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A Day in the Chianti Countryside with Accidental Tourist
La vita è una combinazione di pasta e magia. Federico Fellini That quote (+ lots of wine!) pretty much sums up our weekend in Florence when my mom came to visit a couple of weeks ago. We took a train from Milano Centrale early on a Friday, leaving us the entire day to stroll and shop around the city. The next morning, we set out on foot to the other side of the Arno to meet our driver from Accidental Tourist. Accidental Tourist is a “cultural association”–according to their website–run by Majla and Marco, an Italian couple that has been hosting wine tours and hands-on cooking classes since 1998! In fact, they were the very first cooking class in Florence at the time, and–two decades later–they are still welcoming and breaking bread (literally) with guests inside their 900-year old villa in the Chianti countryside. I actually discovered the company while browsing the Florence activities page on Musement (plugging my job for a second :D). The reviews on all the major travel sites were positive; so, I ended up booking the ‘Cook and Wine’ 7-hour excursion comprising of a pasta-making class and lunch at the villa, followed by a short visit to a nearby medieval castle for wine tasting. Part I: Cook We were picked up in Florence by the lovely Valentina, whom drove us to the villa, located in the hills about 30 minutes from the city. Majla immediately made us feel at home, as we eased into the eight-person class with an olive oil tasting and introduction to flour. Although minimal, the high quality of the ingredients used for the pasta render it naturally low in gluten and high in protein–a recipe personally developed by Majla and Marco themselves. While Majla was with us in the salotto, Marco was in the kitchen cooking up delicious appetizers for us to enjoy before lunch. We made and prepared our dough (wayyy too fun), taking a brief break to sit down and enjoy the antipasto with some Chianti wine as we let the dough rest for a bit. We returned to our work stations afterwards, where we proceeded to make tagliatelle using a pasta machine. Once the pasta was formed into its proper shape, we took another hiatus to chat as the tagliatelle dried on several pasta drying racks. With only eight of us in the class, it was really easy to get to know one another and even learn about the origins of Accidental Tourist. One of the reasons I booked them was for this reason exactly–every class has a maximum of eight participants, ensuring an intimate experience for everyone. Once the pasta was ready, Marco took it and got to work in the kitchen, transforming our labor of love into drool-worthy dishes. The first was made with the scraps from the tagliatelle that we didn’t use, served with a creamy sauce that was seriously exquisite. The second was the tagliatelle, tossed in a simple yet spicy tomato-based sauce. Homemade (by Marco, not us haha) dessert followed our pasta lunch, and then it was time to head to the wine tasting! Part II: Wine Valentina drove us to gorgeous Volgnano, a sprawling 11th-century castle estate and winery situated in the world-renowned Chianti region. Many people wrongly assume (not going to lie, I did once..) that Chianti is the variety of grape from which the wine is made, but it actually refers to the hilly region surrounding Florence–known as Chianti Colli Fiorentini (colli in Italian means hills). In fact, the area is one of seven subzones of the Chianti region. Our guide, Gloriana, explained the importance of this denomination and role of the Consorzio Chianti Colli Fiorentini (the association that oversees production of all certified Chianti wines). Rules and regulations are strict, as are with most Italian food and wine products (it’s one of the reasons we love this country, no?). For example, the wines in this region must be made with at least 70% Sangiovese grape, although most wines contain more. We enjoyed a short tour of the winery first, learning about the fermentation process and getting a close-up look at the aging barrels. We also were shown antique wine-making equipment housed in the estate museum. Afterwards, Gloriana offered us delicious extra virgin olive oil to sample atop typical, salt-less Tuscan bread (click here to read why the bread is so bland in Florence) before beginning the much anticipated wine tasting! In total we tried four types of wine–two red, one white and Vin Santo–a dessert wine typical of the region. I’ll be honest; I’m not a huge wine drinker (especially red!), so if you were reading this entire thing just for the wine reviews–I’M SORRY. Nonetheless, it was fun learning about the different techniques to savor the wine and pretending to be a sommelier for the day! Last Thoughts By the end of the afternoon, our veins were pumping pure olive oil and wine; but–of course–we couldn’t go home empty-handed. Both at the villa and castle, we had the opportunity to purchase the products we were served. We ended up buying a couple of bottles of wine–some to bring back to the States and one for me–and I also picked up a small jar of organic honey from Accidental Tourist’s local supplier. All in all, this is–by far–one of my favorite memories since moving to and living in Italy full-time… and it’s even more special since I was able to share it with my mom. I encourage anyone visiting Florence or the surrounding areas to book with this phenomenal tour provider!