Golden glow in the green fields
We rose early this morning to go to the Abbey of Sant'Antimo
, but due to fog, our bus arrived late. We wanted to start early (8:00) to arrive at the monastery in time to hear the 9:00 prayers sung by the monks. After almost an hour’s drive between ridges of fog-draped rolling hills, we drove high up a narrow winding road. In medieval times (and later) this was a very remote wood. When the forces of Charles V
invaded Italy and the Medicis joined in, the people of Siena took refuge at the Abbey – many days of hard walking. (The Siena version of this story is different than the Medici history I read before coming.)
For us, the sun was shining brightly on the red poppies waving in the green and golden fields, atop which glowed the modest pale-stone abbey. We hurried inside, because the monks had already started. To my surprise only about eight monks and a couple of other people were there for the service. The deep singing resonated though the barrel-arched nave. Too soon the monks bowed in genuflection, tidied up a bit, and left.
After taking a few photos we also left for Montalcino
. Down the steep hill,
skirt the town of Nuovo Castello (no longer new), along some valleys and up another steep hill to Montalcino. This was a fortress town, guarded by a heavy but fairly small (now empty) fort with the town spilling down the hillside. To our delight, it was market day, with only a tenth of the “trailers” seen in Siena. At the housewares stall, we found what Michele called the “spatole di legno”, that is, wooden spatulas. Since there were only three, I urged Barbara to take them. Actually, I found some better ones at a higher-end shop (three times as expensive but still only €2.80 each and seemingly made of olive wood)
We wandered along the main two streets of the town, comprising small versions of the shops in most of the hill towns: shops full of ceramics (usually yellow and blue designs on a white field with green borders); wine shops, which also sell olive oil; Tuscan specialty shops with cantucci (biscotti), pici (pasta), spice mixes, and Pinocchio puppets and pencils; butcher shops with salamis and cheese; and shops with kitchen items for tourists, such as my spatulas, heavy olive wood cutting boards, pretty tea towels, etc. The little
Tranquil view - suited to wine drinking!
weekly market was strung along one of the main streets. We finished our stroll at the fortress that now is just four massive walls with castellated towers at the corners.
Lunch was at the rustic Pane e Vino Restaurant which is part of the Agriturismo industry the Italian government is developing. Working farms can lower their taxes by offering B & B and dining to tourists. We relaxed on a terrace covered by a canvas canopy while being served a delicious lunch and gazing at the variegated green hills and fields. Not completely an idyll, because Michele had to ask the guy with the weed whacker to go somewhere other than directly in front of the terrace, and because I asked the wait staff to turn down the Tyrol-style music!
The lunch was served by a lovely cheerful woman who was friendly even though her English wasn’t quite as good as my Italian. (I am now able to insert a helpful word occasionally, and conduct the most elementary conversation). When she brought the antipasto plate, it was so large we though it was for the table - no, one each! Each containied bruschetta, crostini negre (liver on toast),
Montalcino weekly market
Oh to buy fresh flowers and fruits and vegetables!
herb cream spread on toast, and a slice of prosciutto (which tastes more robust than in Canada). Previously she had brought a basket of Tuscan bread and homemade rolls similar to well-kneaded baking powder biscuits. The prosciutto tasted exquisite with these. The pasta course was new to me - pici (thick, spaghetti-shaped) in tomato and wild boar sauce. The meat course was small slices of pork tenderloin in olive oil and lemon sauce, served with lots of spinach (stir fried and steamed with garlic) and heavenly small roasted potatoes with rosemary and onion. Dolce: cantucci and vin santo – always good.
Another drive through the rolling country side brought us to the Nardi estate
which produces the (apparently) famous “Nardi Brunello di Montalcino” wine. We met George (a German PR fellow), who was more scientific than Gino of yesterday, but equally interesting in his own way. He talked about the history of wine making in the area while we stood/leaned/sat on the terrace overlooking the spectacular view of vineyards, fields and hills. Then we moved into a vineyard, where he showed us how the vines are grown and trimmed to produce the best grapes. He emphasized, as had Gino, that
Pops of red beyond my expectations
they make the wine in the vineyard not in the vats. That is, the perfection of the grapes is more important that all the other processes. Interestingly, he commented that as the climate warms, they are planting the new vineyards (replacing the over-age vineyards) to slant more to the north and west. This is to prevent the grapes from ripening too fast. Also, by trimming the leaves and suckers, they can plants the vines closer together.
Then we moved along to the storage and processing areas. The steel vats were fairly normal, although they do more with the successive pressings than I’ve heard before. After making the wine, the residual “ake” is pressed to form the base of “grappa”, an herbal liquor. The storage in the oak barrels for this wine is to allow for transpiration and airing, rather than developing an oak flavour.
Finally we moved up to the tasting room to try their table red wine and the Brunello. George thought these were sold in Dallas for $30 and $60 respectively. The table red did not please me too much, but the Brunello was beautifully robust and smooth; however, I seemed to be the only one
Put yourself into this medieval setting
who really liked it. I couldn't leave it all lonely on the table, and drank several wonderful glasses. What we all learned is to air our newly opened bottles longer – for about 2-3 hours. “Open at lunch, drink at dinner.”
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