Tuscan wine guide

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Best pizza in Florence

Pizza in Florence: old friends and new ones

In the last years I have been showing my clients the cute village of San Donato in Poggio, a small hilltop town where the medieval architecture is still intact and where the community is always smiling and keeping the village spotless.

San Donato - www.cooltours.it 

During one of my several walks through the town I met a great guy, Giovanni Santarpia, a pizzaman originally from Campania region who worked for several years in the local restaurant "Palazzo Pretorio".

A hard working guy who brought the real neapolitan pizza in the Chianti area, who won awards and who conquered the clients' heart and mouth , and among those clients there is me.

I ate his pizza several times and I always regretted that the village was not close enough to my house to allow me to go there more often.

The story changed cause today December the 17th  Giovanni Santarpia is opening his own business, his pizza place in Florence and I have been slow enough to find out that I can't go there tonight cause the pizzeria is fully booked! Anyway I will go visit him in the new location very soon.

The pizzeria has a giant sign with his name on it and it will be easy to find in my opinion also because it is in the Sant'Ambrogio Market area where every weekend at least florentines, students and some tourists as well are enjoying some of the best restaurants and pizzeria which opened in the last years enriching an area of Florence which is now very cool and trendy.

Closed on Tuesday 

I have to mention that around Giovanni's pizzeria there is the very popular Teatro del Sale, Il Cibreo, Le Carceri and Il Pizzaiuolo.

Closed on Sunday

Some of my clients have already enjoyed this last one, a small hole in the wall pizza place where the owner is originally from Calabria, my home region, and it goes without saying that so far they all loved his pizza. 

Anyway from today on I bet the choice and my choice will be more difficult so I will be recommending both just in case one or the other is fully booked!

To be fair I want to mention that if you are staying near Ponte Vecchio, Pitti Palace, Via Tornabuoni and the Duomo area maybe you can easily reach the Oltrarno area (west bank of the Arno river) where you cannot avoid having pizza at O' Munaciello, a place which offers great first and second courses as well, in an elegant but informal atmosphere of an old monastery.

Open 7 days a week

It goes without saying that a city like Florence has other pizzerias anyway those are the ones I personally tried and I can recommend them with no doubts and their style is the one I like the best: the locals go there.

Now it is your pizza time, go there and try one....

After if you are interested in a pizza lesson to learn and to have fun let me know and contact me through  www.cooltours.it


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Tuscany off the beaten paths

Tuscany beyond the "under the tuscan sun" trend

In 2008 I had the pleasure to travel in the States, although on a tight schedule I visited the most known and beautiful cities such as New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami just to mention of a few.

From my Italian perspective each city had its charm, its differences and character but I have to admit that almost in every place I have been to the word "Tuscany" was a common denominator used to advertise the tuscan lifestyle, its food specialties ( sometimes with unfriendly combinations such as the "tuscan salmon" ), and obviously the tuscan wines.

That's the point: the lifestyle that the word "Tuscany" represents to the most and it is not a casualty that from the '90's on writers, movie makers, photographers, designers wrote or used this region as a setting for photo shooting, films, events, giving a growing popularity to the tuscan countryside and its hilltop towns such as Cortona, Pienza,  Montepulciano and Volterra.

Today these are some of  the best tuscan destinations for tourists from all over the world, everyday it is easy to meet thousand people on a tour and it is understandable that first time visitors might want to dedicate at least a hour or two to these destinations once they decide to spend a day out in the tuscan countryside.

San Quirico d'Orcia- Valdorcia

Several tour operators give tourists the means to go there by including these towns in their tour packages but also independent travelers can find some public transportation to reach a few of them, although sometimes it can be a challenge for non Italian speakers to figure out which bus to take, where to stop and so on, anyway this can be part of your tuscan adventure if you have plenty of time to use and to waste!

Beside the logistics it would be nice to include in a full day tour a visit to some hidden gems, off the beaten paths villages where locals will be happy to share a smile, to say "hello" and to proudly tell you that they are living in that place since generations....

Tuscan off the beaten path village

Several hamlets in Tuscany still have an intact medieval architecture, defense towers, castles and they hold so much history and anecdotes that guidebooks in general deserve to the main attractions and destinations.

Of course there is no public transportation to reach them and no big group tours go there so only by hiring a driver guide you will be able to savour these places and experience real Tuscany for a day.

Anna- your personal driver guide

Do not waste your time, if you decide to be an indipendent traveler, you do not want to travel on a bus with a big tour group, but you want to enjoy a day out from the city in the company of a driver guide, have a look at these websites to have an idea about Anna's Tuscany experiences and ask for info!



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Cultural connections in tuscan winemaking

Tempranillo: from Spain to San Miniato along the Francigena

San Miniato is a medium size town in the province of Pisa which lies in Tuscany region.

San Miniato al Tedesco

The town is a remarkable example of cultural stratification: evidences say that it was inhabited by the Etruscans first, then by the Romans and after the fall of the Roman Empire, San Miniato felt under the control of the Lombards and from then on it became so associated to the German rulers that people started to call it San Miniato al Tedesco ("to the German" ) although this sobriquet helped and helps still today to distinguish it from the convent of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, which is about 40 kilometres northeast.

