I’m writing poolside at the Relais Riserva di Fizzano resort in Tuscany’s Chianti region. “Resort” isn’t really the right word. The enclave of luxury apartments was once a medieval village. Located on top of one of the tallest hills around, its grounds offer a panoramic view of Tuscany’s countryside, hills of cascading grapevines included. Architect Fabio Zingarelli, son of Director and Winemaker Italo Zingarelli, converted the village into what it is today, retaining its original medieval atmosphere. Rocca delle Macíe winery opened the renovated village to offer visitors of the winery a place to stay.
I arrived yesterday after the wine tasting at Rocca delle Macíe, and was immediately overcome by the resort’s natural beauty. I visited the Chianti region for the first time three years ago, when I was 24. During that trip, my girlfriend and I had balanced our budget by sleeping in our rental car. We tasted wine by day, then found a secluded road beside some vines, and spent the night. It wasn’t always comfortable (one night we’d planned on cooking over a fire only to have it rain: we ended up cooking hot dogs on the car’s engine), but it had its charm. Relais Riserva di Fizzano is a direct shot in the other direction. It is affordable luxury.
Our two-room apartment includes a complete kitchen and a large bedroom with immaculate views. The décor is rustic and expertly fashioned. Because it is located on a hilltop, the resort and its grounds feel particularly exclusive, as though you are a temporary citizen of a utopian town. An apartment runs between 100 and 185 euros a night—a bargain, if not a budget-friendly option. The resort has a restaurant, which often features pairing menus, where we ate lunch.
Surrounded by so much beauty, we should have stayed put beside the pool, where unobstructed views of the countryside could be had from lounge chairs. Instead, we decided to use the resort’s mountain bikes, which are offered gratis. It wasn’t a good idea: the area is composed completely of steep hills. We were either soaring at breakneck speeds downhill or laboring uphill at a snail’s pace. I love bicycling, but mountain biking in Tuscany is simply a bad idea. I think we lasted half an hour total, and my legs are still aching today.
In the evening we decided to cook a meal incorporating Tuscany’s traditional ingredients. The apartment’s kitchen included every apparatus you’d need. We bought store-made fresh tagliatelle and made a ragu from scratch (recipe below). One of the many secrets for making a good ragu is blanching the tomatoes. It takes seconds and allows the skins to be removed easily, making for a smoother sauce. With luxurious flare, we used some of Rocca delle Macíe’s 2005 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in the ragu.
After dinner, during which we opened two bottles of Rocca delle Macíe’s wine, I took a walk alone among the surrounding vineyards. It was probably around midnight, and I lit a Tuscano cigar. The combination of the local produce and cheeses, the local wine, the local tobacco, and the cool night air made me feel truly connected to a part of the world that I was, in actuality, just passing through.
Recipe for Mattie and Kristin’s Ragu
Ingredients (for 2 people):
2/3 lb fresh pasta
8 medium-sized tomatoes
½ head of chopped garlic
½ chopped onion
3 small sausages
½ cup red wine
2 tbsp whole milk
2 tbsp chopped rosemary
Grated cheese (Pecorino, Parmesan, Grana, etc.)
QB salt (QB is an Italian cooking measurement. It can be translated, roughly, as “to taste,” although it literally means quanto basta, or use as much as you personally want. I think “QB” reveals the intuitive logic of Italian cooking)
1) Boil a large pot of water. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and cut a slit in each. Carefully add to boiling water. Blanch until skins begin to separate from the tomatoes (15 seconds-1 minute). Drain and cool with cold water. When tomatoes are cool enough to touch, peel and discard skin.
2) Meanwhile, in a deep pan, lightly sauté garlic and onion. Remove sausage from the casing, chop, and add. When sausage has browned, add red wine. Allow to reduce.
3) Set a large pot of water to boil. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, then add to the onion and sausage sauce mixture. Allow to come to a simmer, then add salt and milk.
4) When your sauce has stewed long enough and your water has come to a boil, add pasta to the water. Cook until tender (30 seconds-3 minutes) and drain. Put pasta into bowls and spoon ragu on top. Serve with grated cheese.
Tomorrow I’m heading to Verona. See you there.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com