A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 497: Umbria & Tuscany

Monday, May 19: Annabel and Ian came in from Vancouver with baby Declan. My sister Shirley had given me a birthday present of a family portrait taken by Hudson Taylor, who had agreed to shoot on this holiday Monday. We all went down to his studio on Birch Avenue, dressed alike in white shirts and dark jeans. After the shoot we went to Rosedale Diner for lunch. Spent the evening sorting clothes for the wine tour of Umbria and Tuscany that begins on Tuesday night.

Tuesday, May 20: Deborah drove Pinot up to Innisfil where she will spend twelve days with our dog sitter, Valerie. When Deborah drove back there was already a photo sent by email of Pinot swimming in the lake. A busy day, wrapping up loose ends before leaving for the 10:25 pm Alitalia flight to Rome. Wrote thank-you notes to the wineries who donated wines to the Grapes for Humanity “Chile Uncorked” event and to the sponsors.

Guy dropped Deborah and me at the airport. We reunited with several members of our group (we will be 25 in all; some are joining us at Rome airport or at Le Tre Vaselle in the village of Torgiano (4,000 inhabitants), a hotel I stayed at years ago when I used to judge at the annual Banco d’Assagio wine competition.) On the flight, our seats were side-by-side in the middle of the Airbus 330. On my right was a woman whose baby began screaming the moment we sat down. Mercifully, a steward suggested that they move to a couple of empty seats in a row on front by the window. A dinner of pasta with a red wine of dubious provenance and flavour.

Wednesday, May 21: Arrived in Rome at 1:07 pm local time and once we had got through immigration and gathered our luggage, we headed for our bus for the 2-hour drive to Torgiano. The hotel used to be a monastery in the eighteenth century. A welcome reception on the terrace with prosciutto and ham and a variety of cheeses served with Lungarotti Brut Millesimato Sparkling Wine. Perfect in the hot summer sun under canvas umbrellas.

Teresa Lungarotti with sparkling wine

In the evening Teresa Lungarotti joined the group in the bar for a glass of Lungarotti Rosé Brut. I hadn’t seen Teresa for nearly 20 years. (When I was editing Wine Tidings magazine I had her photographed while extremely pregnant with her third child, sitting on a barrel in her Torgiano cellar!) Dinner in the hotel dining room – a great menu.

Cooked and raw asparagus in a Bavarian of peas, puffed rice, broad beans and pecorino cheese, dressed with Lungarotti balsamic condiment

Cappelletti pasta stuffed with Chianina veal and Rubesco red wine sauce

Suckling pig filled with spinach on a Norcia black truffle omelette, glazed shallots

Spoleto crescionda with vanilla sauce

Coffee and French pastries

The wines: Lungarotti Torre di Giano Vigna il Pino 2010; Rubesco Vigna Monticchio 2007, Vin Santo 2010.

Chocolate desserts, Perugia

Thursday, May 22: After breakfast our group headed for Perugia on the bus for a walking tour led by a guide. We took a series of four escalators to reach the top of the hill (Perugia was built on two hills). We found ourselves at the walls of a fortress built by Pope Paul II following a war against the local inhabitants, who rose up against him because of the imposition of a tax on salt. The Pope won the war and in 1540 he had 300 houses destroyed to make way for the fortress in retaliation for the uprising against him. Today Perugia, a university town, has 160,000 inhabitants and Italy’s most perfectly preserved medieval square, dominated by the Cathedral of St. Lorenzo and housing since 1442 a dubious relic – Mary’s wedding ring.


Seven of us lunched at Taverna La Gabbia on pizzas and salads with a bottle of Lungarotti Cadetto Bianco 2012 and Lungarotti Montefalco Rosso 2009. Back to the hotel before a trip to the Lungarotti winery for a tour and tasting. Lungarotti was founded in 1962 by the late Giorgio Lungarotti. They own 230 hectares of vines here and a further 20 ha in Monteflaco, where they have another winery. After touring the winery and sparkling wine facility, we sat down for a tasting and dinner served with local specialties.

