However most of the day was taken up with a visit to the Fattoria del Colle, a large agri-tourist enterprise owned by the famous Donatella Cinelli Colombini. The estate was built in 1592 by a nobleman who was recently discovered to be one of her ancestors. For the visit we were joined by two Australian ladies, Cheryl and Sabrina, the former on a quest to recover an English country house that she claims her husband should have inherited. Good luck to Cheryl. Our charming guide Bonella took us on a tour of the gardens and villa. Tuscan gardens tend to be rather formal and lack the variety of their English counterparts. Lemon trees are put in large pots for ease of removal to the lemonaria in winter. The practise arose, not to make Gin and tonics more fruity but to combat scurvey. Inside, the villa was well preserved to show how a rich family would have lived. The massive fireplace in the kitchen had a corner where milk maids warmed the milk during cheese making. After the visit, a pasta making session where we all watched the cook, Antonio, mix the flour, water, egg, olive oil and salt to make the dough. All were then invited to hand roll/pull out the pici pasta, with varying degrees of sucess!
The highlight was the winetasting. We began with the 2010 Rosso de Montalchino, a DOC wine made from 100% Sangiovese aged for at least a year in oak barrels. This was followed by Cenerentola (Cinderella) from the new Orcia DOC, made from Sangiovese 65% and Foglia Tonda 35% also aged for a year in oak barrels. Leone Rosso was another Orcia DOC made from 60% Sangiovese and 40% merlot. The absolute highlight was the 2007 Brunello Di Montalchino, a big but harmonious wine that ticked all the boxes. This wine comes from two small vineyards of 11 hectares of Sangiovese grapes and is barrel aged for at least two years.
Donatella is famous in Italy for employing only female winemakers, not the result of militant feminism but because when she started up all the male wine graduates had been spoken for and only women were left. Since then she has made a virtue of that necessity and proved her point by winning many prizes. It is therefore fitting that she called her top wine Brunello Di Montalchino, Prime Donna, blended with the help of an international group of women who are already famous in the wine trade. I carried a bottle back and look forward to toasting their efforts.
Lunch followed accompanied by the wines we tasted. Altogether a harmonious visit that covered much of the Tuscan experience under one roof.
The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder, published by Willow Moon. e-Book and paperback from all Amazon sites. Reviews at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005BJ3GNI