A few years ago I cycled through Tuscany on my way to Rome. It was beautiful. That’s probably something of an understatement. All those photographs you’ve seen of rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves and Italian Cypress trees give you a bit of a clue, but then you realise you are actually in the middle of it and it looks even more inviting and timeless than those photos. The quality of light is even more ethereal than any filter could create, and those friendly old chaps in flat caps sitting outside bars drinking espresso in the morning sun really exist, they’re not from central casting.
All of that said, Tuscany is hilly. Rolling hills sound great in a tourist brochure, but in the heat of August on a bicycle with everything you’ve brought on your trip tied to the back of that bicycle sometimes the beauty passes you by as you struggle to find shade in an olive grove to change an inner tube for the third time that day, worried that you’ve been delayed so much that you might not be able to find a bed to stay in when you finally arrive at the next town.
We always did find a bed though, with a chance to shower both myself and my clothes before hanging them out of the window to dry for the morning whilst I put on my “evening clothes” of lightweight shorts and a vest before heading out to find a restaurant that didn’t turn away people with comedic tan-lines who walked like John Wayne after another day in the saddle.
In Montalcino we found a restaurant that not only seemed happy to see us, but also had a great menu for both food and drink. Yes, we were seated outside, downwind of nicer patrons, but we were made to feel very welcome. I’d love to tell you the name of the restaurant, but I can’t remember, and I’m sure if you happen to be in Montalcino you’ll find a perfect place for you.
After the standard pantomime of ordering food and explaining that no, no-one else was joining us, yes all that food was for us and yes, we had burned off 5,000 calories that day so would like a little bread and oil to snack on whilst the food was cooked the waiter game me a wine list. My cycling buddy was a beer or spirits drinker, she didn’t see the point of wine, and as I had plenty of hills ahead the next day I thought a bottle would be unwise. My waiter recommended that I had a little glass of Rosso di Montalcino with my bread, olives and pasta, and then moved up to a large glass of Brunello with my main course. That man was a genius.
So when the nice people at Mondial Wines asked me what my favourite Italian red was I eschewed Barolo, the more obvious choice, and said Brunello di Montalcino. They kindly sent me this bottle from Tenuta di Sesta to try.
It was a wonderful colour, a delicate garnet with just a hint of brick at the edge. It smelled of Tuscany. OK, that’s probably not helpful. It did smell of dirt, but in a good, earthy way, and of mushrooms, but in a good, truffle way. There was fruit too, but the first impression was of the earth. It tasted dry with quite a high acidity, with soft ripe tannins as well as some woody ones. Those forest flavours of earth and mushroom came through with something rather like cedar wood. There was some soft cherry fruit in there as well as a little bit of wet stone.
Altogether it really tasted Italian, none of your fancy new world fruit bombs here, this was an old fashioned wine from the old world and I liked it. The flavour lasted well, encouraging steady sipping. At £40 a bottle from Mondial Wines with free shipping if you spend £50 it’s a nice treat.
All it needs is a little glass of Vin Santo and some Cantuccini and you could be sitting out enjoying an evening in Tuscany – if you turned the central heating up high enough.