Italy Trip 2019: Day 6 Monday

Yesterday was a very active day so we slept in this morning until 9:30am and met my parents for breakfast at 10:30am in the tea room of our hotel. At 11am our car and driver arrived to take us the hour ride to Castello Verrazzano, a vineyard and winery tour and a lunch  and wine pairing. The ride through the Tuscany countryside is beautiful, with lush greens and rows of vines and olive trees and clear sky.

The winery is located in a castle that dates back to the 1100s-1200s and was owned by the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano who discovered New York and for whom the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge is named today. The property is beautiful, with a fountain and pond, trees, fields, gardens, , and restaurant. We learned that in addition to grapes and olives, they also grow tomatoes, lettuce, fruit, and they raise wild boar. We joined up with our tour group for the tour in English, with a very enthusiastic and articulate woman who spoke both Italian and English. We went around the property, down into the wine cellar with wines over 100 years old, saw giant oval-shaped barrels aging, even some aging for the sweet wine or vinsanto. We also poked our nose into a grate to sniff the strong aroma of balsamic vinegar that is in the process of aging for 10 years into a very expensive balsamic. The stairs of the wine cellars were sometimes tricky, but there were a few stone tunnels and narrow passages that definitely felt like we were stepping into the old times of millennium earlier.

After the tour and exploration of the winery and processes, we were guided to the dining room where several octo-and nonagenarian women were having lunch and where we would be having our wine tasting and lunch. At our table was a couple from Ireland  who were here on vacation. We had a pleasant time chatting with them about our differences and similarities in cultures and experiences in Italy. They were just leaving Florence while we had barely just arrived.

The wines were poured in order of white wine (chiaro bianco) then reds: Chianti Classico, then Chianti Reserva, then the Supertoscano wine. Each wine glass was paired with each course: the white with the salami, cheese and prosciutto, the Chianti Classico with the spaghetti and red sauce, the Chianti Reserva with the meat plate of aged pork, the Supertoscano somewhere in the middle. We were also given just 2 drops of the super-expensive balsamic vinegar to taste, which we were encouraged to sip slowly after each bite of cheese during the first course, not as a salad dressing. The guide expressed that to put this fine of a balsamic vinegar on salad would be a waste, because this kind is so fine that it is to be savored and nothing less.

After the main course, a plate of biscotti and a small shot glass of sweet wine were brought to our table. I recognized this specialty plate as the same vinsanto as what we tried last night at the Il Latini restaurant. This was served just before dessert, in order to provide a change in transition for the palate. Though this time doing vinsanto, our guide encouraged us not just to dip the biscotti in the wine then take a bit, but to also suck the wine out of the biscotti before biting it. Dessert was a simple fruit torte served with coffee. We were asked if we wanted coffee “correcto” with grappa, a clear alcohol like vodka, or if we wanted plain coffee. I tried first the coffee, espresso, without the grappa, and it tasted strongly of a coffee. After putting the grapa in the espresso glass, the flavor turned pungent and bitter, and completely unrecognizable to coffee. I think I preferred the coffee without the grapa.

After we finished up our dinner and wine, we went to the counter to order some wines and olive oil to send home, and then we checked out and met our driver again for our ride back to the hotel. He asked if we wanted to go to another winery along the way and we declined because we were ready for a break. The drive back to Florence was very pretty to see all of the different wineries and olive trees all in a row in the countryside. It was also so wonderful to get out to the countryside to have a break from the city.

Along the drive we stopped at Ponte Vecchio, the “old bridge” of 600-700 years old that still has shops and apartments built over the bridge. After we returned to our hotel we took a bit to rest and I got some laundry started in my hotel room’s double sink,  and then I napped for a short while. Then my father and I went out and walked around the Duomo Piazza and stopped at a wine bar where we got some wine and I got a spritzer. My father was still tired so he went back to the hotel so then I got a lite dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall trattoria called Il Contadino, by recommendation of a friend that had passed through Florence a few weeks ago.

The sun was setting on the way to the ristorante so I walked along the river to snap some photos of the sunset’s progress. Then I found the right place and asked for a table for one, and was seated by the waitress. The menu was entirely in Italian and I was ready to take up the challenge of ordering all in Italian, as we had to do at a few other cafes and restaurants we had tried in our time in Italy. I ordered a pesto pasta and salad, and for dessert they brought strawberries in mascarpone cream. It was all very delicious but I was still rather full from this afternoon’s winery lunch so I just nibbled a little at each of the courses.

After dinner I walked around the river and streets of Florence for awhile more, just taking in everything and observing the people and the changes in lights, as the night lights started reflecting over the river. Today was a festival, so there were a few fireworks that kicked up over the river as well, with many crowded to watch it. As I was tired from walking and it was still very hot even for evening, I stopped at a bar and ordered an aperol spritz while sitting in their quiet but picturesque courtyard. After finishing I called a taxi back to my hotel where I filled up the tub and took the first bubble bath I’ve had in over two decades until I was so relaxed it was time to go to bed.