Roadtrip with my dad: the non- vineyard part

Finally you might say 🙂  I think or no I’m actually sure Tuscany is the most talked and written about region in Italy… writing something new would therefore indeed be difficult, but this doesn’t mean we cannot share our experience! Does it? This trip to Tuscany wasn’t the first trip, I’ve already crossed it quite a few times.  The thing I don’t like about traveling to Tuscany is the amount of tourists  (just double the amount of people you’re imagining). That’s why I prefer traveling to the regions around Tuscany that are more or less the same when it comes to landscapes. BUT there for some cities  you just have to go to Tuscany to see… you can’t get around it!! Like Siena, Firenze, etc… Most of the cities we went to this time I already visited in the past, but when the occasion presents itself are to be revisited…This time our trip guided us to Firenze, Lucca, Pisa, Volterra and San Gimignano. I’ve never been a Firenze fan though (I have the same feeling about Paris). I know it has beautiful buildings and all, but for some reason the city doesn’t float my boat :-). Or maybe it is because it is soooo busy?? I remember being there once with school and everybody was telling me about how long they had to wait in line to see “Davide” (can be found in Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze)… the thing that I’ve been wondering ever since is how I managed to get in and out in just a few minutes??? (I think walked in via the backdoor… I can’t find an other explanation .) For people who want to see Davide and don’t want to wait in line, outside there is a replica. (Not sure what Ignace was trying to grab on the picture below 😉 )

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What does float my boat is visiting small picturesque towns like Volterra, Lucca and San Gimignano (or in southern Tuscany Pitigliano, Saturnia,…) that even-though they aren’t as big or well known as for example Firenze,  to my opinion are as magnificent! First of all they are less touristy, feel very cozy and mostly have amazing panorama’s as they are 9/10 located on top of a hill. The only “disadvantage” about them being on top of a hill is that there are not “flat” streets… but hey, this means we’ll have to spend less time at the gym ;-).

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Pisa is maybe the city in Tuscany where I have to most mixed feelings as besides the square where you have the leaning tower and the Duomo it stops… unless I overlooked things the few times I was there? Again the buildings are beautiful and you always wonder how they managed to build it??!! OK, it official now you guys think I’m a barbarian 😦 Of course when you are in the neighborhood a quick visit won’t hurt 😉 because although there nothing else to see (to my opinion) you have to have seen the real leaning tower…

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I like seeing old buildings, get thrown back in history and walk around, and I don’t want to seem like a barbarian, but a good trip isn’t a good trip without some good food and wine…I do realize that I said I wouldn’t be talking about wine anymore, but hey that’s the way  the cookie crumbles 😉 My preference always goes to asking local people where I should be eating/drinking… the more typical we can eat the better (I mean I’m not travelling to Tuscany to eat Pesto Genovese or Mexican food…) AND the nr 1 thing to avoid is the so called “tourist traps”!!!  In this case it was Guiseppe Cantoni (from Fattoria Fibbiano) who was the source of gastronomical information in the area.

This lead us to some wonderful eateries that were exactly what greedy me and my partners in crime needed :-). Already from the moment we left home Carlos was “whining” about his quest to eatthe famous “bistecca alla fiorentina” (like a T-bone steak) during this trip… His request was my demand…so we went for a search of a good Fiorentina… Result of the search Osteria La Gattaiola. When you see an Italian “mama”  in the kitchen you just know the food will be great… what I found out in this restaurant is that there are more people like my dad… I mean with the same extreme energy and always joking around (comparable with Roberto Benigni in La vita e bella)… that was a loooooot of energy in 1 room 🙂 🙂 As if the 1,2kg Bistecca fiorentina wasn’t enough food for one night, we also needed to have a “small” antipasto just to get the appetite going… (FYI, I ate something lighter O:) )

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Our table for the night

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Another restaurant I definitely would like to mention is ristorante La vallata… where besides there very nice typical Tuscany dishes prepared only with local ingredients (mostly from their own yard including the meat as they grow most animals themselves) and in a refined way .They also serve pizza’s… but not your average pizza…  pizza normally isn’t really to call special and yet at La vallata they manage to make it something special to also only using local ingredients to top the pizza’s like with dried duck ham, or Pecorino, pears, honey and Gorgonzola… or ‘Carpaccio di Chianina Rucola e Spolverata di Cacio di Pienza’ (all pizza’s)… I think we liked the restaurant as we went there twice in 5 days :-). They also have a very nice wine list also here only local producers (they also have Andrea Boccelli’s wine on the list) or own production with a very nice Nero Puro.