  • Lugarotti Torre di Giano 2013: straw colour with a lime tint; minerally, stony, white peach and green apple nose with a light floral note; medium-bodied, crisply dry with apricot and lemon flavours. (88)
  • Lungarotti Rubesco 2010: ruby-purple colour; spicy, tobacco, pepper, dark chocolate nose; a taste of wet earthy, licorice and plums with lively acidity. (88)
  • Lungarotti Sagrantino di Montefalco 2009: dense purple colour; floral, plum and black cherry nose with spicy notes; firmly structured, full-bodied chocolate, black fruits and lilac flavours. Tannins are tamer than expected from this rustic grape. (89+)
  • Lungarotti Dulcis Vino Liquoroso: deep amber colour; full-bodied, semi-sweet, nutty, raisiny flavour. (88)

Wild boar appetizer at Lungarotti

We were not told the menu and thought that the antipasti was the meal so we loaded up on prosciutto, eggs scrambled with vegetables, bread salad, mushroom tapenade, liver pate and Easter bread with two different Lungarotti olive oils. Then came the risotto made with Rubesco and then gnocchi, followed by pork and four different torte desserts!

Friday, May 23: After breakfast the us took us to Assisi to visit the Basilica of San Francesco with amazing frescoes by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti – 12,000 square metres in all. We were guided by Father Ronaldo, recently returned from Zambia, who, in spite of his vow of poverty, was wearing an expensive shirt under his robes and expensive shoes. He explained that the basilica ordered by Pope Gregory IX was built (in 1228) on what was known as the “Hill of Hell” – a place where the executions of criminals and prostitutes were carried out. It was renamed the “Hill of Paradise” when it became St. Francis’s burial place. For 800 years the saint’s remains lay buried three metres unnder the rock before being dug up in 1860 and put a chapel dedicated as his shrine.

Basilica, Assisi

Steve Pauwels and friend

Giotto’s frescoes tell the story of the life of St. Francis and his unflattering portrait of the saint in the lower church shows him as a short man (1.6 metres tall), with protruding ears, cross-eyed with skin darkened by TB, malaria as well as other ailments such as glaucoma and gastric problems. The saint prayed to God to suffer the pain of the crucified Jesus and was rewarded with stigmata. Father Ronaldo asked me, a nice Jewish boy, the meaning of the three knots on his rope belt. I knew they had something to do with his vows as a Franciscan but couldn’t name them as poverty, chastity and obedience. He added, “Sometimes we need to add a fourth knot – patience.”

After touring the upper church with its beautifully preserved 28 “stories” of the life of St. Francis, we walked up the steep cobbled streets to the main square. Then to the nearby hilltop town of Spello, where we had a tasting and lunch at Enoteca Properzio (www.enoteche.it). Billed as “the best wine store in Umbria,” it boasts 2200 wines, run over the years by eight generations of the Angelini family wine merchants. They have an amazing collection of the world’s great wines, not only Italian icons but DRC, Krug, Mouton-Rothschild, Petrus, Le Pin, Yquem, you name it. Roberto Angelini and his son Luca, super salesmen, conducted a tasting with lunch in a private room above the wine store. Karleen said they should be on the shopping channel.

Roberto & Luca outside their wine shop

  • Tili Grechetto 2012: straw colour; minerally, citrus and white pepper nose; medium-bodied, crisply dry and fresh; elegant with a light floral flourish on the finish. (89)
  • With this wine were served two different olive oils on grilled bread, followed by bruschetta.
  • Arnoldo Caprai “The Outsider” Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010: dense purple-ruby colour; cedar, red berry fruits and blackcurrant on the nose with vanilla oak notes; rich and full on the palate with a tarry note – New World in style with grainy tannins. Needs time (89–91)
  • Two different homemade pastas – one with black truffles and one with tomato sauce.
  • Arnoldo Caprai Sagrantino de Montefalco Riserva 2009: dense ruby colour; savoury, cherry and blackberry nose with earthy, chocolate notes; thick on the palate with dry black fruit flavours and a tarry nuance backed by lively acidity and a note of rose petals. (90)
  • Next, a meaty, bean and vegetable soup.
  • Tili Rosso Assisi Sangiovese 1997: dense ruby with a tawny rim; barnyard nose, balsamic, leather with a spicy note; elegant but possibly going through a dumb phase, as the length seemed truncated. (88)
  • Garbole Valpolicella 2007 (apparently there are only 500 bottles of this wine): dense ruby colour; spicy black cherry nose with vanilla oak; medium-bodied, beautifully balanced, seamless and elegant with a dry, cherry flavour. (91)
  • Tomato and lamb’s leaf salad.
  • Kurni Montepulciano 2011: dense purple colour; sweet, black cherry and banana nose; soft mouth-feel, velvety, fruit-driven and plush but simple. (88)
  • Dessert: fresh cherries with Rubacuori Uve Passito dessert wine: sweetish, black cherry and date flavour. (88)

Roberto instructs Maureen & Bob in how to taste wine

Purchased a bottle of The Outsider from the shop downstairs before mounting the bus back to Torgiano. Dropped into Lungarotti’s store to buy a bottle of their rosé sparkling wine and their DOP olive oil.

