Tag Archives: Florence

Wine tasting in Florence

Just occasionally you dine or drink out and you experience something truly special. I am sure most people have memories of the finest restaurants they have been to. A number of factors make an evening special: the food, the drink, the surroundings, the atmosphere, the service, the company you share it with, and so on. Rarely, all of these factors come together brilliantly and you experience something you will remember forever.

And so it was for me just over a week ago in Florence at the Enoteca Pitti Gola Wine Bar. My partner and I were celebrating our engagement with a wine tasting that I really will remember fondly forever. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, so I had to make do with my iPhone (which can take great pics, but less so at night).

Enoteca Pitti has a wonderful location immediately opposite the hugely impressive Pitti Palace of the Medici. We were guided through an incredible range of 17 Italian wines in total and several delectable plates of Tuscan food throughout a long and wonderful evening by our expert sommelier, Zeno:

Zeno, with his brother and another business partner, is one of the three owners of Enoteca Pitti. On their website, it says, “Zeno is known for creating a comradery with his clients, drinking  along with them, as it is a pleasure for him.” Well, whether comradery or camaraderie, I can confirm this statement 110%. Never have I felt so welcome, so involved, and so enthused by the passion of a someone working in, or running, a bar or restaurant. Zeno’s love and knowledge of wine was abundantly clear and he gave us an incredible tour of some rare and amazing wines of the region accompanied by fantastic local delicacies cooked by chef, Marzia Sassetti. Notice how I said the food accompanied the wine, and not the other way around. First and foremost, this is a wine bar. The food was exquisite, but simple enough not to distract from the stars of the show being poured into your glass.

Just to give you a flavour of the food, we were given a selection of stunning local cheeses and cured meats as well the finest Steak Tartare I have ever eaten and the best pasta including this ravioli lovingly prepared from scratch only minutes before being set on our plates… (click here to see their photo of Marzia preparing the fresh pasta)

But, for me, it was the wines and the stories of the wines – lovingly told by Zeno – which made the evening so incredibly special. We were treated to tastings of three sparkling wines, four whites, seven reds, one dessert wine, and two Grappas (with Zeno often refilling my glass in the process as well!). All of the wines were Italian, many of them Tuscan, and all from small producers who focus all their attention on producing quality rather than quantity. We tried wines which were produced in the hundreds and thousands of bottles rather than hundreds of thousands.

Wines included the lovely white Capezzana Trebbiano 2009 – from a family vineyard that has been producing wine since 804!! And no, I haven’t missed a digit, that is 1200 years of wine production culminating in this…

When you next plan to buy a bottle of Prosecco from a shop or restaurant, see if there is an opportunity to buy a different Italian sparkling wine instead, Franciacorta. They will not rival the finest champagnes, but they are excellent at a fraction of the price. We tried three of them, including, Faccoli brut which had a lovely dry taste with an appley finish…

We worked our way through seven distinct and remarkable reds, finishing on the Langhe Rosso Status from 2001 by Giuseppe Mascarello, a powerful blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Freisa grapes that, if you can track it down, you might be able to order for around £60-70 a bottle…

Zeno explained his sadness and shame that a by-product of the fame of Chianti has meant that so much of what is produced for the international market is mass-produced and unworthy of the name. We tasted a number of superb Sangiovese grape wines including this Monteraponi Chianti Classico Riserva from 2009 produced in an ancient vineyard in the hills of Chianti…

If you go to Florence and you like wine, I could not recommend Enoteca Pitti highly enough – it was a truly superb experience.

Here are the other wines that we tried:

Il Mosnel Franciacorta

Faccoli Franciacorta Rose

Tenute Dettori Renosu

Laimburg Riesling

Renato Keber Collio Friulano 2007

Rosso di Montalcino, Cerbaiona di Diego Molinari 2009 (no website found)

Ragnaie V.V. Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (possibly my favourite red of the evening)

Le Potazzine, Gorelli, Brunello di Montalcino 2004

Il Colles di Carli, Brunello di Montalcino 2004 (no website found)

Barbaresco Roccalini, 2008 (no website found)

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the details of this lovely Passito dessert wine

Finally, the two Grappas:

Marolo, Grappa di Barolo (50%!)

and

Milla (by Marolo) (a much friendlier 35%)

The art of Florence: religion, death, and… love

My absence from the blogosphere for a few days is down to a great little break in Florence. I am ashamed to say that I had never been to Italy before and so I decided to take my partner on a surprise break to the Tuscan city.

It is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

The artwork and architecture of Florence are world famous. Florence was the beating heart of the Renaissance; during our stay we saw works by the megastars of Renaissance art including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and (just so you don’t think I am naming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) Boticelli amongst many others.

Most of the great works are housed in museums where photography is prohibited, but I wanted to share the following sights that I found interesting…

The Duomo

The Cathedral of Florence is rightly world famous. Fully named, “Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore” or Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower, it is literally breathtaking: the sheer size – the dome remains the largest brick dome in the world; the fact the entire building is clad in stunning white, green, and pink marble; and the incredible carvings and artwork especially on the façade.

