The Villa San Luigi is a spectacular 15th century designed farmhouse that was renovated by owners by Affie Hussein and his Joanna from 2010 to 2015. It is located about 15 miles south of Siena. It is equipped with every amenity you can imagine. Our hosts were most gracious and made our visit memorable. Affie welcomed us to the villa with a couple of bottles of chilled Prosecco, a welcomed quaff after the 3-hour transport from Rome. The kids had a fantastic time exploring the grounds and frolicking in the pool.
|Isabell, Nicholas, Mia, AJ|
It is very difficult to find a bad meal in Italy and this trip was no exception whether we ate at the villa or in one of the many local restaurants, we always came away feeling happy, content and perhaps a bit stuffed.
One of the many services Villa San Luigi offers is in villa chef services for dinner. We opted for this service on our first night and last night at the villa. The menus for the meals were preselected by us prior to our trip and prepared by top local chefs.
On Saturday evening, chef Alfonso of the local Buonconvento Ristorante Da Mario prepared the meal. He was assisted in the kitchen by Gabriella, his wife and villa housekeeper, and owner Affie. We began the meal with tender pan-fried calamari topped with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and grilled eggplant with smoked mozzarella.
My children selected Tiramisu for dessert. This is a dessert that I have never been overly fond of until this evening. It was simply magnificent. Moist and delicious, I had two pieces, as did most of the others.
Nello Baricci is one of the 26 founding members of the Brunello di Montalcino Association, established in 1967. He was, for many years, the voice of the small producers who greatly contributed to increasing this prestigious appellation’s reputation. It is for this reason that Baricci today remains the only producer who can put a drawing of the town of Montalcino on its wine labels. The estate, now run by Nello’s son Pietro Buffi and grandson Federico Buffi, is located in Colombaio Montosli, an area considered one of Brunello’s best vineyards. The Baricci family never followed the trend towards an international, more extracted and woody style. Rather, their wines are made following the purest regional traditions, with precision and great elegance. Soil, sun exposure, serious farming without chemical herbicides or products, and a traditional winemaking process, are the main reasons for these Brunello wines’ authenticity and unpretentiousness. The Baricci family’s wines are simply fine, beautiful, and elegant. They beautifully illustrate the intrinsic properties of the Montalcino terroir.
Montosoli, a unique terroir north of Montalcino, is located between the mountains and the plains of Valdarbia. The five-hectare Colombaio de Montosoli vineyard, owned by the Baricci family, is located in a privileged area of the Brunello di Montalcino appellation. Here, the Montalcino hills protect the vineyard from the sirocco. The light north-eastern winds quickly dry the rain and help maintain optimum levels of acidity in the berries. The soil is a complex mixture of marl, shale, quartz, clay, and marine deposits dating from the Pliocene era. This soil composition ensures good drainage in rainy vintages.
The wine is aged 36 months in Slavonian oak barrels of 40 Hl, plus 6 months in the bottle before the release. Only 6,000 bottles were made and numbered.
After quickly disposing of two bottles of the Baricci, we opened a 2013 Prunotto Barolo that I also picked up on the Auto Strada. While not in the same class as the Baricci this medium-bodied Nebbiolo had a nice fruity bouquet and a soft, if unexciting palate.
We relaxed by the pool on Sunday and Monday and ate in Buonconvento for dinner both nights.
Ristorante Da Mario. The restaurant is owned by chef Alfonso's family and he serves as the chef. We dined al fresco under pleasant Italian skies.
|Tartare di Vitello|
|Homemade Pici w/ Calcio e Pepe|
One of the things I love about drinking wine in Italy is the abundance of local wine that never seems to make it into the states. We began the meal with two bottles 2015 Muzic Collio Sauvignon. This was simply delicious and at 12 €, a fantastic bargain. Straw colored with a greenish tinge, the fruity bouquet was most inviting. The first sip reveals a beautifully structured wine with a clean palate of fresh fruit, a crisp mouth feel lengthy finish. The winery is at a crossroad between the road going from Gorizia to the summit of San Floriano del Collio and the one that goes down to the Preval. It is owned Ivan and Orieta Muzic and their children Elija and Fabijan.
