Earlier this year, before the flower blooms and heat waves, I had a the perfect spring day exploring Tuscan Wine Country. Driving north from Rome, along the “Highway of Sun,” my sister and I were leaving the city excitement to take in rustic, painting-like views of one of the most iconic wine regions of the world.
Tuscany is a hillside garden of vines, adorned with villas, wildflowers, and silver-leafed olive trees. Cypresses freckle the countryside, connecting the heavens to the earth with their skyward structure.
First stop was to enamoring Tuscan village Montelpulciano. This hill-top town of deep Etruscan origin, is famous for its production of Vino Nobile. The hilly town provided us with an early morning workout as we ambled its sloping cobbled streets. Dramatic overlooks offered stunning countryside vistas and my camera and I were happy.
From Montelpulciano, we drove to the town of Montalcino, think Brunello – “The Boss” of all wine. Brunello di Montalcino is my favorite Italian wine and is Tuscany’s most esteemed. Although it derives from Sangiovese grapes just like Chianti Classico, Super Tuscans, and Vino Nobile, Brunello is recognized for its heightened complexity and decadence. But what then, if not the grape, makes this wine so special? When I asked a Montalcino local her answer said it all – it’s a combination of the sun, rain, volcanic soil, proximity to the sea, and altitude. Everything works in perfect harmony.
Before tasting wine, we visited the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Italy. Surrounded by a carpet of white wild flowers and draped in late March sunlight, the abbey was a painter’s paradise. We laid in the grass taking turns picking dandelions, and childhood nostalgia quickly seeped in . How can a foreign place feel so familiar?
After the hype built up from our morning adventures, a hearty Italian meal (with wine of course) seemed necessary to pursue next. We joined fellow Americans for an intimate dining experience in the wine cellar of Poggio il Castellare. A three-course meal ensued featuring a traditional Tuscan meal – pici pasta, sheep’s milk cheese, wild boar salami, and prosciutto. In typical Italian fashion, a bottle of wine accompanied each plate. The afternoon was filled with joyous conversation and spirited laughter – the beauty of wine and food to bring strangers together!
Enjoying a wine and food induced slumber, I napped on our way to Pienza, a tiny village in southern Tuscany, known worldwide for its production of Pecorino cheese. On a late Tuesday afternoon, we wandered the vacant streets of this silent town, stopping only for cheese and gelato shops, naturally. With a cone each of stracciatella in our hands, my sister and I found a quiet spot in the sun. We sat with the Renaissance city to our front and grand Tuscan scenes to our back.