If Venice is for Lovers, than Rome is for…

June 19, 2012

I’m not sure what to say about Rome. I feel unqualified to really say anything about it. I think it’s spectacular, but only as an amateur. I wish I knew it so well, like one of those girls who goes zooming through the narrow streets on a vespa, wearing the perfect little dress and heels and big sunglasses. I’ve been there four or five times, but only for a day or two or three, never long enough, only the right amount of time to dip a toe in, realize that it’s a magical place and then leave. And so I’ll hold off and let someone else do the talking (Gabrielle Hamilton from Prune does a nice job and I’m sure others do, too).

From Rome we made our way up to Tuscany. With a brief lunchtime stop in Montepulciano, we found ourselves farther west than usual, away from Siena and Lucca. We made the Conti di san Bonifacio our home for a few days, and was everything that vacation dreams are made of.

With only seven rooms, we were very well taken care of, and we all fantasized about renting out the whole house with family and friends. The next few days were just the right amount of full and blissful. We visited the Maremma region’s food and wine purveyors festival, where we got to sample the most delicious cured meats, cheeses, olive oils, wines, vinegars.

We did some running through the Tuscan hills.

And visited the old walled city of Grosseto, as well as a charming seaside town called Castiglione della Pescaia. We had dinner on a mountain-top town that required some tricky hill navigating to get to, at a place so unused to seeing tourists that there was somewhat of a record scratch when we walked in.

Some of the highlights came, however, while staying at the hotel. One evening the wonderful Elisabetta, warm and impeccably dressed, came to guide us through a wine tasting. We’ve done wine tastings before, but this one was much more detailed and answered questions that I had never even thought to ask. As the sun was hovering low, we went down to the vineyard, and Elisabetta explained how a very high percentage of the grapes grown throughout Tuscany are sangiovese. We learned that the variations in Tuscan wines are not really different grape varietals, but different the result of different terrior, and different choices made along the process of growing, pressing, and aging the grapes. I guess for people who know a lot about wine this must sound so basic, but it was incredibly illuminating to learn both the effects of nature, and where human hands and decisions can produce variation. We learned that they cut off certain clusters of grapes to allow the remaining fruit to soak in more nutrients, and they prune the leaves strategically to allow for more sun or more shade. Perhaps this is only really possible in such a small vineyard. On the production side, once the grapes are crushed, there is the choice of barrel. Different barrel makers swear by the kind of oak in their region, and also there’s variation in age, and toastedness inside the barrel, which I also never knew about. Using the long pipette, whose name in Italian translates to “the robber,” we were able to taste wine from the same grapes, from the same year, from different barrels, and discover how different the result is. Then we were able to compare the same wine across different years. At the end, we found ourselves with our noses deep in our wine classes, snacking on charcuterie, staring out across the perfect rows of vines.

We also took a cooking lesson from Katia, the hotel’s chef. A mother of two boys who learned to cook from her mother and grandmother, her pastas were unbelievable, and I would have hung out in her kitchen all day long if she had let me.

And yes, I am wearing a bathing suit while I cook. I’m not sure life really gets better than that.

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