“Although he’s slight, he has that wiry strength
that seems to come more from will than muscle.”
Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun
We have been looking forward to our journey into the heart of Tuscany’s countryside since the bistecca alla Fiorentina experience in Florence.
Apart from grilling huge Fiorentine steaks at a farmhouse overlooking beautiful vineyards, we are also planning to taste a few good Italian wines.
Being one of the great wine producing countries from the old world, the map of Italy is literally one gigantic vineyard.
In the northwest region of Piedmonte, the nebbiolo grape produces some of the country’s finest Barbaresco and Barolo wines while Veneto in the northeast is an important region where corvina, molinara and rondinella combine to produce some of the finest Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella wines.
Antinori Nel Chianti Classico, Tuscany
Mysaucepan and I choose to visit Antinori Nel Chianti Classico where its wine making tradition dates back a few centuries to 1385.
Antinori’s innovation also helped influence the development of the “Super Tuscan” revolution of the 1970s and has grown to become one of the biggest wine companies in Italy today.
The contemporary architecture of the winery and cellar door is the most opulent and luxurious we have ever visited anywhere in the world.
Natural materials like terracotta and modern wood paneling take on earthy tones of rusty brown, red clay and and burnt sienna to pay homage to the earth and its connection with the wine making tradition of the Antinori family.
The size of the wine tasting room with its contemporary decor is expansive, displaying a range of Antinori’s chianti classico to some of the Super Tuscans it is so famous for.
From its elevated position, floor-to-ceiling glass doors of the tasting room offer a panoramic view of the vast Antinori vineyards across the landscape.
Like many Tuscan vineyards, sangiovese is the dominant varietal. Other Antinori red varietals are canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino with sprinklings of white trebbiano and malvasia.
Glass making is one of Italy’s proud and time-honoured traditions.
Colourful water pitchers and tumblers are on display for sale in the wine tasting room.
Antinori’s Super Tuscans are displayed in one section of the tasting room.
From the tasting room, we wander down a corridor to Antinori’s wine museum which showcases its centuries old wine-making history and tradition.
Various members of the Antinori family held important posts in Rome, one of whom is Donato Antinori (1701 – 1786).
Committed to his ecclesiastical career and duties, he was commended by the Pope of the time for the excellent wines produced and the Vinsanto dessert wine made predominantly with trebbiano and a small amount of malvasia bears his name.
One of the projects of the Antinori museum is to juxtapose history with the future by showcasing the centuries-old wine-making equipment with technology used in modern day.
These old wine presses occupy centre stage in the wine museum. They are dramatic and chart the history and tradition of Antinori.
There is also a theatre within the winery where wine seminars are held.
It appears rather quiet today.
We are the only people catching a glimpse of a documentary about the history of the Antinory winery.
We head back to the tasting room after a tour of the museum.
There are quite a few wines on the tasting list today.
But since I am also driving and we have yet to reach our farmhouse destination, we dive straight into one of the most famous wines from the Tuscan region.
The emergence of the Super Tuscans in the 1970s as a revolt against the restrictive Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) classifications is akin to 20th century composers like Debussy and Rachmaninoff dismantling the Romantic era’s rigid sonata form popularized by the music of Mozart and Beethoven.
It has been widely acknowledged that a defiance against established rules can often lead to new discoveries and the Italian Super Tuscans are a case in point.
The Solaia Toscana IGT is one of Antonori’s flagship reds, a blend of 75%, 20% and 5% cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese and cabernet franc respectively.
Intense ruby red in colour, there are hints of vanilla and damped cloth complexity on the nose. Tannins are soft and beautifully balanced with a lingering finish that is similar to Sophia Loren trailing her Brunello Cucinelli cashmere scarf into the bedroom.
The creation of the less restrictive Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) in 1992 meant producers had more flexibility in creating “Bordeaux style” reds with a combination of varietals other than indigenous ones like sangiovese compared to the stricter DOC and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
The terrace outside is wide as an Olympic swimming pool but perhaps twice as long.