Dinner in the Melogrande restaurant with Steven, Cathy, Gordon and Esther. Deborah and I shared a scallop dish with a bottle of Lungarotti Torre di Giano Vigna il Pino 2010. I ordered a pasta dish stuffed with veal and truffles with a bottle of Lungarotti Giubilante Syrah 2010.

Cathy with truffles

Boys will be boys

Saturday, May 24: Packed our bags and bussed to Avignonesi. We arrived early but the chef prepared coffee and then deep-fried zucchini flowers with anchovy and molten chocolate cakes, plus Prosecco and a sparkling rosé, while we waited for our tour guide Valentina to arrive. She showed us the experimental vineyard planted in a circle with different spacings. The winery, 500 acres in all, has vineyards in the Montepulciano appellation (Sangiovese) and in the Cortona appellation (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay), which are separated by a road that leads up to the property through a long avenue of cypresses.

Barrel stave sculpture at Avignonesi

We then toured the 1882 cellars ending with the modern vin santo cellar. The wines here are aged for ten years in caratelli – one white, one red. From vine to glass it takes 15 years. They lose 6% of the wine a year through evaporation. Then lunch.

Chef’s welcome: a pot of chick peas and green pepper with cumin decorated with a fennel frond, with Avignonesi Chardonnay Cortona 2003

Homemade tagliatelle with Cinta Senese pork sauce, pink pepper and julienne courgettes, with Avignonesi Griffi Toscana 2010 and Desidero Merlot Cortona 2010

Balsamic vinegar braised Chianina cheek on a puree of leeks with creamy potatoes, with Avignonesi Grandi Annate Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007 and 50&50 Toscana IGT 2005 (Merlot, Sangiovese)

Cheeses from Siena, or Provocation: intriguing Vin Santo pairings by the chef, or White chocolate parfait with citrus apple, served with Avignonesi Vin Santo Montepulciano 1999 or Avignonesi Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo di Montepulciano 1999

Coffee with Grappa di Vino Nobile or Grappa Riserva di Vin Santo.

Cheese plate at Avignonesi

Then a drive of about an hour to Borgo San Felice, where we checked into our rooms. Deborah and I had spent two days in the guest house on the property in 1997 on our honeymoon. We dined al fresco on the terrace. Tomato and bread soup followed by Tuscan steak, beans, grilled vegetables and fries, with San Felice Chianti Classico 2011 and grappa.

The Palazzo at Borgo San Felice

Sunday, May 25: After breakfast on the terrace we took the bus to Castello di Volpaia, reputedly the highest village in the Chianti Classico region. Deborah and I spent a weekend here during our 1997 honeymoon. Giovana Mascheroni Stianti (whom we met on that trip) showed our group around the beautiful walled hamlet that she owns (population: 52).

Giovanna Mascheroni Stianti at Volpaia

Giovanna’s dog, Spiga

The logo of the winery is a fox (volpe) climbing a stylized mountain. We toured the olive oil production house and the winery, which is located in several buildings around the village connected by the pipes under the streets. We settled down in the restaurant`s outdoor terrace for lunch and a tasting.

