Tuscan Tales Chapter 17 – ‘… fruit of the vine.’

Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when you gonna let me get sober? Let me alone, let me go home … let me go back and start over …’ So goes the song of the sixties, and for some, so accurate are the lyrics that I wonder if the composer, Tom Paxton, was perhaps in Chianti when he wrote it? Was he perhaps sitting right in the middle of one of these wonderful vineyards?

For right now the grapes are simply bursting off the vines, the pickers are at the ready, and the farmers are anxiously watching the skies. They don’t want rain … that’ll ruin that little round purple ball of a Sangiovese grape. That’s the hero of the bottle: that’s what makes the Chianti Classico, the Super Tuscan and anything else … the drinking wine, the rosato and even the vin santo. It is quite simply the workhorse of the whole thing.

the harvest coming in
The harvest coming in …

I looked it up. The name ‘sangiovese’ comes from the Latin ‘sanguis jovis’ meaning the blood of Jove. By the 16th century it was well known, but today’s DNA testing traces it to an ancient Tuscan grape called ‘ciliegiolo’ and another variety ‘calabrese montenuovo’ further south. It’s had its ups and downs, and certainly so in the mid-20th century: By the 1950’s the bulbous raffia Chianti wine bottle was well known … a tad too well known. Its reputation as a good wine had taken a dive and the quality was in low regard. Wines were being added to the Chianti mix from all over – right down to Sicily and Puglia.

Then, around about the early 1980s, the outstanding quality of the sangiovese grape was re-discovered and it has been all go from there. Strict regulations are now applied, and only a certain percentage of other wines may be mixed in order to form the authentic ‘Chianti Classico’ and earn the DOC … the coveted stamp of approval.

What’s more the area around us is simply excellent for production – we have the height – 150m- 550m, we have the mix of ‘shale-clay soil called the ‘galestro’ and we have the hills – masses of them, dipping and diving from peak to riverbed.

But, interesting as the history is, we’re into the drinking of it. And we don’t have to worry if it will rain tomorrow as we have some utterly delicious looking Chianti Classico squashed into a 55 litre damigiana. What’s more we have the bottles, we have the corks, and we even have the extraordinary looking corking machine. Now all we have to do is get the contents of the big bottle into the smaller bottles, and cork it.

Should be easy.

... several friends are here to help ...
… several friends are here to help …

Several friends are here to help and none of them have ever done this before. In fact, the collective lack of experience should be off-putting, but it’s not. First, the easy part: we stand the empty and expectant bottles on the table. (Better idea – next time remove the pretty market tablecloth.)

Then we put the bag of corks next to the corking monster. Now to lift the 55 litre demigiana onto the table … heavy and likely to tip. Done it! It’s clearly going to be a doddle.

... a pre-run of the corking monster ...
… a pre-run of the corking monster …

‘Just so that we know exactly what we are doing’ says a helpful friend ‘Let’s have a pre-run of the corking monster. Let’s cork a bottle and see.’ ‘Good plan,’ says Liam, ‘we can just uncork it again.’ We set the monster up. We place the bottle on a tiny stand just under the hole in the front, and place the cork in the hole. Liam grabs the handle, and pulls – it is rather like the action of a hand-held water pump. Oops, bottle not aligned with cork-hole. ‘Now we know.’ says Liam.

Should be easy, too.

Along with the bottles and the corks from Lucio came a strange looking two-way transparent pipe with a sort of tap on the top. ‘It’s simple,’ I tell Liam, ‘it’s just a matter of the law of gravity. You put the one bit of pipe into the damigiana and the other into the waiting bottle below. Then the law of gravity takes over .. . er, perhaps turn the tap on …’ I add, as nothing happens.

‘I know’ says Liam ‘I need to suck the air out of the pipe so that the wine flows through. The trick is to get the wine flowing, and as it begins to flow, to transfer the plastic tube from mouth to bottle in one action. ‘Sis’ I say ‘spit into every bottle?’ ‘No’ he laughs ‘you do it like this.’ And he gives a good suck. We watch the red wine flow through the transparent pipe. ‘It’s a bit like having your blood taken at the Royal Free Hospital,’ I joke, ‘Only I look the other way!’

Cosimo bottling fixedBut Liam is not in a joking mood. For how to stop the wine once you’ve reached the ‘critical gap’ at the neck of the bottle? Chianti wine is simply flowing everywhere and the tap does not seem to have an ‘off’. It is too good to waste and we have not thought of having a basin at the ready.

So Liam drinks, and he drinks, and our friends? Well they are simply in hysterics. They are also busy forming a queue. ‘Me next!’ comes the chorus.

Looks like we are in for one hell of an afternoon ahead …


... it's been a good year ...
… it’s been a good year …


© 2015 hemispheresapart.com

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Tuscan Tales Chapter 16 – ‘Bottle of wine …’

We are to have a summer party. Reiner, who knows everyone in our village, is leaning over his spade chatting to Liam. He’s found some good Chianti wine at a local vineyard of a friend of his. ‘Guido has produced too much for his registered quota,’ he tells Liam, ‘and I think we should go and have a look this afternoon. He has a small winery called le Fonti.’

