Today marks the halfway point on our trip. It's a day I always enjoy - our tour of the Tuscan Wineries with our guide, Pino Teresi.
We had full interest with the exception of my daughter, Tiffany, who decided to hang at the house and have the place to herself for the day. The rest of us were up and out of there by 8:45 with the fog still lifting from the Umbrian hills. We made our way down the gravel road and into the closest town, Mercatale, to meet Pino at our little coffee stop, Shiela's. A quick cappuccino and a bottle of water to go and we all hopped on the charter bus Pino had arranged. Ahh, no driving today, just sipping wine, taking photos, and letting Pino run the show.
Pino is an amazing guide and I highly recommend him if in the area. He is well educated and extremely knowledgeable and quite respected by anyone we encounter in any of the towns - they all love Pino! Like all Italians, his descriptions are always animated and passionate and he is just a delight to listen to.
Our driver made our way past Cortona and from that point forward all of the iconic photos of the Tuscan countryside were right out our window. As we made our way through hills punctuated by rows of Italian Cyprus and stone farmhouses we made our way up the hill to our first stop, Montepulciano, home of the fine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine and several beautiful cellars. The town was settled in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C. by the Etruscans and later the Romans. I suppose if you produce great wine there is no reason to leave!
Our first stop was at the oldest winery in Montepulciano, Contucci, http://www.contucci.it. The Contucci family founded this winery in the 11th Century and continue their passion for fine wine, vin santo and olive oil still today. We were presented several wines and the history of the winery and the story of their grapes by Pino and the host, Adamo! What a character this guy was. The first words out of his limited English vocabulary was the fact he loved wine, women, and their breasts....well what a way to start a wine tasting at 10:30 am. Adamo worked the room and proceeded to kiss every woman on the tour, many several times for each photo op. After several samples it was time to give Adamo and the ladies a rest and move on to our next venue.
The next stop was the Cantina del Redi, http://www.cantinadelredi.com. We always make it a point to make a stop to this amazing cellar buried deep in the tufa stone below Montepulciano. The smell, the mood, and the fact you just keep going down until you ultimately reach the temple of barrels and brick vaults which tower over this wine heaven even if it is deep underground. I love the look of my travelers when they arrive in this cellar. It's beyond description as the sight, smell, sound and light all tantalize your senses....and that's before you even taste the wine. This is always one of my favorites and continues to be despite all of the wonderful places Pino has taken me and my travelers over the years.
A quick walk through town, a little shopping and it was time to herd the troops up to our next stop Pienza. Again, the drive to Pienza is gorgeous as the bus climbs up and down subtle hills with the turned soil or vineyards full of the grapes we were beginning to enjoy on this day. We made our way to Pienza where we had a lovely lunch at the La Mensa "Del Conte". www.lamensadelconte.it. This place is always on Pino's agenda for this day and the food is always simple, hardy and definitely Tuscan. With lunch behind us we took a quick walking tour through Pienza - home of the impeccable Pecorino cheese, a hard cheese made from ewe's milk.
With Pienza behind us it was off to our final stop Montalcino and home of the Brunello di Montalcino wine. Here we tasted the number one rated wine in the world as rated by Spectator Magazine, the Casanova di Neri 2001 Tenuta Nuova Brunello, http://www.casanovadineri.it. I was fortunate to snag a few bottles in 2007 when touring this winery and I am saving at least one for my upcoming 50th Birthday in October! This trip we spent the afternoon at the Enoteca di Piazza, www.enotecadipiazza.com, which is a great wine tasting room with a wide selection of wines all available via the tasting carousels and a great view of the countryside out the window! The proprietor was knowledgeable and spoke very good English so the time here was great and their shipping system was well organized. Needless to say, after an hour of samplings it was not difficult to place orders for several cases.
With lunch and plenty of wine it was time for the long bus ride back to Mercatale where a nine course meal was waiting for us at Mimmi's। Yes 9 course meal। I of course knew this so I took a nice cat nap on the hour and a half ride back to Mercatale। Upon arrival we said our goodbyes to Pino and I quickly dashed up the hill to get Tiffany and then it was off to Mimmi's for the endless country meal all served family style। This marathon of gastronomic indulgence started with two different appetizers, followed by three separate pasta dishes - cannelloni, lasagna, and raviolis, and then two vegetable dishes then finally three different meat dishes - roasted pork, turkey and beef।
Then finally a desert dish featuring tiramisu, gelato, and God I cannot remember the third little delight on that plate.... We always outlast every guest of this restaurant and by the end of the night the place is ours and our debauchery begins। Jokes, laughter, singing.....its always a relaxing and comfortable place despite the size of your waistline at the conclusion of dinner!
By now it was close to midnight.....again... but tomorrow was a free day. No real agenda other than sleeping in and hanging out at the pool.....we'll see!