In April 3 girl friends and I went to Italy for 10 days of drinking wonderful wines, sharing wonderful local cuisine and shopping.
We flew into Rome and took a train to Florence where we spent our first night. (If you have business class seats on the train you are welcome to use the private lounge in the station while you wait for your train to depart.) We stayed at the Hotel de La Villa on Via de Tornabuoni. The hotel staff was very helpful, the rooms are not large, but the location was good. We wandered the streets watching the crowds and buying a few simple things at the famous Santa Maria Novella only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Then stopped at the best scarf store in Italy, FALIERO SARTI, on Via Della Spada, be sure to detour. For sure you will find something you can not live without.
We joined friends for a perfect dinner at FUOR d’ ACQUA, on Via Piscana, well know for the freshest fish in town. Our waiter was willing to help us share several dishes starting with a large antipasti platter then fresh pasta and fish that had just come to the restaurant that morning.
The next day we were up early and headed to Angela Caputi across the river on Via S. Spirits 58. Angela Caputi has wonderful fun jewelry that you will want to buy. She makes everything in house so they can help you with whatever strikes your fancy, must do. We also stopped by an amazing fabric store VALLI on Via Della Vigna Nouva, if you sew or want to buy fabric to take home this is a must.
We rented a car and ventured out to the country side. We were staying in a lovely castle, Castello Della Paneretta in Barberino Val d’ Elsa. Make sure you request a GPS in your rental car to find your way around the area, finding the small wineries makes you feel like you are on a scavenger hunt. After getting settled in this lovely estate we ventured out to the CoOp to buy snacks and something for breakfast. It was April and we had planned on warmer weather, so just be prepared since the wineries are often cold and the wind catches you off guard. Once again we were in the car looking for our restaurant for dinner. We ate at ‘LA TOPPA” in the village of San Donato about a 30 minute drive to the area of Poggio. The restaurant is local owned with the mother making the pasta by hand, we knew we were in Italy.
The next morning we toured Cantine Bellini/llPazzo, this winery is closer to Florence, so we had quite a drive. We were in the Rufina area and this winery makes Chianti, Chianti Classico, and nice vin Santo wines. They gave us a wonderful introduction to the difference between the two Chianti wines and the grapes grown to produce their products. Many of the wineries in this area also produce wonderful olive oil. You will taste great differences in the oils depending on the soil the trees grow in and how the oil is processed. Some are very mild while others have a wonderful pepper finish. After a special lunch prepared by Maurizio and his family served with their wines, we headed to an area across the valley called Pontassieve.
The winery Castello del Trebbio, is also family owned and Alberto welcomed us even though we were late. Castello also produces a Chianti and Chianti Classico wine using only the grapes they grow. Their Lastricato, reserve Chianti and a lovely white Pazzesco Chianti gold were a special treat.
After spending the day tasting wonderful Chianti wines we rushed back to our home base and took a cooking class at Paneretta Agriturismo about 100 meters from our home base. Chef Massimo showed us how to make very traditional bread soup with tomatoes, vegetable stock, and a touch of basil to finish, and also simple stew using beef cut into cubes and boiled vigorously for almost 2 hrs. Then we all got our hands into the dough to make a batch of biscotti with whole almonds and chocolate chips. Our dinner wines came from Castello Della Paneretta where we were staying. A lovely woman, Angelica, from Florence was there to help translate for us. Angelica Turi gives walking tours and guides guests troughout the region, http://www.itialianfootprints.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
The next morning we were guests at Querceto di Castellina a lovely property just out side the village of Castellina. Jacobo along with his family have created a beautiful winery with a nice kitchen for cooking classes. They also offer rooms and apartments for rent. Info@ Querceto.com, contact Jacobo Di Battista. Many of their wines are not sold in the U.S. so we took advantage of the opportunity to ship wine and olive oil home, I loved the SEI and FURTIVO wines.
We headed back to Castello Della Paneretta for a tour of the castle built in 1596 with the family still living in the house. After a tour of the house and wine cellars we were served beautiful lunch and continued a long conversation about the use of the red varital Sangiovese grape. Their Quattrocentenario reserva 2008 wine (100% Sangiovese) was the highlight of the trip. We all shipped home several cases. After a rest and nap, that evening we had a special dinner at OSTERIA 1126. The road to the restaurant will make you wonder if you will every find the front door, and it is well worth the drive to Cinciano, Poggibonsi. We shared lovely beef carpaccio shaved paper thin, a starter of lentils with a soft mild goat cheese, and several main courses. have They have an extensive wine list, with many of the wines of the region. Don’t miss the soft chocolate molten cake and ice cream.
