Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life as Tuscan Gentry

Our farmhouse provided by the Barberanis did not have a check out time, so we left late the next day. We continued Anna's manual drive training as we left the, main highway and chose the narrow, hilly route through Tuscany. We passed medieval towns, forts, and churches, all located promenantly on hilltops. Dry grasslands turned to green forests as we entered the Chianti region. Between Florance and Siena, the forested hills of Chianti produce the food and wine that often define Italy in the minds of Americans. We arrived in the early evening to our Castle-turned-b&b.

Castello di Meleto stands atop a hill above the surrounding forest, encircled by vineyards. Its history dates back to the 12th century, and it was enhabited by powerful Florencian lords, who were friends with the DiMedici.  A window through the castle wall lit our room and overlooked the herb garden of rosemary (which grows like a hedge), sage, and basil. Our bathroom was rounded, as it followed the bend of the tower in which it was located.  We explored the grounds and met some Americans who were involved in management and offered to take us on a tour the next day. We headed down to the restaurant and were greeted with an outdoor table for the cool evening. The window into the kitchen allowed a view of the master chef preparing his delicacies. Or in some cases, not so delicate, as with the 3 pound t-bone, a Tuscan tradition, our neighbors split. The menu had many other traditional options, such as the thick tomato and bread soup Anna savored and the pasta with wild boar sauce I enjoyed. The real drama was in the kitchen, however, where the head chef and waitress disagreed over an order. From then on, the soux chefs ran for cover and the other waiter lowered his head like a whipped dog when entering the kitchen as the chef stormed about violently assaulting his culinary creations with flying herbs. We decided that there must be some personal history with the waitress igniting his anger more than was prudent in a kitchen with an open window to the patrons, but our food continued to be excellent, so we simply watched the fireworks. After a bottle of Chianti classico, we made our way unsteadily back up the hill to our four poster bed and collapsed.

The next day, as promised, Tony, a wine expert from Chicago hired to assist the castle winery, toured us around the castle. Beautiful paintings and frescos adorned the walls, discovered in the castle's many cellar tunnels. We entered the tunnels to see vats of wine maturing and bottles from every year of the winery dating back to 1935.  They oldest they would sell was around 1968, and even that was iffy.  After the tour, we sampled six kinds of traditional Chianti wines while Tony instructed us on Italian wine. I spit several times (the pours were liberal) so I would be able to drive to another winery nearby. This was located at an old monestary which had been inhabited by monks from the 12th century until Napoleon kicked them out in the 19th. We sampled more wine, and traveled on to another town, where we walked inside the old city walls and ate more gelato.

For dinner, we returned to our neighborhood of Gaiole and found a table at another nearby castle. We dined in the courtyard under the stars where, for the first time since Venice, all those around us were speaking English. The restaurant was touristy likely because of its prices, but the meal was the fanciest we ate in Italy.  Complementary prosecco preceeded a chef's complement of cheese, basil, and olive oil. This was followed by and vegetable and bread dressing topped with scampi (the aforementioned shirmp/crawfish) and a slice of meat from what seemed to be a layer cake of hare, liver, and proscutto. This amazing course preceeded pasta with wild boar, which was followed by roast duck and delicately seasoned lamb. We finished with Tiramissu, and received some complementary cookies as well. Back in the castle, we fell justifiably into a deep sleep.

That catches me up to Siena, about which I already wrote. Review that if you wish, avid followers, for my next entry will take us to Austria.

In real time, we are preparing for another day in Prague. This city is amazingly beautiful and has fantastic beer. Today we will go to a brewery and complete our last minute shopping.

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