From the Middle Ages till the creation of the Gran Duchy of Tuscany, San Miniato played an active role specially when it was under the control of Florence and it was used as a strategical town to look at the historical florentine enemy: Pisa!

But the extra value of this town was linked also to the fact that San Miniato was on the via Francigena, which was the main connecting route between northern Europe and Rome. It also sat at the intersection of the Florence-Pisa and the Lucca-Siena roads. 

Over the centuries San Miniato was therefore exposed to a constant flow of friendly and hostile armies, traders in all manner of goods and services, and other travelers from near and far.

And maybe this is the main reason why a few plants of Tempranillo grapes have been found around the area and today they are used by a single family producer (Leonardo Beconcini and wife Eva Bellagamba) to make an extraordinary and unique red wine.

Tempranillo grapes

Tempranillo is the grape variety that forms the backbone of some of the finest red wines from Spain and Portugal. Almost every red wine from Ribera del Duero has Tempranillo at its core, and in Portugal the variety is widely used in the Douro Valley both for table wines and fortified wines (Port). 

A thick-skinned variety that makes deep-colored wines with moderate tannins, Tempranillo is well suited to the demands of the modern wine consumer. While it lacks a deep-intense flavor profile, the wide range of aromas detectable in Tempranillo-based wines gives it a charm in and of itself, with tasting notes ranging from strawberries, cherries to prunes, chocolate and tobacco. The former three notes typically come from younger vines growing in cool climates, while the latter three develop with older vines and more heat.

Origins of Tempranillo are murky. It could be indigenous to the Spanish countryside or it could have been brought there by the Moors from somewhere else unknown.  

Some old theories associate Tempranillo to Pinot Noir with which it shares some characteristics although ampelographic studies have shown no genetic connection between the cultivars. 

A relation with Pinot Noir would anyway implicate some truth in the legend that Cistercian monks left Pinot Noir cuttings at monasteries along their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Archeological site in San Miniato

So taking in consideration that one part of the Francigena route was connecting Santiago de Compostela to St. Peter in Rome passing through Tuscany, as soon as I met the Tempranillo producers in San Miniato with a cute estate lying near the San Genesio chapel and a recently discovered archeological site, the connection between the pilgrims road and the spanish grape variety, came back to my mind.

San Genesio along the Francigena

It is fascinating and intriguing thinking about the relations, the exchanges and connections among populations thanks to a road which became a thread of memories and knowledge passed through generations and thank to the Beconcini family and their effort to keep alive and spread the story behind a grape!

Tempranillo- Beconcini wine estate 

If you wish to learn more about tuscan wines, their characteristics and history, book your educational wine tour with Anna, your tuscan wine guide....

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Tuscan wine regions

Chianti and Chianti Classico are they two different tuscan wine regions?

Today my post is the result of my researches linked to my activity as wine tour guide in Tuscany and to the aim of spreading an accurate wine knowledge out of the Italian borders during my day tours in the tuscan wine areas.

Some comments caught my attention and I believe my readers need to get a clarification about the largest wine zone in Tuscany : the Chianti area.

Chianti region lies in central Tuscany and it's characterized by some high mountains although shortened over the millenniums by the erosion due to the atmosphere agents and some soft rolling hills the tuscan countryside generally is known for.

From a technical point of view the area planted on vineyards is mostly in the hills and anyway not over 2000 feet of altitude where the microclimate stays almost humid with a tendency of dryness during the summer season and strong temperature excursion around the harvest period ( September - October ) and the vineyard soils predominately composed of marl and chalk.

Although the origins of the word "chianti" are still discussed by scholars cause the word can be associated to the Latin word used to describe a noise ( maybe the one during the hunting season) or can be associated to the Etruscans last names as first inhabitant of the area or can derive from the Etruscan word "clante"= water.... For sure we know that from the 18th century for the first time the word "chianti" started to be used to describe a red wine region near Siena and specifically composed of three villages:  Gaiole, Radda, Castellina.

But it's in the 20th century that the borders and composition of the area has been redrawn so the entire Chianti region started to be divided in 7 sub zones which eventually resulted to be 8 only in recent years: Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colline Pisane, Chianti Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Rùfina and Montespertoli.

Wine zones in Tuscany 

Among these zones 7 of them are labelled under the denomination Chianti DOCG wines, but Chianti Classico has its own DOCG and it's uniquely labelled as Chianti Classico DOCG. 

So if you are touring one of these areas you are in the Chianti wine region and if you spend a day in Chianti Classico you are still in Chianti but you are exploring one specific sub zone which is the oldest wine area because it is composed of the villages of Gaiole, Radda, Castellina which originally gave the name to the wine region itself as previously stated plus these three villages have a relevant historical aspect being part of a military legacy the so called Lega del chianti which played such  a big role in the struggles between Florence and Siena over the Middle Ages and specially in terms of strongly defining their borders.

