Wining & Dining in Toscana (and Rome)
You don't imagine we took an eight-days vacation in Italy without properly doing our homework about the best places to eat...
We booked most of the places well in advance, a prudent move in retrospect.
Typical Tuscan food is always hearty, sometimes rustic, and can be exceptionally good. We were careful to sample only places that are the best of their kind. From the simplest Pizzeria to the most exquisite starred establishments.
As for wines, we usually picked the best and the most interesting available on the list. Both Eli and Gilli, the friends we traveled with, are more knowledgeable about Italian wines than I am, so they usually made the choices. Almost with no exception, we had really fine wines, some of which were truly extraordinary.
All in all - a wonderful culinary and vinous experience.
NOTE: Where dinner prices are mentioned they apply to two persons and include all the wines, service, etc.
Podere Tignanello -
Our villa at the Fonte de Medici complex. As planned by many back-and-forth e-mails, our first dinner in Tuscany was to be prepared and served in our villa by the Chef of the Fonte de Medici center.
Some of the cooking was done before hand. Then, a couple of hours before serving, the Chef and an assistant waiter came to finish cooking and prepare everything for the lavish candle-light dinner for four that was to follow.
Crostini misti nel Medioevo
Grilled bread with medieval recipes typical sauces
L'affettato Toscano sotto gli sfizi-infilati
Typical Tuscan sliced ham and salami
Risotto con punte di filetto al chianti
Risotto with threads of beef fillet in Chianti
Bistecca di manzo della Val di Chiana alla fiorentina
Stracotto al Chianti con verdure
Tender beef chunks, well cooked in Chianti and vegetables
Pecorino di Pienza stagionato in fossa
Seasoned Pecorino cheese
Schiacciata con l’uva
Typical Florentine pie
Cantuccini e Vinsanto
Almond biscuits with sweet Tuscan wine
What better wines can one choose for such a dinner than Tignanello and Solaia, especially when both vineyards are just outside one's window?
We had the 1997 Tignanello and Solaia side by side all along the dinner. For the "Vinsanto" to go with the dessert we chose the famous and rare Muffato della Sala.
1997 Tignanello -
Ruby red with some paling around the rim. Pronounced aromas of red fruit, pepper and clove. Smooth and tasty. Surprisingly forward for its age. The attack is slightly alcoholic, the finish is elegant with soft tannins. Complex structure and very finely balanced. Very Fine.
|MARK: 18/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
1997 Solaia -
Very dark color with no paling around the rim. The nose is pretty closed, with vanilla and chocolate tones but no pronounced fruit. Deep and complex on the palate but still tough, tannic, and not really multi-dimensional. I am sure this wine will improve tremendously in time, but right now it is less appealing than the Tignanello. Only Very Good at present.
|MARK: 17/20.||BUY MORE? Maybe.|
1997 Muffato della Sala -
60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Grechetto, 10% Gewurztraminer, 5% Riesling. This intricate grape combination comes from the Sala vineyard in Orvietto. The microclimate ensures regular botrytis. Deep gold in color. Fresh pears and peaches on the nose with unmistakable honeyed tones. Extremely rich complex and sweet of course, but good acidity ensures a wonderful balance. Elegant and stylish. Superb!
|MARK: 18.5/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
Net Price: $180 per couple. This included the meal, the chef, the waiter and the very expensive wines.
Needless to say we enjoyed this spoiling extravaganza tremendously. Highly Recommended, especially for the total experience.
Gambero Rosso - After our Sassicaia tasting at San Guido we headed farther down the coast to the small fishing village of San Vincenzo, for lunch at the famous Gambero Rosso restaurant.
This small and elegant restaurant was fully packed in spite of its out-of-the-way location. Good thing we reserved our table well in advance
The place is elegant yet vibrant, the service professional but friendly and the wine list is a treasure trove. So much so that Eli insisted the restaurant price of many great wines are cheaper by as much as 50% than on the market.
We all agreed to the Chef's suggestion to take the Menu Degustation. We never regretted the decision! Each dish was a beautifully presented, harmonious creation that was a true celebration to the eyes and the taste buds.
