Logistical complications dictated we had to take a wine tasting tour of three famous Tuscan towns, otherwise we would have missed them. Doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend the day, right?
The weather was gorgeous when we left Siena and headed first for Montalcino. A tiny hill town once tossed back and forth between the larger powers of Siena and Florence, its modern claim to fame is Brunello wine, considered the best in Italy. We had a little time to wander and soak in the views before visiting a winery. The town was tiny and very wine-touristy, but there seems to be a streak of whimsy at work in the town park.
We were greeted at the nearby Abbadia Ardenza winery by its owner, who was straight out of central casting. His age gave him licence to squeeze the pretty ladies, probably a habit after years of pinching grapes. The grapes used for Brunello wine, btw, are the same as those that produce Chianti, but Brunello wine is aged a minimum of five years. Good to know; good to drink.
When we left the winery, it was rainy, and storm clouds were definitely gathered on one half of the vista before us. No problem, we thought. We must be headed into the sunshine, based on all weather reports of the morning. So we moved on to the storybook town of Pienza, eager to see this famous Renaissance town. Hometown boy Pope Pius II of the Piccolomini family had it rebuilt in the early days of the Renaissance to make the town less medieval-gloomy, and also to put his own big papal fingerprint on it. It is even named for him, and specializes in tourists and Peccorino cheese.
Charming town – everything you demand from a Tuscan tourist site. But those rain clouds kept intruding, alternating with sunshine.
So we moved on to our third stop, Montepulciano, that surely was meant to be the pinnacle of our Tuscan hill town tour. And that was when the heavens really opened up. We managed to get to Piazza Grande while we were still merely damp, but shortly we were half-drenched. Fortunately, the square’s souvenir shop sold rain ponchos, for which we gladly shelled out €1.50 each. What priceless purchases! After wearing those, only our feet and hands were freezing cold and wet. So, regretably, our hour in Montepulciano ended in a café, with a pot of hot tea.
And then – with damp enthusiasm – our group met at the Crociani winery for our second tasting, this time featuring the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano red wine. I’m sure it’s really special. I just kept wishing it were hot chocolate.
The real rains came as we ran a bit of a distance involving a long staircase to our bus. So amusing to note that the torrents relented once we were inside the bus, and a lovely rainbow came out to thank us for visiting.
It was a long ride home with wet feet. Made us remember why we don’t go on tours. But there was some congenial company and we did get to see some lovely towns when they were free of tourists wandering the streets.
Don’s Food Corner
In keeping with our whirlwind tour of three towns, we stuck with the three cornerstone “P’s” of Italian cuisine: Panini, pizza and pasta.
In the late morning we were able to sneak in half of a panino each at a lovely cafe in Montalcino. Prosciutto and a thick slice of soft cheese like mozzarella that wasn’t mozzarella because it had a sharper taste.
In Pienza we grabbed a slice of pizza, which was actually pretty good. And, yes, they do sell pizza by the slice in Italy.
In Montepulciano we just wanted to be warm — tea for Jo, cafe for me. (I’m really getting into those one-euro cafes. One shot of pure caffeine, which is always served in a little china cup. Starbucks should be ashamed of themselves for wasting all those paper cups and charging outrageous prices. But we hear Starbucks is opening a store in Milan so maybe the Italians will switch over.)
When we finally got back to Siena — where it did not rain a bit all day — we needed comfort food. Jo had lasagna; I had tortellini with ragu. Not the best versions we’ve had. Neither dish featured homemade pasta. But the food was hot, fast and cheap. Just what the doctor ordered.