Over recent months The Vino Beano team has been on several intensive trips to southern Spain and northern Italy, searching out independent artisan producers with real gems to add to our product listings. Typically visiting around four or five prospective producers a day, only the very best and affordable wines we find make it into The Vino Beano collection.
We are also adding a series of slightly more relaxed ‘experience’ tours for The Vino Beano Club members so that you can discover and appreciate, first hand, the love and dedication that goes into producing every bottle at vineyards that are typically found well off the beaten track. To see what's coming up click here.
Look out for the next instalment...
Italy Vino Beano Tour 1.0
Veni, Vedi, Veci (Vini) – I came, I saw, I conquered (and we drank the wine!)
The phrase ‘Veni, vedi, veci’ was first used by Julius Caesar to describe a quick victory over Pharnaces at the battle of Zela around 47 BC. The phrase ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’ is today used to describe a swift, conclusive victory.
The boys at The Vino Beano attack the wine regions of the world with the same vigour that Caesar had at the battle of Zela. We identify a wine region, our Master of Wine, Robin Kick researches the best of the region and we go in to meet the growers, taste the wine and hear the story that underpins the vineyard and the wine.
Veni, Vedi, Veci, Vini, to us means putting our lives and our livers on the line for The Vino Beano, attending up to five vineyard tastings in a day and travelling up to 1500 km in a week, boldly going where no UK wine taster has gone before. The result: we bring back the most excellent and exciting wines with which to lubricate the larynx of our customers, wine not yet seen in the UK.
Over recent months The Vino Beano boys have embarked on number of intensive trips to southern Spain, northern Italy and France searching out independent artisan producers with real gems to add to our product listings. The result is we have some cracking wines to share with you!
The forward landing party in The Vino Beano is that motley two man team of our illustrious leader and founder, Robert ‘The Vision’ Edwards and Barry ‘The Wheels’ Walker, the only one with a driving licence! These two vino ‘skirmishers’, mercenaries of the grape, exist to seek the as yet unfound, lift every rock looking for un-discovered fine wines, whilst trying to go as native as feral cats. We are in good hands. God help us!
After following the exploits of these two explorers, you may wish to tread a similar path. Well, we also plan to add a series of slightly more relaxed ‘experience’ tours for The Vino Beano Club members so that you can also discover and appreciate, first hand, the love and dedication that goes into producing every bottle at vineyards that are typically found well off the beaten track.
From Tuscany to Umbria
Landing in Firenze ‘The Vino Beano’ team embarked upon a five day ‘speed’ tour of Tuscany and Umbria; travelling 800 km, visiting ten stunning vineyards in TWO days for tastings in San Gimignano, Montalcino, Montepulciano and Orvieto. We were match fit, our livers were strong, we had been through intense training, and we were thirsty. What could possibly go wrong...
Arriving at Firenze Airport, late at night, in the dark, in a strange town, with no idea where we were or where we were going was a bit strange. Robert ‘The Vision’ Edwards, a nervous passenger at the best of times strapped in as Barry ‘The Wheels’ booted up the SatNav and swung the Fiat onto the main road out of Firenze at a pace to get to our first rendezvous, dinner with a wine grower 80 km away. We got driving on the wrong side of the road cracked pretty much immediately, although the driver of one big Italian truck didn’t seem to think so. From the colour of ‘The Vision’ you wouldn’t have thought so, as he appeared pale and ghost like in the darkness of the Fiat 500.
80 km later, arriving at the digs for the first night, the splendid agriturismo ‘Salvandonica’, our dinner date was waiting for us in reception. Maria Chiara Severi from Carus Vini in San Casciano Val di Pesa was taking us to the vineyards favourite local restaurant IL Gallo Giallo, which translated as the Yellow Cock! The Tuscany & Umbria tour was under way!!