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A few other places to try:

Enoteca Del Duca in Volterra: very good for refined Italian/Tuscan food

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Il latini in Firenze : just fun to eat here… no fancy or special food, hams hanging around and eventhough there is a menu you’ll have to eat what they tell you to 😉 Also they do have a nice wine selection, but standard they open a Fiasco of wine…(unless you specify you don’t want it)

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L’osteria di Gianni Brunelli in Siena: good food with a great wine selection.

I really had a great trip and I would like to thank everybody who helped making it so wonderful!!! Traveling with the right people is always great 🙂 After trips like this I really wonder why I’m still living in Belgium and working with SAP:-) ???

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Roadtrip with my dad: Abbazia Monte Oliveto

The last vineyard we did on our trip was Abbazia Monte Oliveto, which is just like Castello d’albola a vineyard of the Zonin group. Unlike most of the other vineyard the Zonin Family has, this is a much smaller estate where only produce 3 types of wine, 2 white ones and 1 red. I know I said Castello d’albola was beautiful, but although Abbazia monte Oliveto is much smaller it sure is a hidden treasure. At the front you have a view on the only a stone throw away charming mediaeval town San Gimignano (where I once met Danny Devitto 🙂 ) . And on the other side a spectacular view on beautiful typical Tuscany hills… I wouldn’t mind waking up with a view like this every morning (which would even be possible as they have 7 rooms )

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When I mention San Gimignano and wine in one sentence a few bells should start to ring. San Gimignano is famous (besides from being a charming but unfortunately very touristy little town right up a hill) for its white wines also known as Vernaccia di San Gimignano. What is typical about the Vernaccia di San Gimignano is its slightly more acidity than in usual white wines and maybe a bit of bitter aftertaste … this makes that it is not always an everyman’s friend. A Vernaccia di San Gimignano should also be drunk fairly young. Like for many wines also for the Vernaccia di San Gimignano there are also rules for making this type of wine. It must contain 90% Vernaccia grapes, with up to 10% other non aromatic approved white varieties. In addition for a “Riserva” the rules say it must have a minimum of twelve months of aging. BTW the reason I always stress out it is a “Vernaccia di San Gimignao” is because there are also other varieties of Vernaccia but that are a totally different thing: Vernaccia di Oristano (from Sardinia – sherry-like) and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona (from Le Marche – sparkeling red wine)….

Back to the “Abbey” which would be the English word for Abbazia. Abbazia Monte Oliveto is as I mentioned a rather small estate, with “only” 18hectares of land of which not all of it being covered by vines. Small is maybe not the right word as I’ve been told there are around 170 winemakers in San Gimignano and I’m sure the San Gimignano premises isn’t infinite 🙂 :-). I personally couldn’t have imagined a more relaxing afternoon than at Abbazia Monte Oliveto! Not that I was stressed or uncomfortable at the other ones, but not sure what made me (and my partners in crime) even more relaxed here?? Maybe it was the view over the hills in combination with tasting the nice wine and good company? Who knows… Abbazia Monte Oliveto only has 3 wines of which 2 are Vernaccia, Gentilesca and the Vernaccia di San Gimignano both made from 100% Vernaccia grapes with the biggest difference in the winemaking the Gentilesca being made from grapes from older vines… Their 3rd wine is a ‘Sangiovese in purezza’, so a red wine called Fusaia. From the 2 Vernaccia’s I’m not sure which one I preferred, but to me the Gentilesca seemed to be the “pure” one and the Vernaccia di San Gimignano the “fruitier” one.

