The “Sunset Siena and Chianti Wine Tour with Dinner from Florence” sounded elegant. It included “transport by air-conditioned coach, professional tour leader, and dinner at a wine estate with wine tasting”. It did not include gratuities.
But these were optional.
By the time we pulled up to the winery doors, I was tired. I was thankful to be able to sit and let the fun come to me for once.
The sun was setting, somewhere in the west behind the rolling Tuscan hills, and it was obvious to all of us that the “sunset” part of the tour was already over.
This did not bother Marco in the slightest.
Marco represents his family’s vineyards to incoming tour groups and we followed his exuberant lead for the rest of the evening. He gave an introduction at the gate and although my research told me we were in the Holy Grail of wine country, the cup was not any more glamorous than that in Temecula.
We settled at tables in a room and this was all we got to see of the winery. There was no tour. When you read about this place on their website, it’s hard to reconcile what they think they look like with what we actually saw.
Marco (Polo) is a comedian with a captive audience. I have to admit he was entertaining, even assuming that, as the audience tastes more wine, he gets exponentially funnier. He can’t lose. I did feel, just a little, like I was sitting in on a time-share sales pitch, though.
He sold a lot of wine at the end of our evening.
Our group was so random. There was an eight year old with his mom, the Three Elderly Sisters of whom I spoke in the last blog, middle-aged giggling women on a girls trip who were there to get wasted, honeymooners who admitted they were trying to get pregnant to the whole room, true wine aficionados who frowned into their glasses,…we sat at a table with a couple from Morocco who spoke French. We smiled and kept our manners and stared at the plate a lot.
Marco was okay with all of it. He’d seen worse.
We were all served a glass of wine, a plate of antipasto, a pen, and a form for making notes. Marco then taught us the proper way to appreciate wine:
- Use a goblet or a paper cup. It doesn’t matter. But if you have a wine glass, for ding dang sake, pinch the stem at the base with thumb and pointer, and keep the rest of your grubby fingers under the bottom. The wine is chilled. The wine is pure. Stay as far away from it as you can and good luck not spilling.
- Pour in a half inch of wine. Hold it up and let the light refract through the liquid.
- Does it look like…white wine? Good.
- Now sip it. Does it taste like…white wine? Good.
- Holding the glass properly, swirl the wine in a little hurricane-like vortex while slowly counting to ten. Don’t spill it, I said!
- When you reach “ten”, stick your nose and mouth into the cup. Your chin and cheeks should keep the wine in place as you inhale deeply.
- Does it smell like…white wine? Good.
- Place your spare hand over the mouth of the cup. Holding the glass properly, swirl the wine in a little hurricane-like vortex while slowly counting to ten. Do not get wine on your hand. See step 1.
- When you reach “ten”, remove your hand and place your nose and mouth into the cup again.
- Does it smell like…buttered bananas? You are a wine tasting winner because that is exactly what this wine is supposed to smell like and now you have discovered it.
This is the only white wine produced by this winery. And it smells like bananas.
We repeated these steps but now the goal was to write down our thoughts as we took a bite from each of the foods on our plate and immediately sipped.
My notes explicitly state that, although the white Vernaccia di san Gimignano was nice with toast, it was exceptional with a bite of salami. Marco asked by a show of hands, which food was best with the wine. Only the eight year old and myself had preferred the sweet and salty combination.
Marco reminded everyone that there were no wrong answers.
The red we sampled next was a Chianti Classico, with the black rooster label. If it had fruity flavors, they were lost on me. This was when I remembered that I had been fighting a head cold all week. For all I could tell, the wine tasted like buttered chicken. But this was the good stuff.
So I drank it. Salute!
“The vinegar on your greens,” declared Marco, “is our Balsamic Select. It can also be purchased at the end of our meal tonight.”
He flipped a sample form over as the meal was served. On the back, was an order form for everything they sold at the winery.
The Brunello di Montalcino has a strong personality with a dry, full, smooth, well balanced flavor. Its bouquet is characteristic and intense, composed of violet and forest fruit scents. I found it spicy with a strong leather undercurrent. It did not distract me from trying the secret family recipe white sauce lasagne because the waiter was going around and pouring million-dollar Truffle Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil over our plates.
I have never tasted truffle outside of a box of See’s candy.
There are no words to explain this flavor to you. But it is fabulous and delicious and intriguing. Even with a head cold.
“Truffles are a strong aphrodisiac,” warned Marco, “be careful!”
The honeymooners giggled. The gigglers demanded more wine. The eight year old looked thoughtful. I drank my Brunello.
Another course was served, a thin slice of beef and little bits of potato, some bare lettuce. With it we tried Cavaliere, a Super Tuscan. “The prime quality and structure of this wine demand excellent first courses and risottos with sauces made from game, red meat, and mature spicy cheeses.” My thoughts were, “There’s a horse on the label and it has great legs in the glass. Logic.”
Have I mentioned that red wine puts me to sleep within minutes?
Thankfully, plates of biscotti appeared, along with the house dessert wine. Naturally, there were rules: dip the biscotti into your wine ten times, then nibble the cookie and sip the wine. Repeat.
Marco set up shop as we finished, selling his wares to one and all. Hubby had thoroughly enjoyed the wines and bought some Cavaliere to bring home.
“Excellent choice,” I mumbled. I was cheating, chomping on the brick-hard biscotti and swilling the wine down after it.
Sure, Marco can school me on wine etiquette, but me and enjoying dessert go way back.
I love how you described your experience – as more of a sales pitch than the tour you expected. When traveling, it’s often hard to discern which “tours” will embrace the family traditions and which ones mostly cater to the tourists. Good job!