SAN GIMIGNANO, ITALY - From afar, this ancient town of towers looks like a fairytale village. Perched on a hill, its 14 terracotta towers stand out against the lush green Tuscan countryside like birthday candles. And at one time San Gimignano was a place where many wishes came true.
It was not always the sleepy little village it is today. During the Middle Ages, this was one of Tuscany’s most important trading posts, located strategically between Rome and the Alps. Its 9th century market brought it to prominence and before long there were 72 towers standing guard over this Tuscan treasure.
The 14 towers are what draws tourists to the town today. And that’s why local wine merchants like Pierluigi Giachi stay away.
“Too many people. Too much crowds,” Pierluigi tells us at his Tuscan lovely vineyard located at the base of San Gimignano. “I wait for all the tourists to go home before going to San Gimignano for dinner.”
Above: The town drifts off into some awesome Tuscan scenery.
Pierluigi’s Tenuta Torciano vineyard is rumored to be one of the best in the region and he welcomes tourists to his palatial residence to explain the growing and making of wine.
The Giachi family has owned the land the winery now sits since 1720, a gift from Italy’s ruling Medici to Pierluigi’s great, great grandfather. The original parcel of land has grown to four more farms and 181 hectares of prized vineyards. Another 27 hectares is devoted to the family’s other business, olive oil.
The first wine was produced here in 1925 and now the winery turns out 2.5 million bottles a year, most of which are shipped to the United States where 175,000 private collectors await Pierluigi’s annual treasure.
The top wines produced here are Bartolomeo (which has a dated photo of his beloved great-grandfather on it), Baldassarre and Cavaliere, all of which have won international awards and are known as "Super Tuscany" wines in the industry.
The title “Super Tuscany” is not a super brand or anything Pierluigi came up with, No, the origins of the name can be traced back to a visiting American, who 35 years ago tasted Pierluigi’s wine and pronounced: “wow, these wines taste super.” The rest is history.
Pierluigi gives seminars to visitors, educating them how to tell a good wine from a bad and teaching the proper etiquette one should employ while enjoying a good bottle of the grape. Cruise passengers come all the way from Liverno, an hour away, just to hear Pierluigi speak. Once here, Pierluigi teaches them how to appreciate the taste of wine by utilizing the "senses" in their mouths - "the top and bottom of the tongue, the palate and the throat."
Above: The fields around the town are dotted with sunflowers.
He also scoffs at the idea of marrying wines with food. His answer to that is “if you want to marry a strong Iralian red with a soft fishm then go ahead. They are crazy, of course, but if they like it, so be it.”
Pierluigi’s taste tests usually involve 10 of his best wines, which guarantees you leave his vineyard much happier than you arrive. But then again, you are supposed to just swish the samplings in your mouth and spit them out.
All the great wines produced by his family are due, of course, to the rich soil found in Tuscany, the same soil where San Gimignano.
“Please, be my guest and tour the town. It is very lovely but too many tourists,” said the man with the silver streaks running through his jet black hair.
We took Pierluigi up on his offer and a few minutes later we were jostling with many other tourists for elbow room in the town square.
The weathered buildings where as many as 7,000 citizens once lived in San Gimignano’s heyday are now occupied by merchants selling exquisite Italian paintings and pottery at exorbitant prices.
The town still features all its ancient streets, walls, gates, palaces, strongholds and gives visitors a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding Tuscan brilliance. The town truly is a masterpiece; one Dante was drawn to in 1300. The town museum has a room named after him.
Inside the town there are several small museums, a number of important churches, interesting restaurants, coffee and wine bars, and the devine Piazza della Cisterna which is ringed with shops and cafes. The city’s artist community gathers mostly near the Rocca (fortress) and sells their sunflower dominated works to gushing tourists at prices that far exceed their value.
The view one gets from the Grossa Tower is truly spectacular and the town’s narrow streets are filled with history – such as the brilliant frescos in the Duomo. The Tower of City Hall looks out on more of that Tuscan scenery and a light lunch or snack can be obtained at one of the food shops which specialize in prosciutto di cinghiale (made from wild boar) and the local version of panforte, Siena's traditional spiced cake.
Just be prepared to jostle with a lot of fellow tourists and don’t even try to negotiate a price with the local shopkeepers. If you get tired of the hustle and bustle of San Gimignano, Pierluigi will be waiting with a glass of his Super Tuscany.
San Gimignano is about an hour’s drive from Florence and just 8 miles outside charming Siena. / For more information on Pierluigi’s Tenuta Torciano vineyard, go to www.torciano.com.