A hilltop castle overlooking rolling hills of Tuscan vineyards, a castle tour, the Tuscan sun warming us from the outside, a tasting of Chianti wines warming us from within, a 5-course meal paired with these wines, a dining table filled with fellow travelers sharing stories of travel and of life. A blissful afternoon shared with others.
We couldn’t ask for anything more, yet we got so much more: A Lorenzo de' Medici quoting host whose passion for wine and Chianti equals Lorenzo the Magnificent’s passion for art, a meal that ended with Parmigiano cheese dipped into “Oh my God” balsamic vinegar, and a walk around the gardens and patio of the castle with views evoking more moans of "Oh my God!"
Gino Rosi, our guide and host, took us through the Verrazzano castle, gardens, and historic cellar. He stopped us along the way and had us rub sage and rosemary into our hands, so we could more easily detect it later in the wine. We walked through the gates and onto the gardens espying wild boars below. He told us the Verrazzano name comes from a mix of two Latin words meaning “land of the wild boars.” He would drop in a “Ginoism” with dramatic hand gestures along the way: “Alcohol is not a killer, it’s a preservative.” During our walking tour, Gino’s stories were a patchwork of history, Latin, Chianti lore, poetry, all punctuated by his passion for the land and its food and wine. Like the vines that surrounded us, each tale intertwined with the other, creating a whole much greater than its parts.
After a tour of the grounds, we went into the cellar. More of Gino's stories and the scent of the grape nectar maturing and mellowing in the massive Slovenian barrels whetted our appetites. We peeked into the balsamic vinegar room. Two rows of barrels, each the size of a baby bassinet, filled the room. Guests squealed “Oh my God how cute.” And, Gino noted that this is why he calls the balsamic vinegar the “Oh my God” vinegar, predicting that we would say this exact thing twice more - when we tasted it and again when we saw the price. The tour ended with Gino reciting a poem about happiness, which he accentuated with his engaging hand gestures.
Because we chose the “Wine and Food Experience” tour, a lunch of traditional Tuscan fare was part of our package. Each course of the meal was paired with a Verrazzano wine. Gino guided us through the tasting of each course’s wine. In between bites and sips we were able to chat, get to know the others at the table and compare tastes and travel tales. I especially liked the Chianti Classico Riserva and Super Tuscan, later buying some to take with me. We savored a teaspoon full of the dense balsamic vinegar with a chunk of Parmigiano. The taste elicited more moans of “Oh my God!” The meal ended with crunchy cantuccini and a glass of the estate’s Vin Santo. And, yes I bought the balsamic vinegar. Its price of 50 euros for the 75 ml bottle caused another exclamation of “Oh my God.” Like Gino's tales, each part of our afternoon at the winery added together to create a memorable and enchanting experience.
The Verrazzano Castle has many tours and tasting options available. The castle is located near Greve-in-Chianti along the Via Chiantigiana. It is more convenient if you have a car, but you can easily get there by SITA bus from Florence (about an hour bus ride). I would suggest making reservations at least 2 days in advance either via the website or by phone.
Verrazzano website – www.verrazzano.com
Greve-in-Chianti website – www.greve-in-chianti.com
More pictures of Verrazzano (see photos of Verrazzano Winery)
A video of Gino and the tour (see Video of Verrazzano Winery Tour)
Come back to Food Lover’s Odyssey tomorrow, and I’ll show you how I mixed a little Tuscan love (the balsamic vinegar) with a California springtime dessert favorite.