moved to a room where Silvano discussed the various types of wines made at Casanova with special emphasis on their new sparkling white. We finished in the room for balsamic vinegar with a description of how theirs is made and how good balsamics are made of strictly vinegar and wine.
Lunch was in an arbor, set among flowering shrubs, olive trees, cypress and vineyards although somewhat incongruously with free range chicken ducks and peacocks wandering around.
Our table was initially set with a plate of cheese, bruschetta with an arabiatta salsa, bread with their organic olive oil, caprese salad and a bowl of chickpea salad. Then they put their balsamic on the caprese and a bit of ricotta. All of it delicious!!
We started with their new sparkling white then moved fairly quickly to their second level Chianti Casanova. The second course was scrambled eggs with truffle sauce from their free range chickens and then slices of pork slow cooked with garlic and wine. We were also served roasted red peppers that were amazing. During the second course we received a second glass of the Chianti.
The third course was a very rich lasagna using a béchamel sauce with pecorino only and a meat sauce made from their free range pigs. During that course we had a glass of their super Tuscan wine. The final course was gelato with balsamic. Amazing!
Initially I was annoyed that we weren’t told ahead of time that the lunch cost 50 euros, cash only, but then I might have missed an incredibly lovely experience.
Tenuta del Palagio
Our walking group stopped here at the end of a 2 mile walk in the countryside near Greve. (And I wish I could give better directions but I have not been able to find it on a map.) It’s a lovely location with beautiful views over the vineyards. One of the owners took us on a cellar tour, discussing Chianti classico as well as their rose and pinot grigio.
We sat outside on the terrace at three big tables and were given a small glass of their pinot grigio which was excellent then a bottle of rose′ with the salad. The salad was wonderful, every type of vegetable plus capers and cheese. We, then, had a cheese tray -one kind with a pepper jelly that was superb and almost everyone purchased afterwards; the other with a very good balsamic. We had a Chianti classico with this course.
We had their Chianti reserve with a rigatoni in one of the best pesto sauces I’d ever had, light and buttery. The wine was excellent too. We finished with a vin santo which wasn’t as smooth as some I’ve had. All in all a delicious lunch and a great experience.
Almost everyone, including my sister and I, bought a bottle of the pinot grigio. We enjoyed ours on the patio at Villa Cheli near Lucca.
Prior to our walking tour I signed my sister and me up for two wine tastings and dinners; and was super glad I did, in part because the included meals ranged from mediocre to awful.
But mostly because both dinners and wine tastings were phenomenal, albeit in totally different ways.
This beautiful villa is about 15 minutes outside Siena (see map on their website www.villadigeggiano.com/) and has been in the same family since the 1500’s. One of the brothers who lives there (Andrea Bandinelli) gave us almost an hour tour of the grounds and the villa.
He and his brother Alessandro, their mother and Andrea’s son run the vineyards and live at the villa full time. He explained how the villa was expanded and restored in the late 1700’s and several of the rooms have been left exactly as they were after the restoration.
We were served dinner in a lovely formal dining room and started with one of their IGT Toscana wines, Bandinello, along with cheeses and salami. We moved on to a Chianti classico—Villa di Geggiano—along with a wonderful vegetarian lasagna, then very thin slices of pork or veal and sautéed carrots.
Our walking group had dinner at this small agriturismo on a winding road outside of Montepulciano. I’m not sure how we got in with our coach much less back out again since our driver joined us in several glasses of wine but here’s the web site if you’re interested in finding it. http://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhouse/tuscany/siena/Nibbiano-1280809/index.html
While the exterior was unprepossessing the dining room was charming, with lights shaped like stars hanging from the exposed beams. We sat at tables for four, starting with prosecco and an antipasto tray of several types of salami, grilled eggplant, bread salad, etc.
Our first course was an excellent tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffles along with a rosso di montepulciano. Our hostess said her mother had made the pasta just a few hours before dinner.
Our second course was thinly sliced steak with arugula and tomatoes, also excellent.
Dessert was a pannacotta with berries.
Our hostess was also charming and we clapped for her and her mother at the end of the meal.
Find them at http://www.nibbiano.net/en/the-restaurant.php
Mas de la Dame
When my sis and I visited Provence in 2015, I put together a list of vineyards that I wanted to visit but since I had us lost half the time, we didn’t get to the ones on my list. But we happened upon a lovely organic vineyard between Les Baux and St. Remy, Mas de la Dame or Farm of the Women. According to a brochure I picked up, it is owned by two sisters and has been in their family since their grandfather purchased it in 1903. Also Van Gogh painted Mas de la Dame in 1889 which is not surprising since the grounds are beautifully landscaped and we strolled around for awhile taking pictures.
