A spare Sunday afternoon, some magnifent Spring sunshine, a new car to take for a drive, and volunteers to try out the passenger seats. Destination: Yarra Valley. After a zoom through green vineyard-covered hills, stopping at a few favourites for some tasting including Balgownie Estate (the sparkling Shiraz should not be missed) we pulled up at Train Trak for some lunch. Having not been back there since a 40 degree February day some years back for Grape Grazing, where the ground was brown and dusty and we sat on picnic rugs under the shade of a tree, it was a delightful discovery indeed to step into ZONZO, the restaurant, festooned with paper lanterns and flowers, and to be met with an aroma of wood-fired pizza and other Italian fare. A quick glass of Train Trak Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay to wet the whistle, and we moved outside into the sunshine, a vista of vines and daisy-dotted grass laid out before us.
The menu was packed full of Mediterranean goodness, and we wasted no time ordering up a storm of pizzas, including the alla salsiccia (tomato, mozzarella, pork and fennel sausage, spanish onion and rosemary), the con carciofi (tomato, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, proscuitto, rocket, gorgonzola) and the con marscapone (tomato, mozzarella, walnuts, speck and marscapone). We also ordered a salad of buffalo mozzarella, mini roma tomatoes, basil, and baby spinach.
These pizzas were an absolute delight – light crispy base, fresh produce, just the right amount of cheese and toppings, and we followed up with the tiramisu, which for my money was bang on – and as Paolo Vino always maintains, it’s about the ratio of the marscapone/whipped cream to sponge biscuit and coffee. Zonzo clearly understands this important point.
No doubt you have been wondering when we would seriously broach the subject of Tuscan wine. Rest assured that a great deal of research in the way of consumption has been undertaken as a service to you, dear reader.
Greve in Chianti is home to a wine store called Le Cantine www.lecantine.it which houses over 1200 wines, at least a hundred of which are available for tasting. Where to start?
Given that the Chianti Classico is the local drop, and its method of production is regulated, and has to include a minimum of 80% Sangiovese of which we are already huge fans, we have found it incredibly easy to find many good and eminently drinkable versions, from the local trattorias and even at the local supermarket.
So just when we think it can’t get any better, we discover the Chianti Classico Reserva, which hits straight out of the ball park with a richer, deeper flavor. Now we know what to look for, and having gleaned some recommendations of local wineries to visit, we plan our assault accordingly.
First stop, Castella D’Albola, just outside Radda in Chianti, itself a charming hill town of sun-warmed stone walls and steep laneways to explore. Our guide gives us a technical tour, a lecture on cork production, and a tasting of a selection of Chardonnay, Chianti Classico, Reserve, Vin Santo, as well as their olive oil which was lemony delicious.
Next stop, Castello Vicchio Maggio, a smallish winery but ridiculously picturesque, complete with turrets and breathtaking views, where the Chianti Classico was delightful, full of berries and sweetness. We bought a bottle to enjoy later by the pool.
Lastly, a 3 hour visit including a tour, and lunch with wine tasting, at Castello Verrazzano.
This is for me one of the highlights of our time in Tuscany.
An 850 year old winery, with a castle perched atop a wooded hill full of wild boar, with views across a valley covered in grape vines and olive groves.
Our host for the day is Gino, charismatic, enthusiastic and immaculately presented, with a passion for wine and life that is both entertaining and infectious. He seeks not to instruct his guests on the technique of wine making, but rather to give us a tour of the cellars, the suits of armour, the gardens, and the wild boar prosciutto curing alongside the aged Balsamic barrels. All the while he espouses the Italian art of enjoying the moment, savouring the company of good friends and good food, and in such surrounds, how can the wine be anything less than wonderful?
With a delightful Bianco Di Toscana to accompany the wild boar salami and proscuitto, we then moved onto a Chianti Classico for the penne with tomatoes and spices, and a Riserva with our pork, cannelini beans and insalata verde. Then came a plate of pecorino with pepper sauce, and then the piece de resistance, a bowl of aged Parmesan served with a teaspoon of the most incredible, aged, syrupy Balsamic vinegar which was pure nectar, and which will set you back 48 Euros a bottle. We moved onto a glass of Vin Santo with biscotti, and finally the grappa, which sent a blaze of fire into the belly and left a smile on the dial. We reluctantly bid Gino a fond farewell and toddled off home, richer for the experience.
As a side note, Limoncello, whilst typically from the Amalfi Coast, is available in abundance in Chianti, and we have also partaken in many icy-cold glasses of lemony goodness whilst solving the problems of the universe after dinner of an evening.