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Our Family Adventure in Tuscany: Journey to a Favorite Restaurant

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GrapevineIn my last three columns, I’ve recounted our family trip to Tuscany. Several readers have asked about specific restaurants we especially enjoyed. This week I am presenting one restaurant we will be having exhilarating flashbacks about for a long time.  

For the last night of our vacation, I arranged with our driver, Mauro, to find a traditional Tuscan restaurant. My criteria: An intimate, decades-old building nestled in the hills of a nearby town; family-owned, where the entire family is immersed in offering locally grown and produced ingredients and wine produced on the property.

Mauro assured me a few such cantinas were still operating. Reservations were made and we piled into a van and car headed for La Cantinetta di Rignana.

Our journey took us along narrow 18th century roads. After a few miles of driving, we suddenly made a right turn into what seemed like a narrow dirt cow/goat/sheep path, but for the tire ruts in the dusty soil. Mauro kept barreling along (20 miles per hour can seem quite fast under these conditions), raising clouds of dust, obscuring the next treacherous turn.

After a seemingly interminable ride (only 10 minutes of elapsed time), we arrived at a clearing. All I saw were two long-abandoned buildings. Mauro assured us the clearing was a parking lot and the restaurant was behind the buildings. The 11 of us dutifully walked down the narrow dirt path between the two buildings. As we passed them, the path turned to the left.

What to my wondering eyes did appear?

A most unexpected – and breathtaking – vision. A dining terrace replete with terra cotta floors, old oak tree timbers supporting an ancient roof. Our view? Of all the vistas of the Tuscan hillsides we photographed, the one before our eyes was the most breathtaking: rolling hills planted with acres of mature grapevines, all basking in the onset of a classic Tuscan sunset.  

We were led to our table by the matriarch of the family. Her husband, Massimo Abbarchini, together with sons Lorenzo and Cosimo, create rustic, local dishes in front of a roaring wood-burning oven in the kitchen, a former olive oil mill built in the 11th century.

Then we were presented with menus.

The famous bistecca alla fiorentina of the area was listed as a secondi piatti, but, to our surprise, was offered in multiple cuts, presentations and cooking wellness. Tuscan chefs are adamant that this signature steak dish is served bloody rare, no exceptions. My carnivorous family members prefer medium-well-done steaks. Finally, a solution.

The sliced steak on the menu was offered with multiple sauces; mine with a balsamic drizzle was exceptional. Other authentic local dishes we enjoyed included an appetizer of pork with arugula and pine nuts, primi piatti of tagliatelle bolognese, rigatini with truffles and sausage and pappardelle with wild boar sauce.

Did I mention the proprietary olive oil produced on site?

Next, the wines.

For white wine, I expected the usual offerings of Vernaccia. For red wine, a typical local Sangiovese. Our waitress presented the family-made selections.   

I ordered a Cantinetta di Rignana Bianco 2021, a light – almost clear – color, fresh bouquet, mineral on the palate with a nicely balanced fruit and acidity. The grape? To my surprise, it was a white Sangiovese, my first, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

My favorite delineation of Chianti Classico red is the Gran Selezione, the highest rating of the region. Lo and behold, I was offered one produced at Cantinetta di Rignana from the best vintage of the century, 2016. Each glass was redolent of black plums and tobacco with a whiff of roasted coffee bean. The wine was balanced with food-friendly acidity and just the right finish of silky tannins. Perfect with each of our dishes. The 15 percent alcohol level didn’t seem to bother some of us.

Our family took hundreds of photos to memorialize Tuscany and the unique Tuscan landscape during our travels. But the one iconic, postcard-like photo was that of the view from La Cantinetta di Rignana. This will become an oversized poster to be enjoyed for years.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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