For the red we were delighted with a couple of bottles of 2013 ForteMasso Barolo Castelletto. Located in Castelletto, this was a medium-bodied Barolo that had plenty of character balance and complexity for a 35 € wine. After 30 minutes in the glass the wine began to take on more depth and the finish became more refined. All harvesting is done by hand, de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel vats. The wine is aged in wood for an average of 30 months followed by a further 8 to 10 months in bottle before release.
Ristorante Le Antiche Mura. Acclaimed for their pizza, Antiche Mura is more than a pizzeria. In fact it is said that it is the best pizza in all of Tuscany. Ciro, who hails from Gragnano, a small village in the province of Naples, mans the ovens, while his wife Carmella is the chef. We tried several pizza selections, including a Nutella pizza that the kids really enjoyed. A salad of Baccala and fennel; Pici Bolognese and a superb Fritto Misto of Calamari, Shrimp and Scallops were the standouts of the evening from the kitchen.
Founded in 2008, the company is dedicated to the production of typical wines of the territory, in particular, Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Aglianico and Aglianico of Taurasi. The vines are grown on soils of property, that are well known for their particular fertility thanks to their volcanic origin. The vineyards spread for about 15 hectares, between Paternopoli and Taurasi.
For red we started with 2016 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura. 100% Sangiovese and aged in French Barrique for 12 months, the wine was very modern in style, with too much oak at this early stage of drinking. Made from vines that were planted in 1992 at an altitude: 210-220 meters above sea level. The wine is an attempt to isolate the optimal selection of clones from the hillside.
We then tried a bottle of 2013 Casanova di Neri Brunello Di Montalcino. Nice transparent red hue and enticing bouquet, and considerably better than the Banfi but much to young and oaky.
They currently make five red cuvées: a Sangiovese rosé (Rosa), a younger Sangiovese from Brunello and Santasimo classified grapes (Pettitrosso Vino Rosso), a Rosso de Montalcino, a single vineyard Rosso Di Montalcino (Alberello) as well as a Brunello (2004 was the first vintage) that is released after five years. They also make a white wine, Biancospino. The wine is inspired by the sister’s love of white wines and of Monte Amiata, a place that abounds with small old vineyards planted with unrenowned grapes. It is an old-style peasant blend made by macerating indigenous varietals such as Trebbiano Toscano, Procanico, Malvasia and Ansonaca with their skins. The first vintage produced was 2010. They have an ongoing project to replant a new mountain vineyard next to the Vigna Matta, an old vineyard in Montegiovi dating from 1920 that they currently rent for the production of this wine.
…Fried Chicken Cutlets with fresh local vegetables flawlessly fried in a tempura-like batter. I don’t think I have ever tasted chicken cutlets or fried veggies as good as this before. Simply off the chart!!!
… not pictured, but equally as delicious were the homemade Pici with meat ragu.
…and Sausage with beans
We began the evening with 2017 Gualdo del Re Valentina Vermentino which like the other local whites we drank was fresh, crisp and a delight to drink.
2013 Castello Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino. The wine is still very young, and will never be a great wine, but at 30 € a bottle it was easy to drink.
1990 Cal D'Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino. This was gorgeous, a beautifully mature wine with soft tannins and a magnificently balanced and elegant palate and equally elegant and lengthy finish. The wine soared from the glass with each sip. A wine with plenty of soul…and for the unheard of price of 70 €.
This was my first experience with this producer and I was very impressed. Col d'Orcia wines are estate produced and bottled, with grapes grown mostly on the estate and partly in surrounding farms whose vineyards are supervised by Col d’Orcia during the whole productive cycle. The high density of planting, the choice of the rootstock suitable for the characteristics of each piece of land, the use of highly selected clones and an overall attention to the characteristics of each single vineyard ensure a limited production per plant aimed at achieving high quality grapes, healthy, concentrated and rich in colour and tannins. Farming techniques include grass mulching, cluster thinning at the “veraison” and perfect ripening of the grapes on the plant.
Attention to detail characterizes the wine making process at Col d'Orcia , the same given to every other step of the production cycle. The harvest, carried out exclusively by hand, is regulated by precise analysis in order to ensure the optimal phenolic maturation of every bunch collected: a sorting table at the entrance of the cellar allows an even more detailed selection.