  • Castello di Volpaia Prelius Vermentino 2013 (from Maremma): pale straw in colour with an onionskin note; fresh and lively with a pear and citrus flavour (89). We drank this with a delightful salad of cerino cheese, sliced pear and arugula. This was followed by penne with zucchini and ricotta sauce.
  • Castello di Volpaia Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: deep ruby colour; a nose of chocolate and tobacco and vanilla oak; New World style, soft on the palate with black fruit flavours. (88)
  • Next dish, pork with a sweet fig sauce, served by Olympia, a young woman who was born on the Isle of Man and spoke with an English accent tempered with Italian word endings.
  • Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2011 (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and Sangiovese – the last year the winery will have Syrah planted because of global warming): deep ruby colour; delightful cherry nose with a floral note; medium-bodied, dry, elegant and easy drinking. Great good wine. (90)
  • Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva Coltassala 2010 (Sangiovese with 5% Mammolo): deep ruby colour; savoury, balsamic, leather, cherry and herbs on the nose; dry, elegant cherry and plum flavours with ripe tannins. (91)
  • Castello di Volpaia Balifico 2009 (65% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon): deep ruby colour; cedar, rose petal , vanilla oak and lead pencil nose; medium-bodied, succulent, rich red fruit flavours, full on the palate with a firm finish. (91)
  • Dessert: panacotta with salted caramel, with Castello di Volpaia Vin Santo 2008: amber colour; off-dry, nutty, dried fig and peach flavours; well balanced with great length. (91)

Drove back to the hotel, checking out a restaurant on the way called La Bottega del 30 in Castelnuovo Beredenga where we might possibly dine at tomorrow. It has one Michelin star. At 8 o’clock the group assembled on the terrace for a sparkling wine reception (Bellenda San Fermo Prosecco) with apps. The guest of honour was Allegra Antinori, who had graciously supplied Tignanello 2010 for the dinner in the hotel’s Poggio Rosso restaurant. Allegra was accompanied by her boyfriend Maurizio, whose family owns a 300 ha wheat farm and a tuna farm in Sicily. The dinner started with a Red Onion flan with pecorino cheese, served with San Felice Ancherona Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc 2012, followed by pasta with smoked mackerel and then sliced steak with grilled vegetables (with the Tignanello). Dessert with San Felice in Pincis Vin Santo 2003.

Tignanello 2010

Allegra Antinori

Monday, May 26: After breakfast we drove into Siena for a guided tour of the city. Steve had instructed our guide not to visit churches but to concentrate on the food culture of Siena since this is a food and wine tour. She took us straight to the Basilica di San Domenica to see the relics of Saint Caterina – her skull covered with clay and her thumb. After touring the city of 60,000 inhabitants, which had swelled to double the size with the tourists, a few of us sat down for a glass of Castello di Meleto Vermentino 2013 in Piazza il Campo with its 102-metre bell tower while the ladies took off to shop.

Siena’s main square

After walking around Siena for an hour or so, eight of us congregated at a restaurant called Osteria Le Logge for lunch, where we consumed three bottles of Salustri Vermentino “Nara” 2012. I ordered a parmesan flan with vegetables and duck breast with cinnamon pears. After lunch we went for a gelato next to a store called Dolce Siena that sells typical Sienese desserts to purchase some gifts.

The neighbourhood flags of Siena

Then back to Borgo San Felice for a rest before a tasting of San Felice wines in the winery’s cellar.

  • San Felice Il Grigio Gran Selezione 2010 (magnum): ruby colour; dry, firmly structured, sour cherry flavour with a herbal note; terroir-driven with gritty tannins. (88)
  • San Felice Poggio Rosso 2010 (magnum): dry, earthy, cherry, good mouth feel; very young. (88)
  • San Felice Pugnitello 2008 (magnum): dry, woody, cranberry flavour with a rose petal note; firm and tannic. (87–89)
  • San Felice Pugnitello 2010 (magnum) (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon , Petit Verdot): red berry fruit with an evident oak note. (90)
  • San Felice Campogiovanni Il Quercione 2008 Brunello di Montalcina Riserva 2008 (magnum): rich, cherry and bitter chocolate flavours; full on the palate, still tight but well balanced. (92)

Outside La Bottega del 30, Castelnuovo Beredenga

Dinner at La Bottega del 30, run by a Parisian chef named Hélène. Fantastic meal. We started with Col Vetoroz Prosecco Extra Dry with an amuse-gueule of chicken liver pate in a cornette. I ordered two bottles of Dei Bussona Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Rieserva 2007 for an amazing dish of ravioli ricotta with black truffles, with a molten egg yolk inside. With the main course of pork with crackling and celeriac puree, a magnum of Catell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva 2006. For dessert, floureless chocolate cake, salted caramel and pistachios with sorbet of strawberries with strawberry puree and diced strawberries. Finished with a grappa from Trentino Alto Adige. Our group of 13 were ferried back to the hotel in three shifts.

