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 …


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