Larry, Stephanie, John and I jumped into the fourby (4x4) and hit the road with James in toe on his motorbike. As this was Larry and Stephanie's last day I had organized to borrow the 4wd and visit a few of the olive groves and vineyards in the surrounding area. First we went to our neighbors and tasted his olive oil and bought a couple of bottles. We then headed in the direction of a Hexagonal winery we had seen in our past travels. On the way we stopped in at a new style of olive grove. We arrived at the main gate of the house and buzzed, the gate opened up and in we went. After John, who knows a lot of Italian, spoke with the owner for a few minutes we were headed on a tour of the grove.
The owner knew a bit of English and took us around explaining the reasoning behind his setup. It is the only olive grove of its type in Tuscany and it is made this way so that in the future they will be able to pick the olives using the same machine that is used to pick grapes on the commercial vineyards. Currently, the standard way to pick olives is by hand, so it is a huge labor force job and takes a lot of time. He also explained the different types of olives he had, i.e. eating olives and olives for oil. Along the way we watched as a stray kitten that had turned up less then a week before followed us and played with the owners puppy.
As we headed back toward the house he explained the anti oxidants and other good things, that I just cannot remember, that are contained in fresh olive oil. He then took us into his show room and sat us down for a lesson in olive oil. We were given plastic shot glasses and a small amount of good olive oil. We cupped the oil in our hands, one warming the oil at the bottom whilst the other hand sealed the top, and swirled the oil in the glass for a minute or so. Then we lifted the glass to our noses, lifted our hand off and had a sniff of the oil. The oil smelt like freshly mown grass. This is one of a few smells proving good olive oil. We then sipped a little and told him what we tasted. There was a burning sensation in the back of my throat that tasted of pepper. This was because the olives had been harvested when they were still very green. When the olives are harvested changes the pepperiness and flavor of the oil. Olives soak up the smell of anything they are close to. He told us a story of how he once went tasting olive oil with other professionals and was asked his opinion on a freshly pressed oil. After tasting it he advised them that it tasted like horse. They all laughed at him, then tasted the oil and to their surprise they found the same thing. It had turned out that the people who had harvested that particular batch, when it threatened to rain, had stored the crates of olives next to their stables out of the weather. We ate a piece of freshly baked bread in between each tasting to clean out palette. We then tasted a commercial oil from Spain which just tasted oily and had no real taste. There were many other factors which he explained to us which I just cannot remember. Then as we concluded the lesson he popped open a bottle of wine and we all had a glass. Hmmm, we'll just pretend that it was after midday.
After purchasing some oil and thanking him profusely we hit the road. After finding a pechorino cheese shop closed we headed back to a petrol station so James could fill up his ever draining motorcycle tank. By this stage it was moving on towards lunch time and I was hoping to buy an Italian hat from Montepulciano. As the afternoon siesta, where all the shops closed for a few hours, was coming on quickly we headed straight for Montepulciano. We arrived in good time, parked up and headed to the shop where John had bought his hat from. It turned out that the style of hat i wanted had sold out so we headed up the the main drag and bought panini's for lunch stopping in at other hat shops as we looked for a good place to get lunch from. We took James up to the Piazza at the top of the hill to show him where they had filmed a scene from a twilight movie. As we headed back down the hill we came upon chestnut trees aplenty. We filled our pockets and shirts with as many as we could carry and wandered back to the car. We unloaded our bounty, piled in and left Montepulciano in our rear view mirrors. We pulled into the hexagonal winery which turned out to be in the middle of a full scale harvest. After asking around we managed to get a tour of the winery and cellars as shown below.
This is the most impressive winery i have seen yet. The cellar was three or four floors underground and absolutely huge! Ahhh... Dreams are free!!!!
After a taste test and purchasing of a bottle of wine we hit the road again with Montalcino in our sights. It took a heap longer then i thought it would to get there. We eventually we arrived an hour or so later and headed through what we thought was the main street. We eventually ended up at an old castle and headed in. One of the main rooms had been changed into a wine tasting room. We asked for directions to a specific winery that John wanted to see and found out that there were piles of wineries all around. As we headed back toward the car we located a gelateria, which we headed into and I purchased a panna cota gelato which was a flavor explosion. We decided to see see if we could find a hat for me, found another shopping street and checked every store along the way. We eventually found a store which had the exact hat I wanted and only one in stock. It fit perfectly and John bargained the shop keeper down from 20 to 15 euros. I left the shop feeling pretty ecstatic and came across this awesome wine shop. After perusing the selection of wines we all went in and bought a 9 euro sample glass of a 98 point wine so John, who is studying wine, could see what it tasted like. We all had a sip but heres a pick of John swirling it.
We decided not to bother with the other winery we had been hunting for and headed home. Ugo then called most of the restaurants in the area to find that they were either booked out or closed for a month or so. Eventually we found that a nice little restaurant in the next town was still open so we headed there to give Larry and Stephanie a farewell dinner.
Then to finish up the evening Larry roasted one of the chestnuts we had gathered and after a long roasting and a taste we found that they were horse-nuts or buckeyes instead.