C’era Una Volta translates into “Once Upon a Time,” which seems an appropriate way to wrap up our fabulous visit to southern Tuscany. C’era is pronounced “Chair-Ah,” if you don’t speak English with a pronounced Queens (New York barrio) or southern accent.
Our home base in southern Tuscany was Montepulciano and it strikes me that I have failed to mention the undeniable charm of this wonderful medieval town. C’era Una Volta is the equivalent of our local diner. The restaurant was within easy walking distance of our modern Airbnb 2-bedroom apartment just outside the city walls. In fact, there is also a wonderful coffee and pastry bar just above the restaurant that we frequented daily before we began our explorations.
It’s funny, but we did not dine once within the walls of Montepulciano. There are many reasons, but it was a serious uphill hike from our apartment and “getting there” was generally more than half the battle after a heavy lunch and an exhausting day in the field.
I often jogged up the steep hill in the morning for a cappuccino in the delightful piazza, but grew despondent as none of my family was willing to accompany me on my jaunt. I don’t know if they were bored by my conversation or couldn’t keep up with my brisk pace.
One of our early treks into Montepulciano was on Halloween. Clearly, U.S. trade deals are now having an impact on the rest of the world if we can convince people to dress up in silly costumes and lobby for candy. I hadn’t realized that Italy had succumbed to modern marketing ploys, but sugar-craving appears to be a powerful incentive for young and old alike.
Abigail and Nick joined for a brief weekend from London. It was a joy to see them and Nick found Italy to his taste as he downed a 2lb Fiorentina steak (similar to T-Bone) the evening of his arrival. Clearly, living with a vegetarian is somewhat difficult. We had a brief but great time together sharing wild stories and exploring the countryside.
Adjacent to the parapet near the the main Montepulciano square are steps leading down to the Ricci Bottega (see image below). What a splendid descent into one of the more interesting wine cellars I have ever seen. According to a very knowledgeable and funny young woman in the tasting cellar, the Ricci family is coming out of hiding and will now market their exceptional wines under the Ricci label. Previously, it was marketed anonymously since the family had been “connected” to the Vatican for some 300 years.
According to the young woman, “300 years is nothing in Italian history.” We all had a laugh. Her “history lesson” of Montepulciano was no less instructive: “Montepulciano bounced back and forth between the ruling families of Siena and Florence – it really doesn’t have much of a history of its own.”
More importantly, we learned what “Super Tuscan” wines mean: Actually, not much. It is basically a self-promotion label that vintners often label their wine. It can be a blend of several wine varieties, often predominantly San Sangiovese. In effect, each vintner creates their own Super Tuscan blend.
While I am sure that there are serious controls on labeling wines in Italy, most restaurant owners don’t take it too seriously. I was once offered a choice of two house wines, one of which was a vino nobile or “noble wine.” When I asked what the difference was, the waiter said with a laugh, “the house wine is 7 km away and the vino nobile is 9 km away and costs one Euro more.” I asked for the “9 km wine” to show him I was a classy diner.
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