Romantic spots are easy to find in Tuscany. Just add wine for an even more special Valentine’s experience.
Starting in the city there is the Four Seasons, a haven for romantics. Vaunting magnificent dining rooms and bars, Florence’s most luxurious hotel is home to the vastest of gardens, with a weeping beech under which a table can be set for two. Lucky (read: wealthy) couples can reserve to dine within its branches. If the tree is fully booked, try taking the private table in the hotel’s chapel embraced by 15th-century frescoes. Should these exclusive dining spaces be out of your reach, do not be disheartened. There is beauty in simplicity after all. Head to the poolside pizzeria (open during summer only) and order a margherita and a bottle of bubbles, but no ordinary bubbles. Forget Champagne. Instead try Fattoria Montelloris Blanc de Blancs Pas Dose, an extremely good sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay grown relatively locally in Larciano, just west of Florence.
Not so far away, in a Fiesole castle lives a wild and wonderful artist turned winemaker: Bibi Graetz. He’s a big-hearted man and, in my experience, big-hearted humans always make the best wine. You will have seen the house wine he makes, Casamatta, for it is stocked in almost every trattoria in Florence. But his top label, Colore, is the one worth serving to your beloved at Valentine’s. Made from Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino, it is a deep, intense wine, imbued with the wisdom of 60-year-old vines. Grab a bottle and a blanket. Find a spot by the castle walls and look out over Florence. (Remember, Florence cannot see you.)
Farther away, the owner of Querciabella winery in Greve in Chianti is a lover, not a fighter. Staunchly vegan and an animal rights activist, even when wild boar made their cena out of the grapes from his finest vineyard Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni refused to let his team grab their guns.
At Querciabella they make one white wine, Batar, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. It is a fine, opulent wine. Not at all shy, it has a coolness to it, a curious mineral aroma and flavour that always makes me think of rock pools. But there is also the warmth that perhaps comes from vanilla and spice that leech into the wine after its 12-month ageing in oak barrels. It is therefore the perfect wine to sip lazily in a hot spring bath. One of my Tuscan favourites is the public baths at Petriolo, south of Siena, where the hot water cascades into six rock pools at different heights and sizes before pouring into the freezing cold river beneath.
If a proposal is a possibility, then organize a tour and tasting and gain permission to play Romeo at Castello di Argiano in Montalcino, owned by the Sesti family. This southern Tuscany estate was the rather unusual setting for the final love scene in the film Letters to Juliet starring Amanda Seyfried and Gael García Bernal (I write unusual for the film is supposedly set in Verona). A fake balcony was constructed on one of the houses on the Sesti’s estate and the family liked the appendage so much they asked the film crew to leave it attached. The wine “to drink to thee”, though one hopes without the tragic consequences, is the Sesti “Phenomena”, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010. Plus, there’s a touch of magic involved. The family makes their wine in accordance with the astrological calendar and on February 16, 2010 stargazers observed the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. In mythology the conjunction of the goddess of love with a male planet was considered an erotic event. Potent stuff indeed.
Buon San Valentino!