Maria regaled us with stories of wine making in the Chianti region and how our host for the morning Guido Carissimo of Carus Vini in San Casciano Val di Pesa was passionate about making wines in an old school way. His family had a history of winemaking in Puglia and he was carrying on those traditions. We ate local delicacies in the most local of Trattoria, the Yellow Cock, tasting the best wines of the region and life on the road seemed blissful. We were ready!
Day 1 – It’s all Uphill!
Six vineyards on the schedule today! This is going to be a ‘tour de force’ in terms of endurance from driving, the logistics of fitting all visits into the one day, without even considering what physical damage may be done. We pressed on.
Carus Vini – Our first stop and our gracious host Guido Carissimo met us at the winery behind which was the most stunning backdrop, the Tuscan hills. His 8.5 hectares are planted with Sangiovese (the most important), Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines that have been qualified for the most exclusive wine of this area, the Chianti Classico. After a tour of the facilities we settled in to taste the stunning range of wines from this boutique wine maker and WOW! Strike One. We hit gold. Robert ‘The Vision’ Edwards picks up on the tasting notes.
“The Chianti and Chianti Classico picked up every essence of Sangiovese from the region with notes of ripe cherry, bramble and blackberry. They were sleek and sophisticated, yet meaty and full of character. I would happily drink them now, but would love to drink a case over a year or two and see how they evolve. The Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Robeo’ was a treat dark fruits coming through with a rounded rich palate, but the Syrah ‘Tospero’ was a fantastic surprise. The subtle spice on the nose followed by some floral notes was a joy, and the palate didn’t disappoint. Medium to full bodied but with dainty character, if this wine was a woman, you would take her home to meet the parents!”
The rest of day one was a baptism of fire: five more vineyards, 300+ Km through the Tuscan country side, amazing people and even more amazing wines, as well as a few dicey moments when ‘The Vision’ nearly fainted, as we ‘U Turned’ at speed on a major road having missed our Auto Route junction, the high points of Day #1 were: tastings with two third generation wine making brothers from San Gimignano, who invited us to lunch, and meeting the family that for over 600 years have been making what is probably the best Brunello in the land.
Highlight #1 – ‘Tuscan Lunch’
Now we are a couple of greedy wine tasters and whilst the lure of the road and the next wine tasting was at the forefront of our mind, the chance of a free lunch on the back of a wine tasting is always a pleasure. Following a superb tasting with the two wine making brothers from San Gimignano, their lovely wives presented us with the most amazing Tuscan lunch, which is one we will never forget for a number of reasons. With an antipasti of local cheeses, salumi and fresh vegetables from the garden, followed by freshly made pasta and fresh tomato sauce, we were feeling quite special. Being cooked for by an Italian family is a treat in itself. With a main course of roasted rabbit, sautéed potatoes and fresh salad, this was a feast fit for a king. Sated, buoyed up by Chianti, full of ‘entente cordial’ and ‘The Vision’ trying to explain to this delightful family the charms of the ‘Essex Girl’ (Robert hailing from close to that locality), this blissful lunch slipped on for four hours. In a tardy fashion we asked the Tuscan Twins to call ahead and cancel our next tasting! Fail one, The Vino Beano boys were now behind schedule!
Highlight #2 – ‘Casa Padelletti’
On the top of a rock escarpment that rises over 800m out of the Tuscan flat lands is Montalcino, home for over 600 years to the Padelletti family, whose Brunello is world class. SatNav primed, we approached the rising mount at pace, and when close were directed off the main road onto what soon became a gravel donkey track and an upward elevation of some 35°.
Now ‘The Wheels’ is a seasoned driver with a head for heights, but when the track narrowed to the width of the Fiat which was struggling for grip and slewing all over the gravel track, we were perilously close to the edge of a precipice which dropped to the vineyards below. ‘The Vision’ was looking decidedly pale and perspiring like the flanks of a panting Derby winner. Being a City boy, with an Oyster card and having just renewed his Provisional Driving License (who the hell does that!!), he admitted that he hates heights, is a nervous passenger and may have to stop to change his underwear!
