Reminiscences of a wine and food tour of Tuscany and Piemonte in 2012
Uncorked and Cultivated's second autumn tour of central Italy
Contributed articles and stories
Uncorked and Cultivated's second autumn tour of central Italy-Tuscany and Piemonte gave guests education, friendships and wondrous new sights. Host Peter Scudamore-Smith MW provides this enticing summary of the trip:
Although Rome is a wonderful start to any Italian wine and food excursion, departing for Siena puts you in the medieval mood for exploring the hill city, and to sip prosecco rampart-side under a setting sun.
Siena at night is aglow with its uphill narrow-winding streets, cobblestones and bright lights that reduce the shadows of the confronting dwellings which meet the paths so closely.
We are on foot, for these walled hilltowns allow few cars (save locals) so our ristorante is accessed by exploring the snaking Etruscan-era streets as the last of the locals complete their passeggiate (the Italian social act of strolling).
Restaurant owner Marco at La Compagnia dei Vinattieri is waiting to offer a long table for the group to dine together.
The courses have been chosen by the chef in dialogue with us in Australia, and wines paired at that time. All that remains is to agree on last minute ingredient adjustments to some plates, and check wines for taint or fault (plain cork is widely used here).
Minerally-dry vernaccia – it’s austere, the main Tuscan white grape only permitted to grow in the San Gimignano region – is poured as aperitivo with local antipasti; most made in the same cucina (kitchen).
Tuscany is all about the red grape sangiovese in its acclaimed form as Brunello di Montalcino, then the several Chianti DOCG* regions and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Only red is poured until night’s end.
Any respectable wine tourist must taste across these sangiovese origins either in ristoranti or direct winery visits and wines from all the regions are tasted during this tour.
And food experiences become a slice of Tuscan ingredients and serving styles. The tour embraces traditional tastes which all local families enjoy, and which the Slow Food movement highlights in their reports and advice.
This tour goes beyond that however, to seek and praise artisan, modern and "out there" plates which have become fashionable or have stepped away from large serves. This is new, inventive Tuscan, and if you haven't been to this part of Italy for a while, it's worth another visit.
Compagnia's pasta of cannelloni, made that morning, is a glistening cylinder of local cinta pork, strands of soft but grainy layers tasting sweet with their saffron coating; deliberately designed over centuries to tame the grippy tannins of sangiovese. Wines are served from makers Ricasoli, Castellare, Isole e Olena, Boscarelli and Mastrojanni.
So describes one meal and its wine journey. These come daily but are at a relaxed pace to make the most of the experience.Guests also enjoy days unaccompanied in Siena, Florence and Alba to discover their own piece of Italy.
The more northerly sector and second phase of touring is in Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian); home of some French-influenced plates (more butter than olive oil), the nebbiolo grape, hazelnut chocolate and white truffles.
Alba is more European than Florence; quaint but wider streets, giving a closer living feeling though less tempo. The vineyards are more concentrated vineyards with fewer locals and definitely fewer tourists.
The farewell dinner held in the region’s oldest castle at Grinzane Cavour, spreads light on Piemontese traditions with rice; saffron risotto with squid and apricots, perfection for the angular taste of nebbiolo.
Restaurant Al Castello’s fassone beef loin is served with wild blackberries – accentuating acidity and its complementary threads with nebbiolo; textured, tannic yet acid dominant wine. This is the taste pattern for travels here. Wines enjoyed were by Gaja, Bruno Rocca, Bruno Giacosa, Michele Chiarlo, Prunotto and Vietti.
And as a written testimonial said “Thank you for organising. A perfect combination of visiting interesting and beautiful places, eating and drinking so well when we did not have to think what to order.”
*Writers note: DOCG is Italian designation of origin Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita; it means little about the taste quality.
Peter Scudamore-Smith MW and his wife Denise are your friendly hosts for Uncorked and Cultivated’s Italy Wine and Food Tours.Read more about them and their tours including booking details in the related listing below.
- Italy - all (IT)
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