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Finishing Up in Tuscany

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 3, 2007 9:22am ET

Friday was our last night out in Tuscany and we dined at Ristorante Il Pozzo, in the small hilltop town of Monterrigioni. The walled city, which is about the size of a breadbox, was stunning with several turrets set against the clear night sky. The restaurant offered good, simple Tuscan food (my grilled chingiale steak was deliciously bacony), and a decent wine list.

I hooked up with Alberto Antonini and his family for dinner. Our four daughters played a series of silly games at their end of the table while we worked our way through our meal. Antonini, who works with a host of wineries in Tuscany, from the Da Vinci co-op in Chianti to Bibi Graetz, is also active in South Africa, Chile and Argentina. We talked about the harvest in Tuscany, among other things, before heading out into the cool night air. The small piazza in town gave the girls a chance to run around while we finished off a few small cones of gelato.

After a slightly rainy end to August (though you wouldn’t have known it from the sunny week we had while here), Antonini was hoping for a little wind to dry things out. He got his wish on Saturday, which was a supercrisp, dry, breezy day that finally blew off the haze over the region and cast the hillsides in a purer light. With Casole sitting in the distance, I was beckoned into the small town one more time. We got some fresh chicken and sausages from the local butcher for our last Tuscan dinner, to be done alla griglia at the villa. Another small cup of gelato was in order as well.

The town of Casole, as seen from the swimming pool at my villla, beckoned one last time.  

Saturday was also my father’s 66th birthday. So we picked up a bottle of the San Giusto a Rentennano Toscana Percarlo 1999 at the enoteca in town, and served it along with Solaria Brunello di Montalcino 2001 and Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2001. After 10 days of drinking almost nothing but Tuscan wines, I had pretty much settled on the fact that there’s Brunello and then there’s the rest of Tuscany when it comes to wine. The Percarlo was elegant and silky but the Solaria and Gianni Brunelli easily outclassed it (’01 was a far better vintage as well, so perhaps it wasn't a fair fight), with the Brunelli really fleshing out as it aired in the glass.

On Sunday we awoke before dawn to make the three-hour drive down to Rome and catch our flight home. We toyed with the idea of ordering in Italian food for our first meal back in New York (since the fridge was obviously bare) but decided not to lessen the lingering memories on our taste buds with an imitation of the original. After a quiet Labor Day that I’ll spend getting caught up on my sports teams—did Michigan really lose to Appalachian State?—it’s back to the office on Tuesday.

Richard F Dyer
Frederick, MD —  September 3, 2007 4:16pm ET
I appreciate your comments about Brunello. A week from now I'll be spending two weeks in Montalcino and look forward to some good wines and food. I just wish they weren't so expensive.
Antonio Nieto
celaya —  September 3, 2007 7:21pm ET
sounds like you had some great time! Now how are you planning on lossing those extra pounds? everything has its price right?by the way what is your favorite italian rest. in new york city?
James Molesworth
September 4, 2007 9:36am ET
Luckily the weight gain was minimal...as for my favorite Italian place in town, it's a bit of a secret. Located on the upper East side, very small, no signage, named for the chef. Don't want to divulge any more than that!
David A Zajac
September 4, 2007 12:46pm ET
As a true Buckeye fan, yes, it gives me great pleasure to say, Michigan DID lose to Appalachian State, GO BLUE...
Phil Talamo
Bron, NY —  September 5, 2007 3:56pm ET
I wonder if this trip raised James' level of interest in Italy?
James Molesworth
September 5, 2007 4:12pm ET
Phil: Yes and no. Some things were a delight, but very little truly blew me away (the duomo in Siena and the '97 Ciacci Piccolomini Riserva were two blow-away experiences).

The food was consistently very good, but nothing left me saying "I have to come back here" the way I do when I finish a meal at La Beaugraviere or Pic in the Rhone.

The people are very friendly and laid back, which makes for a relaxing time. The scenery is pretty but not jaw dropping.

Piedmont is next on my list though for Italy, so do not give up hope for me ;-)!
Michael Culley
September 6, 2007 5:07am ET
Come back in May when everything isn't all dried up and it is jaw-dropping...jan parker.What three star restaurant did you go to here to compare to Pic?...michael
James Molesworth
September 6, 2007 9:20am ET
Michael: I didn't eat at any 3-star restaurants in Italy. When on vacation, I don't pack a shirt with a collar! So, in that sense, there was no straight-up comparison. But La Beaugraviere has no stars...

Even still, I would've given Osteria Le Logge in Siena two stars, and as good as it was, I don't feel the need to rush back...
F N Fontana
September 6, 2007 10:29am ET
James,I read your 2005 Chateauneuf-du-Pape review in the Insider report. I'm wondering, many of the wines you outlined in your earlier preview a short while ago that had potential Classic scores were not reviewed, and Usseglio, which was left off that preview, both of their top cuvees received Classic scores. I'm interested in your views as they come up, but can you help me understand the process, timing, and reporting of these reviews. thanks.
James Molesworth
September 6, 2007 10:48am ET
F.N.: You're referring to my earlier coverage on the web, which was based on visits to domaines I made in June. There I taste the wines with the producers, and since they are not tasted blind, I do not provide scores. Usseglio was not included in that particular report as I did not visit him in June, though I have visited and written about his domaine before (a quick search of the website will pull that up).

All official reviews, with scores, are generated from blind tastings of finished wines done here in the NY office, and Usseglio's were among a recent set of wines tasted here. Other wines mentioned in the June report - Beaucastel and Clos des Papes for instance, have either not sent their bottled '05s in for review, or released them to the market yet. (And not everything I have tasted officially is in the current Insider report of course - there's more to follow via the magazine and other website reports).

