Tuscany Trip: Day Three – Montalcino, Montepulciano and More Macchina-Misadventure

Our Tuscan journeyings began again bright and early on Wednesday morning, when we set off from Laura Brunelli’s house for La Gerla, one of the properties that Lay & Wheeler has dealt with the longest.

We were a little early at the estate, and while we awaited the arrival of Alberto Passeri we were able to take in the spectacular view across the vines north from Montalcino, while – behind us – a team were renovating some of the large oak botte that resided in the cellar. Once he arrived, Alberto was the perfect host and a fount of knowledge and information, having been there since 1997. Among other things, he was particularly proud of the investment they put into their corks, which at 70 cents a cork represents a fair proportion of the price of their Rosso di Montalcino. Having tasted, over the course of the days, quite a few corked wines (sa di tappo), it would appear to be a wise investment. We tasted the 2010 Rosso, the 2007 Brunello, 2006 Riserva Gli Angeli and 2008 Birba (their super-tuscan), as well as being given a sneak peak of the 2008 Brunello from barrel.

From there, having also been given a tour of their amazing buildingfor agriturismo, which was apparently designed by the architect that has been involved in designing buildings for Prada, we went across to visit Tiezzi. The tasting here was a real delight. Enzo Tiezzi and his family greeted us and – after the tour of vines and winery – led us upstairs to a kitchen, where we were plied with delicious food as well as fantastic wines. It is a situation about which I have no complaints: prosciutto, melon, the house olive oil on fresh bread, fresh redcurrants and pecorino cheese. While Enzo himself had very little English, his 12 year old grand-daughter was astonishingly good, a real star.  The wines were also very good, especially the Vigna Soccorzo, the single vineyard wine, made from fruit from his unique albarello-trained bush-vines.

From kitchen-table dining and family-centric business we moved onto something completely different, as our next appointment was at Mastrojanni, now owned by the Illy Group (of coffee fame). The huge, sleek entrance hall and tasting room spoke volumes for the investment their new owners have put into the property. However, no amount of investment can change the weather and we spent a long time discussing the changes they were having to make in the vineyards and in the winery to compensate for the high temperatures that they are experiencing. The wines we tasted were excellent, their normaleBrunello from the 2007 vintage was – in their own words -vertical” in style, whereas their new Vigna Loreto was more “horizontal”, and while this phraseology is a little strange perhaps, it is surprisingly accurate.

From Mastrojanni, we had a bit of a drive to make, across to Montepulciano. Our lovely guide, Domenico, had at this stage agreed to drive us all – in order to spare our poor little car and its equally poor little wheel any further ordeals. So the three of us piled into his Fiat 500 and made our way across and round and up and down he hills between Montalcino and Montepulciano. It was certainly worth the drive, even as the person in the rear of the car, a little more shaken and stirred than the others. Montepulciano is beautiful. Insanely hot at 2pm in the afternoon, as the surrounding stonework of the medieval town reflects the sun back at you from every angle, but beautiful nonetheless. Our visit here was to Cantina Contucci, a property and winemaking business that has been in the Contucci family since the eleventh century. That’s right, 1000 years of winemaking. It’s incredibly hard to believe, but a tour around the palazzo and the ancient cellars with Andrea Contucci soon gave us a sense of perspective – and, for me certainly, a sense of awe. The wines that the family makes are excellent, very pure expressions of Montepulciano, a fact of which they are very proud. The Mulinvecchio apparently is most popular with UK winetasters, but the Petra Rossa more popular in Germany. They were both delicious, but I personally liked the Petra Rossa the most, so I wonder what that says about me?

It would have been lovely to have been able to linger in Montepulciano a little longer, to explore its streets, maybe taste some more wine. However, we were back on the road and back to Montalcino to see Le Potazzine, a small winery run by Giuseppe Gorelli. A relatively serious character, he was – however – effusive in his explanation of his winemaking techniques and philosophies. He believes that Sangiovese is delicate and that – in order to maintain its purity – his wines need to be left in the dark and in silence for as long as possible during their maturation in wood. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt whatsoever that his wines are beautifully elegant and expressive, with a vibrant, bright acidity – ably demonstrated when he allowed us to taste 2011, 2010 and 2009 from the botte in his cellar. All at very different stages of development, they were nonetheless very evidentally related to one another.

After Le Potazzine, it was sadly time for us to say goodbye to Domenico, who had to return to England and so, once more behind the wheel, we pottered into Montalcino, where we were dining and staying. Cars are not strictly allowed in the town, but it was allegedly possible to drive to the hotel and park there. It was a simple enough place to find, but – sadly – having missed the turning we needed, it became quickly became obvious why cars are not allowed in Montalcino. Narrow lanes, cobbled streets, steep slopes and pensioners sitting on their doorsteps, watching our misadventures with expressions that ranged from dismay to amusement. Asking for directions only brought the information that cars were not allowed in Montalcino and we had almost given up ever leaving the maze of bafflingly similar streets, when we found ourselves on the correct road.

We had dinner reservations at Osticcio, a restaurant recommended to us by Laura Brunelli, and we were joined there by Alberto Passeri, his wife and a bottle of 2004 La Gerla Gli Angeli Riserva. We had a lovely evening in their company, with the conversation covering business, football, children (I have every intention of marrying my daughter to their son), social media and – perhaps inevitably – driving in Italy.  It was a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable time and a great way to spend our last night in Italy.

Only one day of wine, vines and (sun)shine left.

Kat Wiggins

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