Tuscan mountain food (WARNING: EXTREME OFFAL CONTENT)

The second night and second dinner of our stay in Tuscany, we had the great pleasure of being invited into the home Stefania and Fabrizio Bindocci in Sant’Angelo in Colle. I’ve known Fabrizio, the winemaker at Tenuta Il Poggione, for many years now and Tracie P and I were thrilled to get to taste his wife’s cooking.

“We’re not having ‘Tuscan’ food,” joked Fabrizio when he invited us. “We’re having ‘mountain’ food,” he said. He met his wife, he told us, when he attended a dance as a young man on Mt. Amiata (to the south of Montalcino and Sant’Angelo in Colle). There were no women in the valley back then, he joked.

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Dinner began with a nice light chickpea soup, accompanied by Sbrancato, a Sangiovese rosé produced by Il Poggione.

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Next came a dish I’d never had before: chestnut flour polenta, a classic dish of the Tuscan mountains, said Fabrizio and wife Stefania. She used a string to slice the individual portions.

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Fabrizio’s son Alessandro authors a blog about Brunello and life in Sant’Angelo, where he has posted about the pigs they raise at Il Poggione. We dressed the chestnut flour polenta with facial glands (above), butchered from the estate-raised pigs.

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Next came the true “stick to your ribs” dish: pig liver wrapped in caul fat.

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The liver was followed by sausage made from other organs, the darker of the two was spicy.

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To my knowledge, Il Poggione was the only producer to make a “riserva” Brunello in 2003, an extremely difficult vintage throughout Europe because of the heat and lack of rain. Brunello di Montalcino does not allow irrigation (not even emergency irrigation). But the elevation of the vineyards and their age (and thus the depth of the roots, which allows the vine to find the water table even in drought years) made it possible for Il Poggione to make a superb expression of Sangiovese despite the growing conditions. This was my first taste of the 03 Riserva, which is the first vintage that the winery has labeled as its “cru” Paganelli (the oldest vineyard on the estate, with vines more than 40 years old, and the source of the clones that inform the estate’s identity). The 03 Paganelli was superb: its fruit was bolder than most vintages I’ve tasted from Il Poggione, but the surprisingly powerful tannin and acidity kept the fruit in check. Very impressive. The 2001? To my palate, that’s one of the greatest vintages for Brunello in recent memory. The wine was unbelievably good, nearly perfect I’d say, a glorious balance of fruit, tannin, and acidity, with many years ahead of it but already showing gorgeously — and what a wonderful opportunity to taste it a stone’s throw from the estate, with the winemaker, paired with his wife’s traditional cuisine!

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Winter means fresh chicory as a side dish in Tuscany, red and green chicory, dressed with the estate’s olive oil.

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What Tuscan meal would be complete without castagnaccio, a short bread made with chestnut flour, topped with pine nuts and rosemary, for dessert?

Oops, I didn’t mean “Tuscan” food. I meant “mountain” food! ;-)

Thanks, again, Stefania and Fabrizio, for an unforgettable meal…