We eventually ‘punched out’ at the top of the village with stunning views all round. Once ‘The Vision’ managed to get out of the car and on wobbly legs stood upright glad for the feel of terra firma, we were met by the Padelletti family.
Its current custodian, Claudia Padelletti, originally a banker returning home to focus solely on their wines, presented for our pleasure: 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and 2011 Brunello di Montalcino. The 2010 vintage, viewed as one of the greatest in Montalcino, some firmly placing it as one of the best in the last 50 years, alongside 1999 and 2001 was without doubt exceptional.
“They ooze charm and charisma. They made me smile. The passion and history can be tasted in the glass, and the style is absolutely textbook, and what you expect from a top end Brunello” exclaims ‘The Vision’, I have never tasted wines like these before.”
Day 2 – Are we there yet??
Day 2 and after a disappointing start, when the B&B we stayed at pointed out in the morning that the last ‘B’ of that internationally recognised symbol for an establishment providing a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning, in this case didn’t actually mean it, as we were out of season and there were no kitchen staff. After offering to make our own breakfast, steely looks told us we weren’t going to be fed breakfast this morning and disgruntled, we hit the road hungry.
In comparison to day one, day two should have been a breeze, with only five vineyards to visit from Montepulciano to Orvieto, a distance of only 240 Km, which shouldn’t be too taxing. We set off, SatNav set, speeding through the Tuscan countryside, the first stop would be Fattoria del Cerro, home of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. In total contrast to the size estates we had visited this was on a different scale.
From when we first saw the sign announcing the border of the Fattoria del Cerro estate, we were still travelling to the winery some 20 minutes later.
“Are we there yet?” asked ‘The Vision’.
“Not yet” I replied.
“Are we still on the estate?”
“Yes” I replied
“We could be out of our depth on this one! This estate is huge,” ‘The Vission’ replied.
Still we were speeding down the estate road with the vinery a mere speck in the distance. Fattoria del Cerro has 94 hectares of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano vineyards recorded in the register, the largest private estate producing Vino Nobile in Tuscany.
Highlight of the Day
By contrast, our next destination was 3.6 hectares, an agriturismo on a small scale, but in terms of heart and welcome, it was as big as Fattoria del Cerro. Owned and run by Alessandro and his wife Edy, this stunning property has been lovingly restored to provide sumptuous farmhouse accommodation as a back drop to the vines and the winery and the wine making business. Italians have such open hearts, are incredibly generous and love anyone with passion. So, when the two ‘Vino Beano’ boys pitched up, all the way from Blighty, wanting to see what they were producing, with pride we were given the grand tour. More gratifyingly, though we were invited to stay for lunch, during which we would taste the wines. Lunch, twice in two days! We were getting used to this.
Now, again we are on a tight schedule and in Italy lunch is a three hour affair, so we rang ahead and postponed our next appointment. But what Edy had prepared for lunch, I would have walked three hours for. Local cheeses and salumi from a small producer in the village, so fresh you could taste the moo and the oink.
The main course was Pici, a thin, long hand rolled paste which is slightly thicker and denser that the commercial spaghetti. Now this is a joy because Pici is only ever home made. Served with home cooked veal Ragù and grated local Pecorino cheese, this was the best pasta dish I had ever tasted. All this accompanied by fresh salad from the garden and home baked bread.
But it was the dolci, the sweet, the pudding that bewitched us. Edy had take the freshest Ricotta, made that very morning, folded in grated chocolate, decorated with the sliced and crystallised peel of orange, served with oranges segments and dressed with chopped nuts fresh from the trees on the farm.
Now 'The Vision' is a bit of a food snob! He loves a restaurant and if it’s got the odd Michelin Star, he’s away with the fairies. Well, his knees buckled when he tasted this delight. For me, it was like an angle crying on your tongue.
When we left we spoke of nothing else. The highlight of the day was not wine, it was that delicate and so simple desert. Pure heaven. Such is life on the vino road.