So, there are a couple types of tours: (1) the tour in a giant brightly colored and tour-branded bus full of people, and (2) the small group tour in a nondescript van with a maximum of only 8 people. While in theory this smaller group tour might sound much more inviting than the giant bus tour, everything about the personality of the small tour depends on those other 6 people. The giant bus full of people does not have a personality (other than the "tourist" personality). You are anonymous and can float around chatting with different people who might match up with you nicely…and move on if they start talking about how much they miss a real pizza with freeze-dried parmesan on top.
Yesterday we did a small group tour of the Chianti area of Tuscany with 4 other people and our guide Giancarlo. Giancarlo was wonderful: soft-spoken, very informative, patient. Also, Giancarlo loves American tourists. He said that American tourists are his favorite, because they enjoy things the most and seem to have the most fun. Most other tourists seem unhappy or depressed and it's not as enjoyable to take them on a tour. (Clearly, phrases that make us bristle…like "All these Italian names are starting to sound the same!" don't seem to bother him.)
We began the tour from the Piazza Repubblica and headed out in our silver VW van with air conditioning into the Tuscan countryside. We stopped first in Impruneta, at a small family run terracotta studio called Forcace Masini.
We got to watch a work in progress:
Pots like this can only be added to in increments of about 12cm of terracotta at a time (structural reasons) and as you can see, the pots don't spin on a wheel/base, the artist walks around the pot and works in circles.
Until fired, the pots are a dark gray color.
The famous "terra di Impruneta" is a clay mixture of sand, calcium carbonate and iron oxide. It feels like a super fine powder in your fingers:
Outside the kiln:
Finished terracotta in the sun:
We left Fornace Masini and headed toward Montefioralle, a small village in Greve in Chianti said to be the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci. We wandered around a bit and took a few photos while Giancarlo talked to a local man who has lived in Montefioralle all his life. There are between 40-80 people who live in Montefioralle (Giancarlo said 40, the internet says 79…either way, it's not that many).
Next stop: the town of Greve in Chianti. It used to be just Greve until 1972 when the words "in Chianti" were added to many small towns in the Chianti region as a marketing campaign to increase tourism and awareness of the Chianti region (which totally worked, apparently).
Giancarlo dropped us off just outside the town center so we could explore the Saturday market for an hour or so. There were people in booths selling produce, fish, meat, clothing, shoes, tools, kitchen gadgets, and much more. It was fun to wander through here with the locals as they socialized with their once-a-week neighbors.
We stopped and had an espresso, then went into the Macelleria Folorni, a deli/butcher shop that Giancarlo said was one of his favorites.
Down in the cheese cave:
This is a beautiful shop and we ended up taking some goodies back to the apartment (prosciutto, salami, cinghale, bresaola, some pecorino, and more fresh eggs).
We got to tour the cellar and learn some things we didn't know (which is fabulous after all the cellar tours we've been on). This is Vin Santo ("holy wine", a traditional Tuscan dessert wine usually made from Trebbiolo and Malvasia grapes), aging in these chestnut barrels since the 1980s:
The grounds of Castello Monterinaldi are gorgeous:
Can you believe this building (below) used to be a chicken coop? Like, you know, for chickens??
After our tour of the grounds we went inside and got to taste four five wines plus the vin santo, plus a little grappa (!!!), along with a light lunch of traditional Italian cold cuts, cheese, sundried tomatoes, bread, honey, estate-produced extra virgin olive oil, and this incredible pear/mustard compote that I must find jars of to take home before we leave. Spicy and sweet, it's perfect drizzled on Parmigiano-Reggiano (or probably on anything).
The owner (Daniele Ciampi) was informative and generous and everyone had a lovely time here. They have a nice saying: Chi ha furia, faccia piano, which basically translates to "Those in a hurry, slow down" (or as Google translate says: Those with fury, face up).
Our next stop was the town of Castellina in Chianti.
We wandered the narrow streets, stopped for gelato, and then headed to our second vineyard: Casa Emma.
Paolo was our guide and gave us a tour of the production and aging areas, and taught us a few more things we didn't know.
After the tour, we went upstairs onto the patio to taste some of Casa Emma's wines. This is Paolo:
And this was our view:
We tasted some Chianti Classico, a single vineyard Chianti Classico, a Chianti Classico Riserva (our favorite), and two Merlots. Very nice wines! We brought home a bottle of the Riserva. We now have 3 bottles to drink in 5 days. I think we can handle that!
Yes, I know I never really told you anything about the other four people in our tour. Let's just say we had a little lesson of our own about patience and tolerance, and overall we enjoyed the tour very much. 🙂