Castello Banfi

Tuesday, May 27: To Banfi’s estate purchased by the Mariani brothers, John and Harry, in 1978. Now 2800 hectares, a third of which are under vines. The last time I was here in the mid-1980s I saw the estate from a helicopter. The photo of the castello I took from the air was published on the cover of Wine Tidings. The winery, which produces 11 million bottles, is huge, packed with the most modern equipment, including fermentation tanks that are part temperature-controlled stainless steel with a middle section of oak (that has to be changed every seven years). Very Californian in concept and style. The winery’s general manager, Enrico Viglierchio, led us through a beautifully organized tasting.

  • Banfi La Pettegola Vermentino 2013 (first vintage 2012): pale straw colour; pear, marshmallow and citrus nose with a mineral note; fresh and lively on the palate, medium-bodied, pear and apple flavours. (89)
  • Banfi La Lus Albarossa 2010 (Monferrato – a rare crossing of Barbera and Nebbiolo): dense purple colour that stains the glass; black cherry and plum jam nose with red licorice, leather and cedar notes; dry, medium-bodied, dry, creamy cherry flavour, lively acidity with ripe tannins. (88+)
  • Banfi Aska 2012 (Bolgheri – Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc): deep purple colour; spicy, fruitcake nose; creamy blackcurrant, redcurrant and cherry flavours with a strong spine of acidity. (89)
  • Banfi Poggio alle Mura Rosso di Montalcino 2012 (100% Sangiovese): ruby colour; a nose of leather, cherries, white pepper with a dusty note; dry and savoury with cherry and cherry pit flavours; firmly structured. (88)
  • Banfi Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2009 (100% Sangiovese): ruby colour with a tawny rim; a nose of leather, soy and cherries with a woodsy note; dry, austere and firm. Still tight and tannic. Needs 2–3 years. (89–91)
  • Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino 2009 (100% Sangiovese): ruby-purple colour; spicy, cedar and cherry nose; dry, elegant, beautifully balanced but needs time. (91)
  • Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2007 (100% Sangiovese): ruby colour with a brick rim; vanilla, plum and licorice nose; ripe and rich, full on the palate, dry and savoury with a lovely mouth-feel. (93)
  • Banfi Belnero 2011 (70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot): deep purple colour; vanilla oak, floral, blackcurrant and plum nose; rich mid-palate fruit, well integrated oak with ripe tannins. (91)
  • Banfi Summus 2010 (40% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah): dense purple colour; spicy, new oak,, blackcurrant and white pepper nose; sweet fruit with a lively spine of acidity; well integrated oak. (91)
  • Banfi Excelsus 2010 (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple colour; cedar, spicy oak, fruit cake bouquet; full-bodied, well-extracted sweet fruit; firmly structured and still tight at the moment. Worth cellaring for 2–3 years. (92)

After the tasting, a lunch in Castello Banfi’s La Taverna:

Veal and vegetables parcel with saffron sauce, served with Banfi Tavernelle Chardonnay 2007 (showing some age – 88)

Home-made pinci with wild boar ragout and porcini mushrooms, with Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2001 (exquisite and ready – 94)

Slices of beef with rocket salad, sheep cheese and roasted potatoes, Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino 1998 (showing its age but still drinkable – 89)

Senese pine nut cake with Florus sauce, with Banfi Florus Moscadello di Montalcino Late Harvest 2011, which for some reason I did not get to taste (I was off buying wine)

After lunch we bussed back through Montalcino to visit Biondi Santi at Tenuta Greppo, a real contrast in style and ambiance since Biondi Santi invented Brunello and has been making the wine since 1888. They have bottles of that vintage in their cellar.

  • Biondi Santi Rosso di Montalcino 2010: ruby colour; sour cherry nose; firmly structured, lean and sinewy with lively acidity; still tight, Needs five years at least. (89)
  • Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2007 Annata: ruby colour; cherry with dried rose petals; beautifully balanced, elegant with a lovely mouth fel. Hold ten years. (92–94)
  • Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1997: deep ruby and still holding colour; barnyard nose with cherry and dried rose petal notes; majestic, dry, elegant and beautifully balanced. (94)
  • Biondi Santi Castello di Montepò Sassoarollo 2010 (Toscana Rosso): deep ruby colour; blackcurrant, orange peel nose with an earthy note; richly extracted with a sweet mid-palate enlivened with a floral note. Firmly structured and quite forward. (91)

Back to the hotel for a light dinner in the restaurant – a plate of pasta and grilled vegetables with a glass of San Felice Chianti Il Grigio 2010 (Deborah) and San Felice Vermentino 2012 (me). Packed our cases ready to leave tomorrow at 9 am.

