"A Night in Montalcino" By: Tomas & Jenny Lukas

This story, by my winemaking pals in the Santa Clarita Vintners and Growers Association ran over a year ago in this blog.  As it took place during the holidays I thought it apt for today.  

The day after Christmas 2008, we found ourselves in Florence, Italy for oneweek as a result of having found an outrageously low airfare offered onthe Internet. This time my wife and I took the opportunity tointroduce another couple, who had never been to Italy before, to Tuscanyduring the 2009 New Years Eve celebration known as Cappodanno.

After a few days in Florence the decision to make a road trip for anovernight stay into the Chianti region came easy. The four of us squeezed intoa bright yellow Fiat cinque cento and drove south on Route 222 (pronounced due-due-due)from Florence towards Siena. Skirting around Siena, we headed south toMontepulciano, home of the famous Nobile di Montepulciano. 

Despite the fact that Montepulcino is a higher elevation than itsneighboring hilltop villages, we were surprised to find the remnants of a recentstorm had blanketed the village in snow. Montepulciano consists of a series ofsteep narrow stone streets that test the uninitiated – especially when covered withsnow and ice. 

However, you are rewarded for your efforts with numerous stores, restraintsand entoca (wine bars). After fortifying ourselves at a small Osteria, we wereready to walk in the village, around the corner we ran into a local vintnernamed Adamo of the Contucci winery who asked us we would like to tour hiswinery and taste his wines.  Theweather had driven off the usual visitors in the area and we found ourselvesalone with Adamo who was happy to show us the wine of his village. 

The Nobile di Montepulciano prominent grape is (Prugnolo), the local namefor Sangiovese, which is blended with the red Canaiolo grape to make wine.  The wine is typically aged for 2 – 3years in oak barrels and has the distinct rich flavor of the region -undertones of smoke and cherries with a good depth which gets better with age.After tasting numerous wines we purchased the 2004 Contucci reserve to takehome with us.

We rented rooms for the night in Montalcino so we headed west driving byPienza and arriving in Montalcino at sundown. 

Brunello di Montalcino is reputed to be one of Italy’s greatest wines. Thevillage is devoted to their wine. Montalcino was prosperous under Siena, butafter the Medici family took control of the region the town became weak. 

The village of Montalcino regained fame in the 19th century, when the BiondiSanti family created a rich, fine, dark red wine, calling it “thebrunette”. The Sangiovese grape clone Brunello, which is a strain ofSangiovese, has a deep brown skin. Brunello is aged at least 4 years, thereserve at least 5 years. The aging process gives the wine a rich, deep,powerful structure. 

We checked into Palazzina Cesira, a 13th century residence modified as a bedand breakfast. We met our gracious hosts, Lucilla and her American born husbandRoberto, that were a wealth of information – seemingly knowing everything andeveryone in the region. We took notes of this for future travels in the area. 

Roberto referred us to an excellent restaurant that we ate several timescalled Il Grappollo Blu under the helm of Luciano served incredible localcuisine at reasonable costs. In Montalcino the typical Tuscan foods suchas pici ai funghi porcini (local pasta with porcini mushrooms), ribollita(twice cooked bean/vegetable soup) and Cinghiale (wild boar). 

Also with the advice of Roberto we found Enteca Piazza.  There we met Nicolo who, although oneof the youngest wine purveyors in Montalcino, offers more than 70different Brunellos for tasting. By the time we had left, educated inBrunello’s by Nicolo, we had purchased bottles of ’97 Fontebuia Reserve, ’97San Giacono, ’97 Asisano and ’99 La Rasina at wholesale prices.

We look forward to our next journey in September, and exploringin depth the region and what it has to offer to local vintners andfoodies.  For a week’s adventure in Tuscany – enjoying all the simplepleasures such as friends, food, wine, new cultures, meeting friendly peoplealong the way – it made our whim holiday on a budget seem as though we wereaway for months living a rich, beautiful life (la bella vita).