I submitted this post to the contest organized by the Great Wine Capitals Network and I was among the finalists!
– I think that this might be our exit but I’m not sure-, I said tentatively. I could never tell whether the signs indicated an exit or a service area. I’m not a very good navigator and Italian road signs got the better of me every time.
– What does the sign say?-, my husband Sean asked.
– Cortona. But it has a petrol pump next to the name so I don’t know if it’s a service area or an exit.
We drove past the sign, which turned out to be the exit we needed to take to get to Avignonesi winery in Montepulciano. The 138 kilometre drive south from our agriturismo in Montespertoli had not gone very smoothly; road works on the autostrada forced us to take many detours and our GPS did not work well, if at all. We had to rely on maps, unclear road signs and sheer good luck. Getting lost was an integral part of our trip. The beauty of the rolling Tuscan hills in early spring, however, didn’t do much to soothe our nerves. This was our honeymoon and, like many newlyweds, we bickered a bit. Except we’d been married for a while.
Naively, we thought that we could drive a bit farther, take an underpass and go back. That was not to be. We had to go on for at least another 25 kilometres and then take inner country roads all the way back to the Cortona exit. Only then did we find the winery.
We were 45 minutes late for the tour. A very sympathetic member of the winery’s staff said that even Italians got lost trying to get there too and that we were not to worry. She kindly offered to take us to the Vinsantaia, the Vin Santo cellar, where we could catch the tail end of the guided tour. We joined the tour party as they were walking into the cellar.
Vin Santo is a dessert wine typical of Tuscany made with Malvasia and Sangiovese grapes. We learned that at Le Capezzine estate, the grapes are carefully harvested, selected and laid out on reed mats. Then they are pressed and the fermented must is stored in 50 litre caratelli (Slavonian oak kegs.) Two litres of mother yeast are added to each caratello and left to age for ten years. This makes the Vin Santo sweet, dense and stable. The cellar smelled of oak, yeast and the love and devotion with which the wine is made.
Afterwards, we were shown to the Foresteria, the light and airy dining room with beautiful views of orchards and rows of vines down the valley. We sat by ourselves in a corner table, away from the slightly noisy German tour party. The waiters were very attentive and knowledgeable. I think they liked us: we got a second pour here and there. It could have been the fact that we were on our belated honeymoon eight years after our wedding that endeared us to them.
This memorable lunch started with un benvenuto dallo chef, the Chef’s welcome: a glass of Il Marzocco Chardonnay Cortona DOC 2013, which woke our taste buds and made them ready for what was to come. For primo, first course, I chose the gnocchi with fresh fava beans and cherry tomatoes. The gnocchi were light and airy and the fava beans provided the right amount of freshness and piquancy. Sean had the pasta with lamb and eggplant sauce. The flavours were simply perfect; the lamb ragú was flavoursome but not overpowering. We washed it all down with an opulent Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOGC 2010 (Sangiovese) and a spicy Grifi Toscana IGT 2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese).
The secondi were just as delicious and enjoyable as the primi: filet of beef, perfectly seared on the outside and rare on the inside, with a wine sauce and a silky chickpea mousse with pecorino cheese sauce. The wines paired with these delectable dishes were a 50&50 Toscana IGT 2006 (Merlot, Sangiovese) and a Riserva Grandi Annate Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2007 (phew, that’s a mouthful!) I couldn’t say which wine I enjoyed more.
The star of the meal was the dessert wines, the Vin Santo and the Occhio di Pernice. Each of us chose a different wine so we could try both. The waiter poured a small amount of slightly chilled Vin Santo in a big snifter and tilted it. He told us to roll the glass gently and let the wine coat the sides while the legs formed on the crystal like golden tendrils. The Vin Santo was sweet and dense as it should be. Every small sip was a like a punch of flavor in the face. I had fresh strawberries with whipped mascarpone with it.
The Occhio di Pernice was an experience in itself. The waiter poured what seemed like a few drops that got lost in the snifter. Very slowly, it began to gather at the side of the tilted glass. If the Vin Santo was sweet and dense, the Occhio was even sweeter and denser, almost like molasses, with an intense depth of flavour. A couple of drops were enough to coat my mouth. It was cleverly paired with an assorted platter called Provocazione: fried sage leaves (unexpectedly delicious,) fresh goat cheese with poppy seeds, dried blood orange slices, dark chocolate with ginger, a spoonful of homemade blackberry gelato, a rosemary and walnut biscotto. Every flavor either contrasted or complemented the wine perfectly.
After this memorable experience, I was feeling lethargic and mesmerized by the spectacle of low storm clouds rolling in from above the valley. An espresso put an end to my wine and food induced stupor and gave me the energy I needed to continue exploring the Tuscan countryside. What a wonderful way to celebrate our marriage.
I am not affiliated with the company in any way whatsoever. This is an account of our experience.