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Saturday, December 7

Tuscany- Part II

About that trip I was telling you about.

The next morning we drove to Gaiole for few more tastings. The first stop was Barone Ricasoli. The history at Ricasoli is interesting, being the oldest winery in Tuscany and Barone Ricasoli was the first to write the Chianti recipe and marketing to importers in the 1800s thus putting the region on the wine map. Additionally, parts of the castle are preserved with artifacts from Barone Ricasoli’s era. The brief castle tour is worthy.

The Enoteca at the bottom of the hill hosts tastings. It is a fancier environment with modern décor. Post tasting, we went to the town of Gaiole for lunch and little sightseeing. Unfortunately, there was a bike expo that day so the town was filled with bike stalls and full of bicyclists. We found a lunch spot on the fly at i galletto briaco Ristorante Pizzeria. As soon as we sat down, the host announced,” no pizza!” Instead we ordered Ribollita (typical Tuscan soup with kale and white beans), penne with tomato sauce, ravioli with sage and butter sauce and mozzarella sticks. The sticks were a disappointment, not surprisingly; the nonna in the kitchen probably rarely fries up breaded mozzarella unlike chain restaurants in America. My ribollita was perfect and exactly what I was craving. I tasted a lot of onion and carrots as the base for flavoring. The husband’s ravioli was rich and creamy and our friend said the tomato sauce with penne had good flavor.

Castello D'Albola was the next planned winery. They offer tours and tastings for free and both were worth the visit. This was the first tour I learned about the grapes grown on site, and wine production.

And to finish off, we went to Poggio Alloro for tour, tasting and dinner. This place has been around since the 1970s and started by 3 brothers who wanted to produce wine and a farm to grow olives, saffron and vegetables. As of recent, the farm raises cows for meat. We learned of the struggles the brothers faced to start this vineyard. Notably, we saw one of the brothers working at his age on the farm. Followed by the tour, we sat outside and watched the sunset and the city of San Gimignano in distance with our wine tastings, olives, bread and cured meats.

Dinner started promptly at 8 and again it was communal. This time, the room was much larger, the guest list longer, the options diverse and proportions large. There were many things we ate that night; to name the outstanding ones were an appetizer with baked polenta topped with ragu and a frittata. The risotto was a little under done but cooking for a large group, daily can have possible mishaps. The main course was turkey with veggies and though it was good, I was sad we weren’t eating the steak from the cows. We finished with a Panna cotta. There were unlimited breads, cured meats, olives, water and house wine. You can’t go wrong with a place that lets you eat like a king.
Walking away from dinner, one distinctive quality of Poggio Alloro is their customer service. Everyone was extremely friendly, willing to answer any of our questions and very accommodating. I highly, highly recommend Poggio Alloro for a tour, tasting and dinner. If not all, at least the dinner. Reserve for Saturday’s communal dinner to have the steak.

The next day was rainy and cold so we toured San Gimignano. With interesting history, this town is medieval, walled-in, and has 14 towers still standing that encompass the old town. This should be on everyone’s list to visit because of its small town charm. We ate Gelato in a shop that has won “best gelato award” for few years. The artisan that makes the gelato is well recognized in Italy and sought after.

As a total surprise, my husband and the other husband planned a cooking class for us. I had no idea what was going on when the two women showed up and said “We’re here for the cooking class.” It was a delightful surprise. With the help of the cooks, we cooked Bruschetta with Raddichio and Cheese, Squash Blossom Zeppole (Italian fritters), stuffed Veal (stuffed with prosciutto, sautéed zucchini, and omelet), Pici (local pasta) with tomato sauce and basil, and Flortentine cake. Phew. We were thrilled to learn to make simple (eggless) pasta and stuffed Veal. Overall this was a magnificent experience.

Tuscany is exactly as I had imagined but so much more when experiencing it in person. Everywhere we looked there are rolling hills covered in vine groves and dotted with cypress trees. It is scenic. Chianti wine is fruity and pleasant with a meal or on its own. We learned of a new white grape grown only in the region of San Gimignano, Veranacci, it subtly tastes like Sauvignon Blanc which we are not fans of. The local cheese is Pecorino and if the local producer is selling it, stock up. We bought 1.5 kilos (we drove to Tuscany to bring back wine and cheese) from a cheese shop that produces pecorino, ricotta and few other cheeses.

October is one of the better times to visit; it’s the beginning of harvest season so the vines were full of grapes, ready to be picked. Unfortunately that also means many wineries do not offer tours or tastings however we found enough that offered tours and/or tastings. And this trip was extra fun because of our friends. Eating typical Tuscan food, drinking wine and sharing laughs will make this as an unforgettable trip.

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