June 14, 2011

Divino Tuscany

Wine comes in at the mouth

And love comes in at the eye

And that is all we shall know for truth

Before we grow old and die. . .

Those line from William Butler Yeats never seemed as true as they did last weekend, when Ed and I, with our friend Alberto, attended the grand wine event, Divino Tuscany, in Florence.  Organized by James Suckling, former Senior Editor and Eurpoean Bureau Chief for The Wine Spectator, and by Barrett Wissman’s IMG Artists, the three day extravaganza celebrated top Tuscan vineyards and brought a group of 300 wine collectors together for feasts and conversation and considerable tippling.  James Suckling:

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The opening night dinner in the garden of the Four Seasons Hoter was prepared by chef Vito Mollica, with a concert by violinist Joshua Bell preceding the dinner. He is a frequent performer at The Tuscan Sun Festival (www.thetuscansunfestival.com) and is always a pleasure to hear. This venerable property must be the most beautiful of the Four Season group of hotels.  The extensive garden is bookended by two buildings where the tastings were held. The above photo was not taken in the garden. You’ll be surprised to read later where this was shot!  The mornings were devoted to tutored tastings (newer vintages, mature vintages, brunello, merlot) and the afternoons to meeting the winemakers, each of whom had a table, and, of course, to tasting innumerable fine wines. James invited the top fifty winemakers in Tuscany to participate.  We met some makers of our favorite wines, such as Giancarlo Pacenti, Lamberto Frescobaldi and Giacomo Neri, and were introduced to many new ones.  Two of our favorites, our friends Antonio Moretti (Sette Ponte) and Riccardo and Silvia Barrachi (Baracchi) were pouring their great wines. Such an event requires pacing and stamina!  The pros were spitting; we just sipped and moved on.

Dinner the second night was a stellar event at Palazzo Corsini (www.palazzocorsini.it). It was catered by Annie Feolde of Enoteca Pinchiorri, the most starred restaurant in Florence. The vast palazzo has glorious frescoed ceilings and all the stucco and pomp that could be pumped into it in late baroque Florence.  The chandeliers were the size of Fiats.  Everyone wore summer evening wear and the tables were graced with enormous armfuls of flowers. At each of the tables, a winemaker presided and poured his own wines. We enjoyed the company of Marcello Lunelli of Ferrari, whose spumante we often pour for guests. After dinner, soprano Isabel Suckling (www.thechoirgirlisabel.co.uk), James’s thirteen-year-old daughter, filled the courtyard with her pure voice.

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On Saturday, a few people were invited to have lunch with Ed, Alberto and me at JK Place, a small hotel near Santa Maria Novella.  It was a good pause and a chance to make new friends.  The hotel seems intimate–you feel you’re visiting a glamorous friend’s place. I’d like to check in when I have a deadline and just kind of hole-up there for a few days, venturing out only to see the Ghirlandaio frescos across the way, which we did after lunch. We also stopped in at the old Santa Maria Novella pharmacy. I wanted to buy Alberto some of their famous potpourri, which is far, far from the normal house ambience scents.  Alberto rewarded me by saying that it “smells like time.”  Ed more bluntly said it smelled like “the Doge’s old socks.”

We were up early, walking along the River, stopping for coffee at Rivoire and for a second one at Giacosa. Ed and Alberto:

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We peered into a few gorgeous shops but didn’t buy a thing except some beautiful paper at Parione on the street of the same name.

Saturday night’s treat was amazing.  The winemaker’s hosted groups of thirty at their villas in the country, or at their palazzi in Florence.  This was such a lovely gesture–all of us had the chance to dine in their homes with their families and to glimpse the rarified world most of these winemakers inhabit.  Buses took groups to their assigned places but ours was just a brief walk across the Arno to the vast Frescobaldi palazzo, where several family members have large apartments. It was fun to meet the 30th generation of winemakers from that family and they warmly welcomed us.  Their palazzo’s garden is bordered by the back of Santo Spirito, and by family rights from when Brunelleschi built the church, a little inside hallway connects to a secret room which overlooks the interior of the church–a private spot to hear mass.  The bell tower of the church is actually in the garden.  The palazzo is filled with a dizzying number of paintings. I imagine forgotten rooms with armadios full of nineteenth century dresses and chests crammed with letters and archives in spindly writing.

We were ready to stay up late so we walked over to Gallery Hotel Art, one of our favorite place to stop for a drink. Alberto, an architect, admired the room housing the bar, a perfectly plain glass rectangle jutting out into a back street. The waiter brought over a big plate of sushi, of all things. Ed and Alberto got into the Averna, while I had something lovely and nonalcoholic (at that point!) called a Fred. Walking back to the Excelsior, I was sorry I had on high heels.

The last event was a lunch at the country villa of Trudi Styler and Sting. Alberto, born in Havana, was particularly thrilled because the Cuban group, Tiempo Libre, played all afternoon. Trudi and Sting operate their estate as a biologico, organic farm and sell their own honey, wine, and olive oil.  The garden in the background of the James Suckling photo was at their home.  Several roasted pigs, salads, potatoes, breads, and vegetables were spread along many tables and the wine poured freely.  Here are a few shots.

The approach to Sting and Trudi’s Il Palagio:

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At the Pig Roast:

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Sting and Trudi Styler:

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What was very special was the level of hospitable detail.  Our hosts spread purple blankets and cushions on the lawn for lounging and listening to the music.  Each table was set with herbs and sunflowers. There was not a paper cup in sight.  A dreamy afternoon in the country. I loved their garden, the renaissance formality paired with country flowers. At four, we pulled ourselves away and drove home to Cortona. Divino Tuscany will take place again next year. Anyone passionately interested in wine or anyone wanting to learn about Tuscan wine or anyone just flat-out hedonistic will have a fantastic and memorable weekend.

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