I would like to make a sincere apology to anyone reading this post who has any kind of love- or even true appreciation- for wine. I say this with Stephanie, Dave, and Linnet, especially in mind. The way this post must make you feel is unfair and grossly jealous. I honestly hate that I do this to you. If there was anyway I could mask the reality of my experiences and dull them into gray, I would. But I find that option to be dishonest and lacking of integrity. And so, I am sorry. Don’t hate me, because… I would.
Blaine and I only stumbled into the Tuscan village of Tavarnelle because we forgot to book a hostel for one night after Amalfi. We thought, in our somehow perpetually blissful ignorance, that there would be a night train for us to take from Napoli to Firenze (Florence). From there, we had the next night booked in Firenze.
There was no such train. We could only find one at noon. And so we would be too early, and so I booked us a night at Ostella di Chianti. Yes, as in, the Chianti wine region of Italy.
So we take a train to Firenze, then take a bus into the country side, gawk at rolling hills of vineyards basking under the Tuscan sun, arrive in Tavarnelle, get lost, finally find our ostella, and check in.
First impression of the hostel: the reception desk smells strongly of lavander. There are lavander buds strewn across the desk and a bottle of lavander Dr. Brauner’s organic fair-trade soap. I begin sticking my face on the desk and huffing the lavander buds. After so many smoky, exhaust polluted cities, the lavander and sweet Tuscan air was overwhelming.
We check in, go to our room, its really nice, and I tell Blaine that I might not be able to leave tomorrow. Book an extra night? He was thinking the same thing. So we walk back to the reception desk and immediately book another night.
After a quick settling, we go out into town for dinner. We pick a small place on a side road with cheap outdoor furniture. Our bet was that it would be the cheapest. Our waitress/cook didn’t speak English, and so I ordered without knowing exactly what. Turns out, it was a set menu of the day and it included a bottle of Chianti. Can you say “perfecto?”
Our first plate, which was on a plastic plate, was four different bruschettas: tomato and basil (with local olive oil, TO-DIE-FOR), one with some kind of cheese, one with artichoke hearts, and one with life-altering pesto. Delicious. We knew we had chosen well and that we were in for it. Next came ravioli filled with cheese and chopped fresh pear. Yes, that’s correct, pear bits inside my cheesy, perfectly olive oil smothered ravioli. Mind-blowing. For dessert we were served traditional local almond biscotti and coconut cookies, both intended to be enjoyed with our wine. A surprisingly great pair!
After dinner, an Italian man who was a friend of the cook’s poured us more wine (after our bottle was gone) and talked to us about the village and surrounding area. When he began to pour second glasses I worried that we might get charged. “You want-a more-eh?” If it’s free… I hesitate. “You shhure? …its-a good wine-a?” A valid argument. Who was I trying to stop an Italian man from pouring me more Chianti wine while I am sitting in Chianti? As it turned out, the extra two glasses of delicious wine never made it onto the bill. Ha!
Feeling fulfilled, in all that that word can mean, Blaine and I walked into the town’s main square where there was a market beginning to start. I bought some olives, candied nuts, dried dates, and a doughnut filled with nutella. Then we watched some odd display on the stage they had set up where some people were demonstrating a kind of treadmill technique. Or at least that’s all we could make out that was happening. They were doing it all to dance music, and that was entertaining enough.
In the morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and began walking towards the medieval town of Barberino. The walk was gorgeous, cypress trees, views over rolling hills covered in vineyards, the air was sweet and clean- basically imagine any painting you’ve seen in an Italian restaurant and impose an image of us walking through it.
After some wandering, we found ourselves walking down a dirt road towards some vineyards. Our dirt road dead-ended at the edge of a large patch of grapevines. I was washed over with happiness. I even touched a grape, plucked it off, and ate it. Don’t picture juicy here. It is far too soon in the season for that. What I got was intense sourness and then a punch of bitter, but wonderful nonetheless! And worth the experience.
Then we sat under a tree and tried our very hardest to soak it all in. No matter how much we explained our sentiments, shared our feelings out loud, we never felt as if we could express the amazing feeling of sitting by a vineyard, in the shade of a tree, in Tuscany. We tried and tried, but our need to poo brought us back to reality. Leaving paradise, we walked back up the dirt road, into the the village, in search of a toilet.
We found a cafe. After a brief debate if whether buying a cappaccino was worth a bathroom or not, we sat down and ordered our coffees. I went first into the bathroom. I walked in, closed the door, and found myself in the most beautiful and picturesque Italian bathroom that this world possesses. Before anything could happen, I began photographing it. Now you know I’m sick in the head, (and if this is your first indicator, you need to pay more attention).
The toilet was situated next to a gaping window that overlooked miles of rolling vineyards and villas. No better way to take care of business. And down to the scented hand soap, this bathroom represented to me the finite details of quality of life. This is what a stand for.
I returned to our table on the patio of the cafe to find Blaine and two cappuccinos with finely ground espresso sprinkled ontop. I told Blaine to make sure to take his camera to the bathroom with him.
When he returned, we enjoyed our coffee, talked about life, our hate of Starbucks, our disgust for American excess, raising our children in the woods, and how we think Christmas trees are stupid. After lolling over our drinks for an hour, we strolled back to our home-village, Tavarnelle.
Back at the hostel, after I booked another hostel in Venice for my last night in Europe, Blaine and I headed to the grocery store to grab lunch. We selected grapes, apples, focaccia, and asiago cheese. We ate these things in a park, enjoying the enveloping heat of a dryer Italian climate.
Lunch ended and we used our hostel’s map to guide us to a vineyard where they suggested we go for wine-tasting. Strolling down a winding road through olive trees and acres of grape vines, we eventually made our way to our destined vineyard.
We went inside the front door of the warehouse, a man greeted us, and said, “let’s go.” And so we followed him into a big warehouse with huge tanks of wine and a few oak barrels. There was also a display set up on a table of many bottles of wine. After he expalined to us how everything worked and how they made their Chianti, we began tasting.
Our first glass: Chianti Reserva, aged for a minimum of five years, ninety percent Sangiovese, ten percent Merlot. He was surprised how much the two Americans enjoyed it. He said he thought it might be hard to like since it was such a strong red. Oh please. I take my baths in Cabernet. (Ok, so I don’t, but what if I did!)
He then offered us their Merlot. It didn’t even compare. As he said, Merlot is great anywhere, in Chianti it is better to enjoy wines that are special to the region. We agreed. On any other day that Merlot would have been the best ever, but it just didn’t stack up to a glass of Chianti made on the vineyard in which I was drinking it… IN Chianti!
I asked him about the Grappa they made. He said it was good for winter, as a digestif. I asked to try some- sure enough: little flavor and big bite. I was hoping I would love it because it came in bottles small enough to take back on the plane with me. Alas!
Feeling like we were pushing our luck, I asked to try their dessert wine. It was called a “Vino Santo” and was somehow religious and very unique to this region of Chianti. Because Italians don’t add sugar to their dessert wines, the Vino Santo we tried was strong but incredibly juicy and dangerously drinkable.
The only thing left that I was curious about was their olive oil, so I sampled some. Smooth, simple, and pure. He told me not to drink it, so I resisted, but I so would have gulped that stuff down!
Blaine and I left the vineyard on an incredible high, because, you know, it was all free somehow, and walked back into town talking about how amazing we felt and how much we love Tuscany.
* * *
To be continued…