Travel Journal

Italy Road Trip, 11/24-12/1: Montalcino

(Friday 3 December 2010) by Joanne Chang
***Warning -- there's a lot of wine talk in Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano; if you're not interested, skip the italicized parts or you'll be bored to death***

***Montalcino, 11/28-11/30***
It feels awesome to drive around Italy and do this. Such a gift to myself. I feel infinitely lucky to have the courage and funds to accomplish this. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It would be fun to do with someone but alone is pretty amazing. Driving makes me feel strong, capable, free. Alive.

My plan had been to drive north to San Miniato on 11/28 to attend the truffle festival, then south to Montalcino for the night, but it's raining. Aside from that, I have no desire to complicate things and chilling today in Montalcino sounds great. I get there at lunchtime and unintentionally choose one of the nicer (ie, pricier) restaurants with an extensive wine shop (the draw).
I didn't want or expect it to be so fancy, but once you're sitting down, gawking at the prices, it's too late to leave. Instead I treat myself to a glass of 2004 Brunello and a steak, perfect for a rainy day, and the cover is 3.50 euro but I'm overlooking the town below so it's kinda sorta worth it. I continue the splurge at Enoteca Fortezza wine shop in the castle, and try three of their top Brunellos -- Salicutti 2004, Siro Pacenti 2004, and Soldera Riserva 2002. The Soldera is 169 euros a bottle -- ridiculous, but not compared to the 1997 which is 450 euros. The bottles are sitting casually on a shelf next to all the other wines, seems they should be locked in a glass case, no? Tasting these wines (the other two are in the 75 euro range) I decide I don't prefer them to Brunellos in the "normal" 35-45 euro range, still pricey considering I loved that 12 euro bottle of Chianti at San Giusto. It's an interesting experiment though, and the wines are very different from each other, good examples of how Brunello even given its strict rules can be made into such different wines.

Later at the B&B: I love my room at Villa Le Prata. I love the woman who owns this place, who without me having to ask made me dinner and delivered it to my room. A big bowl of orchiette pasta with broccoli and cheese (YUM, how do they make it taste so good?), a platter of prosciutto with bread, and chocolate mousse and cream. And a glass of their Rosso di Montalcino, following the 2004 Brunello she poured me when I got here. And I was going to eat a green apple for dinner. She's awesome, this place is awesome, it's even good that there's no internet working so I'm not tempted to do anything but enjoy being here. The Rosso seems bigger than the Brunello, it's rich and chocolatey, I wonder if that's because it's young? I can hear her downstairs playing cards with her friends. I am literally living in her house and she's cooking for me and I'm drinking the wine they make on this estate. Lovely! I love this adventure I'm having, wine and villages and Italy and Jo. I don't know what more I could ask for. xoxo

On 11/29 I visit Altesino winery and meet Stine, a Danish girl who gives me the tour and tasting. I am, again, the only one there and end up staying all afternoon, tasting slowly and talking with her for almost 4 hours! She's 21 years old, has been living in Montalcino for 8 months working and learning Italian. Tomorrow is her last day and she drives to Rome on Wed (coincidence!), then goes home for Christmas (coincidence!). In February she goes to Vietnam to volunteer at an orphanage for two months, then back to Denmark for university. I admire her, at 21. It makes me realize even more that we are all just souls, age means nothing, our time on earth extends experience but does not frame who we are, how we connect with the world, our ambitions and perspectives. She is 21 and despite her youthful appearance would pass for 30. Reminds me of me, I guess, but not any more (ha!) -- at some point, your age does catch up with you :-) I taste a Rosso Toscano 2008 (red table wine), Rosso di Montalcino 2009 (the only 09 I've had), Brunello di Montalcino 2005 and Brunello RIserva 2004. All delicious, but definitely on the fruitier side, except for the Riserva which is much darker and richer than the rest. Their prices are on the low end for Montalcino which is nice to see (although she says in the states they're more expensive), and the table wine at 6 euro may be the best value I've had on this trip. Bursting with bright fruit, sweet candied nose like raspberry framboise, and a clean, spicy, sharp acidity (aged 100% stainless, 80% sangiovese, 20% cab/merlot). I take wine notes but mostly chat with her about her plans, and it takes me back to studying abroad in college, and being 21, with your whole adult life before you. Beautiful, I'm so excited for her. I leave after dark but we end up meeting for dinner in town, and I pass on the dinner that Evans treated me to. We end up being the only guests in the restaurant the entire evening -- if you want to have Tuscany all to yourself, come in late November!


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