Saturday, July 05, 2008

We're No Winos

Elsa with her daughters on the terrace at Villa San Andrea

Me in the nice, cool wine cellar at Villa San Andrea

Chad and I are not fine wine connoisseurs. Most wines just taste yucky to me, grape juice gone bad, except for the white sparkling variety such as champagne or prosecco, but even then I prefer my bubbly on the sweet/asti side. Chad likes some reds reasonably well, but he can't name a region or varietal or vintage preference. So why would we pay to go on a tour of two wineries in the Tuscan hills outside of Florence? Because we wanted to see the Tuscan countryside and get away from the bustle and shuffle of Florence. As the tour van wound through some parkland and hills, Florence looked more scenic from a distance.

Our first stop was Villa San Andrea. The lush landscape of the place sprawled gorgeously across 1300 acres. The old houses, church and wine cellar oozed charm. The air was so fresh and fragrant with lavender blossoms, that it almost tasted of relaxation. The various wines fermented in giant old oak barrels housed in a pleasantly cool subterranean chamber. I even liked some of the wines we tasted. When people speak of Tuscany, this is the happy place that my brain will reference. Aaaahhh...

A little too soon (I could have spent a week Villa San Andrea), we were off to our lunch destination down a dusty, bumpy, narrow dirt road. Our fearless tour leader, Elsa, assured us that the food would be well-worth the journey. Elsa never steered us wrong. The restaurant spilled out of a tiny old house to giant picnic tables under shady, vine-covered pergolas. I never thought I'd pine for pickled purple onions, but they were delicious! The roasted garlic was smooth and non-stinky, the perfect companion to the rustic bread and fresh tomatoes. The fresh-made fettuccine with walnut sauce made my eyes roll back. I said, "mmmmmmm" aloud as I tried the ricotta-filled ravioli with white truffle shavings. The big Tuscan broad beans with olive oil and sea-salt were simple, but scrumptious. All the above were vegetarian dishes, like me. You'll have to ask Chad how the meaty stuff was. Elsa told us that she waits for this meal all year. (She only visits the Florence/Tuscan region once a year.)

Our next stop was the Panzanello Winery. While the land for this winery dated back to the same family for over 400 years, the buildings were all new and had that new smell. I should disclose that I loathe new-house-smell and new-car-smell. That's why my house is old and my cars are always previously-owned. So I was a bit dissatisfied by the scent/bouquet of this winery from the get-go. The wine here doesn't soak in the giant old oak barrels. The wine here soaks in new, small barrels for just a few weeks. It also doesn't age as long in the bottle before shipping out to market. None of the wine here tasted good to my less-than-refined palette. However, the owners of the place were super-nice and the winery is a recognized organic farm. Don't let my opinion prevent you from buying their wine.

That was our last day in Italy. The next morning, we were at the Florence airport bright and early for our flight out. We got delayed in Frankfurt for an hour by an organized labor union slow-down, which isn't a full strike, but shows how the airport could quickly come to a stand-still should a full strike occur. Those uber-efficient Germans got it all out of their system and got the show on the road after just an hour! Eight hours later, we landed in Washington D.C. to find our next flight delayed by three hours. By the time we finally pulled into our driveway in Austin, we'd been awake for twenty-six hours. Yikes.