|Tuscan winery a super place to visit|
|Europe » Tuscan|
SAN GIMIGNANO, ITALY - Mario, the man who was driving me to the 500-year-old Tuscan town of San Gimignano to meet his friend and wine maker extraordinaire Pierluigi Giachi, interrupted my fixation on the lovely landscape with what sounded like an Italian curse word.
“We have trouble ahead boss,” said Mario. “The carberniri (police) are stopping all the cars going through Cusona because Tony Blair (the former British prime minister) is visiting a tenuta (farm) there for his holidays. Now, this will make us late for our arrival at Pierluigi’s and he is a very busy man.”
The carberniri just glanced inside our car and waved us on.
Mario was happy again.
As we neared San Gimignano, the ancient village known locally as the town of towers – 15 large towers dominate the hillside town’s skyline (there were as many as 40 when San Gimignano was an important ancient fortress) - the overheated Tuscan sun began to draw the attention of the sunflowers, whose heads were now turned skyward.
“Maybe you should have come to Tuscany between May and June or September and October,” suggested Mario. “That is the best time of year here. It is much cooler.”
Mario brought the car to a halt outside a brightly-coloured yellow house with the words Tenuta Torciano written on the gate. A heavy set man with streaks of gray running through his neatly groomed hair came bouncing down a pathway lined with clay jars and flowers, his hand extended in friendship.
“My name is Pierluigi and I welcome you to my home,” said the man who knew how to make a dramatic entrance.
Pierluigi Giachi’s family has owned this treasured piece of Tuscan soil since 1720 – “it was a gift from the Medicis (Italy’s former royal family) to my great, great grandfather,” said the man whom you can’t help but like from the moment you meet him.
The family has dramatically expanded its wine making operation since then and now owns five Tuscan farms, totaling 181 hectres of vineyards – with another 27 hectres devoted to his family’s second love, olive oil.
“My great grandfather first started producing wine here in 1925. He had 18 children so he had a lot of help in the field,” laughed my gracious host.
“We now produce 2.5 million bottles (of his award-winning wines) a year. Most of it I ship to the United States where I have 175,000 private collectors who buy cases of my wines. Actually I have more customers in then U.S. than I do in Italy.”
He also ships to Japan and throughout Europe.
Just then, the door to his elegant home opened and a beautiful dark eyed woman and handsome young man appeared in the doorway. Pierluigi motioned towards them and said: “please let me introduce you to my wife Luciana and my son and the 15th generation of my family, Emanuele Bartolomeo.”
The shy youngster stuck out his hand and warmly welcomed us. Pierluigi then bid his wife and son a safe journey into town and returned to our conversation about all things wine.
“I am very proud of my heritage and the wine we produce here,” said Pierluigi, who was adamant he would never compromise his products for profit. He just sneered at the mere mention of the synthetic corks and twist caps some new-age wine makers are now employing.
“I am passionate about wine because this is my past and now it is my son’s future.”
Pierluigi’s top three wines, Bartolomeo (which has a dated photo of his beloved great grandfather on it), Baldassarre and Cavaliere, have all won international awards and are known as “Super Tuscany” wines in the industry.
The likeable Pierluigi laughed when he explained the origins of the Super Tuscany title.
“Thirty five years ago when my family first introduced these wines, the Americans who tasted them said ‘wow, these wines taste super,’ so we decided to call them super wines.”
Pierluigi doesn’t just produce wines, he also teaches people how to enjoy them – in classes he holds in the cellar where his treasured products are aged and stored. Most of the pupils are cruise ship passengers who are bused here from the port city of Liverno – about an hour away.
Once here, Pierluigi teaches them how to appreciate the taste of wine by utilizing the “four senses” in their mouths – “the top and bottom of the tongue, the palette and the throat.”
The reason people like Pierluigi and his lessons is because he scoffs at all the snobbery associated with wine.
“I tell people if they want to marry a strong Italian red with a soft fish, then go ahead. They are crazy, of course, but if they like it, so be it,” said the man who always uses his hands in true Italian style to emphasize what is saying.
The time had come for Pierluigi to enroll me into his wine tasting school. He led me into a room filled with long tables – “they are for the cruise ship passengers coming later today” – featuring plates of salami and cheese with several large wine glasses at each setting.
“The first rule of wine tasting is that you must awaken your taste buds before introducing them to the wine … so please eat,” ordered Pierluigi, who lined up 10 of his wines, ranging from his entry level product to the Super Tuscany selections.
He went through the routine of first plunging his nose into a glass to smell the freshness of the wine and then put some juice of the grape into his mouth and began to make a sucking sound, swishing the liquid around for 10 seconds before spitting it out.
“The Americans look at me like I am a Martian when I do that,” said Pierluigi. “But after keeping the wine in your mouth for 10 seconds, now your taste buds are alive and they can tell you what the wine is like.”
The winemaker kept reminding his visitor that the Tuscan soil is the reason why the wine in this region is so highly prized and “the rich soil in the very middle of Tuscany – where we just happened to be standing – is the richest of all the soil in Italy.
“Combined with a southern sun, this is the reason my wines are super.”
An employee rushed into the room to tell Pierluigi the cruise passengers had arrived.
With Pierluigi’s permission, I wandered his pristine property alone for a while before heading off to see San Gimignano. Just before leaving, I stuck my head into the cellar to say goodbye and was just in time to hear an American woman proclaim: “This wine is super.”
The Tuscan tradition continues.
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