With most Belgian schools taking the past week off in connection with All Saints Day, we traveled to Tuscany for 5 nights. It was a completely new region of Italy that I’d never seen, and offered us the best wine, pasta, and photo ops we could have asked for.
Flying through Pisa, we rented a Fiat Panda (which might be one of the most popular compact cars in all of Tuscany) and drove south to a small farm near Murlo via a pitstop in Lucca. Based on a friend’s recommendation, we had booked an Airbnb at a family-run farm where olive trees and vineyards surrounded a tan-colored, brick estate. Yes, we came home with both new olive oil and a 2014 bottle of their farm’s wine. After three hours on the road, day one finished with a bottle of wine and dinner prepared by the son of the owner, Emanuel, who asked if we were ‘small, medium, or large hungry.’ ‘Large hungry’ resulted in a bowl of pasta the size of a basketball.
Tuesday, although the first full day in Tuscany, probably contained the highlight of the trip. North of our farm and to the east is a natural winery called Pacina we had discovered in a book about, yes, natural wine. The region where they are located is known for its Chianti wines, which is a blend of red grapes with the majority being Sangiovese grapes. Maria, the daughter of the current owner, showed us around the vineyards, explained their approach to farming, and let us explore their barrel rooms. When I asked about the origin of the moniker, ‘natural wine,’ she laughed and said, ‘to us, it is just wine, not natural wine.’ That was refreshing. Following this, we headed west to Siena for a bit before retreating back to our farm for another evening of pasta of wine.
We were looking forward to Wednesday as the town of Montalcino was on the agenda. The wines from here, Brunello di Montalcino in particular, were high on our list of those we wanted to try. We didn’t visit any vineyards this day, but we did enjoy a few glasses at a natural wine shop. We then decided to break form and seek out a brewery, and although they ended up being closed when we arrived, the journey there took us through some of the best countryside views we saw all week. Fear not though, a beer was eventually enjoyed when we made our last stop for the day in San Quirico d’Orcia. There was a small brewery tucked away on a side street with copper brew system where we tried a hoppy blonde and a UK-style pale ale. It was much needed and enjoyed. As was becoming tradition, we headed back to the farm for some wine and food as the hosts had prepared a wine tasting for us. We learned our lesson about food portions on the first night so we were better prepared for this evening.
What was originally thought to be our last full day (we showed up thinking we were flying out Friday, not Saturday), Thursday was another foggy day where we walked around Montepulciano and Pienza, and eventually worked our way back to Montalcino for a tour of Casa Raia, a natural winery just outside of the city center. We had tried to visit on Tuesday, but didn’t have any luck as they were in New York for a wine festival. Luckily, Jean Pierre was available to give us a quick overview of the vineyard, let us explore the cellar, and treated us to a few wines straight from the tanks and barrels.
In what I imagine to be a very Tuscan end to the week, Friday was our first time attending an olive oil festival. What you’re picturing in your head is exactly what it looked like. Our friends from Pacina recommended this festival which is held every year in Montisi. It’s another small town with narrow streets, brick-lined alleys, and lots of little caves where oil producers and vendors sell fresh olive oil in bottles of 25 cl all the way up to 5 liters. We settled on the smaller option. As we headed out of town, we realized we had forgotten our two bottles of Rose that we purchased, and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When we returned, we found our wine (right where we left it), sat down for a bowl of pasta we didn’t know we wanted yet, and were treated to a rowdy performance by the New Generation Street Band. Incredible.
Tuscany was amazing. This brief write up doesn’t do justice to the sights, the people, and the tastes we experienced. I cannot wait to return. Enjoy the photos!