Friday, May 8, 2015

Tuscany - Friday - 5/8/15

It’s the ever so sacred last full day of our two week European adventure. So depressing! It’s yet another beautiful morning. We have been so lucky with the weather on this trip. 

We woke up feeling good and went straight to breakfast. We chose a seat by the window, ordered our usual caffeinated beverages, along with a vegetable frittata and bacon, and then headed to the buffet. The bacon was perfection. I could eat this every day! The frittata was even better than the last one we ordered. 

As we ate, we braced ourselves for the aggressive service. The manager who greeted us every morning was friendly beyond words, and offered very prompt service. However, the bussers took their responsibilities to a new level, and literally watched our every move until we cleared our plates. The second we took our last bite, the busser rushed over and grabbed the plates off the table in a millisecond. As I was swallowing my food and placing my utensil on the table, the plate was being removed. Talk about anxiety!

This type of service infuriates me. I later gave the hotel management a scathing review about this when they sent my customer satisfaction survey. I guess I should just be happy that this was BY FAR my largest complaint while staying at this dream of a boutique hotel. 

Across the way, there was middle aged couple who sat next to each other on the booth side of the table. They were canoodling and sharing a plate of food. On the outside, they looked stylish and probably European. The fact that they were sharing a plate of food (when everything was free) was intriguing enough, but then they started making out. Were they on their honeymoon? I think PDA that involves saliva exchange is just unsanitary in a restaurant. How goofy to behave this way in public at such an early hour. At least they were age appropriate and not some gross old man and much younger woman which is what we often witnessed at the Four Seasons in Bora Bora. 

After our entire morning routine was complete, we headed into Chianti wine country. I was trying to savor every second of scenery knowing the end of our stay was nearing. The drive to our first winery took an hour, but it flew by because I was so enthralled by my surroundings. 

Scenery on the way to the first winery

I think these are olive trees. Cool clouds!

We found the winery and pulled into what looked like a tasting room. I was confused though because where were the vineyards?

Where we first pulled in

The rooster means the wine is from the Chianti region

Turns out this was a shop where you could have a tasting and purchase wine, without driving all the up to the vineyard. The guy inside told us to turn right and go up about two miles and we'd be there.

We drove up the long path into Castello Di Verrazzano and had to pull over on the way to photograph the property. It looked like a castle. 

We stopped in the middle of the road so I could run out and photograph Castello Di Verrazano from a distance

Beautiful Castello Di Verrazzano

After pulling in and parking, we didn’t know what to expect, but it appeared to be a reputable establishment. I started snapping away!

View from the parking lot

Immediately I could tell we made a good decision by choosing to visit this winery. We were greeted by a young guy with a British accent and really lucked out because the next tour began in 20 minutes. Perfect! There was a group of people who made a reservation for the noon tour, but they would let us join even though we didn't reserve a spot. 

The Chianti Classico, which Eric and I have bought at home many times before

The winery had 2 restaurants. This one was so pretty!

The group was having an organized lunch after the tour at the restaurant on the winery’s property. We asked to skip the lunch and do a tasting instead, and they agreed that was fine for 16 euro/person. Our tour guide was an Italian man that could seriously be in a movie. He was patient, animated, knowledgeable, and cool as a cucumber. He had a light complexion, like me, but a pretty thick accent. He had been working at this winery for just under a year but had spent a decade working at another large winery about an hour away. Can you imagine spending your adult life working in Tuscan wineries? What a drastic difference from our American business culture back home. I wonder how much money he makes…

Anyway, this property was impressive. On the outside of the cellar there were these lush gardens that we toured first. There was a large pond, sculptures, manicured landscape, fountains, lemon trees, etc. How unique! I have never been to or heard of a winery with gardens. 

Pond and fountain in the gardens


Patio with lemon trees that leads to the cellar

Lemon trees

There was a ledge at the end of the gardens, and our guide told us to look over and see if we could spot wild boar. This winery raises their own wild boar, 15 total, because of economic advantages. Now that is interesting! They use it to make all their meats. Unfortunately the boars were hiding. I started to visualize the process of slaughtering a wild boar to produce the slice of salami I was going to enjoy with my tasting, and then quickly stopped myself. 

Wild boar (my salami) hanging to dry

We continued past the gardens to a large terrace that of course, had stellar views!

View from the Terrace

The guide said this winery in the distance is their "friendly" competition.  The two hill top estates have been fighting for hundreds of years!