As a matter if fact Chianti Classico DOCG has a unique extra label, a black rooster, which represents only this historical wine region being the original code of arm of the above mentioned chianti league.

The restyling of the logo

And if you are drinking a Chianti wine or a chianti Classico wine for sure you are tasting two different style wines coming from the same family.

For sure the second wines follow a strict set of guidelines but resulted in high quality wines which surpassed the old fiasco!

I hope I helped in understanding the way we classify our wine regions and wines in general but for thirsty people an educational wine tour in tuscan with a wine consultant will 
enrich your wine knowledge with this and several other stories!

See you for a tuscan wine tour with cultural insight!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Truffle Hunting in Tuscany

Tuscan countryside: a day in truffle hunting 

Truffles are the fruit of underground mushrooms which grow among the roots of a few very specific trees such as oak, hornbeam and birch. 
Many attempts have been made to cultivate them commercially, with very little success.

White truffle from San Miniato 

There are around 1,400 licensed truffle hunters in Tuscany, each hunter has his own territory and secret truffle-rich locations are written down in the hunter’s notebook, and passed  from one generation to the next. 

Truffle hunting with clients

Generally speaking the renowed areas for truffle hunting in Tuscany area: San Miniato a hilltop town village looking down the misty Arno valley and San Giovanni d’Asso a small village perched on a hilltop in the scenic area named Crete Senesi or as Dante defined it, the Desert of Accona.  
Surely more popular the first town, less known off the neaten paths the second where the locals used part of its medieval castle to open a museum devoted to truffles.

Until the 1970s in Italy pigs were used to hunt truffle but had a strong tendency to gobble them before the hunter could intervene.
Today dogs – such as the Lagotto breed- are considerably less attracted and therefore less likely to snaffle such a worth fungus, plus hunters and dogs form an inseparable team for ever and it makes sense to hear stories of the best dogs being stolen or poisoned and hunters spying on their competitors’ high-yielding grounds.

Hunting dog..

When a fresh truffle emerges from the ground and is cut, it gives off a distinctive aroma not easy to define: garlic, hay, honey.
The prized white truffle, sometimes called the white diamond of Italy, grows from September to December. And the late spring sees the waning days of the bianchetti truffle, a milder one,  is found widely throughout Tuscany.

My friends doing truffle hunting

Regardless of the season, skillful hunters and their faithful dogs will help us finding some delicious truffles during our truffle hunting followed by a gourmet lunch with the possibility to take part to a cooking class to understand better how prepare this precious fungus.

Join me for a private day tour including a truffle hunting and a cooking class.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Educational wine tours

Educational wine tours

Since centuries, Tuscany region showed its vocation to wine making and specially red wines production as testified by the DOCG/ DOC denominations such as: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano but also the white wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a younger appellation which is imposing now its reputation outside every tuscan borders!

Tuscan wine regions

After more than 25 years of our tuscan vintners' efforts, the result is the outstanding quality of the tuscan wines, very far from the stereotype idea of the so called fiasco- bottle with the straw basket around the bottom- specially Chianti was associated with.

Fiasco- the old Chianti bottle

The wine was simply fermented,  maybe aeged for a few months in old, sometimes too old chestnut, walnut barrels,  and tannins released were strong, aggressive, the bouquet of aromas was not much more than grape juice and wood!

The knowledge, the technology and the awareness of wine making changed the wine world, a new era where Italy is exporting more wines and where Tuscan wines are the best sellers.

The wine world is fascinating and is attracting more people who want to learn but wine education and wine tasting does not mean to drink no matter what or to go to hundreds wineries in a day.

It means to slowly enter the wine world by visiting wineries, meeting the winemakers, the producers and taking part to some wine tasting sessions.

Wine tasting and food pairing 

If you are spending a vacation in Italy and you come to Florence, a day tour in the tuscan wine regions is highly recommended and although a wine tour in Tuscany has to be a cool experience be sure you are in the hands of an expert wine tour guide who knows about wine regions, winemaking and wine tasting and who can help you in the selection of the wineries you will visit during a day tour.

Every tuscan has some Sangiovese grape juice in his blood stream by birth, but the technical knowledge your guide has comes from years in the wine business, professional sommelier courses, and a continuous exposure to wine producers.

Wine regions are not difficult to reach, anyway Florence and Siena are good home bases to easily reach the Chianti Classico area and enjoy a wine tasting tour.

Generally speaking Montalcino area and its Brunello wine is easier to reach from Siena also to avoid a long time in the minivan, anyway if you do not mind a longer day trip a Brunello wine tour from Florence is doable as well.

Considering that all wineries sell and ship their wines,  I like to remember that when you taste a wine you liked and you decide to ship a case back home you are not simply buying wines but you are bringing back a little bit of your tuscan experience, which sounds to me one of the main reason to buy a bottle of wine at the producers and I like to believe that once you will open your wine you will recognize some Tuscany in a bottle and you will remember your tuscan wine tour!

 Anna- your Tuscan Wine Guide
Anna- your Tuscan Wine Guide