Eight dished followed one another at a leisurely pace. Here goes...
Fillets of Red Snapper
Shrimps in a delicate Humus soup(!)
Fish dumplings in light pesto sauce
Fillet of Turbot
Assortment of desserts
1997 Bianco della Castellada -
Deep aromas but not really fresh on the nose. Not entirely dry. A mix of different grapes - none of them Chardonnay. Still, the wine, though complex tasty and chewy, has the weight and feel of a 2nd-tier 1er Cru white Burgundy. Very Good but not more.
|MARK: 17/20.||BUY MORE? No.|
1995 Siepi, Mazzei -
A 50% Sangiovese 50% Merlot 'modern' Chianti. Deep and complex aromas of red fruit with pronounced (exaggerated?) oak elements. Very concentrated and tasty on the palate, though there is some roughness in the finish. Perhaps the wine is still too young. But if this is its final expression than I wonder what the big hype is all about. Fine.
|MARK: 17.5/20.||BUY MORE? Maybe.|
1990 Castello dei Rampolla Riserva, Rampolla -
Extremely ripe and mature Chianti. A touch maderized on the nose, but this notion lessened after a while. Really complex nose of plums, spices and chocolate. Very interesting and multi-facets on the palate. A bit beyond its top form perhaps but still a pleasure to drink. Superb!
|MARK: 18/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
Net Price: $180 per couple.
This was the best restaurant we have been to during our eight-days stay in Italy. Especially for the quality of the food. If I were giving marks to restaurants I'd give it a 10 out of 10. Very Highly Recommended!
La Tenda Rossa - A fancy top-class restaurant in Cerbaia Val di Pesa, near San Casciano. Some 30 minutes drive from our villa in Toscana.
The restaurant has been around for some decades and has established itself as one of the best in Toscana. Very elegant, somewhat old fashioned in its decor and demeanor. The service is friendly but a bit stuffy. At times it tended to be very slow. The food though was first class.
My brother-in-law who lives in Florence joined us for the evening [my sister happened to be in India...], but he is vegetarian. Gilli did not feel so well and ate very little. So although we were five for dinner, we ordered and ate more like four...
Jumbo shrimps, halved, sauteed in olive oil and balsamico
Scallops with fried zucchini flowers
Marinated shrimp 'meat-balls' and avocado
Ravioli stuffed with sea-bass
Deer in red wine sauce
Calf liver with truffles
1997 Gravner Bianco, Jasko Gravner -
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Griggio. Beautiful flowery nose, with ample dry fruit and some oily notes. Multi-flavored, tasty and unlike anything I have tasted. If anything, it reminded me of a mature dry Riesling... A fascinating wine. Very fine.
|MARK: 18/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
1995 Giorgio Primo, La Massa -
A very rich Chianti Classico. Vibrant color. Excellent nose of some wood and red forest-fruit. Deep and complex. A bit tannic but superbly balanced with focused fruit and good acidity. Superb!
|MARK: 18.5/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
Net Price: $170 per couple.
All in all an excellent restaurant if not absolutely top notch. Recommended.
Trattoria Sanesi - A wonderful Trattoria in Lastra a Signa some 20 minutes drive from Florence. Take the Firenze-Piza superstrada and exit at Lastra a Signa.
We were taken there by Takis, my Fiorentine brother-in-law, to taste "the best bistecca alla fiorentina in the world".
Looking inconspicuously modest from outside, but huge inside. Absolutely packed on Saturday lunchtime. The smiling faces of the local clientele, the convivial atmosphere, the huge trays emerging from the kitchen - this simply can't be a bad place...
Indeed, what followed was a wonderful slow and endless array of extremely tasty dishes. We all shared and tasted everything. This was Tuscan food at its utmost best!
Affettati - Selection of local salami, prosciutto, etc.