Our group consisted of people who seemed like they were there strictly for the lunch portion of the tour. Eric and I were the only people who asked questions. There were couples of all age ranges. One younger couple were probably on their honeymoon. There was an older couple, and the man was wearing a sweatshirt even though the sun was scorching down on us. There was another couple that really entertained me. He carried the camera, she would pose next to something, and he obediently snapped a photo. She posed next to pretty much everything we walked by. It was hilarious. 

Large property. This is their only vineyard

This was our tour guide. He was awesome! They hang grapes on these. See next picture...

Grapes hanging - I have never seen this before

We really enjoyed the tour. Our guide was super patient with everyone and their photography and wasn’t annoyed with any of our numerous questions. 

They stored many of their vintage bottles in this room

They hold on to the vintage bottles for novelty purposes, but you can't drink these old bottles

Enormous oak barrels

This winery practices organic farming, which is a huge selling point for me. However, I was confused as to why the bottles didn’t have the organic label. The guide explained that they practice organic farming but can’t afford the organic certification. Makes sense. 

He emphasized how Italians do everything “straight” in regards to food and wine. They take pride in their farming and practice natural methods. 

Eric in front of the vintage wines

Beautiful oak barrel

Having a great time!

He talked about how the grapes naturally add sugar to the wine during the fermentation process. I asked if they add more sugar and he said that they don’t, but the wineries in France need to add sugar due to the cooler climate. In warmer climates, the grapes produce more natural sugars which produce a higher alcohol content. In France, the temperatures are cooler and they need to add sugar to reach the same levels. Interesting! The interior of the cellar was fascinating. All the wine is stored in oak barrels, just like Antinori (winery we went to yesterday). 

We viewed the room where they age their homemade vinegar for ten years. Yes, that’s right, TEN YEARS. We later sampled the vinegar during our tasting and it was phenomenal.  I didn’t even know it was possible for vinegar to be phenomenal. As soon as I get home I will immediately throw out the crap vinegar I have (which I thought was good quality) and invest in something good. Wow, what a difference! It was delicious and I could eat it every day on a salad with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. 

One interesting fact is that this winery is affiliated with Whole Foods. Representatives from Whole Foods came out to their winery and created a video showcasing their farming techniques and support for their products. I was surprised the guide didn’t mention this in the tour! Unfortunately Whole Foods doesn’t carry the vinegar because their production is too small. 

After the tour we headed towards the restaurant, which had a rustic Tuscan décor. The atmosphere was very lively. There were many long tables filled with people feasting, talking and laughing. 

Very lively atmosphere! The table to the right was our tour group

We both kind of wished we had signed up for the lunch because the smells coming from the kitchen were tantalizing. Next time!  

The tantalizing smells were coming from this large wood burning oven

We watched as our group sat down together at a long table. I wonder what the conversation was like, haha. We had the small bar to ourselves, and the young guy with the British accent came over to lead us through our tasting. 

View from the bar where we had our tasting

Different vintages of their Chianti Classico

There were 3 pours, but since our guide liked us, he added a 4th pour of their best Super Tuscan wine. 

The 3 main pours

Our tasting - I wish I could do this every day!

mmmm fresh salami with our tasting! lol

The young guy taught us how to properly taste wine. First, you tilt your glass to ensure you can see through the liquid. The point of this is to make sure there are no particles. Then you swirl it so the aroma rises through the glass. Sniff sniff. If you smell your wine before swirling and after, there is supposed to be a big difference. I tried it and have to admit I didn’t notice a difference but it’s probably because my tasting skills aren’t advanced enough. Next, you make sure you hold your glass at the base of the stem so the smells from your hand don’t taint the aroma from the wine. Then you sip, but don’t swallow! Not yet at least. Fold the wine under your tongue and swoosh it around your cheeks. This is where you’ll notice whether or not it’s smooth. Then swallow, or you can spit in a bucket (yea right!).   

After paying for our tour, we left without purchasing any bottles. However, we absolutely plan to track these down back at home and purchase at least a case.

Since it was our last day, we wanted to hit the road and explore a few more wineries. We got in the car, drove all the way down the hill, turned right, and drove a few miles on the famous route 222 wine trail until we came across Terreno vineyards.  There were many signs that said "wine-tasting" so we thought, "why not, let's try it."

We pulled in and start driving up the long hill to the winery. 

Terreno Vineyards

We noticed a large tour bus in the parking lot and a huge group of people milling around. We walked inside and were greeted by a very sweet blonde girl.

