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Tuscany: Red Wine and Red Meat

Montepulciano, Italy

Touring wine country, we stop in Montepulciano to look around and to meet a vintner, who takes us down into his wine cellars for a tour and tasting. For dinner, it’s seared red meat served rare, at an osteria catering only to carnivores.

Complete Video Script

A short and scenic drive south takes us through some of Italy’s finest wine country. This is the land of two beloved local wines: Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The vineyards here produce some of the very best wines in the world. And travelers who call in advance are welcome to visit and tour the wineries. Beautifully tended vines soak up the spring sun as hardworking vintners hope that this year’s vintage will be one to remember. And overlooking it all is the hill town of Montepulciano.

The town’s sleepy main piazza is surrounded by a grab bag of architectural sights. The medieval town hall resembles nearby Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio — a reminder that about 500 years ago, Montepulciano allied itself with Florence. The crenellations along the roof were never intended to hide soldiers — they just symbolize power. But the big central tower makes it clear that the city’s keeping an eye out in all directions.

For centuries this town has celebrated its independent spirit. And today these young people carry on that tradition — and entertain their visitors — with a colorful ritual.

Being a wine-producing capital, Montepulciano is built upon a honeycomb of wine cellars. Palazzo Ricci sits atop a particularly impressive series of cellars. Joining a vintner, we descend a long staircase. Heading deep down into the hill that Montepulciano is built upon, the temperature noticeably drops, and eventually we end up at street level of the lower town. Climbing even further down, we reach gigantic barrels under even more gigantic vaults and a chance to learn about the wine that’s aging here.

Rick: These are very big barrels.
Enrico: Yeah, of course. It’s very big barrel. 10,000 liter. It’s made of wood — the Slavonian wood.
Rick: 10,000 litters. How many bottles?
Enrico: 13,000.

For this wine, it’s the artful combination of aging in large, medium, and small oak barrels that gets the tannin levels just right.

Rick: Enrico, when was the first barrel of wine here in this cellar?
Enrico: From 1337.
Rick: 700 years.
Enrico: Of course. Sure.
Rick: My goodness.

And, for our last stop, a chance to taste some of the wine as it’s aging. And I’m forever the attentive student.

Rick: So how old would this wine be here?
Roberto: Ah, one year.
Rick: One year.
Roberto: Basically.
Rick: So this is “baby” Nobile di Montepulciano.
Enrico: Baby Vino Nobile. Born an hour [ago].
Rick: Born an hour — it’s a little tiny baby! And when it’s finished how long — how old will the wine be?
Roberto: Ah, three years old.
Rick: Three years. And is this good? Can you tell when you taste?
Enrico: For me, the wine is how my son is. Very, very nice.
Rick: You love the wine like your son?
Enrico: Yeah…
Rick: You love your son like the wine!
Enrico: Same. Same!
Rick: The same! That’s good!

The people of Montepulciano seem to enjoy their red meat as much as their red wine. And this osteria is a carnivore’s dream come true. Its long, narrow room, jammed with shared tables, leads to a busy kitchen with an open fire.

Giulio, his wife Chiara, and their staff serve their hungry crowd like a well-choreographed meat-eaters’ ballet. Weight and price is agreed upon at the table.

Then, it’s "leave it to cleaver." The meat is seared over embers for a just few minutes…before being cut from the bone.

And in Tuscany, the correct way to enjoy a steak is…rare.