Montalcino & Montepulciano

A lot of damage happens when I allow myself to re-read bits of Under the Tuscan Sun or this sleeper favorite of mine (which I think is much better!). Things happen. I have this sudden, fierce thirst for a bitter red wine. Chianti. I remember certain smells, but mostly feelings. Feelings of anticipation. I go through old photos and relive every detail through my meticulously kept, leather bound journals. And that is exactly what happened here.

It was a hot July day and I had S with me in Italy. I had truthfully never felt the need to visit, as my heart and soul irrevocably belongs to Siena - but nevertheless, I was brimming with only the magical feeling of excitement that summertime in Italy conjures up. Seeing words on the map like Pienza, Val d'Orcia, Castellina in Chianti - they make my heart hurt, almost, I love those words so much.

Yellow hills and cypresses. Hot, dusty, summertime Tuscan air. Beginning in Montepulciano, a gem of a town: we toured an ancient and musty wine cellar, sampled the most crumbly delicious and piquant pecorino cheeses. The pairing of the supertuscans with this picante cheese...salty, bitter, dark, dry...just an oenophile's dream. I have a thing for Tuscan wines, particularly chianti. It is my all-time favorite, partially because it was my first. I am not a big white wine person, and it's very rare to find someone in Tuscany who disagrees with the idea that red is perfectly good in the summertime. And...non c'è bisogno di spendere tanto per bere bene. You don't need to spent a lot to drink well.

Sloping streets, walls doused in golden sun. The floor, the stones, the steps into shops and cafes all felt sacrosanct and ancient; the dirt on my feet felt holier than dirt. Aimless steps brought us to the vista over the Val d'Orcia. Even the valley, with soft hills older than time, seemed to stretch onward forever into green and blue oblivion. Each hill is a wrinkle in a face that's not afraid of aging. It's the most iconic of valleys, the one that you've seen before; in the morning the fog saunters in and stays low. It touches the bones of each cypress and leaves dew on the ochre bales of hay.

Time for pranzo (lunch!). We order light; pici pasta for two, with some acqua naturale. The shade feels good, but anything other than al fresco dining is ludicrous; we prefer somewhere sitting in the shade. The sun in July is strong yet easy to hide from, as the town is truly just a series of tall stony walls that cast a warm shadow. And as we leave, everything will be downhill and easy. Our feet will get dirtier. It reminds me of those summer days in Siena.