Cooking and Wine Tasting in Tuscany!

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I started my Tuesday morning travel with alerts on Monday night from American Airlines that my flight from Denver to Chicago was delayed. It wasn’t going to matter as I had a long connection time to get to Rome, but it seemed getting out of O’hare wasn’t any better. Our delayed departure due to mechanical difficulties was scheduled to leave just as a storm built into a supercell, thus Heidi and I sat on the terminal floor a bit longer. Three hours later, we finally made our way to Rome on an airplane without wifi or personal TVs. I’m certain some folks were disappointed; I just made my best effort to sleep. After landing, we sifted through customs and wandered around in search of the rental car counter, which turned into another fiasco. All the “joys” of travel were soon erased when we arrived to our 11 bedroom estate in Tuscany just in time for cooking class! Marci, my step-mom rented the lovely place, and we got to enjoy the last few days she had it with my sister Liz and her family and my sister Christian and her family.

We learned how to make spinach and ricotta ravioli along with chicken wrapped around mozzarella, spec, and spinach fastened with a tooth pick. For the ravioli, we kneaded the dough, flattened it in a pasta cutter, folded it over the filling and cut it into squares. It was divine! The chicken was delicious too. It was pounded flat. We placed a piece of spec, some spinach and some cheese on top and rolled it up with a spring of thyme. Gianluca and his mom were excellent cooks and hosts at the Il Marchese house as they served us in a grand dining room.

Bedtime couldn’t have come fast enough after 24 hours of travel, though a sleeping pill still called my name with the time difference. Heidi and I retired to our apartment, which was attached to the main house, with two bedrooms and a living/kitchen area which was attached to the main house. Each sleeping area was named. Ours was called Tabaccaia.

IMG_4733 house sign

I squeaked four hours off the sleeping pill and tossed around until about 7:15 before showering and heading down to 8am breakfast. Breakfast included cappuccino, tomatoes, salami and cheese, toast, croissants, lemon bread, cereal, yogurt, fruit, jams, and Nutella. It was a nice spread that we enjoyed at the breakfast table on a manicured lawn (mowed by a self propelled mower named Ambrogio) with a view a converted barn, ivy arch, well, and surrounding landscaping.

By 8:30, Heidi and I along with Christian and Craig were off to our first wine tasting in Montalcino at Castel Giocondo owned by Frescobaldi. The estate was so large, 2,500 acres, that it did not have an address making it somewhat difficult to find. After a few calls to Nadine, we finally entered through the brick columns and followed a gravel road a few kilometers to the office. From there, our guide Nadine, drove us to the processing area.

The quality of the grapes are monitored throughout the year and harvested between late August and October. The wine goes through two fermentation processes in large steel vats before it is transferred to enormous oak barrels. The oak is used multiple times thus provides little flavor to the wine.

The Frescobaldi family produces 10 million bottles of wine throughout its seven Tuscan estates, but the Brunello is one of the wines that is produced at the location we visited. Brunellos are only produced in the Tuscan region using 100% San Giovese grapes. This particular wine was stored for three years in a smaller French oak barrel that had been used multiple times and then bottled where it needed to age for two more years.

At the tasting we were treated to four wines including their 2007 Brunello which was five stars! I personally liked the Mormento produced in the Chianti region and used it to wash down the meats, cheeses and breads they served with the tasting. I may have had the best salami ever…super tender, not rubbery at all!

After our wine tasting we stopped along the property to enjoy picturesque views before Heidi and I went on to Montalcino. Montalcino is perched on a hill and was once protected by an old fortress, now a place to taste wines. We meandered along the steep streets passing by a few shops, but staying near the city center with easy access to our car as a storm was brewing.

From Montalcino, we moved onto Cortona, about an hour away. Cortona sat high upon a hill as well. It was home to several piazzas, a museum, magnificent views and more, but the storm finally reached, and it was not just a small rain shower. The lightning and thunder struck simultaneously. We were in its center, and it was so loud that a little kid taking cover with his mom next to us under the theater’s portico was shrieking while covering his ears with his hands. Luckily, we had purchased some gelato just before the skies unleashed, so we waited out the storm for the next hour savoring hazelnut and pistachio flavors.

The rain let up just in time for us to get home and prepare to watch the World Cup soccer match. Gianluca led us to Foiano, a nearby Italian town, where we drank Scottish beer in an Irish Pub while watching the USA play Germany in Brazil…definitely international. We had Bell’s Pub to ourselves. Umberto and Lucia were wonderful hosts. They played the game just for us and prepared several crostini appetizers in advance of us arriving. It was so nice of them! What a great way to enjoy an early evening before heading back to the house.

What a fun day! I’m ready for what Italy has to offer tomorrow! ETB


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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