~ The large clump of Cypress trees on the “White Road” to Castellina in Chianti ~

As I’ve previously written, Castellina in Chianti is about as picturesque a Tuscan hill town as you will come across.  For us, it holds special meaning as it’s home to Andrea Cecchi and his winery.  We met Andrea on the steps of the Church, in the piazza as is the customary gathering place.  We were meeting for dinner and Andrea wished to show us “Chianti through his eyes”….

For the next six hours this warm, gracious and generous friend led us on a remarkable excursion that included not only a tour of his estate vineyards and winery, but of every corner of Chianti.  It was, without question,  one of the highlights in a trip filled with wonderful moments. 

~ Part of the Cecchi Wine Cellars ~

We tasted his  2013 Villa Cerna Sangiovese  from barrel.  It’s destined to be Chianti Classico but is yet unblended. This 2013 Sangiovese already shows amazing purity of flavors from the barrel.  It’s very aromatic with lots of floral notes, red fruits, and soft wood notes on the nose and palate.  It will be one to watch for once bottled.  We then retrieved a few bottles of wine from his cellar to take to dinner.  

~ Andrea Cecchi retrieving a barrel sample of his 2013 Sangiovese ~

Winding through the roads of Chianti can be hungry work and firmly in his charge, we decided to stop in Panzano to visit the renowned butcher, Dario Cecchini – as Andrea called him, “The Crazy Butcher of Panzano”.

Larger than life, with the boisterous, energetic personality to match,  Dario has been featured in Food & Wine, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bon Appetit and scores of other publications in addition to various appearances on gourmet related television shows. 

He is an expert at his craft.  After taking over from his Father,  he continues to lovingly butcher only two animals,  cows and pigs.  Nothing more.  He says lovingly because to Cecchini,  it’s an honor to butcher an animal. It’s a privilege and he insists on using every piece of the animals he butchers.  Nothing is wasted. 

By day, Cecchini runs his butcher shop.  By night, the counter is closed,  but the foyer is opened to the town, to passersby in what can only be called a roving party.  Crostini lathered with Dario’s own lardo,  cured meats, olives, and homemade wine are offered for the price of a smile.  It’s a jovial fun atmosphere and when we ran into winemaker Marco Pallanti, from Castello di Ama,  the die was cast.  We were going to visit Dario’s restaurant – the “Officina”.

~ The Entrance to Dario Cecchini’s Shop ~

~ The Counter of Cecchini’s Shop ~

~ Cecchini ages his meat with the utmost care ~

You don’t meet Dario.  You experience him.   Dressed in a red, white and green Court Jester outfit,  he darts from place to place making certain his “Squadra Manzo di Cecchini”  (Cecchini’s Beef Team)  is ready to perform.  Yes, dinner is not served, it’s performed outside under welcoming pergolas at long wooden communal tables. 

~ Dario grabbed us:  “To Beef or not to Beef” ~
For reasons passing understanding – and I can only attribute it to the great company of the evening – I didn’t take a single picture of the menu that was presented.  We were drinking, laughing, and sharing the banter of Marco and Andrea – absorbing the conversation like a sponge and were simply immersed in beef. 

The menu is performed like a stage show each night.  Horns announce courses, the dishes are announced in Italian, the Squadra is presented for curtain calls. The Menu…….. 

Beef Tartare (simply the best I’ve ever eaten)
Beef Carpaccio
Thin Sliced Flank Steak
White Beans with Oil & Herbs
Raw Vegetables & Oil for dipping
Fiorentina Steak
Fiorentina Steak
Baked Potatoes w/ “Chianti Butter”
Fiorentina Steak
Lemon Cake & Italian Military Spirts for digestion

~ This I found!  Baked potatoes with Dario’s “Chianti Butter” – Lardo mixed with fennel pollen, garlic, pepper and rosemary.  It’s otherwordly – but a little goes a long cholesterol rising way ~
It was an homage to cows.  It was the most flavorful, tender, succulent steak I’ve ever eaten.  It was more than I could ever eat and served with no end in sight.  You must beg to be finished. 

~ Cecchini at Right, Presenting the first two Fiorentina of the Evening ~

And we had wine.   Marco Pallanti had brought some of the 2012 San Giusto Chianti Classico.  The wine is a pretty ruby color from a wonderful vintage.  It was spectacular with the tartare and the white beans.  Floral, earthy and medium bodied, this 100% Sangiovese is reminiscent of it’s pricier sibling, Percarlo.  Long, lovely, dusty herb like finish.  Juicy and fresh.  90 points. 

~ San Giusto A Rentennano 2012 ~
~ Marco Pallanti of Castello di Ama, & Andrea Cecchi ~
As I mentioned, Andrea had retrieved several bottles of wine from his cellar to bring for dinner.  Each one was seemingly better than the next.  Quality is quickly on the rise at Cecchi.  With Andrea at the helm along with his brother Cesare,  the pair are propelling Cecchi forward.   

The 2010 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva was everything I’ve come to expect from this wine.  A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino from estate vineyards in Castellina,  this wine harmoniously combines power and elegance. It’s deep ruby in the glass with almost black reflections.  Redolent aromas of crushed berry, herbs and new leather fan from the glass.  The flavors follow the aromas and the wine is medium to full bodied with ripe, dusty tannins – like the white road that runs directly past the vineyard.  I’ve had this wine a few times now and it consistently impresses. 92 points, about $25 in the US.  Find it! 

~ The Villa Cerna CCR will soon bear the new “Gran Selezione” designation ~
As the Fiorentina started rolling out of the kitchen,  we upped the ante with the Tre Bicchieri wine, Coevo.   The 2010 Cecchi Coevo is Andrea’s contemporary vision of that year’s Tuscan harvest.  The blend for Coevo changes each year, as vintage dictates.  The 2010 is 60% Sangiovese, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet.  The Sangiovese & Cabernet come from Castellina in Chianti while the Merlot and Petit Verdot come from Cecchi’s estate in Maremma.  This is a massive wine. It has an absolutely huge core of wild red and black fruits, with cocoa, espresso, licorice, smoke and cured meat on the nose and palate.  It’s more approachable than it was at Gambero Rosso – but frankly, I’m thinking thats an “Italy” thing. This will be a 15 year wine and was amazing with the meat.  94 points. Simply wonderful. 
~ 2010 Cecchi Coevo alongside the 1995 Spargolo – sadly corked ~
Cecchini may well have the ultimate Italian Steak House.  His legend precedes him.  It is well deserved.  His restaurant and his Maccelleria are absolute must visits for those in Panzano.

~ The Maestro ~
So much more to come…..

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