It’s traditional in our area to throw a party for all builders and helpers once your house is finished. We’ve been here for over a year now, and as our house seems as if it will never quite be finished, we’ve decided right now will be just fine. Yesterday, Umberto, our electrician, was up a ladder fixing lights along the old beams in the apartment, and I chatted to him. ‘Yes, I’d love to come’ he said gazing down at me. ‘Do you know that it will be the first time I have come to a party at Fontana since I was a young boy?’

‘What do you mean, what parties were here?’ I asked, and he settled back to tell me. As a boy he lived in the old stone house at the top of the hill near the Madonnina

‘There were three farms across our valley – the great old Villa you can see from your garden, at the top of the vineyards, Fontana in the middle, and the farm in the next valley, to the east. At the end of each summer the bringing in of the harvest was celebrated at Fontana. Then the abandoned olive grove that we are busy restoring was up and running, and the wild section below was used for growing corn. The harvest party was held on what is now your west terrace, where there was a large threshing stone. My wife will just love seeing Fontana,’ said Umberto, ‘and all our children.’

Later I speak to Alfio, the builder who has just finished the buttressing of the southern wall of the house … the bit that has been threatening to slide down the hill and into the swimming pool. He’s a great bear of a chap, with huge shoulders and rough calloused hands, red and angry from constant contact with raw cement. ‘I’m too busy to do any of the finishing off, and Reiner can cope with it’ he says.

‘I hope you’re not too busy to come to our party?’ I say innocently. ‘When?’ he says. ‘Next week, on Saturday’ I say. ‘Lovely! I’ll be there – and my wife, and the children’ he says.

And so it has gone: all will bring their wives and children. ‘I think we can multiply each adult by 4’ I tell Reiner. ‘Don’t have the party at lunchtime’ Reiner advises. ‘They’ll all stay until late anyway. Start at 6.’

We’ll have trestle tables under the tree on the west terrace and traditional Italian fare. I dream ….

‘The wine’ says Reiner ‘buy it from Guido and bottle it yourself. It’s good wine, and will be very reasonable …’

... could be a medieval scene ...
… could be a medieval scene …

Guido’s small winery nestles directly below the church in old Panzano. He and his wife Vicky have spent many years perfecting what seems to me was already Paradise. The farm land is perched high on the hill with sweeping views over what could be a medieval scene … patches of olive grove lie alongside terraced vineyards, all in between soft hills and diverse greens of natural forest. And here, between the church steeple and the river below, Guido has not only restored the family’s 17th century farmhouse but has also built a state of the art modern winery. Old stone harmonises with the new. Great stainless steel vats line the walls making the red of the terracotta floor glisten where the taps wash off spillage.

Guido’s young, with fine olive green eyes. He has a kind of sensitivity about him that is difficult to pin point, but I am not surprised when Vicky tells me later that he used to be a professional photographer. He moves between the different vintages, chatting as he goes. ‘This is my life’ he says ‘and it’s a good one. I have my wife working with me in the sales, and my children run in and out all day. Every year my wine is improving and I am beginning to see the fruits of years of hard labour.’

... the fruits of this hard labour ...
… the fruits of this hard labour …

We taste the fruits of this hard labour, savouring the richness of the full bodied Sangiovese grape. We’re to buy a classic Chianti Classico, and it’s delicious – easy on the palate with about 13% alcoholic content. Not too strong – or our guests will not be able to negotiate our pot-bellied road back up the hill.

Guido sells us a ‘damigiana’ – one of those great bulbous green bottles with basket weave at the base. This one holds 55 litres. The wine is lifted in and the car sinks under the heavy load. ‘Come again.’ he says ‘Come and have a barbecue in the summer.’ He hands us a large packet of corks as a present.

... a large green grasshopper on spidery legs ...
… a large green grasshopper on spidery legs …

We stop at the hardware store. Lucio only has 30 green wine bottles left, he’ll order some more. He, Reiner and Liam chat about the best corking machine to buy. They finally decide on a good solid one. It’s an intricate contraption and looks to me like a large green grasshopper on spidery legs – complete with proboscis sticking out the top. There’s an art to bottling – somehow the cork needs to be squeezed, and once in, the gap between the cork and the top of the wine is to be no more than 2cm.

With the bottles, the machine and the wine on board, Liam negotiates the potholes carefully. He and Reiner chat happily about the price of the wine and the mechanics of the bottling machine.

And I?

I am sitting in the back seat dreaming. We’ve wine to bottle from the surrounding hills. It’s unbelievable. Next we’ll have the old olives bearing again, and I’ll have my beehives producing honey. I’ve always had labels for my honey, even in London and I’ll have them here at Fontana too …

But what about a wine label? Now that’s something new …


© 2015 hemispheresapart.com


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