Eric: Wine… and more wine…

June 7, 2010

As great as the title may sound, it’s really not all that great. For the first time I felt the effects of alcohol. Our excursion today included two wineries/vineyards, Castello Banfi and Fattoria di Rignana. Castello Banfi, owned by the Mariani family from the US, is a castle located in the Brunello region of Tuscany. Next to the castle is an estate of 7100 acres that is a combination of vineyard, olive groves, other agricultural products, and forests. The Banfi company was founded in 1911 in New York as a foreign wine importer. Today. the company is operated by the original founder’s children and grandchildren. Castello Banfi was created as the Banfi company’s own winery, which produces 26 kinds of wine exported to 85 countries today.

We were first given a brief introduction to the estate and the company, and then the process of how wine is made at the place. We then entered the cellar, where barrels and barrels of wine are stored both above and below ground. It was quite astounding to see so many barrels, side by side and of different sizes (some of them could easily fit everyone on the program in it with plenty of room left), containing wine to ferment before going into bottles.

Visiting a winery obviously won’t be complete without tasting the wine. As Castello Banfi is located in the Brunello region, it produces the historic wine of the region, Brunello di Montalcino, a kind of red wine with alcohol content of 13 to 13.5%  according to vintage conditions. We were served this kind of wine, and like I mentioned in an earlier post, I really didn’t have much experience drinking wine, let alone telling the different flavors it has. Well, after the second half-cup, I started feeling dizzy. It’s not like I couldn’t think clearly, but I could tell that my head was getting heavier, and I was having a little trouble standing still. With all that going on, we were led to lunch at the place, where more wine was served along the two dishes. Having no intention to fall to the ground before everyone, I politely declined the two wines served, and I felt much better after having the two dishes (Home-made fusilli with Chianina beef ragout and roast pork loin with rosemary flavored potatoes) and coffee.

It really was a new experience, as on the previous excursion where we had wine, I didn’t really feel anything even after the fourth round of tasting. I was really glad that I didn’t have any wine with my lunch.

Back onto the bus, we headed for Fattoria di Rignana, located between Florence and Siena in the heart of Chianti Valley. As the place is on top of a hill, we had a fun time sitting in a bus that was apparently too large for the roads that lead up to the place. One thing about Italian bus drivers: they are amazing (or simply doing their jobs), as on the three excursions we now have gone to, all three bus drivers managed to get us to where we needed to be, no matter how remote, small, or not-bus-fitting the place might be. After a near roller coaster ride, we arrived safely at Fattoria di Rignana, where more wine was waiting for us.

The owner of the place explained the method his winery uses to produce the local wine, Chianti Classico. Contrary to Banfi, a big company, Fattoria di Rignana only has 295 acres of land, and yet still successfully produces and sells wine to different countries.

We tasted three kinds of wine: Rosato, Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classico Riserva. The first was made by leaving the grape skin in the juice for only 48 hours, producing the pink color (grape skin is what gives the wine the color, the color of the juice is all the same for all grapes). The second was matured for 12 months in oak barrels, while the third was matured for 24 months. Strangely enough, I didn’t really feel any different after drinking the three rounds of tasting.

Back on the bus again, we headed for Florence, without much traffic except we met this car on a narrow bridge that could hardly fit our bus. Let’s just say the driver of the other car was not happy to keep backing until we could pass around his car. We got back to Florence without much difficulty after that.


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