Crostini with polenta, liver paste and mushrooms
Papardelle with wild-boar sauce
Taglatelle with small porcini mushrooms
Soup of mashed bread and tomatoes
Thick soup of slow simmered aubergine
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Grilled giant porcini mushrooms
Deep fried zucchini flowers
Semifredo croccante icecream with espresso sauce
Coffee and Limoncelo
1998 Merlot, Hatzimichali Estate -
A Greek wine (Takis is Greek by origin), something I very rarely encounter! Very nice fruity nose. Full warm and tasty. Forward, well balanced and extremely pleasant. Very Good.
|MARK: 17/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
1990 Brunello di Montalcino, Mastrojanni -
Wow, What a wine!. Harmonious multi-dimensional nose of ripe black fruit, plums, spices and chocolate. Mouth-filling and heavenly tasty, with receding soft tannins, balanced acidity and extremely long finish. Approaching its peak. Outstanding!!
|MARK: 19/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
Net Price: $80 per couple. This time price did not include the wines as Takis, our host, has provided them from his own cellar.
Really wonderful place to sample typical Tuscan fare at its highest quality. Highly Recommended.
Arnolfo - A small, intimate and highly eclectic restaurant in Colle Val d'Elsa, a 30 minutes drive south-west from our villa in Fonte de Medici.
Food here is a dream synthesis between modern creative cooking and the traditional regional kitchen.
Langoustines in pernod
Shrimps with fish dumplings
Spaghetti with clams and mussels
Papardelle with rabbit sauce
The wine list here is unbelievable, and not only for Italian wines. The finest older vintages for anything from top Bordeaux and Burgundy to the finest local stuff. It was only Dorit and myself this time, so we ordered only one bottle of wine. But what a wine...!
1990 Barolo Riserva "Collina Rionda di Serralunga d'Alba", Bruno Giacosa -
Only 4000 bottles were made from this single-vineyard rarity. Slightly brownish hues but only thin clearing around the rim. Exquisite nose where tertiary aromas harmoniously mingle with ripe fruit, flowers, leather and whatnot. Simply divine on the palate. Smooth as silk, multi-layered and multi-flavored. Poised and elegant with superb structure and perfect balance. Certainly at it absolute peak now. Extraordinary!!!
|MARK: 19.5/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
Net Price: $270 of which $160 was the (restaurant!) cost for the magnificent Barolo.
Both food and wine were worth every penny. Contesting Gambero Rosso for the "Best Restaurant" of our whole trip. Very Highly Recommended.
La Rosetta - The best seafood restaurant in Rome (near the Pantheon). Dorit have dined here a couple of years ago and said that La Rosetta is simply a must.
This was our last evening in Italy and as it turned out, the four of us could not have done better. The only mistake we made was ordering a main course! The "Combination" we chose for starters materialized as 10(!) medium-sized plates filled with super-tasty delicacies. It was a tough job finishing the fantastic pastas that followed. The main course (which have cost as much as all the rest put together) was utterly superfluous.
Marinated tiny fish
Lobster chunks in tomato sauce
Spaghetti with lobster and cherry tomatoes
Papardelle with porcini calamari and shrimps
Linguini with pecorino and shrimps
A whole Dorade (fish) in coarse salt
Fresh forest fruit
Three kinds of Sorbet
1998 Terre Alte, Livio Felluga -
This Friuli wine is made of Tocai, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Bianco. Almost lacks in color. Fresh Sauvignon dominated nose of melon, pineapple and lemon. Light, clean, completely dry and very pleasant. A bit hollow without much body. Very good.
|MARK: 17/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
1999 Sauvignon, Russiz Superiore -
Another Friuli white. Light golden color. Lemony grassy nose. Dry and fruity on the palate with searing acidity at the finish. Pretty and straightforward. Good.
|MARK: 16.5/20.||BUY MORE? Maybe.|
1999 Sauvignon, Jermann -
A third Friuli white. Light golden color. Grassy fruitless nose that hints at butter and toasted almonds. The palate starts with acidity and has some bitterish tone to the finish. Complex and interesting. Fine.
|MARK: 17.5/20.||BUY MORE? Yes.|
Net Price: $260 per couple. Very expensive, but ordering the main course was simply a self trap-setting.
Fantastic food, good service, very nice ambiance. Highly Recommended.
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Jacob "Yak" Shaya.