(Cheesy selca, check, lame Asian hand signs, check. Fun overload!)
Here’s the best thing we did the entire Italy trip – rent a car on a terribly rainy dreary Italian morning and voyage into Chianti, Tuscany’s wine region, in search of vin santo and scenic countryside.
It started off looking potentially catastrophic, the best car we were able to rent for a catastrophic amount of money was a tiny, almost smart car small Volkswagen Up! with severely limited horsepower, we would be driving on the opposite side of the road we’re used to, and anyone who has attempted Italian traffic will tell you its not a good idea if you’re a local.
But we persisted. And the boys drove on, guided by the monotonous but otherwise (until we reached Greve, Chianti) reliable GPS system, exclaiming at the huge, rolling vineyards and endless blue skies that flew past – as well as a couple of road side hookers who nearly gave us whiplash from the shock of seeing them literally in the middle of nowhere.
FINALLY, around noon, we trundled into Greve, a wine valley in Chianti, largely unhurt and starving for some good, hot, tasty pasta.
Here’s K and I outside the Information Office in Greve. Despite some really bad car sickness, Mints and I instantly felt revived the moment we stepped out of the car and breathed in the crisp, green country air.
Yes, we do love you Chianti, for your delicious, heartwarming wines, awesome food, and perfect rustic experience.
Turns out, we were too late and our group, too small to take part in the mass tours of the bigger vineyards in Greve, which involved some kind of action-packed itinerary around three different wine producing areas and would take up the whole day. Instead, the nice Signora at the counter recommended a lunch and wine tour at a tiny boutique family-run vineyard, friends of hers, at the Azienda Agricola Altiero.
It sounded just perfect, so with sketchy directions and lots of anticipation, we were soon on our way.
This is where it gets exciting. We got hopelessly lost. And by lost, I mean that the guys were cursing at the now useless GPS while driving through thickets and nearly veering off little cliffs as we seemed to be driving further and further into the wilderness and further from any cosy farm offering lunch.
At one point, I think I practically burst into tears (the other three were far more stoic) after I finished my last square of Kinder Bueno and still felt so hungry I could faint. Just as we were starting to think that there was no hope left for our idyllic Tuscan afternoon.. we met a .. post lady.
WHO SPOKE FLUENT ENGLISH
AND WHO KNEW EXACTLY WHERE WE NEEDED TO GO (we were pretty far off the mark, to say the least).
It was really like Mints’ prayers had been answered, because 10 minutes later, we were turning into the driveway of the quaintest, most welcoming looking Azienda ever – the owner waiting in the driveway to start our tour and proudly show us his produce.
After a really interesting explanation of his olives – which ones are used for olive oil (the smaller ones) and which are those used for martinis and eaten whole, as well as him sharing with us the four different kinds of wines they produced, they invited us in for lunch – what better way to find out exactly how awesome their olive oils and wines are than to actually try them on-site, right?
-rubs stomach with a piggy expression-
The house is over a hundred years old and extremely sturdy – brick walls thick enough to stand strong against the elements (it can get really cold up in the mountains there) and years and years of family history and accumulated knick-knacks filled the Azienda Agricola Altiero, from farmer’s almanacs to black and white photos and vintage telephones. I found myself wishing I’d grown up in a house like this, with hidden secrets and new things to discover at every turn – and maybe even a trapdoor or secret passageway somewhere (too much Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, clearly)
Each course was paired with a wine, starting with their pink, light, and fruity Rose, my favourite of the lot – I’m not really a one for full bodied, chocolatey wines unless it’s mulled wine for Christmas !
Our first course was home made rolls with their delicious aged and fresh pecorino cheese, home-cured salami, and three fantastic dips.
So simple but so heartwarmingly delicious. We wiped everything out.
On the left, the three dips homemade by Samuela and Nonna (grandma), her mother-in-law. There was a delightfully peppery and warm spicy chilli jam, a wine-based jelly which went perfectly with the salami, and my favourite, their caramelized onion jam. We immediately decided we’d buy some back, and we’ve since tried to recreate the experience (coming very close)
The fresh cheese was milky, toothsome and really addictive, while the salami was sinfully strobed with fat and had just the right amount of chew.
You know, I don’t think there was anything extremely special about the starter – just that it was home-cooked and home produced from start to finish, with care and with love. That just makes all the difference.
Chilli jam, cheese, a bite of salami, on crusty, soft home baked bread. Heaven !
Here’s us toasting with our Rose’s !
The four wines which are the pride of Samuela and her family this year.
Next up, was Nonna’s specialty – wild boar pasta and my favourite part of the meal !
It was basically al dente fusili with beautiful fork tender, pull-apart wild boar and herbs, and it was so so comforting I felt instantly warm and cozy inside (or it could have been that we were already on our third glasses of wine)
It was a pretty big portion, but I polished off all of mine and even some of K’s. I’m definitely a comfort carb eater – and pasta tops the list on my to-go quick assemble carb hits.
Gosh I can hear my tummy rumbling now in the memory.
And the final course – also K’s pick – some Florentinian style bistecca (beef steak), which was so good, especially with the fresh wild rocket salad underneath !
The meat was cooked just right – pink in the middle and charred and smoky on the outside, and while some pieces just melted in your mouth, others had a good bite and chew – something others may call inconsistent cooking but works for me because I like variety.
Speaking of steak, let me introduce you to Rori, the resident pooch ! She’s really old – 14 – and she was rescued as a puppy after being abandoned by a cruel neighbour and has been Samuela’s shadow ever since. She may be old, tired and shivering but the moment the bistecca made it’s appearance on the table the clock went back ten years and she was sitting next to the dining table, tail wagging and eyes liquid as she begged for a piece (which I gave her, of course. Begging dogs with liquid eyes are my Kryptonite).
After the hearty and delicious lunch, we headed out for some photo snapping – and I’m telling ya, it was CHILLY – think 9 degrees or so? And there I was in my ridiculous Lana Del Rey foral crown and flimsy Liz Lisa summer dress, trying to look like my fingers weren’t about to turn into peach popsicles. I really outdo myself sometimes.
But in this case, it was worth it. I look at these dreamy photos K took of me on our humble camera and I’m instantly transported to that misty moment high in the hills of the Tuscan wine valley, belly full and heart warm.
Then it was back inside by the fireplace to un-thaw and we were approached by the super duper cute Anna, Samuela’s little daughter, who enlisted our help making puzzles !
Looking at her tottering around, just at ease playing with puzzles and computers as she was outside in the garden and showing off her fruit and vegetable patches, I can’t help but wish I had an environment as ideal as this to raise a more well-rounded child.
But Samuela and her husband also shared with me about their financial woes – the lack of jobs, the dependency every year on the weather to make ends meet, competition, etc and I do realise that the grass is always greener on the other side.
Some other photos of that blissful afternoon:
And a rare photo of the four of us not looking goofy:
After lunch, we took a slow leisurely drive to the old town of Fiesole, which sits in alternating valleys and watched the sun go down while taking in the breathtaking view.
It was quite a perfect day indeed.