Italian Sideways 2006 – Day 6
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We drive first to Bologna for a business meeting with Roberto Fusaro, marketing manager of the Agenzia per l'Internazionalizzazione del Barese-Ofantino, a small production area in the province of Apulia, then we hit Highway 1 (the Sun Highway) south. It's a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a visit to the Azienda Agricola Buccelletti Vivai - Casali in Val di Chio, wine, olive oil, and grappa producers, in Tuscany.
Following my own advice, we stop for lunch in the first ristorante, called Il Cantuccio di Badicorte Srl, that we find as we exit at Monte San Savino, south of Florence, near Arezzo. The outside is fairly unremarkable, but, as expected, the food and the house wine are both very good and of superior quality.
Among the five of us we order salad, grilled vegetables, zuppa di moscardini (kind of a cioppino with baby octopi), gnocchetti con funghi porcini e tartufo (potato dumplings with porcini mushrooms and truffle shavings), tortelloni al Gorgonzola (stuffed home-made pasta with gorgonzola cheese), mixed seafood grill, mineral water, a beer for Bruce and, of course, a bottle of the €5 (see current value in other currencies) red house wine, which turns out to be fresh, light, and perfect for our lunch.
The bill? A very affordable €62.50 (see current value in other currencies).
After lunch we drive an extra 20 minutes to Santa Cristina, in the municipality of Castiglion Fiorentino, to the Casali in Val di Chio estate where Lidia and Roberta, the two sisters-in-law who manage the wine and oil production and distribution, as well as the agriturismo, graciously welcome us and take us for a tour of the winery and tasting room.
In addition to the red Poventa and Arrone, the white Paggino, the Armense Vinsanto dessert wine and the two Calusa and Fiara grappas that we already know, they have started production of a new label, a Merlot which goes by the fanciful name of Merigge, or "Shady" (as in "in the shade") in local dialect, with reference to the shady spots where the peasants take shelter from the hot sun in summertime, when they take a break from work to have a snack washed down by a glass or two of wine.
Afterwards they lead us to Villa La Guardata (The Looked-at Villa), one of the five ancient restructured casali (country homes) turned self sufficient country inns, with comfortable, large apartment, each featuring a full kitchen. In addition, there are fireplaces and outside barbecues where Signora Rosa, the estate chef, can come by on request and prepare freshly baked bread, pizza, grilled meat or seafood and any kind of delicious local recipes.
The place is gorgeous and Brigit gets into her bikini and hits the swimming pool as soon as we put down our luggage in the comfortable apartments into which the casale is subdivided. Bruce, Jan and John settle down on the ground floor, while Brigit and I take the second floor apartment.
At around 7:30PM, relaxed and cleaned up for the night, we drive back to the reception area and tasting room where a big log is burning in the big fireplace and signora Rosa has prepared a luxurious meal for our benefit.
Bartolomeo and Cesare Buccelletti, two brothers and Lidia's and Roberta's husbands respectively, join their wives in playing host to us. The first bottles of Paggino, the estate produced white wine are opened and we sip it gathered around the fireplace, admiring the precious chestnut woodwork of the ancient window frames, the polished oak which embellishes the wide fire place, and the ancient, perfectly restored walnut table. Here, as at Villa La Guardata and, I suppose, the other four casali apartments, all the furniture generally consists of perfectly restored original antiques.
We sit down to the inviting table and are served individual antipasto plates including one bruschetta, one delicious rucola pesto crostino garnished with pine nuts, one herb cheese crostino, one generous slice of pecorino sardo (Sardinian sheep cheese) with honey, one slice of percorino siciliano (Sicilian sheep cheese) with orange marmalade and one of pecorino di fossa (Tuscan sheep cheese aged underground) with cooked wine mustard. The antipasto is completed with a carpaccio di funghi (marinated mushrooms topped with Parmesan cheese shavings), baskets of home baked bread rolls and buns, as well as serving plates filled with prosciutto, salami and finocchiona, a typical Tuscan salami seasoned with anise seeds.
Honestly, this could be a full meal for all of us, but the 2003 Poventa Valdichiana DOC, made with 70% Sangiovese grapes and 30% Sirah and Merlot, washes everything down and cleanses the mouth, preparing us for the primo piatto (pasta), a square of delicious lasagne alle melanzane (eggplant lasagna), which is then followed by the secondo piatto (main entree) consisting of fagioli con salsiccia all'uccelletta (stewed sausage served with canellini beans) and a delicate tortino di zucchini (zucchini quiche). The new Merigge wine, an IGT Toscana Merlot is served with the main entree and wins over Jan and Bruce on the spot, who decide after the first glass that they must have a couple of cases of it back in Arizona.
Two salads, insalata di misticanza con noci formaggio e pomodorini (fresh mixed herb salad with walnuts, cheese and cherry tomatoes) and insalata di spinaci e fragole (baby spinach salad with stawberries help us clean the palate for the torta di cioccolato con noci e mandorle (chocolate, almond and wallnut cake) dessert accompanied by the Fiara liquor, made by distilling Vinsanto, from which it retains a pleasant perfume.
By the time we head back to La Guardata it's way past midnight. We are so grateful for the delicious, abundant food, the quality wines paired perfectly with the courses, and the warmth with which the whole family has welcomed us that we cannot express it in words.
I climb into bed and slide into a satisfied, refreshing sleep cocooned in the quiet stillness of the Tuscan country night.