In the last two weeks I was really fortunate to have been invited to visit some vineyards by my friends at Ottimi Vini, an incredible wine shop in Sansepolcro. This week we were in the Montalcino region, famous for it’s stately wine Brunello. Made, like most Tuscan red wine, from Sangiovese grapes, Brunello is blessed with a unique combination of terroir and breezes blown in from the sea about 50 miles away, which has made it one of the most sought after of Italian wines.
We started our afternoon with lunch at L’Osteria di Porta al Cassero in Montalcino. The perfectly restored interior is all stonework, chestnut beams, and terracotta, a combination that we all take for granted in Tuscany but creates the most picture perfect and welcoming interiors. Maybe it’s a genetic memory throwing right back to when our most distant ancestors first cocooned themselves in stone caves, but I find this most cold of materials warm and cosy, especially in winter when animated by the light of an open fire.
The menu was a festival of pane sciocco in all its forms: bruschetta, crostini, and panzanella as appetizers; pappa al pomodoro and zuppa di pane as first courses. I chose pinci co’ le briciole, pasta served with breadrumbs (more pane sciocco) for my main dish and we ordered a plate of crostini and cold meats as a starter.
The menu, once again, went to emphasize the regionality of Italian cuisine even within regions. We were about a 2-hour drive from the Valtiberina, in the Val d’Orcia and here there were local specialities to try with names unheard of in our corner of Tuscany.
As I was in the presence of three wine experts, I let them choose what we would drink and they chose a 2012 Rosso di Montalcino (of course) from Col D’Orcia, a local producer with about 140 hectares of vineyards just outside the city. Like many Italian producers, Col d’Orcia recently applied for (and received) certification as an organic producer, recognizing a long tradition of traditional organic methods in this region. This wine, full of blackberry and raspberry backed with a slight memory of its year resident in an oak barrel, inspired us to add Col d’Orcia to our itinerary that afternoon.
The antipasti were a real tour the Osteria‘s menu. Aside from the admirably fresh charcuterie, the crostini were topped with other items from the menu, perfect for people like me who have a hard time choosing one dish. So there was a ragù my grandmother would have been jealous of; the house special aglione sauce (tomatoes, lots of garlic and a suprising but welcome amount of chilli); porcini mushroom sauce; the usual tomato and chicken liver paté; and my personal favourite—caramelized onions with the smallest hint of chilli. Heaven.
And so for the main event: pinci co’ le briciole. Pinci are a local traditional hand rolled pasta one of a host of variations in Tuscany that go under various names such as pici, luchetti, umbrichelli, and locally here bringoli. Here they came served with toasted breadcrumbs and a hint of extra virgin olive oil. Far from being the dry plate I expected this worked incredibly well, the breadcrumbs hugging the moist pasta and adding an unusual crunch. They went down so fast I forgot to take a photograph!
Montalcino is so famous both at home and abroad that you’d expect high prices and tourist quality from any restaurant. This had neither. The meal, including the wine, were so reasonably priced, I’d even call say underpriced and the quality a cut above many Osterie in Tuscany. As I necked my caffè and we set off for and afternoon ‘toiling’ in the vineyards I was quietly making my own plans to return: next time pinci all’aglione.
Osteria di Porta al Cassero
Via Ricasoli 32,
53024 Montalcino (SI),
+39 0577 847196