Fermentation is conducted in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks shaped so that the surface of contact between juice and skins ensures optimal delicate extraction of the high quality ingredients such as polyphenols and colouring matters. Ageing in wood takes place in Slavonian and selected French oaks. The size of the barrels and the time of ageing vary according to the characteristics of each batch. For some wines ageing in wood can take as long as 4 years. Finally the bottles are kept for further ageing on the estate until their refinement is completed.
The winemaking cellar, made out of the original premises of the farm, has steel tanks with controlled temperature and capacity of 8.400 hectolitres. The ageing cellar, built in the year 1990 and perfectly included in the surrounding Mediterranean environment, has Slavonian and Allier oak barrels whose capacity is 25,50,75,150 hectolitres for a total amount of 7000 hectolitres and no. 800 barriques for a total amount of 1.800 hectolitres.
After lunch we met our tour guide and began our tour with a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. The kids were mesmerized by the statue and asked our guide tons of questions. In fact they enjoyed every part of the tour which included the Duomo, the old section of town and of course the Rialto Bridge.
After the tour we headed for the Florencetown Diadema Cooking School where we participated in a pizza and gelato making class. The kids had a ball, and as you might expect, made the best pizzas.
|Isabella making pizza|
The wine list was soft, but on their recommendation for a traditionally made Brunello we tried a 2013 Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino. The wine exhibited good balance and acidity but was still a work in progress. I think this will be quite good in 5 to 10 yeas.
Friday, our last evening at the Villa, our meal was prepared by Chef Hiro, who as the name would suggest is from Japan. He has been cooking in Italy for the past 25 years and according to Villa owner Affie, he earned 1 Michelin star when he was chef at Poggio Antico Ristorante. Today he is a private chef. After our meal, we all felt that 1 Michelin star was 2 short of what he deserves. It was way, way over the top. Like the first night, we pre-selected the menu. We began with a Polenta duo topped with Mozzarella and Pecorino in as flavorful a tomato sauce as anyone of us has ever experienced. This simple dish was simply amazing with textures and flavors dancing on the palate in exquisite harmony.
As good as the polenta was, the Risotto Primavera that followed was ethereal. Risotto is about the rice, with the sauce playing a supportive and complimentary role. This preparation nailed it. Again the balance of texture and flavors elevated the perfectly cooked rice to sublime perfection.
The main course was Chicken Cacciatore for the adults and chicken cutlets for the kids. Like the other courses, the Cacciatore was fantastic. Juicy and full of flavor, we licked our plates clean.
I have had many extraordinary meals in my time, and this one is right up there with the best of them. Thank you Hiro, you are definitely our hero!
With this meal we drank:
2016 Col D’Orcia Vermentino. Like the bottle of 2017 we drank at lunch a few days before, this was crisp, with fresh fruit and pleasing palate.
2008 Fonterenza Rosso Di Montalcino. Terrific RdM. Beautifully structured, with terrific balance and complexity. Better than many other producers Brunello.
2015 Montevertine Le Pergole Torte & 2013 Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino. Both of these remarkable wines are much too young to fully appreciate, but a superb wines in the making that should be classics in about 10 to 15 years.
Our last day in Italy began with a tour of the Vatican and St. Peters Cathedral. The crowds were unbelievably large, the lines long and slow, and as enjoyable as it was it was a very tiring 4 hours. We went back to the hotel and had a leisurely lunch of good old American hamburgers, which were delicious. We drank a few bottles 2017 Leone de Castris 1665 Five Roses 74 Anniversario Salento IGT. This delicious Rosé is made from 100% Negroamoro grapes from vines that average 50 years of age. The wine had good structure and drank very easily. The Five Roses Anniversario was created for the first time with the vintage ’93, in the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Five Roses.
We concluded our trip with a spectacular evening tour of the Coliseum at night before getting a night’s sleep before returning home. It was quite a trip, and as I said in the first paragraph, doing with my family was very special. Carol and I are very lucky and blessed to have such a great family and friends to share our lives with. I did not think anything could make the trip better until my daughters, Gina and Lisa, presented me with a photo book they made of the vacation for my birthday this past Sunday. It was magnificent, and brought tears to my eyes. Love you guys!