I taste several times each week, including wines from the other regions I cover, and the process of editing and then publishing the reviews either on our website or in the magazine obviously takes some time. That's why I try provide both the 'Cellar Notes' reports based on barrel tastings with as-fast-as-can-be-done tastings of finished wines here at home.

The idea is that you can use my coverage based on visits to domaines for a head start on the wines, but for my final word, so to speak, you'll have to wait for the finished, bottled wines to make their way through my tastings in New York.

Hope that explains it...
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  September 6, 2007 1:09pm ET
James, my sister is getting married in Avignon and , since i will be there, can you please recommend me the best places to visit while there. I can be chateauneuf or ampuis, no problem. I have just no idea were to go , in a way that the doors will be open and that it would not be like visiting mercier or moet in champagne, disneywine style.........i would deeply apreciate your expertise on that, my fiancee, mexican, wants also to know the place so i want to do it best as it could be. Merci pour nous mettre en avant!Ludovic
James Molesworth
September 6, 2007 1:33pm ET
Anacleto: There's no Disneyland in Chateauneuf, thankfully. Even the most modern-styled tasting rooms, like those at Domaine de Beaurenard or Vieux Telegraphe, are low key and casual.

Frankly I'd recommend you visit a domaine that produces one of your favorite wines. Just call ahead to see if they take visitors...

As for places to stay and eat, check out the cover story on CdP from last year, which covers the highlights outside of Avignon.

In Avignon itself, the restaurant Christian Etienne is very good, and it's right next to the Palais des Papes, which is a great sight to take in.

Since your wife is Mexican, you might also have fun at the restaurant Le Grand Pre in Roaix, where the chef is Dutch and his wife, Flora, who runs the front of the house, is Mexican. The cuisine is quite modern, and it's a lovely setting.
William Keene
Winston-Salem, NC —  September 7, 2007 8:01am ET
James - Sounds like a great trip. I am jealous. My wife and I had plans to go to Tuscany next spring, but both our siblings will be getting married and a lot my vacation time will be spent traveling to do wedding stuff with both families.

I know this is off-subject (my apologies), but I did not know if you checked older blogs or I would have posted there. I just wanted thank you for all the Chateauneuf-du-Pape coverage when you visited the domaines a few months back. I was able to pick up a lot my favorites, including my coveted Saint-Prefert, at great prices. Many places have already sold out of the Saint-Prefert and others have much higher prices than what I paid - I may have missed out. The notes sound great, particularly the Vieux Donjon and the Charles Giraud. Thanks again - I will be looking forward to the continued coverage.
Elliott Altman
September 7, 2007 8:40am ET
Off the subject. Can you suggest 05 Cdp for someone who enjoys a more traditional(mineral,gamey,earthy,etc.)wine. I do enjoy fruit. Just not fruit bombs. Thanks.
James Molesworth
September 7, 2007 9:51am ET
Funny how my blog always seems to come back to Chateauneuf...

Elliott: I hate to generalize, but producers whose wines tend to emphasize that profile include Clos du Mont-Olivet, Henri Bonneau, Domaine du Pegau, Vieux Donjon, Chateau Fortia, Domaine de la Cote de l'Ange, Domaine de Marcoux, Jean Royer, Vieux Telegraphe and Lucien Barrot & Fils, among others.

Of course, if you limit yourself to that camp, you'll be missing out on beauties from Clos des Papes, St.-Prefert, Chateau La Nerthe, Roger Sabon, etc, etc. These wines have beautiful expressions of fruit, but I would not call them fruit bombs. In fact, it's the ability of Chateauneuf to combine fruit and minerality that makes the wines so special IMO...
Michael Culley
September 7, 2007 11:15am ET
James, thanks for the reply. I'm surprised you didn't get to Il Colombaio just at the edge of Casole...it was awarded its first Michelin star this past issue. Casole was just awarded its own DOC...Terre di Casole...funny, there's just a handful of wineries(all small)...
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  September 7, 2007 11:45am ET
Thank you for the advices!!!!regardsludovic
Michael Fasold
bangkok, thailand —  September 9, 2007 8:57am ET
I agree with James "Clos des Papes, St.-Prefert, Chateau La Nerthe" absolute beauties...for me with an excellent price to quality ratio
Paul Smith
Texas —  September 19, 2007 3:40pm ET
I have seen several sources quote Wine Spectator as giving a 95 - 97 point rating to the 2005 Clos des Papes CDP. However, I cannot find any rating on the WS website for this wine. Has WS rated it?
James Molesworth
September 19, 2007 4:06pm ET
Paul: Sorry, those sources are incorrect. We have not published my rating for the '05 Clos des Papes - yet. I do not give score ranges on wines or barrel samples tasted when I visit domaines - only finished scores after I taste the final wine, from bottle, in a blind tasting in my NY office.

I have tasted the '05 Clos des Papes several times from barrel and reported on it via my ¿Cellar Notes¿ and other coverage. I did taste the finished wine last week, however that review is not yet published.

There are many scores used by retailers, importers and distributors as selling aides. While we're happy when people use our scores, there are sometimes mistakes - either honest ones or those less scrupulous. It's always best to check with the source directly, as you can do via our on-line database search.
John & Cherie Miles
August 12, 2008 11:33am ET
Dear Mr. Molesworth, Do you have any recommendations for staying in the area of Montalcino? We are happy with an agriturismo holiday, and our daughter and son in law who will be traveling with us both speak Italian. Thank you.Sincerely,Cherie Miles
James Molesworth
August 13, 2008 9:08am ET
Cherie: I stayed in a private villa while there, so I wouldn't be able to recommend any hotels. You might want to post your query on my colleague James Suckling's blog, as he's our man in Tuscany.

You can also reference our Brunello di Montalcino cover story from the July 31, 2007 issue, or use our hotel search here on the website.

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