Included in the price of our program was a day trip to Siena and the Chianti countryside. We left in the early afternoon and took a chartered bus to Siena where we toured around for a few hours. We went into the Museo Civico where we viewed some of Siena's most prized works of art, including a beautiful altar piece by Duccio.
Then we got back on the bus and drove an hour and twenty minutes into the gorgeous hills of Chianti. Literally every view of the surrounding area looked like a postcard:
When we finally reached our destination, Castello di Verrazzano, everyone was amazed by the beauty of the property and the surrounding area. Everyone was also very hungry and dying for some food and wine. Now for a bit of history: the Castello di Verrazzano is the oldest documented maker of Chianti. The castle was an Etruscan and then a Roman settlement before becoming the property of the Verrazzano family in the 7th century. They have been making wine here for approximately 1000 years. The wine itself is made in a very "green" way because of the cultivation and irrigation systems that are purely natural. They depend only on the rain to irrigate the grapes and they use no chemicals or pesticides. They also do not buy any grapes from other growers, but only use the grapes grown on the property.
So, basically, I want to live and/or get married here. The grounds were BEAUTIFUL. Everything was lush and green and they have lovely gardens and even a herd of wild boars that we got to taste later (eek!). There was a nice English lady giving us a tour of the grounds and the many many wine cellars that they have on the property. We also got to see where the proscuitto and the olive oil are aged. I was already in heaven, and the best part (the meal) hadn't even started yet.
A glimpse of the grounds before my camera died.
We were led into a reception room and began our "aperitivi" of a tasting of delicious sparkling wine and black olives soaked in oil and lemon. Already we were off to a great start! We then sat down at our tables and the lady gave us a short lesson about wine tasting (most of which I already knew, because I am such a connoisseur... just kidding... she gave me a couple tips I hadn't learned before). For each wine we got a good 1/3 of a glass to taste with because each table got a bottle and there were 8 per table, so it was actually a fair amount. And then began the courses that launched a thousand groans of delight:
First course: wild boar salame and prosciutto and garlic bread made with estate-made olive oil. The prosciutto was the most tender and best-flavored one I have had so far in Italy.
Paired with: Rosso Minituscan table wine, 2006. Some of you would be interested to know that this is made up of 30% Malvasia grapes (yaaay, Blackstone!).
Second course: penne pasta in marinara. They also gave us a bowl of fresh parmesan and another bowl of the most amazing dried herb mixture I have ever had in my life that made the pasta utterly to-die-for. It was a mixture of dried oregono, garlic, red pepper flakes, and who knows what else... maybe crack? The lady advised us to put a sprinkle of cheese, then a sprinkle of the herb mixture and then a few drops of olive oil. I cannot stop thinking and dreaming of this pasta. How could something so simple be so utterly amazing?
Paired with: Chianti Classico, 2006. I bought a bottle of this wine (as well as the previous two) and the lady said that it will be the best it can be in two years. I am looking forward to that!
Third course: slices of rosemary-seasoned roast pork and salad tossed with estate-made red wine vinegar and olive oil. Hands down the best pork I have ever had in my life.
Paired with: Chianti Reserve, 2004.
Fourth course: cheese course. First, a triangle of pecorino toscano cheese. I was actually able to identify it as pecorino thanks to my mom's many trips to A.G. Ferrari. Second, we each got a teaspoonful of 12-year aged balsamic vinegar (heh.. balls-matic) and a hunk of parmigiano reggiano. We were told to take a sip of the balsamic vinegar and then a bite of cheese. WOW. The balsamic was thick and sweet and not too bitter and the saltiness of the cheese contrasted very well.
Paired with: Sasello Supertuscan, 2005. This was the best wine by far... and of course it was the most expensive! It was 45 euro, which is approximately $70. A bit too expensive for me, especially because I wanted to buy a few different bottles.
Fifth course: (though, not really a course) almond biscotti.
Paired with: Vin Santo ("holy wine"). This golden-colored wine is a bit sweet and very strong. We were told to dip the biscotti into the wine (à la Oreos and milk) and then suck the wine from the biscotto. It was quite tasty and the wine was a little too strong to drink by itself.
The finale to our meal was a taste of grappa, which is a kind of grape-based brandy. It was very very strong, though I guess it was better than vodka. I don't think I would ever drink any again, but it was nice to get a taste of it once in my life.
The whole night felt like my dream come true... I was seriously in heaven. I think taking into account the tour of the gorgeous grounds and wine cellars, the ambiance of the reception room, the wine, and finally, the brilliant food, this was the best meal I have ever had in my life...
P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wife ALEX!!!!!!!!!! I am so sad I had to miss your birthday celebration, but when I get back home we will have a real celebration.... Vegas, anyone?