Tuscany

Tuscany

Ryan couldn’t wait for today and our tour through Chianti wine country. His favorite wine’s of all are Chianti Classicos which are from the heart of the Chianti region in Tuscany and have black roosters on the label to signify that they are made with the right formula of Sangiovese grapes.

Chianti region in Italy

Our hotel didn’t include breakfast, so we walked to a little pastry shop to carbo-load on croissants and doughnuts before making our way to the train station to meet our Walkabout Florence tour group. Our tour guide, Lavi, was energetic and ready to go. She led us through the station and down to our smaller sized tour bus. There were about 15 people on our bus and it was the perfect size for a tour. Unlike some of our tours in Phuket, Thailand, we did not encounter any other tour groups during the rest of our day on this tour, making it very intimate and unique.

The drive to our first winery was about 50 minutes but it went by quickly as Lavi told us all about the history of Chianti wines. Apparently, in the days of the Romans, wine was terrible tasting. The Romans used any grapes they could find, didn’t prepare the wine well, and diluted it with 2 parts water. Because it tasted so bad, the Romans would add spices and other things to it to mask the taste and mainly drank wine for health reasons (it was safer than water in most cases). Over the years, people discovered that the way you grow the grapes, the size of the bunch, the altitude of the grapes, the soil, amount of skin used, and the aging process are all critical components to making a decent tasting wine. Harsher growing conditions and smaller grape yields typically give the best tasting wines. Not what you would typically think, right?

To grow a Chianti Classico, there are rules the govern all aspects of the wine making process so that the wine quality maintains the Classico standards. For example, the vines have to be planted close together so that they compete with one another for water and minerals. The wine makers do not water the plants so the vines have to drive their roots deep into the soil to find water. The vines have to be planted between a certain altitudes and on a slope because water is harder for them to get. Most importantly, all of the wines have to be at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. There are a slew of interesting rules that go into makings such amazing wines.

Our first winery was Villa Li Corti which sits on top of a hill on the 617 acre estate. We toured the vineyard and the olive groves before going inside to see the wine making process.

We took a tour of the barrel rooms…

And we got to see how olive oil is made. Apparently, “extra virgin” for olive oil means it came from the first press of the olives in the machine (below) after picking. Buyers be ware, the new and trendy “extra extra” virgin oil is just a marketing gimmick and the closest thing to “extra extra” would be eating raw olives.

We went up to the tasting room and sat at a 4 top table with bread and meats for us to try. We started talking to the other couple across from us and learned that they also got married on September 16th as well and were also on their honeymoon! Small world. We had a good conversation about all things wedding, living in Brooklyn, and other miscellaneous topics while drinking some delicious wines and eating the meats.

After tasting #1, it was off to our lunch location – La Cantinetta di Rignana. We bounced and swerved our way on the bus, deep into the heart of Tuscany, to this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was just as special as the restaurant we went to in Hvar and apparently, it was so good that George Clooney and his wife went their twice in the same week! The view was amazing and we were treated to an insanely good meal. George has good taste in food…

Up first were 4 different types of bruschetta: tomato and olive oil, chicken liver, “lardo” which is cured ham fat (like on prosciutto), and mushroom. My favorite two were the lardo and chicken liver – sounds gross but it was so good!

After that, we had two types of pasta: boar rigatoni and truffle ravioli. The shavings of truffle were huge and I am now addicted to everything truffle. It was family style so I had to share the ravioli, but I did not want to!

After lunch, Ryan and I walked through the vineyard and tried a grape that had fallen from the vine. IT was so good.

We hopped back on the bus and off to the third winery. The roads were very bumpy, windy, and narrow and we almost had some “too close to the edge of the cliff” moments… but we eventually made it to the Montemaggio estate. The manager gave us a tour of the vineyard and the gardens.

They were actually harvesting the grapes while we were there, so we got to see the grapes getting crushed and pushed into one of the big tanks. It was quite a treat to get to see all parts of the wine making process in action.

Grape sorting at the Montemaggio vineyard in Tuscany, Italy

We were led through the villa and up to the tasting terrace. There were cheese pairings with our wine and we must have tried 6 different, delicious varieties. The lady next to me was making very strange, monotone noises while our host was speaking, and Ryan was imitating her in a way that almost made me lose my wine a few times. Between his silliness and the wine, we had a blast!

After the last wine, it was back on the bus and to a little square for some shopping. There was an amazing butchery there that smelt heavenly, so we bought some meat and cheese to take back to the States.

After about a 50 minute bus ride back, it was time to say goodbye to our tour group, drop the wine and goodies we bought back at the hotel, and walk over to Il Latini for dinner. Like the night before when we first stumbled upon the restaurant, there were 30 people already there waiting for the doors to open. At least there was a line this time, instead of a massive, unorganized crowd. Thankfully, we had reservations and went to the front of the line to get in pretty easily once the doors opened.

The place was family style so everyone sat close together and it was a very social setting. There was a pre-fixed menu for $55 euro a person, but we were not that hungry, so we ordered a few things off of the menu instead and stuck with the table wine that was only 10 euro a bottle. Little did we know, our “small order” got us enough food for 10 people.

We got the 3 salami plate and did not realize that the “selection of 3 pastas” was actually 3 full servings of various pasta dishes!

After that, was the massive steak and two different, complementary desserts. Thank gosh we did not go for the tasting menu!

