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Quick Trips: Wine and company

Tuscan vineyard pairs drink with food, philosophy

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 28, 2008

What is holy?" Gino Rosi asks. "What is holy to you beyond religion?"

Guests visiting the Castello di Verrazzano winery in Greve in Chianti, Italy, sit silently for a moment, pondering.

Family.

Life.

Friendship.

"Ahhhh," Rosi nods in agreement, casually holding his now unlit cigar between thumb and forefinger. "Family, respect for life, and friendship."

And wine.

Il vino e vita. Wine is life.

Now, you’d expect that sort of answer from a tour guide at a winery. And yet, Rosi’s demeanor isn’t that of a salesman. He’s genuine in his expressions of love and admiration for the winery, the land, the vines and the employees’ hard work to produce a quality product.

The vineyard is more than his workplace. It’s his home. And he wants to share it.

If you buy good wine, don’t hoard it for yourself, he advises. Share. Share with family and friends.

"Hospitality," he says. "Now that is holy."

Those are words put into practice at the Castello di Verrazzano, in the heart of Tuscany, just south of Florence.

Recognize the name? The estate once belonged to the family headed by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, one of the first Europeans to set eyes on North America and who discovered the bay of New York Harbor. One of New York’s bridges, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, is named after him (despite dropping one ‘z’).

Legend says he was killed and eaten by cannibals in the Caribbean in 1528. Whether accurate or not, it’s the saucy version recounted during tours of the winery, said guide Simone Moduegno.

Perched on a hilltop in the heart of Chianti Classico wine country, the estate once was an Etruscan settlement, then Roman, and eventually the property of the Verrazzano family and birthplace of Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1485. Today, guided tours — given also in English — are provided for visitors who tour the centuries-old cellars and gardens and dine on a multi-course meals of typical Tuscan fare accompanied by the appropriate wines.

The estate boasts more than 5,000 vines that produce between 250,000 and 280,000 bottles annually — a production rate ranking Verrazzano as a small- to medium-sized winery, Moduegno said.

It’s a place where present day meets history, and no matter what technology might have to offer, the staff continues to "produce our wine like we did 500 years or more ago," he said. "The most important thing is that we follow tradition."

And the winery’s divine balsamic vinegar, well, words aren’t enough.

They call it "love potion," Moduegno said. Aged for 12 years, it is something else worthy of being called "holy." Paired with sharp Parmesan cheese or strawberries, ice cream, cheesecake — it is divine.

"This is amazing. We’ve grown up thinking this was stuff for the upper class, but here we are," Lisa Tyree, on her second honeymoon with husband Ted, said of the Castello di Verrazzano. "We have four kids and don’t get out much. But this has been perfect. It’s very romantic here, a beautiful setting, very informative tour, definitely one of the highlights."

Having a pre-set menu entices visitors to try food they otherwise might have passed up, like the wild boar salami or bread topped with lard, added Ted, visiting Tuscany from Lansdale, Pa. "Because everything is decided for you, you try these wonderful things. I’d tell people not to eat the whole day before they come. Everything was so amazing. And I’ve never had balsamic vinegar out of a spoon before."


On the QT

Directions: Take the A1 autostrada toward Rome and Florence (portions are toll) and exit at Firenze Sud on SS 222. Follow signs toward Greve in Chianti. Along the roadway, look for small brown directional sign for Castello di Verrazzano. Follow the road up the hill (portions dirt road) to the estate grounds.

Times: The winery is open year round. Call for reservations.

Costs: Guided tour with lunch costs 48 euros per person. The dinner version costs 58 euros.

Food: The meals are a set menu, but everything is good. For those who want to spend the night, the castle has seven rooms and apartments, but we stayed at a quaint and awesome residence 12 miles away in Castellina in Chianti — accommodations are superb and the owner, Nora, speaks excellent English.

Information: For bookings, call (+39) 055-854-243 or e-mail info@verrazzano.com. Castello di Verrazzano’s Web site is
www.verrazzano.com.


An anchor from the boat on which Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, one of the first Europeans to set eyes on North American, sailed when he discovered the bay of New York Harbor. Three stones from the one of New York’s bridges, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, are implanted in the castle wall above the anchor.
SANDRA JONTZ / S&S

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