Rediscovering Italy, Part 2

Rediscovering Italy, Part 2

Continuing our adventure in Italy’s Veneto region, we boarded our coach with driver Paolo for a three-hour journey to Tuscany and the wonderful Relais & Chateau property Il Borro that would be our home for six days.

Of course, a three-hour drive without food or wine is unthinkable in Italy. So along the way, we stopped at La Casa de Proscuitto in Vicchio for a Sunday family-style lunch complemented by carafes of the local red and white wines that just hit the spot. This small restaurant and deli was overflowing with more 100 people picnicking on the grounds and dining inside the old farmhouse building. Just being part of the action was energizing!

Il Borro has more than 1,000 years of history dating to the Etruscans but the entire property was in ruins when purchased by the Ferragamo family in 1993.

Their vast emotional and financial commitment to the history and beauty of Il Borro shows in every detail of the extensive renovation. They’ve preserved all the native character while adding many modern-day amenities, including the outstanding Osteria del Borro and more casual Tuscan Bistro. We enjoyed wine pairing dinners at both restaurants under the professional eyes of executive chef Andrea Campani and very skilled sommelier Leonardo Lazzerini.

Our first full day at Il Borro featured an extraordinary cooking class with Chef Andrea. After enjoying the four-course lunch we prepared, we toured their centuries-old caves and tasted the wines of Il Borro.

Dinner that night at the Osteria was a four-course masterpiece focused on the wines and cuisine of Tuscany. Each course was accompanied by wines of the region starting with a rare rosé sparkler from the winery of Il Borro followed by two whites (including the classic Vernaccia di San Gimiano), two very different Chianti Classicos, then two very rare “Super Tuscans” (Grattamarcco and Monteverro) from Bulgheri and a marvelous Vin Santo to finish.

Several nights later, we dined at the Bistro with a casual four-course family style meal that was typical of Italy’s more southern regions. As our plan was to enjoy wines from throughout Italy (not just Veneto and Tuscany), this meal profiled wine regions outside Tuscany and to the south including Umbria, Compania, Molise, Sicily, Puligia and others. Another amazing fete accomplished by Chef Andrea and Leonardo.

While in Tuscany, we had two full days of tours and tastings at several stellar wineries. One was a visit to three of the Antinori estates and the other was to the regions of Montalcino and Montepulciano.

Our “Day with Antinori” began at Tenuta Tignanello, one of Tuscany’s true treasures, and ended with a wonderful surprise. Led by our host, Veronica Mazzoni, we observed the majesty of the vineyards where both Tignanello and Solaia (two of Tuscany’s most heralded wines) reside. We then visited the caves and concluded our morning in the beautifully restored estate home with a tasting of both Tignanello and Solaia.

From Tignanello, we travelled to the historic Badia a Passignano to visit the Abbey and caves dating to 395 AD and still inhabited by the Vallombrosian Order. The property has been beautifully restored and preserved by the Antinori family with their personal attention to detail evident around every corner.

Vineyard covered hills of Tuscany,Italy, with San Gimignano in the background.

(iStock.com/Maudib)

Our five-course lunch was at the Antinori’s Michelin starred Osteria di Passignano. Each delectable course was paired with an “all-star” Antinori wine: Badia a Passignano Gran Selezione, Tignanello, Guado al Tasso, Brunello di Montalcino Pian della Vigne and finishing with Solaia.

The afternoon then took us to the Antinori’s salute to Chianti Classico at their newest and by far most modern winery and hospitality center just south of Florence. Our guide Selene led us on extensive tour of this architecturally stunning state-of-the-art facility culminating with a tasting of five more wines from the Antinori Portfolio in the suspended tasting room overlooking the barrel cellar.

And a big surprise awaited as Marchese Piero Antinori joined us to say ‘hello.’ What an honor it was for all of us to spend time with Piero who shared some of his family stories and future dreams. He is a charming gentleman and iconic figure who has given so much in the world of wine.

Our visit to Montalcino included an in-depth tour of the magnificent Col d’Orcia historic estate hosted by marketing director Nicola Giannetti. A tasting of their most prestigious wines paired with a beautiful lunch followed. Col d’Orcia is owned by the Cizano family and is one of the most prestigious estates in this highly respected growing area. It has long been a favorite of mine, and so what a treat it was to enjoy the 2001 Poggio al Vento, their flagship bottling, drinking at its prime.

Nicola then joined us at Poderi Boscarreli in Montepulciano for an extensive vineyard and production tour with winemaker Alessandro capped off with an extensive tasting of their beautiful and classically styled wines.

The 2012 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano stole the show for me. It accented the very different styles produced in Tuscany’s three neighboring areas of Montepulciano (firm harder tannins in its youth), Montalcino (rich breadth and depth on the palate) and Chianti Classico (bright powerful acidity with sharp tannins) even though all are from the sangiovese (from the Latin Sanguis jovis meaning Jupiter’s blood) grape.

We capped off the day with dinner in the historic old town of Montepulciano enjoying the wines of Col d’Orcia kindly provided by Nicola.

But our visit to Tuscany was not only about wine and food even thought it may sound that way. We had a beautiful day-long guided walking tour of Florence’s public market and artisan craft-producing areas offering a different view of this magnificent city.

Our last day in Tuscany was highlighted by a visit to neighboring Umbria for a truffle hunt at Tartufi Bianconi with our “hunting” dog Pippo. With a bag of truffles to show for our efforts, we joined the Bianconi family for a homemade multi-course truffle lunch paired with grechetto, a delicious Umbrian white.

Italy is a remarkable country in so many ways. Its history, people, traditions, geography and of course, world-class wine and cuisine, make our every visit even more special than the last, And it always leaves me yearning for the next. Ciao!

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Allen Balik has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 35 years. Each year, he and his wife, Barbara, produce the Evening Of The Culinary Winemasters event at Warner Bros. Studios, a benefit for Cystic Fibrosis. He regularly appears on CRN Digital Talk Radio's What's Cookin' Today and What's Cookin' on Wine programs.

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