~ A small courtyard in Pienza, Tuscany, provides color against the burnt umber ~

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to spend a very slow week meandering around Tuscany.   While it’s always a pleasure to absorb the sights and sounds of this bucolic region, this trip had the additional goal of scouting hotels and wineries for the upcoming Rustic Tuscany Tour.

This article captures the essence of that trip. From food, wine and cultural idiosyncrasies, this is the charm of Tuscany.


~ Poggio Alle Mura is gorgeous against the fading Tuscan sunset ~

We arrived to our billet, the wonderful agriturismo Civettaio, in mid-afternoon.  After greeting our host, Gregorio, we were able to unwind, unpack and have a refreshing shower.  An evening apperitivo at Castello Banfi awaited us.

Civettaio is isolated on a hill near Paganico.  It’s a villa with several apartments available for rent.  Surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and forest, the property feels like an oasis. In many ways, it is.


~ The lineup tasted at Castello Banfi – not pictured was an unreleased sample of the 2019 Summus ~

Castello Banfi is a fixture of the Rustic Tuscany Tour, but this visit was more private.   I didn’t take detailed notes or even form an opinion of a score. My sons and I tasted, discussed preferences and generalities; and enjoyed!

Stream of Consciousness – The 2018 Estate Brunello is open and ready to drink. It shows nice flavor, good concentration and freshness. Enjoy it over the next 5 years.  The 2017s, while fresh, were not surprisingly the most awkward.  The Vigna Marrucheto is special.  It combines that oft sought, little realized combination of masculinity and elegance.  Grace even.   The battle of the 2015 Riservas was interesting to witness side by side.  The differences in style are not so subtle when juxtaposed in such close proximity.  I preferred Poggio all’Oro.

~ After the tasting, we strolled around the back of the Castello until it got rather dark. It was off to Sant Angelo in Colle for dinner ~

Finally, our host pulled out one older wine and one newer wine: the 2007 Estate Brunello and the 2019 Summus, as yet to be released.  I was equally impressed with both of these.  The Brunello loaded with truffle, porcini and fresh vibrant fruit. My two sons, both truffle lovers, easily picked out that smell. I think this was a coming of age tasting for them. It thrills me that it happened to us together at Castello Banfi.  The Summus?  Utterly dynamite.  A 6 pack purchase for me at a minimum when released.

The next day we rose early and made our way to Siena.  Shopping, strolling and savoring were on the itinerary and the boys managed to do just that.  We sought out leather, truffles and ahem…well we’ll leave it at that.   After a lunch with my friend Antonio De Miccoli, we headed to a late afternoon appointment with Susanna Soderi, the owner of Setriolo.


~ De Miccoli is a wonderful bottega just off the Campo. But beware, you’ll be tossed into the street if you try to take a photo inside the shop ~

Setriolo is off the main road that leads from Castellina in Chianti to Castellina Scalo.  I was a little nervous thinking about trying to find it and although it’s very much tucked away, it was fairly easy.  The boys were astonished.  Susanna farms about 3 hectares of vineyards and has two main areas on the property where she works; the vinification area and the barrel cellar.  For the 4 of us to fit into each of these compartments was a challenge.  It was a stark contrast to Castello Banfi and well, the boys noticed.

Setriolo Tuscany

~ Unlike the large tasting room at Castello Banfi, with Susanna, we tasted in her personal living room ~

Again, given the casual atmosphere no notes were taken.  Susanna presented her 2018 Chianti Classico and 2018 Chianti Classico Riserva.  Both were very good considering the vintage was very difficult by her own admission.  Her production was significantly reduced, especially of the Riserva where she only produced about 2,000 bottles.  The last wine she opened was her 2016 Memores, a 100% Merlot.  This was very impressive. Silky and powerful in its depth, but retaining an elegance throughout which is noteworthy in the vintage.  Susanna is fully organic and certified as such.  We discussed the possibility about adding her to the Rustic Tuscany Tour.  Stay tuned for more on that!


~ Montalcino as seen from the ramparts of the Fortezza ~

The next morning, Montalcino beckoned.  We had breakfast at Civettaio and drove into town to catch some of the shops before they closed.  Gregorio put out a wonderful juice for breakfast. At first I thought it was blood orange juice which would not have surprised me. But this was different, so I asked.  He said “It’s Ahchay”.  Ahchay?   Hold on and he darted for the kitchen.  He returned with a carton emblazoned with the letters A-C-E  (Achay).  It’s a blend of apple, lemon and carrot.  Amazing!  And only in Italy.

Anyway, we wanted to get to Montalcino early as it’s normal for shops in Italy to close between about 1-4PM.  In this sense, people go home for a mid-day meal, welcome kids from school, run errands and even pay bills. Then typically the shops will reopen at 4PM.  In March, this isn’t always the case as many stay closed entirely from about 2PM.  There are many that are also closed Mondays and Tuesdays now.

