Dave the motorhome is awash with the sniff of red wine at a free sosta (N43.59076 E11.31368) a short walk from the centre of Greve in Chianti, south of Florence.
Locked down last night, protected by two consecutive steel doors, we slept like kittens in the sosta twenty minutes outside of Florence. High security aside, the place had the advantage of being a decent distance from the city, avoiding Italian traffic and reducing our collective blood pressure and for a short time completely extinguishing the sub-concious twitching of Dave’s driver’s left eye.
This morning Italy chose to test us. There’s a view point at the Piazzale Michelangelo, offering a panorama over the city, but first you have to get in close to the mayhem, and to avoid the ZTL. A search on ‘Florence ZTL’ produced an interesting result, a website which says, without paraphrasing: to drive in Florence you will have to break the law, go the wrong way up one way streets, drive on the sidewalk, and enter ‘no entry’ signs. Challenge accepted, we climbed in Dave, checked the satnav wasn’t on ‘completely maddest route’ setting and trundled off.
Twenty minutes later, dampened a little with perspiration, we parked up in the car park at the Piazzale, which had a ‘no motorhome parking at any time’ sign. But for this minor infraction, we’d not managed any of the above, although to be fair we’d not been in the city either, skirting around the walls. A moment’s hesitation as a car stopped without indicating in front saw us being overtaken by a horn-blaring fella (‘I’m coming through’ blaring rather than ‘you idiot’ blaring). A taxi overtook us as we drove through a single-lane junction. A horde of mopeds poured out of a school at midday, swarming Dave. A stone-lined one-way street threatened to slowly compress in on us like that rubbish-squasher in Star Wars. I wouldn’t describe driving in Italy as fun, but on the other hand any mistakes I make are brushed off by the locals, or rather not actually recognised as mistakes?
Overlooked by another enormous David, naked of course, as per the Renaissance way, stares from the square over a few artist stalls and out over the city. It’s some sight. The duomo dominates, an anchored ornate ship standing high and solid amongst a frozen crashing sea of red roofs. We stared, trying to pick out the details in the masterpiece, upping our camera to 18 megapixels for a raft of shots, and cooking up a fish-finger sandwich to scoff on the square steps.
Once the impact of the sight had diminished, and the sandwiches were munched, we headed off again, onto quieter and wider roads, south into the Chianti region between Florence and Siena. I guess everyone has heard of Chianti, famously declared the cannibal’s tipple in Silence of the Lambs, but I’d no clue where the region was. I do now, as we’re parked up in it, but again had no clue about what ‘Chianti’ actually was, Neanderthal man that I am.
Wikipedia to the rescue! I very much doubt anyone could be as lacking in knowledge as me on the subject, but just in case, a few facts gleaned from this newly venerable resource:
- A little aside: Italy is the world’s second-largest producer of wine after France. During early Roman times only Italy was allowed to produce wine, and it was swapped with other provinces for slaves.
- The name ‘Chianti’ represents a region, rather than a particular grape or quality of wine, although all Chianti’s use mainly the sangiovese grape. The region has grown a few times in the past century, presumably after the reputation of Chianti wine started to improve, and it now a good part of Tuscany. Towns like Greve, despite existing before the Romans, only added the suffix ‘In Chianti’ in 1972.
- In theory, Italian wines are classified in terms of quality as follows, although since the DOC and DOCG regulations seem to be perceived as too rigid, better wines may be lower down the scale! A Chianti can be any of these:
- Lowest – Vino da Tavola (VDT) – any wine made in Italy can get this
- Next up: Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) – from a specific region, but not conforming to DOC or DOCG regulations
- Next to top: Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) – stricter definition of the types and ratios of grapes must be met to get this
- Top notch: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) – a blind taste test of quality has to be passed to stick this around the neck of the bottle
So, as I said, I’m certain you knew all that stuf, moving swiftly on… Once we’d parked up in the town’s helipad (I kid you not), we nipped out into town to stretch our legs and survey the scene of a small Tuscan town tucked into folds in the hills. Being 2pm, it was closed for another two hours, so Ju headed back with Charlie, to avoid over-cooking his just-mended leg.
I took to the hills for an hour, to get a view out over the town. Attempting to hide my huffing and puffing, and trying not to look nervous, I passed a fun sign and next to it a couple of guys testing the action on the shot guns. As they drove past up the hill afterwards, my brain ticked over. These guys had shot guns and were heading into the woods where I was off walking. Hmmm, it’ll be fine. I ploughed on, catching their empty car up at a locked gate across the road, as they snapped twigs in the woods to the right. Unable to get any further, and peering through the trees for any sign of a shotgun pointing at me, I headed back down, to find another chap stood aside the trees with his gun across his back. Having only 8 words of Italian made conversation difficult as I tried to work out what they were shooting. He leaned in, his elderly face broken into a lop-sided smile as I imitated a flying bird being shot. Whatever he said, I’ll never know, but it appeared to me his cheeky grin indicated whatever they were up to, they strictly speaking shouldn’t be. He waved me off and stepped into the trees. I heard a single gunshot later on, some unsuspecting animal being blasted?
Back to the wine. Come 6pm we made another venture into town, via the local vets for worming tablets for Charlie. It transpires Italian’s seem to treat their dogs for a specific type of worm once they have it, rather than as a proactive measure against all worm types, and hence you can’t buy worming tablets in pet shops as you can in the UK. Ju did a champion job of discussing this with the Italian vet as I slunk about the place pretending to read posters (€10 scored us 4 tablets – enough for 6 months).
Outside, shops were opening up, but folks seemed thin on the ground, until we found them all packed tight into the Co-Op, waving and chatting with one-another. On a mission for low-cost local Chianti, we succeeded on one count only. Either only foreigners buy from the Greve Co-Op, or the locals won’t make do with anything less than DOCG. The cheapest wine was €3:80, the most expensive over €28. All of them were DOCG, which makes the classification a bit useless for us.
The small town has a triangular square, erm, surrounded by loggia – walkways with columns and arches facing the centre. A stuffed wild boar caught our attention, reminding us of a story Phil told us about when, as a policeman in the UK, he’d been called upon to corner one of the things. This beasty, although clearly dead, looked life-like enough, and was massive; rather you than me Phil.
Once I’d dragged poor old Ju past all the gloriously-tasty, empty and not too expensive trattorias, we got back to Dave and had a little blind taste test of our own. Lidl’s €2 a bottle DOCG Chianti versus the Co-Op DOCG Chianti. Three sips of each and a clear winner. Lidl, we love you! Although the Co-Op Fiorino del Casato may have lost out, it’s not going to be wasted! Cheers folks!
P.S. It’s called Chiantishire tongue-in-cheek as the place is supposedly home to a multitude of expat Brits. We’ve only spotted a single Brit-registered BMW with an expired tax disk. No sign of fish and chips, sadly.