Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Glorious Grape

Thursday, September 7, 2006: It is harvest time in Tuscany and the wine grapes hang fat and heavy on the vine. There are gently rolling hills bursting with Chianti grapes, Sangiovese grapes and fruit I’ve never heard of before, such as Foglia Tonda. I set out for a morning walk in the vineyards, admiring the plump clusters of fruit glistening in the late summer sunshine. The dark grapes are deep purple in hue, accented with shades of blueberry, amethyst, cobalt, and black. It’s like watching a dazzling kaleidoscope as the rays of the sun dance on the skin of the fruit. There are perfect clusters of green grapes and lovely pink garnet grapes use for lighter varieties.

The grapes of Tuscany are a revered source of food and drink. The vintner produces a spicy, intense reserve Brunello. I learn from the staff that there is no Brunello grape. The wine is made from 100 percent Sangiovese grosso, and must meet very specific and lengthy aging requirements before it can be dubbed a Brunello.

Out in the vineyards, workers are gathering the grapes into red tubs. On the hill beneath the villa, grapes are removed from the stems by machines, pressed through a crusher, and left to ferment in steel tanks. Nothing is wasted. Even the remaining skins from the grapes are distilled and used to make Grappa.

In the Osteria on the estate, the chef uses wine grapes as a garnish, a color accent, in reduction sauces and as a sweet surprise in pasty. One member of the staff teaches us to prepare sweet cake dough for dessert that is studded with dark grapes and anise. Thin slivers of veal are sautéed in butter and stock and dressed in a ruby-red reduction sauce of balsamic vinegar and wine grapes. Risotto is bathed in Brunello, turning a shade of rosy pink. The meal is an exuberant celebration of the vineyard.

At the end of our evening banquet, the table looks like a post-modern work of art, with wine bottles and decanters littered across the table, and more than a dozen, deep round glasses with just a hint of violet residue in the bottom. We marvel at the brilliant full Tuscan moon as we return to the villa to retire for the night.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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