About two weeks until my big trip to Italy, I sat up late one night at my desk unable to sleep. The magnitude of the adventure I was about to embark on had finally hit me and the impending countdown was starting to pressure me a bit. My fellow familial travelers had taken the reigns with most of our traveling plans because they had already ventured to parts of this region abroad, but I wanted to contribute too, so there I was, staring at a computer, looking up blogs, hastags, you name it, to get some Italian inspiration…
After an hour of perusing websites and blogs, I had landed on Twitter and searched for familiar city names from the one book that truly made my love for Italy blossom: Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes. I had read her descriptive novel back in the day and years later seen the movie version of the book (an enhanced “Hollywood” story with a love affair and the enchanting Diane Lane). I typed in Cortona and began to follow the hastag crumbs until I stumbled upon a winery planted in that very storybook town. I looked up the Baracchi Winery website and online photos. I was impressed. Suddenly, I decided to reach out to the email address and request a tasting...at 5 a.m.! Oh well, I thought, nine-hour time difference, right?
A few days later, I was shocked to receive a reply email from the owner himself, Riccardo Baracchi; he had kindly invited my guests and I to stop in for a wine tasting while we were traveling abroad in the nearby city of Florence. I was stoked. I finally had something to contribute to our trip! Mr. Baracchi and I stayed in contact over the next couple of weeks and I set up an appointment to stop by Baracchi Winery on a Saturday at 1 p.m.
On the day of our journey into Cortona (in the province of Arezzo), my sister and I decided to rent the traditional Italian Fiat and drive along the Tuscan countryside to our destination instead of taking the train. I’m so happy we did. She and I soaked up the view of roadside vineyards, rustic villas and Italian Cypress trees during our one and a half hour drive to Cortona from Florence. If you’ve never driven in Italy before, then be warned of roundabouts – they’re everywhere. You have to be fast and alert or else you’ll keep going in circles, literally.
Sure enough, at the initial roundabout we had passed through, we noticed a sign for Baracchi Winery and Il Falconiere (the restaurant attached to the winery), so we made our way through the windy, tiny road and stopped briefly at the final turn to appreciate an old brick structure housing candles, fresh flowers and frames of religious icons. Below the Madonna and child, we could barely make out the “Ave Maria,” constructed in the stone. We then took a left and realized we were on another one-way street again so we had to back out slowly to let an oncoming car out. Around the last curve, we pulled to one of the most beautiful driveways I had even seen; vibrant purple flowers were laced above our canopy pull-in, making us extra cautious to not damage one of the delicate petals as we drove in.
Baracchi Winery is special. Sure, the Cortona countryside and hilltop town of cascading colorful homes doesn't hurt its charm, but the property itself has history, rich terrain, and as we were about to discover, a great wine and dine combo.
Melissa and I decided to have lunch at Il Falconiere before we headed out on our tour of the winery. She and I were seated al fresco and presented with a tasting menu, including vegetarian options, orchestrated by Silvia Baracchi, (Ricardo’s wife and Michelin rated chef of Il Falconiere). Overwhelmed by the tantalizing options, we asked our attentive server to select some dishes for us to try so we could relax and take in our serene setting. I started to snap photos of the glass room to our right, where we watched servers enter and exit from. They would walk in, walk downstairs and re-appear minutes later with samplers of sparkling wine an amuse bouche for us – it was as if we had witnessed a culinary magic trick.
The sparking wine we sipped made with 100% Trebbiano grapes, was incredibly refreshing after our drive and complimented our cream-filled cucumber and Parmesan crisps sent complimentary from the kitchen. Then, without warning, a jovial Italian gentleman whisked me from my chair and positioned me in the middle of the dining area. He placed an apron on me, with a bottle of wine in one hand and a freakin’ saber in the other. There was what seemed a ten second tutorial, and then - Wham! Pop! The bottle exploded with fizz and everyone applauded. It had all happened so fast and thank goodness, otherwise I would have been back in my seat faster than you could say, check please!