Tasting Wine in Tuscany

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Photo by Faith Willinger

I'm a closet wine nerd. I love to visit wineries and attend a lot of tastings in Italy. My favorites are verticals, tasting different vintages of the same wine, a learning experience about a single wine as an expression of place. So I was thrilled to be invited to Castello di Ama to taste six different vintages of their cru Chianti Classico Bellavista. They'd be sharing the stage with Ampelio Bucci, who makes my favorite white wine in Italy, Villa Bucci, a reserve Verdicchio, and he'd also present six vintages.

Ampelio and his wife Vanda picked me up in Florence the afternoon before the tasting, we stopped by Dario Cecchini's butcher shop for a visit (it was on the way) and then headed to Castello di Ama, where we'd spend the evening with owners Lorenza Sebasti and her wine-maker husband Marco Pallanti and their kids--and a group of Neapolitan restaurateurs and enoteca owners.

I came away with a deep respect for both wineries and their wines, each an elegant expression of terroir, speaking in regional dialect instead of styled to please global palates.

A super-Tuscan dinner, prepared by Giovanni and Paola, resident chefs, was served at one big table in the kitchen dining room, dominated by a huge cooking fireplace. We began with a taste of raveggiolo--fresh sheep's milk cheese that I brought from an organic fair in Florence, dressed with Ama's superb extra virgin olive oil. Tortelli, traditional from the Mugello area, pasta filled with mashed potatoes and meat sauce, was dressed with meat sauce. Giovanni grilled steaks in the fireplace. We drank Ama's 2006 Chianti, Marco's 25th vintage, a milestone worth celebrating.

The next morning we toured Ama's site-specific sculpture collection (check it out on their website) and then strolled to the main event where we were joined by a few dozen professional and semi-professional wine nerds. We tasted Villa Bucci Riserva 2005, 2003 and 2001, followed by Ama's Vigneto Bellavista 2004, 2001, 1999. Ampelio and Marco talked about each year's harvest as we tasted.

Then a short break to change glasses and another flight--Bucci's 1997, 1994 and 1992, then Ama's 1997, 1995 and 1993. Wines were special--no one spit. I came away from the tasting with a deep sense of respect for both wineries and their wines, each an elegant expression of terroir, speaking in regional dialect instead of internationally styled to please global palates. We indulged in another meal: traditional Tuscan dishes like papa al pomodoro bread and tomato soup, peposo beef stew, beans with Ama's extra virgin, pecorino cheese. And saw how Bellavista 2004 behaved at the table--very very well.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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