~ Il Civettaio, the “Owl’s Nest” is the billet for the first half of our trip ~

With the 2023 Rustic Tuscany Tour behind me, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of how best to chronicle what was an amazing trip.   Tuscany charms in many ways.  There’s food and wine of course.  But the people and the scenery are just as warm and inviting.  So, I am letting them tell their story.

~ Early morning fog layer visible from Civettaio ~

One of the many benefits of “nesting” at Il Civettaio for part of our trip is that we commandeer the entire Agriturismo.  Guests have the run of the place and that includes the quiet, early morning hours when Tuscany shows off some of it’s bucolic charm.  The image above was taken around 8AM looking South toward Grosseto and the sea.  The fog layer had yet to evaporate.  Adventurous guests hike the property; some even despite my warnings. It’s somewhat of an illusion when you start out. The downward grade seems slight.  But the return is anything but.


~ Andrea, the winemaker at Val delle Rose stealing a barrel sample of Vermentino ~

Our days often start early as the fog layer attests.  But that’s at least partially because of the travel time required to get to our appointments.  Generally speaking, Tuscany isn’t large. At least not as the crow flies.  But the crow rarely flies straight in Italy.  After a 90 minute ride from Fiumicino to Maremma, we were ready to taste and have lunch.

Rustic Tuscany

~ Our table was set on the patio overlooking vineyards and olive groves and nestled in the shade of a wisteria canopy ~

Our table was nothing short of spectacular.  We had many excellent wines to pair with the best food that Maremma can offer.  The Cecchi family has created an amazing oasis at Val delle Rose.  But it would be somewhat meaningless if the wines produced were not exceptional.  The insistence on quality at no expense is obvious.

~ The first dish that came out was an incredible zucchini flan. Light and fluffy, yet creamy – it was among the best dishes of the Tour ~


~ It’s always good to see friends on the Tour. Here Lars, my brother from another Mother (right) laughing with Andrea Cecchi our host. Undoubtedly from one of Lars’ Dad jokes ~

And while it’s nice to witness the calm of Civettaio in the mornings, she doesn’t disappoint in the evenings either.

~ There is no filter here….. just light filtering through heaven ~

Evening dinners at Civettaio are replete with locally prepared food, the estate’s wines, wines that the group may have acquired during our travels and yes, wine gifted to us by winemakers.  Dinners are lighter, so as not to compete with our larger lunches and are served family style. Dessert is always somewhat savory to pair with red wine, or even grappa.

~ If the season permits, the chestnuts from Mount Amiata are delicious and sweet ~

The next morning we headed off to Castello Banfi with a full itinerary planned;  tour, tasting and lunch. The guests were surprised, if not shocked, to learn that John Mariani, the CEO Emeritus of Castello Banfi would provide the day’s tour and join us for lunch.  I wonder if the group still thinks the nuclear missile story was true?

~ Cabernet Sauvignon was being brought into Castello Banfi as we begin our Tour ~

Castello Banfi is an amazing property. A fully functional and sustainable farm, the produce from the estate includes pasta, plums, prunes, honey, almonds, balsamico Etrusca, olive oil among many others to say nothing of wine.  These wares dotted our lunch menu.


~ Our lunch spot in one of the highest points of Castello Banfi. Do you know who gets to eat up there? Right, no one. Unless you’re with us. ~

The lunch we had, prepared by chefs who run Banfi’s Michelin Stared restaurant, was simply a highlight of the entire trip.   The first dish was utterly ethereal.

~ This is a soft poached, local egg on a bed of truffle cream, with black truffles. It’s been coated in fried breadcrumbs. It was luscious, with a runny yoke ~

And then….


~ Tortiglioni with sausage and hazelnut “dust” filled with ricotta and spinach ~


~ Veal medallions with braised fennel and porcini, with whipped potatoes and hazelnut dust ~

~ Our lunch view didn’t suck either ~

And arrivederci alla prossima.

~ Sunset and Moonrise over Castello Banfi ~

While wine is surely one of the main subjects of the Tour, the food and cultural are often equally as important.  Inextricably linked to Tuscany are olives and the wonderful green nectar they produce.  Sadly, 2023 was a difficult year for olive oil production which, like grapes, is way down.  The olive fly wreaked havoc on groves across Tuscany and it was essentially hit or miss whether you were affected. Nevertheless, we found Frantoio Franci in action…..

~ In they go ~

And then…

~ Out they come! Guests had the opportunity to learn about different grades & taste several different varieties ~

In addition to the oil being made in a timely fashion, like the Castello Banfi Cabernet pictured above, we also ran into lots of Cabernet being harvested.  The image below is an amphora batch of Cabernet being fermented at Tolaini.

