When my friend Maria comes to town…I’m usually not here. It’s like fate or something crueler, but whenever Maria (who travels almost constantly for work) ends up in the city where I actually live, 9 times out of 10 I’m away for some reason or other. Last week, when I got an email from Maria saying she was coming to Italy we were very nearly ships passing once again. But then I realized she wasn’t coming to Rome, but to Florence. And I was actually going to be in Florence. Miracle!
When I suggested we meet for lunch, I was thinking we’d reconnect over butter chicken at Sostanza, or check out the view and new chef at Se.Sto. But no. Maria has infinite energy and imagination and so planned an outing into Chianti. And not just any corner of Chianti, but Chianti Classico, where the best wines come from. And not just any Chianti Classico vineyard, but Castello di Ama, which not only boasts spectacular wines, but also has a restaurant, boutique hotel, and one of the most moving site specific art collections in this part of the world.
Before we even arrived, the day was spectacular. Gillian and I hitched a ride south of Florence with Marta, and the winding roads took us around, up and over some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful landscape known to man. There is a reason everyone comes to Tuscany.
Castello di Ama has an interesting history, and isn’t your run of the mill ancient castle on a hill. The winery was actually founded in the 1960’s by a group of families who had fallen under the same Tuscan spell everyone else does. But they actually did something about it. They bought this property – a small borgo comprised of a several buildings, a few chapels and an extensive vineyard – with the goal to create a truly great wine.
Our hosts for the day were Marco and Lorenza. It was Lorenza’s parents who were one of the original families. Our first stop was at the olive mill, which was pressing some their bright green oil. After dipping our bread in oil that was only seconds old, we continued on our tour.
For the last 20 years the Lorenza and Marco (when they weren’t busy creating some of the best wines of the region) have been commissioning artists like Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren and Michelangelo Pistoletto to create site specific works throughout the estate. I’m sorry I am not including any photographs, but….my hastily taken photos just don’t do the works justice. The works are incredibly moving, especially the two meditative works in the chapels, by Kapoor and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Some are more lighthearted, like Pascale Marthine Tayou’s multi-colored paving stones which dance along the pathways. Others, like Daniel Buren’s mirrored wall, reinterpret the surrounding countryside in ways I never thought possible.
We then had a chance to visit the small boutique hotel they have created. Three suites are located in the 18th century villa on the property and it was very hard to get me to leave. I really wanted to move right in.
Finally, after all that walking around, we gathered for the main event: lunch. A table was set in a private dining room at Il Ristoro di Ama and we had a delicious Tuscan lunch which was, of course, all about the wines. To start out a white: Al Poggio 2013, which went perfectly with the duo of Pappa al Pomodoro and a minestra of ceci e funghi. And lots of olio nuovo-drenched bruschetta. Next up was Castello di Ama San Lorenzo 2011 (Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG) which was paired with a big bowl full of hand made pici tossed with a Tuscan ragu. And finally the big guns: a bottle of L’Apparita 2000. This cult wine, made from Merlot, went perfectly with the stewed wild boar. To end: a slice of walnut tart with bright yellow zabaione.
Eventually we all had to go home. Gillian and I were heading back to Florence to catch a train to Rome. Maria was heading off to Morocco I think. But before we left I managed to take a little bit of Castello di Ama back with me. A liter of the olio nuovo, some exquisite candles that Lorenza has developed and what may turn out to be my new signature fragrance: Iris Mater.
But don’t worry, I got something for you too. The recipe for the Walnut Tart. Which, when in the oven may actually smell as good as those candles. And may, for just a minute, make you think you’re having lunch in the hills of Chianti.
- For the Crust:
- 500 / 2 cups grams flour
- 250 grams / 2 cups sugar
- 250 grams / 1 cup softened butter
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- For the filling:
- 150 gr. / 5 ounces shelled walnuts
- 200 gr./ 1.75 cups sugar
- 2 whole eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- 250 gr. heavy cream
- 250 gr. whole milk.
- Put the sugar and the walnuts into a food processor and chop together. Do not chop too finely. You want there to be chunks of walnut. Kind of like very small pebbles.
- With a whisk, mix together the eggs, milk, and cream. Then add the sugar and nut mixture.
- To make the crust:
- Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar together in a bowl. Make a well in the bottom of the bowl, and add the butter, cut up into chunks, as well as the eggs. Using your fingers, mix the butter with the eggs. Then slowly pull in the flour until until it is all mixed. Don’t over mix. Divide the dough in half, and make into flattened balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let chill for 20 minutes to half hour.
- Line a tart pan with a removable bottom with parchment paper on the bottom.
- Preheat oven to 150c/ 300F
- Roll out the dough, and line the tart pan. If the dough breaks, just pinch it back together.
- Pour the cream mixture on top of the crust and place in oven.
- Bake for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.
- Serve with freshly made zabaione.
I was a guest of Castello di Ama during my day here.
Castello di Ama
53013 Gaiole in Chianti
(it’s really hard to find, so visit the web site for GPS coordinates and more detailed instructions)
For a visit to the Art Collection and Vineyard and Wine Tasting: +39.0577.746.069
Il Ristoro: +39.0577.746.191
The Suites can be booked here.