Why do people love to visit Tuscany so much? Just mention the word “Tuscany” in certain circles and you are greeted with ecstatic sighs and proclamations of undying love for rows of cypresses, for quaint hilltop villages, for rolling green hills and . . . for wine. Every wine lover knows that the fertile soil of Tuscany grows the grapes that made some of the world’s most iconic wines — chiantis, rossos, vernacias, and the queen of them all–brunellos.
I first tasted a brunello wine from Montalcino in 2000 when I was staying in Montalcino during the filming of a documentary “A New Arcadia: The Art of Gregg Simpson” (check it out on YouTube!) about the work of Canadian painter Gregg Simpson, who also happens to be my partner in life.
When we weren’t hanging out with the film crew at the fantastic fourteenth century Fortezzo di Montalcino (worth a visit on any Tuscan itinerary), we were lounging in the bodegas of Montalcino, sampling full, rich brunellos and their lighter cousins, the rossos di Montalcino. I’m no wine expert (I just like wine) but I will always cherish memories of sipping wine in Montalcino and Siena, the Chianti region and San Gimignano, Montelpulciano and Cortona while gazing out at landscapes that don’t appear to have changed since the time of Da Vinci.
On a recent trip back to Tuscany to research locations for my novel, The Towers of Tuscany, I treated myself to a day off by booking a full day wine tour from Siena. I loved every day I spent in Tuscany on my solo trip, but the day I spent being chauffeured around Tuscany by Franco Fadda was the best. Franco advertises small group tours to visit local wineries within easy driving distance of Siena. We visited two wineries—one in my beloved Montalcino and the other in Montepulciano. Franco also escorts trips into the Chianti region and a white wine Vernaccia tour that includes San Gimignano and Volterra.
As promised, the group was small—just me, two couples from the States, and another young couple on their honeymoon. First up was the visit to a winery near Montalcino. We did not have time to visit the town itself, but fortunately I’m already well aware of its charms. Montalcino is the epicenter of the brunello wines. Say “Brunello di Montalcino” to any wine lover and watch him or her swoon. The winery we visited was spectacularly situated on a hill overlooking the iconic Tuscan countryside. We were given a short tour of the winery before ending up in a dark room full of oak casks and lots of wine to taste, including two wonderful brunellos. After the tasting, we were given the opportunity to purchase a bottle or even a case for shipping back to North America. I treated myself to a bottle that, two years later, I have still not opened. It’s just too precious. I’m keeping it for a special occasion—selling the film rights to The Towers of Tuscany, perhaps, or maybe becoming a grandmother. I’m not sure which is more likely.
An arduous morning spent sampling wine at the Montalcino winery was followed by an awesome lunch at a tiny restaurant in a tiny Tuscan town that I don’t even remember hearing the name of. We were the only customers for a lunch that went on for two hours and included wine (of course) and gourmet Tuscan cooking. The price of the lunch was included in the tour—definitely a bargain.
After lunch, we visited our second winery near Montepulciano. A highlight at this winery was the opportunity to taste not only some lovely wines but also fresh-pressed virgin olive oil. I had no idea that olive oil could taste that good. Now I wish I’d bought a case instead of just the one bottle.
The long drive back to Siena was a time for nodding off as the stunning Tuscan countryside rolled past in late afternoon splendor. It was October with perfect weather—clear and crisp, with impossibly blue skies and fields in every shade of green and ochre.
Several companies operate wine tours out of both Siena and Florence. I recommend Franco’s tours for people who enjoy small groups and the opportunity to get really up close and personal with wine and the people who make it. Franco himself is a dedicated wine lover and a great source of information about wine and Tuscany.