Antipasti at Guado al Tasso

Wednesday, May 28: After breakfast we mounted the bus to drive to Bolgheri to have a lunch tasting at Antinori’s Guado Al Tasso estate. The vineyards are beautifully manicured here. Our guide Luisa showed us the cellars and then we sat down to lunch in the garden beginning with glasses of a superb rosé, Guado Al Tasso Scalabrone Rosato 2013 (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Syrah). Lovely redcurrant flavour, fresh and lively, beautifully balanced. A pleasure to drink on a hot day (89). We drank the rosé with bruschetta, salumi and pancetta.

Next Guado Al Tasso Vermentino 2013 (87) with pasta with peas, tomatoes and carrot, followed by roast pork and chicken with green beans, carrots and sautéed potatoes accompanied by Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2012 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 15% Syrah): dense purple colour; cedar and blackcurrant on the nose with a herbal note; creamy, black fruit flavours in New World style. Full-bodied, well balanced, ripe and forward, easy drinking (89).

Finally, the wine we’d all been waiting for: Guado Al Tasso 2010 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc): deep ruby colour; creamy blackcurrant and vanilla oak nose; great intensity of flavour – cassis and dark chocolate beautifully balanced and forward, billows on the palate with finely etched tannins (93). For dessert, a brochette of fresh fruits. Before boarding the bus to our hotel L’Andana in Castiglione della Pescaia I bought a bottle of the rosé.

Guado Al Tasso 2010

Dined in the hotel’s restaurant. Seafood risotto, roast chicken and pureed potatoes, followed by tiramisu (beautifully presented in a pot covered with a disk of dark chocolate supporting a small cone of vanilla ice cream). A glass of Acquagiusta Vermentino 2013 and Acquagiusta Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2010 (from the winery on the property).

Lighthouse at Castiglione della Pescaia

Thursday, May 29: Today we were scheduled to take the ferry to Elba but it meant arriving at the ferry ninety minutes before departure at 9 am to register the bus. So instead we decided to visit Antinori’s estate Le Mortelle, not far from our hotel in Castiglione della Pescaia. Antinori purchased the property in 1999. I said to our guide Irene Burberi that we had visited many wineries and knew how wine is made so maybe she could cut the winery tour short. She said, “You’ll want to see this winery.” And how right she was. It’s spectacular – a contemporary cathedral to Dionysus. Designed in a circle, cut into the rock, it has a central circular staircase leading down to the barrel room past fermentation tanks that are suspended above the floor so that they can be emptied of pomace from below. In the barrel room is a glassed-in dining room where you can have dinner for up to 12 people. The whole operation – from delivery of the grapes to the filling of barrels – is so mechanized that the cellar can be operated by two people. We tasted the three wines they currently make here while snacking on warm asparagus mash on crostini, cheese and a bowl of fresh fruit.

  • Le Mortelle Vivia 2013 (a blend of Vermentino, Viognier and Ansonica): pale straw colour with an aromatic, floral nose of peach; medium-bodied, fresh and elegant with a white peach flavour. (89+)
  • Le Mortelle Botrosecco 2011 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc): deep ruby colour; high toned, cedar, vanilla oak and spicy blackcurrant nose; blackcurrant, plum and prune flavour, medium-bodied, sweet fruit. (89
  • Le Mortelle Poggio Alle Nana 2009 (first vintage: 60% Cabernet Franc, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon): deep ruby colour; a nose of vanilla oak, cedar, tobacco and blackcurrant with a floral top note; beautifully balanced and firm in contemporary Bordelais style with rich blackcurrant flavour. (92)

After the tasting the group took the bus to the town of Castiglione della Pescaia for lunch. We walked along the beach to a restaurant called Skipper Beach Club. I ordered spaghetti vongole (with “genuine clams”) and a bottle of Le Mortelle Vivia 2013. Back at the hotel, Deborah and I took a walk to see the famous long-horned Maremmana cattle that go back to the Etruscan era.

