We are in wine country! There are vineyards, wineries, and cantines (wine cellars) everywhere. Wine – and amazing food to go with it, all grown or raised right here. In restaurants, the waiters proudly tell us exactly which hectare of earth grew this spinach or which farmer’s sheep produced this Pecorino cheese. At lunch, the waitress suggested a certain wine. I asked where it was from – she pointed down to a patch of land down the hill in the distance and said, “See those vines by those trees?”
We spent our first day exploring our own hometown. Montepulciano is a fortified, walled town with actual town gates. There were two sets of gates at each entrance, so they could trap invaders in between. It is very hilly, with lots of little alleyways and winding streets. Only locals are allowed to drive inside the gates.
We walked all around. Everyone is extremely friendly and wants to talk – maybe because it is still the off-season so only a handful of tourists. We struck up a conversation with one man who told us we had to try the local prosciutto ham – cinta senese. He got so excited, he ended up leaving his restaurant and walked us to a local alimentari so we could have a sample (for free!).
The highlight of our day was a visit to the famous Contucci Cantine wine cellar. Montepulciano is famous for its wines, and old palazzos of winemaking families line the main square. The families live on top, and down in the bottom are the cantines, or cellars, that hold the huge oak barrels where the wine is made. They are all very proud of their wines and seem to just want you to appreciate what they have produced, whether you purchase a bottle or not. And these bottles can go for hundreds of dollars (if not more) – at Contucci, there was even a picture of the winemaker presenting a bottle in person to the Pope!
The Contucci cellar is overseen by Adamo, who is a character. He only speaks Italian, but he is so expressive when he tells stories, you somehow understand. And once he captures you in his cellar for a tasting, you can spend the entire afternoon wandering through all the vast caverns filled with barrels, sipping wine and listening to him. He loved that we were from the USA and told us that he has been on the Rick Steves’ show 3 times – and that Rick Steves is (I think) “most famous in all the world.”
The next day we got up the nerve to get back in the car and venture out. The area around Montepulciano is called the Val D’Orcia. There is stunning scenery everywhere so we took turns driving so we could both take it all in.
We stopped for lunch at a tiny town called Montichiello that had a recommended restaurant, La Porta, tucked inside the city gates. It is so popular, the guidebooks say that reservations are needed even in winter. They were right. We had a table on the terrace overlooking the whole valley. Breathtaking.
Volpes in Pienza
Then, we lazily explored the back, curvy roads and ended up in Pienza for the afternoon – wandering around and checking things out. They even have a street and cafe named for Volpe! These Volpes are all over in Italy!
Such is the pace of things here in Tuscany. No huge sights, but lots of small towns that are interesting and scenic. And amazing food and wine. We do not always have a destination, but set out and just enjoy the journey.