I have been going to Europe at some point just about every summer for most of my adult life. The vast majority of those trips centered on France, where I led cycling trips for a couple of decades (I had majored in French in College and being fluent in the local language was a requirement to lead a trip). Those trips predate knowing my wife (in fact, we indirectly met as a result of one of them), but since we have been together, she has occasionally joined me cycling through France.
Once our boys came along, our family vacations focused almost exclusively on l’Hexagone (what the French often call their six-sided country) as the boys were both enrolled in a French immersion school and we saw it as solid reinforcement to their language acquisition.
Although I think that my wife enjoys my adopted “home” country (at least that is what she tells me), she has not so secretly longed to visit Italy—our brief stay in the tiny mountain town of Domodossola on a Swiss bike trip apparently proving not sufficient.
Thus, when I was offered to go on a press trip to Trentino and Mezzacorona (links HERE and HERE), my wife essentially insisted that her parents come to watch the kids, I extend my trip, and we visit the country for another week.
Since I had never been to Siena, we started there for a few days with virtually no plans other than the VRBO apartment that I had arranged. I picked my wife up at the airport in Verona and immediately headed South to Tuscany. At the end of the three-hour drive and having eventually figured out where we could park, we found the apartment, which was right on the Piazza del Campo.
The only other “arrangements” I had made was consulting fellow Houstonian and authority on just about everything Italian, Jeremy Parzen, who among a host of other activities, writes the incredible Do Bianchi website. His advice? Above all else visit his friend and mentor Francesco Bonfio who has a wine shop inside the famed Nannini bakery in the middle of town.
Francesco was simply a delight—he said he only had a few minutes to chat but in true Italian fashion, we sat, we chatted, we ate (as it was right before dinner, we ate a few ciccheti—tapas stye bites), and we drank some wine. Nearly an hour later, we left (I hazard to think what would have happened had Francesco not been so “rushed”) with Francesco’s restaurant suggestion.
The restaurant, Enoteca I Terzi, is a little hole in the wall just meters off the main square, where the wine selection was fabulous, including a delightfully tart and refreshing Franciacorta by the glass for 6€.
The entire menu enticed, but we eventually whittled it down to a few selections, all prepared perfectly.
The fried zucchini flowers with fresh ricotta sounds exotic and it was. But it also wasn’t. While the flavors were exquisite, it was also light on its petals, the ricotta dancing on your tongue, accentuating the delicate vegetal nature of the flower.
The pici with wild boar was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of tomato influence. It’s the kind of sauce that captivates you instantly and the first half of the pasta you inhale. But once you realize it’s half gone, you panic, slow down, and savor. Whoa.
2013 San Guisto a Rentennano Chianti Classico Riserva Le Baròncole: 36€ at the restaurant. Just before choosing the wine, I asked to speak to the owner, Michele, to whom I mentioned that Francesco had recommended the restaurant. Upon hearing his name Michele made the quintessential Italian hand gesture as if he were praying fervently. Once I asked his recommendation, and mentioned that we were interested in Chianti Classico, he immediately suggested this wine in his raspy, almost Don Corleone voice. And what a choice. Classic cherry Chianti nose with some earth and a touch of anise waft out of the glass. The tart cherry leads off, followed by a touch of earth and some drying tannin. This is but a baby, but it is beautiful, delicate, and expressive all at the same time. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
As the cooling breeze enveloped me, I could not imagine another place where I would rather be. The steak was perfectly cooked (for me–medium rare with an emphasis on rare) even though they never asked, and barely needed a knife to cut.
After we finished our meal, we sat for a while, enjoying the moment while we savored the last sips of wine. While I had very little to do with it, my wife’s first real Italian experience was clearly meeting or even exceeding her expectations and for a moment, I wondered whether I might have erred in choosing to study French.