Long-horned Maremmana cattle

Dinner in a private room at the L’Andana preceded by drinks under a covered terrace. Andane Sparkling Alicant and Contadi Castaldi Brut with appetizers. Dunner: Courgette soup, ricotta cheese and sausage or Fresh garden salad; Green pea risotto, cuttlefish and mint; Roasted veal, vegetables and cooking jus or Andana style fish soup; Cherry soup, pistachio ice cream, served with Bellavista Almaterra 2012, Petra Val di Cornia ebo 2011 and a magnum of Avignonesi Grifi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 1994 (thanks to Steve). Harald and Annie, who have to leave the group tomorrow morning, said goodbye with a round of grappa.

Friday, May 30: This morning we drove to Bolgheri for a tour and tasting at Ornellaia. Leading up to the town of Bolgheri is a 4.5-kilometre avenue lined on both sides by 2,540 cypress trees planted by Count Guido Alberto (memorialized by Sassicaia’s wine of that name) in 1840. Ricardo, our guide, pointed out the “mosaic of different soils” on the property that slopes down to the sea. Vines, said Ricardo, “live the life of a rock star.” By which I think he meant short and dramatic. Each vintage of Ornellaia is described in a single word, which is celebrated by an artist: 2006 –Exuberance, 2007 – Harmony, 2008 – Energy, 2009 – Equilibrium, 2010 – Celebration (Ornellaia’s 25th anniversary), 2011 – Infinity. The Infinity was designed by the Canadian poet Rodney Graham, whose poems grace the bottle. Ornellaia produces about 500 barrels and 100 barrels of Masseto (Merlot).

Ornellaia 20th anniversary bottling

  • Ornellaia Le Volte 2012 (50% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon): deep purple ruby colour; red fruit nose tinged with oak with a floral top note; medium-bodied, dry, cherry flavour with cherry pit finish. (88+)
  • Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove 2011 (50% Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc): dense purple-ruby colour; cedar, tobacco, vanilla oak, black fruits on the nose; richly extracted flavours of dark chocolate and plum; dry, savoury and firm with a balsamic note on the finish. (90)
  • Ornellaia 2011 (56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc): dense purple-ruby colour; cedar, tobacco, vanilla oak, plum and blackcurrant nose; rich and velvety on the palate, dry and savoury with a dark chocolate finish. Hold 3–4 years. (92–94)
  • Ornellaia 2005 (magnum): dense purple colour; cedar, blackcurrant and black olive nose with a salty note; intense blackcurrant and dark chocolate flavour; firmly structured and youthful with ripe tannins. I got a scent of oyster shell, the same aroma I get from Haut Brion. (94)

Lunch in a fish restaurant on the beach called La Pineta. From the outside it looks like a big shack but the food is amazing. We thought we were seeing double when confronted by two identical waiters in striped bow ties. They turned out to be twins.

Twin waiters at La Pineta

Started with a glass of Tenuta il Bosco Phileo Brut served with a paper cone filled with deep-fried shrimps. This was followed by a plate of raw fish – shrimp, tuna, bonito and mackerel, served with Donnaolimpia Vermentino 2013 that kept on coming. Next, steamed shrimp with a monk fish slider, then cut pasta with red snapper, followed by spaghetti n squid ink with calamari. Sage and garlic, with Conte Attems Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Then red snapper baked in salt. Dessert – millefeuille.

Raw fish at La Pineta

Our final stop was Sassicaia, where we had a short tour and then a tasting:

  • Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2012 (40% Merlot, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon –some aged in American oak): deep ruby colour; dry, plum and redcurrant nose; firmly structured, beautifully balanced but tight and closed. The fine spine of acidity augurs swell for the future. (89+)
  • Sassicaia 2011 (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc): deep ruby colour; a nose of cedar, tobacco, spicy oak, blackcurrant with hints of tar, salt and a floral grace note. Medium- to full-bodied but still tight. With fresh acidity. Needs several years to soften the gripping tannins. (92–94)

Spittoon at Sassicaia (unused)

Back to the hotel, where we gathered on the terrace, each bringing along bottles of wine accumulated during the tour we didn’t want to carry home. Those we didn’t open we gave to the hotel staff.

Saturday, May 31: Packed our bags and headed to the airport in Rome. Had to pay 75 euros because one of our bags was overweight.


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