Wine and Wild Boar

We were beginning to understand that being in Italy in October meant that we were going to encounter at least little bit of rain every day, usually in the afternoons. This was fine with us, since we were coming from Texas, which at that time had literally been through almost a decade of serious draught conditions. Rain can be a beautiful thing.

The morning of day ten, Tuesday, October 8th, was cool and mostly clear. I couldn’t resist taking a couple of more photos of “our view”. What a piece of paradise Tuscany is.

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We were excited to begin the day; we had a 9:00 AM appointment with a guide, who was going to drive us to the Monte Bernardi winery for a tour of the vineyard, and then take us to lunch at a local trattoria. We woke up in plenty of time for breakfast and coffee, and then met Marco, our guide, in our hotel lobby.

Marco proved to be an excellent guide; he was not only proficient in English, but he was very easy to talk to and offered up a steady stream of information about what life was like in the region. He was from Siena, and told us all about the different jobs that he’d held, and what everyday life was like for Italians in this area. It was fascinating, really.

Before heading to Monte Bernardi, Marco took us on a tour of the hilltop town of Castellina in Chianti. The town only has around 3,000 residents, and it was a quiet and peaceful morning. Tuscany is so easy to fall in love with; the natural beauty and the slow pace of life are really inviting…I was thinking a lot about Frances Mayes and Under the Tuscan Sun while we were there. I could see without much stretch of the imagination how someone could say goodbye to America and relocate to Tuscany. Don’t get me wrong, I love my country, but I can also see the good sense in slowing down just a little bit, in a region known for its good food, great wine, and friendly people. Can I get an Amen from anyone?

Marco walked us around Castellina, pointing out the massive castle from which the town’s name is derived. We learned a lot about Chianti wine from Marco even before we got to the winery. He told us that wherever we saw the rooster symbol, we could be sure that we were drinking “official” Chianti wine.

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The winery itself was really quite amazing. We had the good fortune of being there on a harvest day, and so were able to watch as they unloaded the grapes from the truck and put them into a massive machine that removed the stems.

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We learned a lot about how sensitive grapes are to temperature and rain, and also learned about olives and olive oil. After our tour we went inside and sat at a table lined with bowls of bread and bottles of wine and olive oil. We tasted wines of different types and vintages, and also had what was probably the most unique tasting experience for both of us – we sampled the unforgettable flavor of freshly harvested olive oil. The taste is peppery and fresh at the same time, and we loved it. We ordered some wine and olive oil and had it shipped back to the states.

The wine country is gorgeous. I just can’t imagine what it would be like to actually live here, in someplace so beautiful.

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After the winery tour Marco brought us to a restaurant in one of the small villages in the area. I wish I could remember the name of it, but it’s left my mind. The restaurant wasn’t quite open yet, and as we were waiting outside Marco explained to us that a lot of the local dishes are made with wild boar meat, rather than beef. As he was talking, we heard a rustling in the nearby underbrush, and came more or less face to face with a trio of the wild creatures, snuffling for food. It was about as close as I wanted to get, so I was pleased when the trattoria opened its doors for lunch.

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I ordered a tomato sauce pasta with – what else – wild boar. It wasn’t the best culinary experience that I’d had in Italy; perhaps it was because of my direct encounter with my meal’s relatives just before eating…

This was probably the most authentic dining that we’d done so far on the trip. We were in the middle of a very rural area, far from the tourist centers. The wine, the cheeses, and the sauces seemed “stronger” somehow, if that makes any sense.

Marco dropped us off back at our hotel in Siena after lunch, and we said our farewells to him. We spent the rest of the day exploring the parts of Siena that we’d missed. Specifically, we toured the Sienese cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, or just “Il Duomo” if you’re a local. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like it. The exterior and interior of the cathedral are constructed of alternating layers of white and black marble, and it’s rather shocking on the eyes at first glance. I imagine if I spent some time there, I would get used to it eventually, but the initial impression pretty much rendered us speechless for about fifteen minutes or so.

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While we were inside the cathedral it started to rain pretty hard, so we gave up on walking and headed back to our hotel until dinnertime. By the time we needed to head out to Giuseppe’s, the rain had receded to a light drizzle. Once again, Giuseppe’s didn’t disappoint.

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We continued our walking tour after dinner, and when we stumbled upon the famous “Grom” gelato establishment, we actually did have some gelato in spite of our full bellies. How could we pass it up? I’m sure that we would have broken some kind of international gelato law, if we had.

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The streets of Siena felt very safe to us, even at this late hour. There were many people still out and about, some of them in racous groups (the college students) and some of them alone. We walked everywhere, and never felt threatened at all.

On our way back to the hotel, I spotted the oddest thing. It was a “Ron Jon’s Surf Shop” sticker on the window of a car parked on one of the sidestreets. For the uninitiated, Ron Jon’s is (obviously) a surf shop originating in Cocoa Beach, Florida where I grew up. To see a Ron Jon’s sticker in the middle of Tuscany was kind of surreal, and for the first time, I began to feel just a little homesick.

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