A dramatic spiral staircase connects this three-storey structure from the basement carpark to the rooftop garden.
Rustic bronze handrails are yet another earthy element leading us up towards the rooftop garden.
We catch a glimpse of the Tuscan countryside from the top of the winery where trees are bare from the last vestiges of winter.
Farms and old Tuscan villas dotting the horizon tell tales of toil in carving out a living from the land.
It is little wonder that Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun noted in her novel that “although he’s slight, he has that wiry strength that seems to come more from will than muscle.”
The bounty from this landscape is the essence of Tuscan food and wine culture, one that comes from cucina povera or cooking of the poor.
Its agricultural beginnings meant frugal livelihoods that have continued to modern day. Fresh simple ingredients are still cooked into large, uncomplicated meals more by choice rather than frugality today.
Sustainability has been practiced for centuries where food does not travel far in Tuscany.
The rolling hills all around this region is a glorious food bowl of Mediterranean produce such as citrus fruits, Tuscan vegetables, beans and legumes.
Peasant soups such as ribollita and simple roast meats with a healthy splash of olive oil are quintessential Tuscan cuisine.
La Taverna della Berardenga, Castelnuovo Berardenga
As we head towards Montepulciano, we come past the small town of Castelnuovo Berardenga in the province of Siena.
“We need to find a place that serves cinghiale pasta!!” Mysaucepan says enthusiastically. “This region is world famous for it.”
“So far, I have only had Chinese style stir-fried cinghiale with ginger and shallots or cinghiale curry Malaysian style” I reply.
Michelin star restaurants might serve excellent food with its corresponding price tag but I am always impressed by humble eateries that show little pretense apart from pride in the food from their kitchens. And La Taverna della Berardenga is one such eatery.
Selling sweets, lollies, chocolates, biscuits and cakes at the front of house, the restaurant is rather small inside.
“I think we have come to the right place!!” I say to Mysaucepan, noting the diners tucking into what appears to be a cinghiale ragu with pappardelle.
Table wine is ridiculously inexpensive compared to Australian prices.
“This table red is an easy drinking chianti that would go so well with a charred beef steak or a pepperoni pizza” I thought to myself.
The moment of truth is here with our first meal in the Tuscan countryside.
To conserve calories for a variety of dishes, we tell our waitress we want to share the pappardelle fatte in casa al cinhiale and it arrives half portioned in two plates. The size of this half portioned pasta is generous enough as a light meal on its own.
Rather than providing an extra plate for diners to apportion the meal, this is the kind of pride and service that Italian restaurants in Sydney should emulate.
Freshly made pasta is a daily way of life rather than something special in Italy. The definitive al dente bite is what makes this pappardelle so special.
I am a pepper king and so grind a generous dose of pepe nero onto my pasta.
Chunks of succulent wild boar are tossed with very little gravy and this is the art of the Italian ragu – one where the meat has taken in all the flavours of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices in a slow cooking process.
Washed down with a nonchalant albeit respectable local chianti, this is yet another defining moment in our Italian food safari.
Mysaucepan has a Italian caffè before we head towards our farmhouse for a few days of wood fire Tuscan cooking.
I thank our waitress and tell her it’s one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had anywhere in the world and she appreciatively gives us the thumbs up.
Stay tuned for our Part 4 of our Splendour of Tuscany series for some serious farmhouse cooking.
Antinori Nel Chianti Classico
Via Cassia for Siena, 133 Loc. Bargino 50026 San Casciano Val di Pesa,
GPS coordinates: + 43 ° 61 ‘25.18 “, + 11 ° 19’ 15.71”
Telephone of Reception Offices: +39 055 23595
La Taverna della Berardenga
Via del Chianti, 70/74, 53019 Castelnuovo Berardenga SI
Tel: +39 0577 355547
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 6am – 3pm, 7pm – 10pm, closed on Mondays.