While the sea may refresh and the sand bounce sunlight upon pleasure seekers and sun worshipers, the real attraction of Tuscany for me is its stunning countryside. Rolling green hills interspersed with meandering roads and picture-perfect villas, extensive vineyards painstakingly laid out across slopes and valleys with mathematical precision, and pine trees and cypresses majestically crowning the landscapes, proudly lining driveways and cross-country roads, and providing visitors and residents alike with a naturally regal sunshade unsurpassed by the multi-coloured parasols along the coast. This greenery is emblematic of lush, bucolic Tuscany, playing host to the hundreds of cicadas whose relentless chirp readily informs that you are enjoying the hotter climes of continental Europe and presenting, at each turn of its snake-like roads, a vast array of sensational vistas and uplifting, awe-inspiring views.
Such is my obsession with the countryside spectacles all around the Tuscan region, that my partner’s family became all too accustomed to my relentless requests to stop the car so that I could take countless photos, both for their own sake and as pictorial research for the Tuscan paintings already building in my head. Having been fully satisfied of my desire to mingle amongst sunflowers, my next wish was to fully immerse myself in the vineyards for which the region is so famous. Often closed off behind large elegant wrought-iron gates, and cordoned off from the public, more to prevent the feasting ravage of the local wild-boars than the trespass of passers-by (I’d get in if I could!), I have gazed in wonder at so many perfectly-planted vineyards, but never been able to walk amongst them. This year however, I realised my wishes and more.
On our first vineyard outing, to a vinery close to the tiny castle-topped town of Bolgheri, I was treated to sensational views of the rolling vineyards below, from a platform build under the shade of a magnificent old oak-tree which, in Harry Potter style, bore the scar of an attack of lightening some years before.
On our second vineyard outing however, we were treated to the ultimate in winery indulgence – a personal tour around the vineyard, the vast cellar where they make the wine, and an exclusive tasting of some of the vineyard’s most celebrated wines. The vineyard which played host to this unique insight into the manufacture of Tuscan wine was the Tenuta Argentiera estate, situated above the Alta Maremma coast just along from Donoratico and owned by brothers Corrado and Marcello Fratini. As wine manufacturers go, the Tenuta Argentiera estate is fairly new. As recently as fifteen years ago, the estate was all but barren. However, only a few years after acquiring the land, some 60 hectares was cultivated with row upon row of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah, grape varieties which are said to achieve outstanding quality in the Bolgheri area. But that quality is assured not just by local conditions. The estate now boasts a fit-for-purpose stunning fortress-like cellar, with huge thick walls guaranteeing the natural thermoregulation of the cellars. Inside, huge stainless steel tanks ferment and macerate the freshly-picked grapes which reach these sifi-resembling machines within 20 minutes of picking. Thereafter the wine is stored in French oak Barriques, where the vinification process is completed, bottled and sent out across the world.
The intricacies of this process, and the care taken in the manufacture, is obvious from the sublime flavour of the wine. Our tasting enabled us to indulge in three truly thrilling wines, from the highly drinkable entry wine Poggio ai Ginepri, to the smooth, fresh Villa Donoratico and the deep and complex Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore as well as a sample of an exquisite extra vrgin olive oil, also manufactured from produce grown on the estate.
We left Tenuta Agrentiera with bags several bottles heavier and our heads certainly, indulgently, lighter, to face another afternoon in the intense but all-embracing Tuscan sunshine. La Dolce Vita? Indisputably so.
All photos are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2012 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved.
- Sunday Supplement ITALIA – Tuscany Wharf: 15km to San Gimignano (normsonline.wordpress.com)
- Tuscany Part I: Sea, Sand and plenty of Sunflowers (normsonline.wordpress.com)