The interior is also impressive – especially the 16th century fresco on the inside of the dome by Vasari and Zuccaro. However, this is not what I want to show you. Next to the the  Duomo is a much smaller and older building, the Baptistry of St John. Built between 1059 (seven years before William the Conqueror became King of England!) and 1128, it has a golden mosaic ceiling which is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen (some detail below).

Begun in 1225, the mosaic probably took nearly 100 years to complete and probably included contributions from artistic genius such as Cimabue. I focused above on the enormous and majestic heavenly Christ, but just look to the right of my shot about parallel with Christ’s knee and partially cut out – a demon eating petrified naked people just before the Last Judgement. A young Dante (see below), baptised in this building, would have grown up looking at this ceiling and I cannot believe it wouldn’t have influenced his depictions of hell in the Divine Comedy.

Since we are on a religious theme, have a look at the image of God the Father below in stained glass…

In Catholic art we get loads of images of God the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Ghost (normally depicted by a dove descending or ascending from/to heaven), but I always get excited when the final part of the Holy Trinity is depicted: God the Father.

Digression alert: putting aside the fact that I am an atheist, I have always had an intellectual problem with the concept of the Holy Trinity. The last words of Christ on the Cross do not seem to me to be the words of someone who is supposedly ‘at one’ and seamless with the Father and the Ghost:

  • “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” – why ask God to forgive the people killing you if you are God? Should it not be “I forgive you, for you know not what you do”?
  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – this is a powerful and heart rending plea shouted to God, but why would Christ have doubts or fears if he was God – he wouldn’t forsake himself?
  • “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – these very final words before he ‘gave up the Ghost’ again do not appear to be the words of a man who IS God.

So, I like seeing images of God the Father (complete with big white beard and looking all Old Testamenty), but I also love the fact he is holding a book with those two big Greek letters on the pages: Alpha and Omega (effectively ‘a’ and ‘z’). The book of revelation has Christ saying, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last”, but I prefer them – as above – connected with God the Father: the Creator and Finisher of all things (but then I suppose this is an argument in favour of the Holy Trinity as a concept).

If it wasn’t for the minor hiccup that I am an atheist, I would love to be a theologian. So, bear with me, I want to stick with religion for one more photo before I move on to the juicier topics of murder and love.

I took the photo of the painting above in another great church, Santa Croce (see below). It is Bronzino’s incredible depiction of the descent of Christ into Limbo. What a great image, what a fascinating concept: Christ visiting the poor lost souls floating around in the shadowy nothingness that is ‘Limbo’. They are guilty of nothing more than the fact that they were never introduced to Christianity (the Catholic philosophical construction to avoid the unpleasant idea that babies who die before being baptised could potentially go to hell). One would like to hope that all that foot-kissing and love would earn the poor things a place in heaven – presumably the Last Judgement would take care of that.

On the frame at the bottom of the image, you can see the Latin inscription, “Populus qui sedebat in tenebris vidit lucem magnam” – The people who sat in darkness beheld a great light.

“Sculpture is the art of the intelligence” – Picasso

The painting above and the following few sculptures were all found in the wonderful Church of Santa Croce…

Inside, the monument to the Italian Polymath, Leon Battista Alberti, by Lorenzo Bartolini is stunning and situated in exactly the right place to capture natural sunlight in a way which can almost be described as heavenly…

The church also holds the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, and  – everyone’s favourite baddie – Machiavelli. However, Florence’s most famous poet, Dante, only has a cenotaph as his body is buried elsewhere as he died in exile.

Dante sits on top of his monument not looking overly happy about the fact that he is dead. The personification of Italy hails him with a hand gesture whilst the personification of poetry is grief stricken to the right.

I am a fan of Dante – not a man to mince his words (hence his banishment from Florence), and love the fact that paintings and sculptures of him capture a face that is so utterly grand and statesmanlike, as with the huge sculpture of him just outside the church…

The master goldsmith

The photo below is the bust of Benvenuto Cellini on Ponte Vecchio with a view down the river Arno.

Cellini was another serial overachiever. He was a painter, goldsmith, sculptor, soldier, writer and musician. He was responsible for this statue of Perseus holding Medusa’s head:

As well as being a polymath, Cellini was also a bit of a rock ‘n roll bad boy. He was banished from the city as a young man for getting into fights and causing trouble although was later welcomed back after displaying heroism in battle (he reportedly had a knack of killing big-wigs on the battlefield). Unfortunately, he didn’t restrict his violence to war-time. His brother was killed whilst attacking another man. Despite this death being self defence, the hot-headed Italian, Cellini, killed his brother’s killer. He is also believed to have murdered a  rival goldsmith following an argument, but he escaped the death penalty as he was just such a good artist.

The bust of the greatest goldsmith now sits on the ancient bridge filled with jewellery shops, Ponte Vecchio:

I bought a ring from one of these shops as I used this holiday to propose to my girlfriend whilst watching the sun set over the Arno. To my delight, she accepted:

So, Florence will forever be a special place for me now.

The nose of the wild boar I am rubbing below is supposed to ensure that anyone who touches it will return to Florence one day…

… I certainly hope so!