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A few weeks ago, my family and I finally ventured on our COVID-delayed multi-generational vacation. My wife and I, our married children and their five children, headed to a villa we rented in the heart of Chianti Classico country.
The genesis of the trip was to introduce the grandchildren to a new cultural and dining experience, a trip I believed would open their eyes and minds to create impressions and memories they would embrace for the rest of their lives. Combining the culture and history of the area with the local gastronomy would provide a backdrop for the lifestyles of people in another part of the world, both the ancients and their 21st century descendants.
Our villa was in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, close to Greve in Chianti, one of the principal towns in the region. From this vantage point we traveled to nearby Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Barberino Val d’Elsa and several other medieval villages, where we literally walked in the footsteps of history.
Next week I’ll delve into the particulars of the local culture, cuisine and wines of Tuscany that our family encountered and enjoyed.
In this week’s column, I focus on my personal experience as I immersed myself in the wines produced in this area, which are primarily from the Sangiovese (red) and Vernaccia (white) grapes. Next week I’ll introduce these wines.
My sunrise jog each morning was like no other before it in my lifetime. A typical 5K run opened my eyes and mind to a) the rolling hills along my route deep in the vineyards and olive groves that proliferated at every turn and hillcrest; b) the ubiquitous cypress trees, standing like sentinels hovering over the prized crops; c) the brilliant orange ball of the sun looming on the horizon; d) the vibrant blue sky, dotted with fluffy bleached-white clouds for emphasis; and e) the multicolored hot air balloons dotting the countryside that punctuated the brilliance of the sun and sky. I felt the same adrenalin rush in my mind as in my cardio system.
Now that I’ve set the tone of our trip, allow me to focus on my new perspective of the wines we consumed. The enjoyment of wine is so much more than the contents of a glass, more than an organoleptic experience. The true understanding of a glass of wine is to appreciate the essence of the history of the wine, the ethereal elements that are beyond our senses of taste and smell.
I’ll never gaze upon a bottle of Tuscan wine the same way again. Yes, I’ll still appreciate the grapes, the vineyard, the terroir and the winemaking tradition. But now, as I pop the cork on a bottle, what wafts from the glass into my senses is the essence of centuries-old traditions, influenced by the Romans 2,500 years ago:
- The grower, who toils with dirt-embedded hands to plant the vines with just the right sun exposure.
- The vineyard manager, whose sweaty hands leave drops of moisture on the vines as he or she labors during the hot Tuscan summers.
- The winemaker, whose grape-stained hands craft a wine that has been passed down from multiple generations, even centuries.
In Tuscany, each of these roles may be carried on within the same family, including a grandparent, parent, children, even grandchildren. These winemaking families are rooted in the land and the terroir, but overwhelmingly in the history of those who produced wine before them.
My heightened senses now detect a second set of components wafting from my glass. It is the very essence of Tuscany itself – the indelible memory of the rosemary-scented morning air, the glorious heat of the orange sun beating down on vines, the sense and scent in my nostrils of the dusty, dry soil the vines must adapt to for survival.
Rising above all of these is the millennia of history of the Tuscan hills and valleys, all captured in the bottle and glass sitting on my dining table, enabling me to relive, over and over and over again, what I’ve dubbed my “Ethereal Tuscan Experience.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.