~ This is Cabernet in an Amphora at Tolaini. It was bubbling away and we were able to push the cap down with the winemaker. Very cool hands on thing to see and do.  ~

Naturally we drank a sea of wine on this trip.  However, the warm, friendly people of Tuscany make more than just wine.

~ Simone, whose family owns Trattoria il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo is Colle is the Maestro behind”Il Ginus” – one of the best gins I’ve ever tasted and the first gin ever produced in Montalcino ~

Of course, Simone is a maestro in the dining room  as well, dutifully taking care of our group as if we were family.   And…it was Bistecca time!

~ As you can see, it was Bistecca Fiorentina night. Although we pleaded for one to be cooked “media” for some of the guests, Tuscans can’t help themselves to go that far. ~

So where’s the wine?  Well, we had a lot of amazing bottles;  some released, some not quite released….

Lamole di Lamole is a regular stop on the Rustic Tuscany Tour.  High atop the hills of Greve, the vineyards of Lamole are almost too high to legally fit into the Chianti Classico regulations.  As a result, the grapes ripen very slowly, benefiting from wide day/night temperature swings.  This diurnal shift fosters wonderful aromatics in the finished wines.

Andrea Daldin has been the winemaker at Lamole for over 30 years.  In addition to showing us his wonderful new releases, he always grabs something from the estate’s library.  This year, he pulled a 1986 Chianti Classico.  While it was clearly browning in color, there were still traces of red and the wine was very fresh.  Andrea pointed out that this was especially significant because back then, the inclusion of white grapes in the blend was still mandatory.


~ An old, but enjoyable wine. Fruit flavors verged from orange peel to dried cherry. The leather, balsamico and chestnut character were noticeable. Fresh acidity. It was gone fast with the number of people sampling it ~

But not all wine was a cellared treasure.  At least not yet…..

~ With our wonderful lunch at Tenuta Fanti we enjoyed all their new releases, a few Brunello Riserva and this treat. “BV19” from an unlabeled bottle. Brunello Vallochio 2019. Mark your calendars. You’ll want this wine. ~

We also glimpsed the future at Uccelliera.

~ Estate Manager Matilde drew barrel samples of wine that will become 2021 and 2022 Brunello ~


~ Andrea Cortonesi uses large botte exclusively for Brunello. Here in cask 26 resides “AAD” wine that will become, Brunello 2022. It is illegal to call the wine Brunello until the required aging is complete ~

Many wineries have centuries old caves and libraries excavated beneath them.  Castello di Monsanto, the pride of proprietor Laura Bianchi,  is one of them.

~ This close up of Castello di Monsanto’s IL Poggio is but one example. The family library holds wines back to the 1960s in catacombs that were excavated by hand ~

As our time in Montalcino wrapped up, we made our way to Siena.  On a few of the mornings I rose early and went for a walk before the city started to bustle.  I have enough photos from that walk for a separate article, but this one stands out to me….if you’re a fan of  “A Christmas Carol”…..

~ I guess this is one of those – if you know, you know, moments ~

We have good friends in Montepulciano that we like to visit as well.  Andrea Contucci provided yet another amazing tour of his family winery which dates only to the year 1008.  (not a typo)   Yet, it was the sights, sounds and local flavor of Montepulciano that captivated on this trip.

~ A centuries old balcony overlooking the Val di Chiana. Notice the rings that form a ladder to the left? Is this some sort of escape route for a would be mistress ??? ~

Our lunch in Montepulciano after touring at Contucci was nothing short of spectacular.  It began with an amazing primo piatti.

~ Simplicity doesn’t get any better than this. Pici all’Aglione is a tomato based sauce made with local garlic that grows to the size of a grapefruit. They are succulent, almost sweet, and infuse an amazing flavor into the sauce. I’ve tried to replicate it at home using Elephant Garlic but it pales in comparison ~

Not to be outdone, was the secondi…

~ For me, this was one of the best meals of the trip. Rabbit loin stuffed and wrapped in guanciale over a succulent pan sauce with local vegetables. Awesome! ~

We endured a spooky, foggy, rainy night in Montepulciano and while we made the best of the situation, it still provided interesting perspective for pictures.

~ The Palazzo Contucci Torre is shrouded in mist & fog ~

And the morning after required some clean up…

~ Half of me was expecting to see someone emerge to throw a bucket of water onto the street ~

When all was said and done, there was nothing more to do or say.  We rode off into the sunset one more time……


~ Sunset over Siena from the vineyards of Querciavalle ~

The images above are just a smattering from the 2023 Rustic Tuscany Tour.  Over the next few months, I’ll share more – including more detailed impressions for some of the wines and Feature Articles on wineries of note.  Stay tuned!


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