Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Tuscan Trails: Greve and Chianti Classico

The picturesque Castello di Verrazzano in the Chianti wine region
Yesterday the skies looked hesitant with a bit of haze in the morning but we were assured it was heat haze that would burn off and it did.

We first headed to another small town called Greve in the Chianti wine district for a short visit. One of the shops we headed into was called Antica Macelleria Falorni, a butcher shop that sold lots of salami and pecorino cheese.

The rustic farmhouse restaurant featuring Verrazzano wines
I got some wild boar salami to bring back, as well as cinta senese, a hybrid of half wild boar, half pig that is apparently highly prized. Will have to report back later on how these taste. I did get to sample ice cream mixed with bits of salami in it, which was a weird combination, but had to be tried (savoury and sweet).

There was more food, but specifically wine in our next stop -- the Castello di Verrazzano, a gorgeous vineyard and farmhouse overlooking the Chianti region.

The place used to belong to the Verrazzano family, which made its money in producing olive oil and wine in the 10th century.

Massive wooden barrels that hold 4,600 litres of wine each
The family's most famous ancestor is Giovanni da Verrazzano, an explorer who was hired by King Francis I of France to find another way to the Orient and in 1524 ended up discovering the Atlantic coast of North America, from the Carolinas and New Foundland, that includes New York Bay and Narragansett Bay.

In New York, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, named after the explorer, links the state with Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Meanwhile the wines here are named Chianti Classico, which means a minimum of 80 percent are sangiovese grapes. The balance is made up of red grapes.

The most promising of the three wines
We were told one plant growing grapes is equal to one bottle of wine, but that depends if the vines are seasoned enough to have a big yield. Another measurement is 400kg of grapes can produce 16 litres of wine.

Nevertheless, after the grapes are crushed, the juice is left to ferment in giant oak barrels. We were told that up until modern times, the barrels were cleaned from the inside which meant a very small person had to squeeze himself into a small opening and scrubbed clean. Sounds like a claustrophobic occupation.

At lunchtime we had a fantastic rustic meal. We were first served a selection of salami and cheese, followed by penne a la pompodoro that we could season with parmesan cheese and/or a spicy dry herb mixture.

Next came roast pork with a side of beans and salad. The greens were so simple -- lightly dressed with olive oil -- and yet so delicious.

Simple penne pasta with tomato sauce
We were given three glasses of wine to try -- a pinot bianco with some chardonnay in it that was light, fresh, herby. Next was a 2011 Chianti Classico that was much too young and acidic. Finally the Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 was the best of the lot and could be aged further.

Each guest also got a small spoonful of the estate's balsamic vinegar aged 10 years that tasted more sweet than sour. Many were tempted into buying bottles to take home. We were told to age the vinegar for 10 years, you may start with about 100 litres and by the end of the decade there's only 20 litres left.

To finish off the meal we were given small glasses of Vin Santo or sacred wine that Verrazzano makes, and was delicious with biscotti soaked into it. A gorgeous dessert wine that wasn't too sweet.

Thin slices of pork with beans and salad
And the views from here were so pretty, from the vineyards to the gardens complete with a fountain, and trees growing olives, lemons and shrubs with capers -- it was definitely a picturesque setting.

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