For Day 1 of the “Bow Tie Diaries” click here
Alfio’s Bowtie Diaries – DAY 2: Montalcino
After grabbing a panafoccacia and a cappucino for breakfast, we were off to visit Montalcino, a region southwest of the province of Siena. Montalcino produces two wines that are regarded as the best red wines in Italy: Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino, both made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. Though they taste relatively similar, they differ in production from the age at which the grapes are harvested; Rosso grapes are from younger vines and sit for less time in the barrel. The DOCG (which in Italian stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – or the quality assurance/legal standards for Italian wines) regulations require Brunello di Montalcino to be aged for five years, two and a half of which must be in wooden barrels to make the Brunello more elegant and full-bodied.
Tuscan native Giorgio Carratelli, who has collaborated with Alfio in finding some of the greatest Montalcino wines for our stores, joined us for our visit to producer Anna Maria Budzon at Podere Paganico. During our visit, Anna Maria assured us that big hand gestures where a part of Italian colloquialism and that she wasn’t intentionally trying to hit us.
After tasting Anna Maria’s delicious 2010 Rosso di Montalcino, we then headed to our next vineyard, Casisano Colombaio, where we saw them getting ready to bottle their Brunello Riserva. When in Rome (or in our case Montalcino), it would have been ungracious if we didn’t sample some of the different vintages of Casisano’s Brunellos, and the 2004 was absolutely fantastic!
Next stop was Podere San Lorenzo, where we had an opportunity to sit (finally) and speak with three generations of Ciolfi men who have run their winery from atop the scenic hill sides of Montalcino for over 60 years. Even though the youngest Ciolfi, Luciano, runs the winery, his father and grandfather still come to work every day to maintain the vines and oversee the land.
After experiencing the pride the Ciolfi’s have in their family business, we made our way through the winding gravel roads of Montalcino to visit another family owned vineyard, Vasco Sassetti. Like San Lorenzo, Vasco Sassetti sits on a hilltop and is managed by Massimo Lanzini. It was a good thing that Vasco Sassetti (who also makes grappa, a brandy distilled from the fermented pressed grapes) was close by and our next stop. As it turns out, fertile Tuscan soil is fantastic for Sangiovese grapes, but not good for your car or Alfio’s clothes. The dust from the gravel roads left a thick cake batter like substance on our car and with low windshield washer fluid, we were unable to see out of our car. Santo cielo! A word of advice – when you rent a car in Tuscany, don’t get a black one – it will ALWAYS be dirty! Not good conditions for arriving in style with your cravatta. It was lunch time and it was great to see how all workers (regardless if you were a family member or not) stopped what they were doing and sat down together for a home cooked meal. We felt like I was on the movie set of Eat Pray Love, where the food kept on flowing – though Julia Roberts was nowhere in sight.
With a newly washed car (grazie, Massimo Lanzini!) we were on our way to our final stop for the day, Terralsole. At Terralsole we met up with Mario Bollag and his wife, Athena Tergis, a professional Irish fiddle player. Not only do Mario and Athena make excellent wine (their Brunello Riserva 2004 converted me to becoming a Brunello drinker for life), but they also have altruistic hearts and started a foundation in Haiti, Te Soley. Te Soley’s main objective is to support needy children and families with education and agricultural development projects. All of Terrasole’s labels are inspired by Haitain artists’ paintings, which they have displayed throughout their villa.
Though we were tired from our long day in Montalcino, we enjoyed meeting all of the people behind the wines and learning more about the Sangiovese (Brunello) grape. Next time we’re having a cookout, we are heading straight for a Brunello di Montalcino at Total Wine!