Nevertheless, tapestry, leather, cologne, wine, wares and ceramics were all on the table.  We walked the length of the town and marveled at the natural defensive position this must have commanded during the wars.  This was even more apparent inside the Fortezza. Every inch and nook of that place was designed to more efficiently kill an invader – right down to the left turning spiral staircases in each tower of the fort. On which, my son was keen to opine. I have to say, his knowledge of history impressed me.

After taking in the town, we went off to Pienza for lunch before an afternoon appointment at Poggio Antico later that day.


~ Local flavor in Pienza. Clothes Dryers are not common in Italy due to the lack of space and the expense of operation. The sun will do!  ~

Culture is on display everywhere in Pienza.  The pristine stone town has two things going for it. First, it’s smack dab in the middle of Val d’Orcia and heading toward the Centro is like driving through a calendar of Tuscany. Second, is Pecorino!   Pecorino in every form, age and flavor. And there are any number of shops providing tastings.  I bought a 10 month old wheel for the ridiculous sum of $34 Euro.  Creamy and just starting to develop texture from the cave aging, this will be enjoyed for many dinners to come. We found a family shop with their own cows, their own cave for aging and an amazing array of cheeses.


~ The view out over the Val d’Orcia from one of the walls on the outskirts of Pienza ~

With Poggio Antico beckoning, we had a quick pizza and birra Ichnusa and then we were off.  But not before capturing a bit more local color.


~ The Tre Colore and Geppeto stand out among the stone homes of Pienza ~

I’ve been to Poggio Antico before but not since the change in ownership back in 2017.   The new owners have done a substantial amount of work and investment in the property. The winery has been rebuilt, the new tasting and reception room added and they are now certified organic.  They are also in the process of adding solar panels to the winery roof, but this will take several more years.


~ Poggio Antico, along with Le Ragnaie, boast the highest vineyards in Montalcino at just over 1,600 feet ASL ~

Poggio Antico has 35 hectares of vineyards spread over three distinct parcels which are interspersed by a natural lake and forest.  About 32 of those hectares are devoted to Brunello production and there are small amounts of Cabernet grown for two interesting IGT blends.

Poggio Antico

~ In addition to the wines pictured, we also tasted the 2013 Madre, one of the estate’s IGT wines ~

I’ve always loved Poggio Antico’s wines and this experience did nothing to change that.  We first tasted the Rose which is 100% barrel aged Sangiovese Grosso.  I loved it and if found in a local wine shop, would purchase it no doubt, but I wasn’t going to ship any home.  That changed with the 2021 Rosso di Montalcino which, in word, was superb.  Fresh, concentrated, lively – the tasting coordinator mentioned that 2021 would unquestionably be the best of the 2020-2022 trio of vintages.

The 2013 Brunello was, well like other 2013s I’ve had.  It seems like it’s coming around, but it isn’t trying to impress anybody by getting their quickly.  The cooler vintage is evident and it’s just not one of my favorites.  The 2011 Altero was dynamite – pristine aged 10+ year Brunello and I happily bought some.  The 2017 Riserva, only just released this week, is massive and backward. It’s fresh and juicy though and an achievement for the vintage.

~ Pizza with truffles and prosciutto. Along with a fresh seafood salad at Il Castelluccio in Paganico, it made for the perfect birthday dinner ~

With Poggio Antico behind us, it was back toward Civettaio before a local dinner.  And another lesson in Italian culture.  One of the restaurants I wanted to visit on this trip was closed for the winter.  That’s not odd in light of the reduced tourism and heating costs.  So I reached out to a few friends and decided upon another local place.  And despite the fact that my GPS directed me flawlessly, man was it local. Or more precise, residential.

As we passed the last landmark I recognized, the trail became narrower and dustier. But my British voiced Siri pressed on.  A roundabout, then another and we were driving down a street getting narrower as cars were parked on both sides. We could hear the sounds of music, family dinners and see kids playing.  It was just getting dark and I had an 8PM reservation.  We turned into a courtyard and tucked back in the corner was the restaurant.  The residents left no parking so we had to turn around, park down the street and walk in.  7:45 PM.

The restaurant was pitch black inside. The door was locked.  Hmmm, my son pulled up the website while I double checked my email and confirmed that I made the reservation for the right day. Check.  The website says they open at 7, said my son.  Hmmm….  I call the phone number provided in the email.  Just like in the movies, we can hear the phone ringing through the wall.  Hmmm…..   Even if they show up at 8, my son says, there’s no way they’ll be ready to serve.  I called the owner’s cell phone. No answer.  So, we piled back into the car and headed to Pizzeria Il Castelluccio in Paganico. Problem solved as you can see from the pizza above.  Another experience with the pliability of Italian time.  Later I relayed the story to my friend who suggested the place. “Yeah, I known the owner for 20 years, but he can be flakey”….


~ Roasted Agnello with potatoes and rosemary. This is fall off the bone gorgeous and a staple at Matricianella ~

The next day we headed back to Roma before our flight home and had lunch at the amazing Matricianella. In addition to their decadent Carbonara, we enjoyed the lamb shown above. The lamb is so good, I don’t think I’ll ever order anything else when I’m there.




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