Wine-tasting in Tuscany

September 16, 2009

Tuscan countryside

One of my closest friends, Sebastian Zutant, is a sommelier at an excellent restaurant in Washington, DC — Proof. Last week he was touring Tuscany with his wife, visiting vineyards whose wine he features at his restaurant. I rode the train up from Rome to meet them for a couple days, and they took me to a private tasting at Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, a gorgeous and massive estate in the Chianti region. The Folonari family has been in the wine business since the late 1700s, and they now own some 900 hectares of vines scattered throughout the area. The particular estate we visited is their largest — it dates back to the year 1300 — and is the place where their operations are headquartered.

grapes ready for harvest

Sebastian’s Italian distributor helped arrange this private tasting, which included a quartet of Texans who happened to show up at the right time and beg their way onto the tour.

tasting room

We began in the tasting room, sitting around a twenty-five-foot table, while our host (the woman you see at the head) presented four of their best wines. I’ve gone tasting in California, but I’ve never been part of such a formal and sophisticated affair. We sampled a Chardonnay from the Chianti Classico district, a Sangiovese from the same area, a Sangiovese/Cabernet mix from a nearby region, and finally a Super Tuscan blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. Everyone took notes. I didn’t even pretend to know what any of meant, so I just doodled and focused on my wine. I do know that it was bloody delicious.

I have a soft spot for grappa, or perhaps I should call it a hard spot, but anyway I love the stuff. Sebastian’s wife, Lauren, asked a few clever questions that convinced our host to bring out two of their reserve grappas at the end of the tasting. One was made from the Sangiovese wine we had in front of us, so we were able to sip them side-by-side and recognize their parallel qualities.

grappa tasting

Later they took us to the barrel room and the cellar, and we convinced them to sell us a few bottles of grappa before we jumped back in the rental car and wound through the twisting country roads towards Siena, where we spent a night before returning to Rome.

barrel cellar

old bottles

Chianti countryside

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