This Venerable, Beautiful City: Toscana

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Preface: I know Tuscany is a region, not a city. But this post is more about Tuscany in general than it is about Siena or Cortona.

It’s raining like crazy here in Fermo, and I have quite a walk to and from bus stops everyday. My pants were so soaked when I got to school that one of the administrator ladies handed me a blowdryer to dry my pants. I was so grateful for that act of kindness. Let’s pretend that the blowdryer helped. Let’s face it—my pants will be soaked for days. Sometimes I think my situations are so miserable that I ask myself, “Why are you here?”   In reality, soaked pants and six hours of classes aren’t the top block on the tower of misery, but they seem so in the moment. It’s also times like these that I look at pictures, like the ones I took this weekend, and think to myself, “What a wonderful world.” (Sorry, I just had to.) No, really, the great experiences that I have had and wonderful memories that I’m making outweigh the frustrations like an umbrella turned inside out by a huge gust of wind.

Speaking of great experience, this past weekend, I and five other American tutors lived the dream: we went on a wine tour in Tuscany. How could we come to Italy and not drink wine in Tuscany? This experience, to me, will be one of the most defining moments of the trip. We left Cortona early in the morning to meet our tour guide, Maurizio (otherwise known as Mau), at the train station in Siena. Mau, a true Florentine, studied history in Florence and has worked in the wine industry before, so he was the real deal. As he drove us around the Chianti region, which is in between Florence and Siena, he gave us a brief, but detailed history lesson. Tuscany was settled by the Etruscans, a people who lived centuries before Christ. They were the ones that started the art of winemaking in what we know as Italy. And the Chianti region is one of the oldest regions of vineyards in the world! Tuscany holds many Etruscan museums that I wish I could have seen; some of the original walls the Etruscans built are still standing.

A member of the Medici family ensured the protection of the Chianti region and though the same grapes are grown all throughout Italy, wine can only be considered Chianti if it is grown in this region. You can tell its authenticity by the black rooster symbol on a label.

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For our first winery, Mau took us to Fattoria Montagliari, a very old family-run winery that has been in existence since 1720! For a lover of all things historical and vintage, it couldn’t have been a better choice! The views of the valley were beautiful, but I can only imagine what it looks like in summer or early harvest when the vines actually have foliage on them! I have decided that I MUST come back to Italy, if only to see that.

20150321_131401 Here we had a tour of the cellars and tasted an everyday Chianti Classico, Chianti Reserve, and Super Tuscan wine. We also had a taste of olive oil made from olives from their property as well as balsamic vinegar made from the skins of their grapes. I have never seen balsamic vinegar so thick and beautiful in all of my life, nor one that tasted as sweet. We don’t have this type of quality in our stores. The balsamic vinegar is so sweet that they put it on ice cream for dessert. This struck me as odd, but, we had the opportunity to try it at lunch. Believe me, it’s delicious. But it has to be the good quality balsamic.

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After our tasting, we went to lunch at the winery’s trattoria. We ordered a large bottle of wine and sat down for a very relaxing and memorable lunch. These times are my favorite and always have been—times of wine, food, and conversation. If I did nothing but that for the rest of my time here, I would probably be satisfied.

After our lunch, Mau took us to a different winery, one that was newer and had a larger production. Casa Emma was about 20 minutes away, and I’m sure its scenery is stunning in the summer as well. The guide, Leticia, took us on a quick tour through the cellars, and hopped straight into wine tasting, which was fine with us. We tried three more wines made from the Sangiovese grapes and a Merlot as well. By this time, our teeth were purple enough to scare small children, and we were having a hard time deciding on a favorite. All these wines were great! We also had warmed bread with their olive oil and salt—it’s becoming a favorite food for me—as well as their balsamic. This afternoon was such a memory, and I’m glad I experienced it with these girls. Mau dropped us off at our hostel in historical Siena where we spent only the night roaming around before heading home early the next day.

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Photo credit: tour guide, Maurizio Photo property of: Brittany Johnson

My only regret is that we had only the one full day to spend in this region where people spend weeks. There is so much history in Tuscany, so much to see. The vineyards have been around for centuries, still acting as a Mecca for wine lovers. Though wine tours are not cheap (and for good reason), I could not leave Italy without having sipped wine in the rolling Chianti hills. The sacredness of their winemaking reflects wine’s important place here in Italy. Water is a universal symbol for life; for Italians, wine functions as that symbol as well. In fact, they drink wine more than they drink water, and for them, that’s normal. In Leticia’s household, her father and grandfather do not sit down to a table unless there is a bottle of wine to be opened. In Siena, in Tuscany, the people are very happy. Mau says it’s because they live in Tuscany and drink the wine. I would like to say that I would be happy all the time if I lived in Tuscany, too. But seriously, perhaps this is true. Perhaps all it takes to be happy is wine. Wine and learning to be content where you are, loving the skies you’re under. An age-old, simple formula. What more do we need?

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