As it turns out, the couple next to us who did get the tasting menu didn’t get that much more food than us but they paid double! They got one additional entrée, but we were also given the same desert and a free bottle of desert wine! We started chatting with them about the sheer amount of food and what tasted the best. The couple was in town from California and were pretty fascinating. One was an artist and the other was in the energy business and we had a good convo about American politics for about 45 minutes until all of the wine finally disappeared. Overall, the dinner was very enjoyable and we would recommend Il Latini to anyone in Florence that is anywhere on the scale of very hungry to starving. You will get a delicious meal for a great price.

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Hvar, Day 2

Hvar, Day 2

Today was a relaxing day. After 10.5 hours of sleep and a 9 AM wake up, we got some croissants (my favorite pastries in the world) and breakfast with a view at the hotel. Who cared about some of the missing amenities at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort when you have a pool like the below, including a water slide!

Our view at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

 

After breakfast, we grabbed some sun chairs by the pool. The pool had an endless edge which made our view amazing. At one point, they even turned on the water slide which I couldn’t resist! It took us a few attempts to get the slide technique down right for max speed. The pool was absolutely freezing as well but there were some other people enjoying it so, if they could do it, we could suck it up too!

Ryan got quite a few glasses of wine and read while I looked at Instagram memes and tried to relax. Around 1, we decided to get lunch. Ryan ordered pizza and focaccia and I changed mind mind at the last second from a smoothie to homemade spaghetti carbonara – we were not expecting the massive food portions (made to feed a village!) or we would have shared.

My massive lunch of carbonara at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

After lunch, we soaked up the sun for another hour before getting ready for our wine tour.

We met Mario, our tour driver, in the lobby around 3. He was a boisterous Croatian with a family history on the island of Hvar dating back over 600 years! Mario was our guide to two wineries around the island and then to a scenic dinner in an abandoned village. All along the drive, he told us fun facts, let us enjoy the look-out points, and showed us how to rub the natively grown rosemary in our hands for an amazing smell.

We arrived in Jesla, a little down on the other side of the island that was home to both of the wineries we were visiting. We walked quite a ways through the town to the little converted garage that served as the wine tasting room for Teo Huljic’s wine. Teo makes about 6-7,00 bottles of Hvar grown wine per year for the local people and restaurants. He also owns one of the best eateries in down called Konoba Huljic. Our wine guide was very knowledgeable about the grapes grown on Hvar, spoke over 5 languages, and provided some delicious olive tapenade, breads, and spreads to go with the wines.

All of our glasses were solid 5 oz pour, making for an excellent tasting! The owner, Teo, even joined us towards the end and showed me how to cork the bottles we bought.

We eventually walked back through the town to our next winery, Dubokovic. Since it was the end of tourist season, the town was totally empty, making it very romantic.

 

We finally arrived at our second winery and were led down to the basement barrel room. Again, talk about romantic! Our table was among the barrels of wine and it had red candles, wine, cheese, and an assortment of olive oil all made in Hvar for us to taste.

We were in for yet another treat when the winery owner himself lead our tasting, walking us through the various grapes and their personalities over the years. He even went above and beyond and let us try 9 different wines! All of them were very tasty, though Ryan and I had very different opinions on our favorite wine and olive oil – so we had to buy a bunch of them different ones to take home.

Eventually, we smelled, swirled, and sipped through all of our wines and were on toward our final stop, Stori Komin in Malo Grablje. To pass the time, our guide Mario challenged me to a singing competition. Little did we know, Mario was the Croatian equivalent to Josh Groban and sang in an acapella group. He sang traditional Croatia songs to us for about twenty minutes until we pulled up to the ruins of Malo Grablje!

Malo Grablje was abandoned many years ago and only one family remains. That family has a small, 8 table restaurant, Stori Komin, that looks over the valley. If you go to Hvar, you HAVE to visit Stori Komin. We walked through the abandoned homes on a dusk hike up to the restaurant, and Mario pointed out his great, great grandfather’s house among the dilapidated buildings.

Again, we had yet another stunning view from our table at the restaurant. We could also see our food cooking on the fire pit – talk about rustic!

We sat down at one of the tables and quickly started chatting with the only other couple at the restaurant, some very nice South Africans. We ended up talking to them our entire dinner, only pausing to thank our waitress for each dish she brought out. We started with some scrumptious anchovies in olive oil with capers from the area, fresh cheese, tomatoes, and prosciutto.

I ordered one glass of wine and they brought out a large pitcher instead! About halfway through, a bug flew into my pitcher and they brought out another brand new and full one! Talk about A) good service and B) a very lively wine induced dinner! Our main course was this insanely good lamb chop bake with potatoes and carrots. The smell of the lamb cooking on the stove throughout our dinner was so good and the finished product did not disappoint! All of that food was followed with desert of candied almonds, dried dates, and a yummy desert wine. We were stuffed!

The restaurant also had a dog named Cesar running around. He was so cute and reminded us of our puppy back home. Apparently, the family found him almost starved to death, stuck in a ditch in a grave yard, and they brought him back, fed him some food, and he never left. He was so cute and really enjoyed some of our left overs!

After about two hours of delicious food, wine, and great conversation, it was time to hop back in the car with Mario and drive to the hotel. On route, Mario stopped under the castle at the top of the mountain overlooking the harbor and told us how it used to be a disco. Him and his friends would climb into the tower window of the castle (below) to enter the night club and that was how he met his second wife. Mario was full of personality and some great stories!

We got back to our hotel around 10 PM and I fell into bed. We had an early morning for our boat ride to Split and Ryan told me I needed to pack before bed. I responded, with full conviction, that I was already packed and that I was going to sleep in as late as possible. Of course, in the morning, I awoke to the real situation – a suitcase that look like it exploded in the middle of the night with clothes strewn everywhere.. Note to self, wine-brain lies to you about your packing status!

Continue on our journey through Croatia…