A beautiful summer day? HAHAHAHA no. Yet the drenching rain did not hinder the beauty of the mountain view as my classmates and I made our way slowly up the mountain on a rickety old bus. We laughed and took pictures, trying not to feel carsick as we bounced and bobbed and narrowly avoided cliffs.Finally we reached the top and were rushed inside to escape the downpour. The first room we see is giant. Huge metal tanks line the aisles, gleaming silver. “Fermentation Tanks” the guide told us.
The vintner walked in and continued to tell us about the way wine was made. The grapes are brought in and crushed and then the red is allowed to ferment before it is separated from it’s skins while the white is pressed and then the juice alone is left to ferment. Both kinds of wine are left in the temperature controlled tanks, letting the yeast turn glucose to ethanol (alcohol!) and the flavor develop. After a long enough time passes, the red wine is pressed and the juices of both kinds are purified before being put in barrels to age. Lastly it is bottled and ready for tasting! (So was I at that point!)
But before we sat down to taste, it was time to tour the vineyard so our guide brought us outside. As we stepped outdoors again, rain gone, we were greeted by a beautiful view. Acres and acres of vines, stretching as far as the eye could see. The vintner told us about how the grapes are grown: carefully pruned so the best bunches can thrive, sprayed with copper sulfate to keep the fungi and bacteria away. Our entire class was able to feel the grapes and leaves and soil. In fact, the soil was part of what helped the grapes grow so well: it was extremely rocky, allowing excess rains to drain and not drown the plants, as well as allowing the vines to dig deep, deep roots. As the information dwindled outside, we finished up with a few…ok a lot… of pictures against every possible backdrop.
They then took us inside a new room and we sat down at beautifully made up tables; more plates, silverware, and glasses than we knew what to do with, as waiters bring trays and trays and trays of food to our table. Everything from prosciutto to pecorino cheese to bread loaded with patee (chopped up liver)! And finally the wine came: a Toscana Bianco (white), Vin Santo (dessert), Syrah (Red) and Sassocupo (Red).
Our first wine was a delicious white, the Toscana Bianco. It was 13% alcohol made of a mix of three different grapes. As I followed the owner’s instructions, I smelled a flowery scent and saw a clear, yellow wine. It felt dry and tasted flowery and sweet, delicious! I even bought a bottle!!
We also tasted a “dessert wine” which is known to be extremely sweet and is a specialty of Tuscany. Apparently it is made by letting specially picked grapes dry out until they are almost raisins, with all that sugar locked inside, before the fermentation process. This creates an extremely high alcohol content of more than 16%!!! It looked pink, almost salmon, and smelled like syrup straight out of a bottle. The taste was so sweet a couple of people almost spit it right back in the fancy wine glass! I didn’t mind it as much as the others, but did turn down buying a bottle.
The owner gave us two reds to try in addition to the white and the Vin Santo. The first was called a Syrah, made of purely Syrah grapes. The color was a beautiful ruby red and the wine had a strong pepper scent with a warm sensation. It tasted dry, but not quite as dry as I had come to expect from red wines, and had a 12.5% alcohol content. The second red we tried was a Sassocupo (I love that word) which was 13.5% alcohol, made of two grapes and aged for seven years. It was a dark red with a strangely pleasant mineral scent. (Who would’ve though rocks had a scent?) After my first sip I was immediately in love. I tasted warmth mixed with acidity and promptly raised my hand to buy a bottle, my hatred of reds gone forever.
With two bottles in tow, and the tasting over, we headed back to the bus and real life. And by real life I mean cafes, gelaterias, and cobble stone streets…. We were still in Italy for another three weeks!!