We start the day in Siena with a continental breakfast – the standard, uninspired fare of hardboiled eggs, cold cuts, cheese, bread. Evermore important, though, we get the party started by pounding some machine-made espresso, then we head outside.
The van pulls up right on schedule, and we are the second couple in. We stop at two more hotels up the road, then begin the 45 minute trek along winding roads of Tuscany.
Eventually, the medieval towers of San Gimignano start to peek over a green hill. We continue on, and a wide view opens up. What a sight! Our driver/guide, David, carefully steers the van onto the roadside and invites us all to step out and snap some photos.
Once David gets out, I follow suit. While capturing some pics (this is where I took the one above), our driver tells us about San Gimignano. Fourteen of the original seventy-two towers remain. They were once much taller, until height restrictions were enacted in the 1200s. Some towers were functional as a refuge from attackers and others were a shell, built solely to show off a family’s power (the taller, the more presumed power).
Just down below from us is an olive tree grove, and that’s where our attention shifts. The guide explains that green and black fruit come from the same tree. Green olives are picked before ripening and are inedibly bitter before curing. Olives turn black when left on the tree longer. Living in a big city, this reminds me how out of touch with nature so many of us have become.
We hop back in the van, continue on, then park in a lot next to the old fortress wall that marks the base of the hilltop town. It’s a short walk to reach the Porta San Giovanni gate, built in the 1200s. Pass through that entryway and, like in Siena, it feels like you’ve instantly been transported to medieval Italy. Continuing up the cobblestone streets, that throwback feeling is quickly broken by the overabundance of gelaterias and shops selling kitsch. As beautiful as this town is, the competition for your tourism dollars is a little much.
The city center at the top provides an interesting, closeup view of the stone towers. It’s not the first time this association has been made, but it’s sort of like looking at a template for the skyscrapers of Manhattan. From here, you can climb the stairs of the City Hall tower for a fee (we don’t have enough time for that). There is also a history museum, a beautiful cathedral showcasing 14th century artwork, and the historic social center of town, Piazza della Cesterna, named for the old well still standing on this spot.
San Gimignano, Italy – June 3, 2012: The Salvucci twin towers (Torri dei Salvucci), dating back to the 12th century, are shown during the day. A modern art sculpture is visible atop the main tower.
Our time to explore is fairly short, so we reconvene with the group and head to our next destination, Tenuta Torciano winery. The drive is a short fifteen minutes, and we pull into a parking lot, with the top of a mystery building peeking out over a wall and hedges. There’s a gate in the wall, and stepping through reveals a nice courtyard with flowers around the perimeter and a lot of people waiting around. The winery is busy. Watching tours groups get ushered in while, at the same time, another group is ushered out, demonstrates a well-coordinated effort and reminds me of herding cattle.
Soon enough, we go in, have a seat, and get started. The wine begins to flow, and the family patriarch shows us how to hold the glass (always by the stem), swirl the wine, smell the bouquet, then properly drink. What makes this above and beyond the U.S. tastings I’ve experienced is the pairing with a variety of locally-grown/produced foods – salad, salami, cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and truffle oil. Another unique approach here is that the vintner isn’t trying to steer our pairing preferences in any way. You can imagine hearing what the patriarch tells us in his thick Italian accent: “If you-a like-a the bold meat with a white wine, you like-a what you like.”
Wine bottles and barrels are shown in a tasting room at Tenuta Torciano.
The more unique products we try are the balsamic vinegar and the truffle oil. The 25-year-old balsamic is thick and sweet and unlike anything I’ve had before. It good on salad and would also be great on vanilla ice cream (they put that idea in my head… now bring us some to try, please). The balsamic is on the pricey side so, being budget conscious, we opt for a small bottle of the truffle oil instead.
We head on back to Siena, and the evening is bittersweet, because the rustic charm of this area has become a little entrancing. We must continue on, though, and tomorrow we will head to Florence.
Until we meet again…
"San Gimignano and Tuscan Wine Tasting" – Summer 2012 Written by: Justin Kilmer, Edited by: Janine Kilmer
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