Inside the tasting room at the Terreno vineyards

We were shocked to find out this winery was Swedish owned, and caters exclusively to Swedish tourists (how random!). The entire tour group we saw outside were Swedish, and they choose to visit this winery because the tour is in Swedish only. They carry the majority of their wines in Sweden, and nowhere else. Wow, definitely wasn't expecting to hear all this...

Some of the Terrano Wines

The blonde said we could do a wine tasting so we went ahead and did one. It was very informal. She poured a small glass of each wine for us to share. Ummm...okay? This isn't the type of tasting I had in mind. First off, I thought we would sit down. Second, I expected to have each wine tasting presented to us in a more professional manner. I also couldn't believe we had only one glass to share. 

Our tiny tasting to share

The girl was Swedish, of course, and this was her summer job. The wines were good. If we lived nearby, we would have purchased a bottle. The tasting was free, but if it wasn't, I would have refused to pay. At the end of our "tasting" she put the pressure on, and tried to force us to buy a bottle. We explained we had no room in our suitcase, which was the truth. She suggested we buy a bottle and drink it tonight with friends. LOL. I love that she assumed we made friends during our short stay in Tuscany. 

I suddenly had to urge to leave, and we bolted. I don't respond well to pressure sales tactics, and didn't feel guilty at all for not purchasing anything. In fact, because of this experience, I'll never buy their wine for the rest of my life. 

We got in the car and decided we wanted to try at least one more winery. There was a ton of signs for Fattoria Casaloste, so we decided that would be our next stop. It took about 15-20 minutes to get there.

View from Fattoria Casaloste

Another view

There was one other family up there, who looked like they just arrived as well. We all went inside to check it out.

Walking into the tasting room at Fattoria Casaloste

There was a kind middle-aged lady inside who turned out to be the co-owner, along with her husband who was not present.  The tasting was much better than the last, but still quite informal. We all stood next to a long table, and she spoke about each wine. At least we each had our own glass!

The wines we tasted

Her wines were great. Definitely high quality. I really liked how the entire place was run by just her and her husband. She had many interesting stories about her wine, and how each bottle related to her family in some way. 

Eric favored the Chianti Classico Riserva, and I liked the Super Tuscan best. We would definitely buy these wines back at home. She said right now they are sold in New York, but not Massachusetts.  Eric is going to buy a few bottles online. 

The other family (they were from Norway) purchased a few bottles before leaving, but we didn't... The tasting was free, but like the last place, she seemed desperate for us to buy a bottle. Luckily, she was distracted with the other family, and we were able to exit without making excuses. 

Gosh, this is certainly NOT what I had in mind for wine tasting in Tuscany. It's all about selling and making money. When we were in Santa Barbara, the focus was on the wine tasting experience because they understand people came from all over to taste at multiple wineries. You can't expect people to buy from every single winery they visit! We never felt pressured in Santa Barbara. 

I guess next time I would stick to touring the larger, more reputable wineries and avoid the family shops, unless I planned to purchase bottles of wine.

At this point, we were ready to go back. Believe it or not, we weren't even buzzed. The tastings were small, and probably equated to maybe 2 glasses each over many hours. 

The views on the way home to our hotel:

We got back and I began to dread traveling back home. We were in good shape as far as packing, so we relaxed and tried to figure out where to eat. It was around 5pm and nothing was open! We wanted to go back to the pizzeria but we'd have to wait two more hours and I didn't want to eat late the night before traveling home. 

We decided on the restaurant at our hotel. We were the only ones in there eating at that hour, but it was fine.  

My mind was focused on packing for home, so there are no food pics from our last dinner. But in case you care to know, we ate chicken salad, chicken milanese and tortellini with cream sauce. 

After our early dinner, we spent the rest of the night milling around the property, hanging out, and getting organized. We also had to be prepared for our drive to the Rome airport the next morning. Eric worked on reviewing the directions.

The drive to the airport would take at least 3 hours, and our flight was at 3:30pm. We decided to leave the hotel by 8am, because in Italy, you better leave extra time for the unexpected. You never know what could happen here! I wouldn't be surprised if the freeway randomly closed and we had to take back roads the whole way. Nothing would shock me in this country.

All in all, Tuscany was one of the best experiences of my life. I absolutely loved it and like I said before, truly wished we spent the entire two weeks there. One day I'm sure we'll return...but who knows when.

1 comment:

  1. Tuscany was my favorite too. I might have to start liking Wine. It seemed to be a daily staple for you!! LOL. Anyway your pictures were breathtaking and so beautiful. You guys looked great in the photos too. I guess you may become a wine conseuru before long. Food looked pretty amazing too.