This was a specially organised series of winery visits with a group made up of members of Andover Wine Friends. We started in Carmignano, between Pisa and Florence, staying at the small but pleasant Hotel Villa S. Michele, to visit Capezzana
and Torre a Cona, in the Colli Fiorentini (Florentine Hills)
before moving on to Grati, in Chianti Ruffina to enjoy the enthusiasm and knowledge of Gualberto, and walking through his ‘library’ of varieties. Strangely, the google route took us there along the west bank of the river and along impossible riverbed tracks. We could see Grati only 200 metres away but still impossible to reach by car.
This was the first of a series of google map mistakes as we travelled east. The first and defining mistake was to use google maps at all. They are unable to differentiate between a usable road, a passable strada bianca and an impassable seasonal river bed. It was a problem we repeatedly encountered. And it did not help that I lost my hard copy road map on our fourth visit of this day to Colognole – a wonderful agriturismo at the top of the valley, well north of Pontassieve where we were to stay.
It had been a demanding day – then made worse by the struggle to find our hotel. It was caused by a very Italian problem : the local bureaucrats prohibited signage of any visible scale. We circled the Villa D’Arte Agri several times, in the gathering gloom, unable to believe the very smart hotel was at the end of a long dirt track through a dark wood. Positively Dante-esque.
The staff on reception were remarkably off-hand, dismissive and surly. However, after one of our number declared the room she had been given ‘smelt as if someone had died there’ the o-so-laid-back young men suddenly realised we were not happy bunnies. The horizontal behaviour morphed quickly into anxious attentiveness, but too late. Another of our number had re-visited tripadvisor; the absence of any local wine on the dinner menu had been the last straw.
The morning was bright and cheerful, and our first destination close by. Nonetheless Pontassieve’s incomprehensible road system (which we had experienced years before, equally unsuccessfully) and signage (or lack of) made the journey complicated. And of course Selvapiana has a proper main entrance which doesn’t involve an unmanned railway level crossing…. Federico Giuntini gave us a fabulous tour of the vineyards and the winery climaxing with a magnificent tasting.
After this we moved south towards Montepulciano, for lunch and to visit Contucci – where Andrea Contucci showed us round not only the family’s fantastic winery right in the heart of the town at the foot of the cathedral, but the upper floors of their palazzo – number 26 on the map below, next door to the information centre.
I travelled in one car; David in the other. They had the short straw….
They didn’t make it to Montepulciano. Instead they were carted back to Florence (lest the wheel itself had been damaged in the encounter with the kerb) and issued with a different vehicle.
We regrouped at Capitoni in the early evening, after yet more white road mishaps. It had been a very hot day, and Marco and his wife were characteristically hospitable. (She and one of our group had a long tête-á-tête despite neither knowing a word of the other’s language. Nothing stands in the way of women wanting to communicate.)
We made it to the Hotel Palazzuolo on the outskirts of San Quirico D’Orcia where we ate a very reasonable if basic dinner, and where the following day I swam in its huge fabulous, old-fashioned pool with a large congregation of other mature women recovering from a strenuous day’s hiking (in over 30 degrees). On our second night we ventured into San Quirico for dinner at what turned out to be an old favourite: Al Vecchio Forno. The churches here on the Via Francigena are also out of this world.
The next day we were to meet Andrea Lonardi of the Bertani group, but a weather crisis in the Veneto prevented him joining us at Val di Suga just below Montalcino. Instead Gabriele Gorelli, another fellow MW student of David’s, met us in the tasting room they use to practise for the exam. Inspirational!
From here we drove to Le Potazzine nearby to meet Michele Moscato who showed us round this very bijoux winery. The day was becoming very hot…
Lunch was at the top of town in the Enotecca La Fortezza with Gabriele, set inside the magnificent medieval structure that dominates the approach to Montalcino, but not before we had greeted Azzura and little Giovanni.
It was hard to leave the groaning table with its fabulous collection of bottles and glasses, but we headed off to our next appointment at Canalicchio di Sopra in the white but humid heat. It was almost impossible to stay awake though our hostess was very forgiving. We returned to the hotel in San Quirico, to sleep or to swim.
The next day we were due at Poliziano close by Montepuciano Stazione where we had a fantastic tasting and talk from Fabio Bertocci in a tasting room surrounded by huge windows onto their vineyards.
A longer drive took us up into the hills to the hamlet of Monteraponi where we were treated to a tour of the settlement as well as the winery, and finally a tasting, by Alessandra. This tiny abandoned settlement is now home to an organic winery and a small hospitality business run by people passionate about this unique place.
Finally we headed for Radda – but first another tasting in the Colle Bereto cellars where Bernardo Bianchi thrilled us with their wines. The light was fading, but we could see across the vineyards in the valley to Radda itself. Fabulous.
The journeys had been stressful, and we all were tired. Not a good moment to have to scramble for access through barriers to the tiny main street of Radda, to reach the Palazzo Leopoldo. Once we had done so we wearily abandoned the car to the staff on reception. It was all too much to go hunting for car parks.
A taxi was due to collect us – as guests at a party at Vecchie Terre di Montefili (newly taken over from the family of the elegant mature woman we had met years before).
Not a good moment to mislay the passports between the main building and our far-flung room. I very nearly lost it. (My temper I mean. I already thought I’d lost the passports.) And of course, they were where I had put them….
The final day of the tasting visits began with an old favourite: Montevertine where Martino Manetti met us and showed us round the very traditional winery, barely changed from its early days as an adjunct to the family business of raising horses.
As the vines of La Pergola Torte age, those of Montevertine begin to peak, and now those of Pian del Ciampio are producing the next generation of icon wines.
The modest Martino’s head just appears in the photo below…
Onwards, still savouring the taste of our favourite Chianti Classico, to Vignamaggio where we tasted as we ate a lunch with the most specacular view. It is a huge business, geared up more for tourists than for serious wine students. Once one of the waters realised our motives, they belatedly swung into action. However, it would have been very hard to better our experience at Montevertine.
The afternooon was spent either searching for Vecchie Terre di Montefili or trying to avoid its argumentative owner, whom we had met the night before, and in whose debt we were for two doses of his hospitality. The taxi of the previous evening had made the route to the party seem simple but in broad daylight both cars were once more misled by google maps and unmarked gateways in our hour-long searches.
A long-suffering and long-serving member of the office staff dutifully showed us around before delivering us into his clutches, and heading home. By this time it was late on Friday afternoon. He certainly enjoyed our conversation and company, and we his wines.
The next morning we all went our separate ways; some to Rome, some to Seggiano, and the rest of to the UK, via Pisa. In the photo below, Juliet and I discuss departure times, routes, and where we might have lunch… Pisa airport wasn’t on that list…
Finally completed 17 February 2019…