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The longer we were sitting there the better the wine became… I didn’t feel like standing up to go “home” (Hotel that is) anymore… I’m sure you know that feeling that you’re so comfortable that moving is out of the question?? Well that’s the feeling we had. I think Carlos was even in trance 🙂 (Although I definitely think it was the wine, hahaha) But can you blame him with such a view??

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2 wines that I was also happy to taste on top of the Abbazia Monte Oliveto, were the wines from Podere San Cristoforo (no, no because it has my name in it) or as I call it “Lorenzo Zonin’s babies”… But I’ll talk about them more in detail another time, because I’ve been talking quit a lot about wines the last few posts). Ok, maybe just this, normally I don’t talk about the etiquette (I normally only focus what is on the inside), but for this one I just have to make an exception as it was entirely covered with Braille “writing” besides normal words… very special ! Obviously the bottle content was also of my liking…

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Moral of my Abbazia Monte Oliveto story, definitely a place to visit and wines to try.

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To be continued… (I promise no more wine talk 😉 )

Roadtrip with my dad: Castello d’albola

During our Tuscany trip we crossed and driven on lots of beautiful country roads, which is definitely one the reasons one should visit Tuscany (or Umbria, Lazio, or any other region in Italy)… if you miss this you’ve missed part of the Tuscany vibe to my opinion. One of the most beautiful and relaxing drives (it felt a bit like being in one of those car commercials) ,even as the driver during this trip, was towards the next vineyard we were about to visit, Castello d’albola one of the Zonin group vineyards. Arriving at Castello d’albola is as magical as driving on the roads to get there… As new as Fattoria Fibbiano was as old is Castello d’albola as it already originates from the 15th century, but only got bought by the Zonin Family in 1979. (if you want to know more about the history) The estate covers around 900 hectares of land or 900 football fields 🙂  of which 150 have vineyards on them and the rest is mostly covered with olive threes which gives you the most beautiful panoramic views. Maybe some pictures help you to convince how beautiful it is up there?? (Admitted the sunny weather made it even better)

Castello d'albola estate

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What I forgot to mention is that Castello d’albola is located just out of the “downtown” of Radda in Chianti one of the few towns where the production of Chianti is allowed. Maybe the first question I should ask you is what do you actually know about Chianti besides it being from Tuscany? When I say Chianti I’m not talking about the “Fiasco”, but about the Chianti Classico and Superiore. The Chianti Classico (can be recognised with the black rooster label on the bottle) and Chiant Superiore can only be produced with grapes from in Castellina in Chianti (SI), Gaiole in Chianti (SI), Greve in Chianti (FI) and Radda in Chianti (SI) and a few little towns on their borders also called sub-zones (for the Superiore grapes cannot come from the border towns). On top of the limitations on the “grape areas” there are also strict rules on the kinds of grapes that can be used to make the wine and aging rules (just like you would have rules for making Champagne, Barolo,…). A Chianti can only be called Chianti when a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese grapes are used to make the wine and if mixed with other grapes (so the remaining 20%), these grapes have to be on the list of allowed grapes like Canaiolo for example. The reason why some winemakers will be mixing Sangiovese with othere grapes is to soften the wines as the Sangiovese grape is a very strong grape with lots of tannins… The aging time must be a minimum of 7 months. I could go on talking about Chianti, but maybe this would bore you and it would take me too much off track about the actual trip 🙂

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I do want to add one more thing. Although most wine estates will like making Chianti wine out of respect for tradition, but most estates will mostly also be making a (super) Toscana IGT where the rules are less strict and a winemaker can let himself go and be creative and show how good he actually is…

It was nice walking around the Castello d’albola’s vineyard as you can feel the history it carries around, somehow it feels like you are going back in time (but then with modern lightning and other features as a bonus) and as like it was meant to be a few motorbikes from 1915 (so from during WO I) were standing on the parking of the estate (they were from other people visiting the vineyard) … so the historical feel was even bigger. It is just unbelievable how thick the walls are from historical buildings like Castello d’albola and how isolating they are (how the keep the right temperature inside). Castello d’albola is worth the visit when you’re visit Tuscany.