The next day we headed back to our last wine tasting at Fattoria La Castellina, this wine store/ cellar are located together in the village of Castellina making easy to shop after tasting their lovely wines. One very interesting thing we saw at many of the wineries is the use of a glass vessel, a COLMATORE, placed on the top of the barrels to allow the wine to expand as it forments during the first months in the barrels. Fattoria also own and rent a large house, LA FERROZZOLA Agriturismo Hotel, Alberto Palazzo Squarcialupi. After tasting wine at 10 am, we ventured over to visit a jewelry store, TOSCANACCIO, Via Ferruccio 44, owned by Marco and hosted by his sweet attention seeking dog, ToTo, Several of the girls bought beautiful pieces that Marco created from stones he had found in his travels around the world – worth a visit if you are near Castellina.
- We then drove about an hour and half to Cortona where we stayed at a friends house, Casa Spare, high on the hill with an amazing view. We had a simple lunch at Tuscher in the village – lovely bruschetta, one with chicken liver and another with perfect chopped tomato and plenty of local olive oil. Walking and shopping in Cortona is fun because very few cars are allowed and the many local shops offer nice products from the region. We made an appointment with Marco at his wine shop, MOLESINI-MARKET, email@example.com, for a tasting the next day at noon.
The next morning we went into the center of town to their Saturday market and came away with everything from dried mushrooms to hand decorated jeans jackets. Now it was noon and time for an amazing introduction to wines we do not often see in the U.S.. Marco and his brother served a variety of regional white wines and thouroughly explained their differences. I fell in love with Monteverro 2012 Chardonnay and 2012 Paleo Le Macchiole red. We were able to ship cases of our favorites back to Seattle, most of which are not readily available in the states. Marco is a perfect contact for those wines you cannot find. Just remember Molesini. We had dinner in the square at “Osteria del Teatro” and walked back down the hill to where we had parked the car.
The next day we drove back to Florence to drop the car and take the fast train back to Rome. It was about a 2 hour drive and we could have just as easily driven to Rome, but did not realize that until we were already committed to returning the car in Florence. We arrived in Rome, checked into INN AT SPANISH STEPS, Via Dei Condotti 85. We booked with Platinum AMEX and were given a nice upgrade. The hotel is one block off the Spanish steps – a good location. The rooms occupy several buildings so our room was in a separate building 2 blocks away from our friends. Both of the hotel buildings are lovely, offering a roof top garden to have breakfast or a late afternoon cocktail.
We wandered the narrow streets shopping and enjoying all the hustle and bustle of this area. We had all spent time in Rome and had visited all the major sites so this time we just shopped and ate lovely meals. Dinner was at “ANTICO ARCO”, http://www.anticoarco.it, a little bit out of the way, but a great meal in a charming old house. We shared a pasta of pecorino cheese and black truffles, beautiful shaved asparagus salad and sea bass. Nice find.
Our last day in Rome was a holiday so the city was busy. We wandered the streets again and bought a few special things to add to our spring wardrobe back home. Then we had a perfect lunch at The De Russi Hotel in the garden. They offered a lunch buffet that was such a treat. One of the vegetables that we had seen in the market and on other dishes is AGRETTI, or Salsola Soda, it looks like sautéed chives but has a very mild taste. Look for it. Reserve in the Du Rossi garden for lunch or dinner and you will have a meal to remember. We walked back through the Piazza del Popolo up to the Borgese park area and looked out over Rome.
We had a late dinner a couple of blocks from the hotel at Dilla, a simple local fun place. We had a very nice bottle of white, Le Vigne di Zamo 2012 that went well with the asparagus risotto and eggplant parmigiana. Next morning we headed home saying good bye to Rome until our next visit. While in the cab heading to the airport we realized only two of the girls got up early and headed to the Vatican for an early morning tour. It was really the only tourist attraction visited during the whole trip. It was about wine, food and friendship, a little shopping too.