I can’t recall now if we tasted both white and roseꞌ but I know we really liked the roseꞌ and bought a demi bottle that we enjoyed in St. Raphael.
The only negative was that when we asked about ordering and shipping, the individual working in the tasting room gave us a card with a U.S. number and said they shipped from their U.S. locations. Despite numerous e-mails to them I was never able to find a location that would ship to us.
Enoteca di Piazza
My main experience with enotecas is in Montalcino. As I said earlier my bike group did a wine tasting in Montalcino that I’m fairly sure was at the Enoteca Fortezza di Montalcino, one of the best known in the area. I recall they seated us in a separate room which I think was downstairs and gave us a very generous tasting.
When my sister and I came back to Montalcino we stayed in a lovely B&B, Palazzina Cesira, (more about that in my hotels blog) and our lovely host Roberto recommended the Enoteca di Piazza across from the B&B. Again here is an excerpt from my journal plus one of my favorite pictures:
‘During our wine tasting which I thought was pretty cool; i.e. purchasing a 5 euro ‘ticket’ then trying the wines that interest you, there was a storm and as we sat at a table by the window we saw a gorgeous rainbow out over the plains.’
We went back to the enoteca before moving on to the Chianti area and had a case of wine and olive oil shipped back to the states for a very reasonable amount. I still have a Chianti classico and a Brunello from that case that I’ve been saving for an occasion that has yet to happen. And as I understand it, I should probably have them re-corked.
In 2014 my niece and her friends shipped home a case of wine and olive oil from the Enoteca di Piazza. And in September 2016 my sis and I had a quick lunch at a little trattoria that shares space with the enoteca and Sue ran in and bought some olive oil for her daughter.
Alla Sosta dei Papi
For several years we’ve been stopping at Fuori Porta after our first day hike to Piazzale Michelangelo for wine, crostini and people watching. But this year (2017) I wrote, Fuori Porta was disappointing; the crostini weren’t good and by the time I ate what I could, the place was empty.
Still I got a nice picture of the area near the bar.
Given my disappointment over Fuori Porta, I felt fortunate to have found Alla Sosta dei Papi. I stumbled on it first through Tripadvisor and then looked up its web site http://www.sostadeipapi.it/.
I was thrilled when I found it would be close to both my apartment and the school, although it took me several tries before I found it on Borgo al Croce. I went there my first Saturday in Florence and here’s what I wrote: 5:55pm: @ Sosta with a huge glass of chianti. Tried to order a panino but got crostini. May have to get another order. At least the crostini are better than Fuori Porta. In any event I finally feel like I’m where I want to be. This place is great. 8:55pm: Holy shit!! I’m drunk. But got to talking to two nice women from New Zealand and had a prosecco and another order of crostini.
And when I say ‘huge glass’ I mean filled to the brim all for 3€ along with three fresh, good crostini. They have a huge selection of bottled wines as well as big vats of house wine for just over 4€. I bought a bottle one evening, going back at least 4 times over the next two weeks. Then I brought my sister here the Friday night before we left for Verona and parts east and again our last night in Florence. She loved it too and we took lots of pictures you can see below.
With one exception, I was always treated pleasantly when I came in alone. I felt I could sit as long as I wanted, writing in my journal or studying Italian. The second time I came in I wrote, I embarrassed myself by saying ‘bottella’ not bottiglia, but it still feels nice to be part of the ‘scene.’ When I happened to mention Sosta in my Italian class, my teacher seemed surprised that I had found it and agreed it was the best value in Florence.
The one exception was the evening I stopped after going to Il Museo dell’Opera dell Duomo. I asked for a prosecco and unlike my first time, the woman working the ‘bar’ gave me a tiny glass and was border line rude to me. Weirdly enough the first time I brought my sister, we were sitting at a table made from a wine barrel, and the same woman came out of the back room and started shoving our table, almost spilling our wine.
Vino, crostini and interesting people
Still it is our new favorite and I can’t wait to go back.
South of France
I also have to give a shout out for the little enoteca we visited in Les Arcs sur Argens which I also mention in my Riviera blog. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find the name of it; the owners of Hotel du Soleil in St. Raphael gave us the name and we found the location through the local tourist office. I believe we came in to Les Arcs from the northeast and the enoteca is on the south edge of the town near the road that we then took back to the coast and through Frejus to St. Raphael.
[From my map of Les Arcs I thought the enoteca was perhaps Maisons les Vins but from its website, it appears to be a much larger facility than the one we visited.]
In any event we had a lovely winetasting there. Several good wines plus a variety of meats and cheeses. If you look up the town online you will see a long list of vineyards in the area (several of which have accommodations) but I believe we tasted wines from Chateau des Demoiselles. It’s definitely an area I would like to return to and visit some of the vineyards which look beautiful.
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