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Castello d’albola produces between 500 000 and 800 000 bottles a year (depending on the weather conditions that would influence the harvest (amount)). Part of wines ages in the old cellars, but most of the wine ages in the in 1991newly build warehouse (although I’m not sure it is the right name for it as it is more than that) which has all the modern facilities a winemaker should have to make good wine 🙂

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Like all visits the best part is always the tasting of the finished product where lots of people have worked hard and long for… If only already out of respect for the ones who made it 😉 and combine this tasting with some good local salami, ham and/or cheese and you’ve got an Italian feast (my opinion, I don’t need much to be happy)

I always say my beautiful fiancée has an expensive taste, but I have to plead guilty as well as for some reason I always seem to like the most expensive wines during a tasting 🙂 🙂 (without knowing the price upfront) … FYI it is not that I didn’t/ don’t like the other wines, but the taste wants what the taste wants 😉 From the Castello d’albola gamma my preferred wines were the Acciaiolo, Il Solatio and Le Ellere as they were of a stronger character and had a fuller body with I think the strongest the Il Solatio which is 100% sangiovese aka “Sangiovese in purezza” (which in English would mean pure Sangiovese). I already feel that my home wine assortment increasing.

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The absolute star of the tasting of the wines of the Castello d’albola vineyard was I think their Vin Santo which was one of the best I’ve ever tasted (and I just can’t get enough of the cantucci cookies you dip in that wine). It was sweet, but not too sweet or sticky in the mouth.

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We now set sail to the Abbazia Monte Oliveto wine estate of which you will read more in my next blogpost. After that I’ll stop talking about wine and tell more about other things to do in Tuscany 🙂 (although that mostly also involves eating and drinking 😉

Roadtrip with my dad

For years my dad and I make a yearly trip (long weekend) to Italy, usually around April, with wine as the ‘central theme’… or that is the excuse 🙂 . I know I don’t need an excuse to go on a little trip, but for some reason one feels less guilty when he has an excuse 🙂 What we basically do during these trips is eating, drinking, sleeping and enjoying life combined with an occasional vineyard visit. One of the world’s biggest wine fairs “Vinitaly” in Verona has also been the destination for a few times, but I do prefer visiting a few vineyards from friends in a particular area/ region in Italy. Normally it is my dad making all the arrangements, but this year it was my turn to organize the trip which brought us to the always beautiful Tuscany… No matter how many times you visit Tuscany it doesn’t wear off… The only thing that usually bothers me is the enormous amount of tourists!! FYI, I’m not a tourist, from the moment I cross the Italian boarder I’m an Italian (double nationality) 🙂 🙂

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The main reason I picked Tuscany was because during 2 wine tastings in Belgium I met 2 guys whose wine I liked and their vineyards happen to be in Tuscany :-). The first guy is Lorenzo Zonin (my blogpost) who have vineyards all over Italy of which 3 (+ 1 personal from Lorenzo) vineyards in Tuscany and the other guy it Matteo Cantoni from Fattoria Fibbiano (my blogpost). What I did not realize when I was planning my trip that during this period Italy celebrated its National holiday during this period… but ok in the end all worked out anyhow (so no damage).

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The initial plan was to sleep at the Agriturismo from Fattoria Fibbiano as it is close to lots of “must-visits” in Tuscany like Sangiminiano, Volterra, Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Firenze, San Miniato, Lari, Vinci, Calci… but due to the fact they are so popular and I waited too long to book we stayed at one of Fattoria Fibbiano’s friends (that are only 1 km away)Agriturismo Santo Pietro… so you see one excuse made room for another as I just have to return just to be able to sleep at Fattoria Fibbiano’s agriturismo 🙂 (ooooooh yeah). I have to admit that where I slept didn’t matter as long as I could see the people I wanted to see I’m happy! (in case you didn’t know it yet, I’m a people person) Another option would have been staying at Abbazia Monte Oliveto’s agriturismo (from Zonin)

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Stay tuned to read more about our trip and the wonderful hospitality we got!

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