Thursday’s focus was on my favorite aspect of Tuscany: the WINE! After breakfast together (featuring exclusively food grown/prepared there at the castle or baked/prepared in the nearby village), we lined up an eight-car caravan to travel to the wine region of Brunello di Montalcino. The Garmin GPS that came with our rental car led us the wrong way down one-way streets a couple of times so we abandoned it in favor of Google Maps on my phone, which was much more effective–until we neared our destination! Then Google tried to send us to basically the right location but just a little ways up the hill, which wasn’t very useful! So then we went back to the Garmin GPS, which didn’t fail us this time. Finally, more than an hour late (which would be a theme in our wine tasting all week!), we arrived at Fattoria dei Barbi.
For wine tasting in and around Montalcino, I am used to being just 2-4 people, which, it turns out, is very different than being a group of 30! Many of the smaller Brunello houses simply aren’t equipped to handle larger groups, rendering them ineligible for visits. Similarly, many of them don’t have anyone on hand who speaks English, which is fine for a small group in which I can act as translator, but which is impractical for a larger tour. This means that our choices of wineries to visit were somewhat limited.
Also, there is generally no fee to tour/taste at wineries in Italy, but, for large groups, they do charge a per person tasting fee. Finally, leading a long caravan of cars (for many of whom it is their first time driving in Italy, Europe, or even outside the US) is simply a pretty slow affair. This – combined with our ongoing navigation antics – had me very ready for some wine by the time we arrived!
Barbi was very gracious, though, and still gave us an abbreviated tour (skipping over some of the finer vinification points) followed by a very unabbreviated tasting. At the tasting we sample their three Brunelli: 2006 Brunello di Montalcino, 2005 Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Fiore (single vineyard), and 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. The first was a pretty basic Brunello; the second offered a little more flavor depth, and the riserva had a bit more tannic structure – all very good to taste and good to whet our appetites.
Lunch took place at Boccon di Vino, where I had eaten before with both Katie and Cox on separate occasions. There we were treated to delicious pasta dishes, a fantastic selection of Brunello wines (We had Silvio Nardi, Argiano, and Valdicava), and possibly the best panoramic view outside of San Gimignano in all of Tuscany. Usually we follow up lunch at Boccon di Vino with a nap in the parking lot but, given how far behind we were, we simply couldn’t afford it this time. Fortunately the chocolate mousse we were served for dessert had plenty of coffee bean in it, so that helped.
Our afternoon tasting was at Castello Banfi. American-owned and the largest (by far) producer of Brunello di Montalcino, Banfi is about as commercial and “un-charming-Italian” as it comes, but their wine is just so damn good that I can’t help but love them. We tasted their 2009 Rosso di Montalcino, 2006 Brunello di Montalcino, and 2005 Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura (single vineyard), which went from good to very good to very very good but still too young. We did not taste their riserva Brunello (Poggio all’Oro) because the ’99 vintage of that wine would be served Saturday night at the wedding dinner. As we milled about, Banfi offered us another tasting of their sweet white Muscadello and, as I picked up the case of ’99 Poggio all’Oro (their very last 12 bottles of it – good thing I reserved them a few months ago!) they threw in a magnum of Rosa Regale, their sparkling red wine, as a congratulatory gift.
Spoils in hand we returned in the evening to the Castello. After a late, heavy lunch and lots of wine consumption, several guests called it an early night. Some stayed around the castle to continue wine tasting. We went out to dinner at Il Corte di Bacco with some of our guests who just arrived Thursday afternoon. By the time we finally made it back to our villa, we crashed hard! Driving around a beautiful place tasting incredible wines with wonderful people – what a perfect way to kick off our wedding festivities!