Opinion: Fear & Loathing in Fiesole

Drinks: Wines
Location: Europe, Italy
Other: Opinion, People

Queing up for passport check at Pisa airport. Digging deep in my pocket I come across this unfamiliar little box. Apparently it is a sixpack of chili flavoured condoms. I ask around my group of rather hungover sommeliers who the hell purchased them, and how on Earth they ended up in my pocket. „I did” Alejandro our Argentinean mate tells me absolutely calmly ”Wanted to buy cigarettes on the way home from the party and this came out of the machine so I bought a couple”. Well that is most obvious, what would one do when he realizes at 4 in the morning, wasted, that the vending machine is not that kind? He tries again. With the same machine.

This is happening on the way back. Back to reality, back to London. Back from the surreal trip we took to the soul asylum of Supertuscan production, at Bibi Graetz`s Fiesole castle. Bibi, the crazy artist invited us over to taste the recent vintage of his iconic rebellious wine, the Soffocone, have a bit of hogroast, and a bit of dancing celebrating the end of the harvest. He kind of likes to have some friends around once the hard work of harvest is done, so he invited about two hundred of us, from all around the world.

He`d always been a rebellious one, with serious tendencies for pissing against the wind. When Tuscany was full of Merlot and Cab Sauv (In fact in some ways T. is still full of these varietals, the rule of the „supertuscan” does not seem to find its end…) he started to work with very old style clones of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo. They called him a madman, so guess what was the name of his first wine? Hell yes, Testamatta means hothead in the local dialect. A couple of years and an awful lot of Parker points later he is a friendly fellow, who does not want to erect his own aristocratic horse-mounted statue. No way. He likes good company, good food, wine, and as it turned out later on, he has a passion for Eastern European jewish Klezmer dances.

The winery is a lot more humble than expected. OK, it is a massive medieval/renaissance castle atop a hill overlooking Florence, but the wine bit seems to be missing or really well-hidden. Normally in Tuscany they would parade you around all the shiny equipment, to show off. Well, not in Bibi`s castle. The barrel ageing room that usually tends to be ever so impressive in other Tuscan wineries, happens to be a shed here, attached to the walls of the renaissance castle.

The tasting on the contrary tends to be super-impressive. The Casamatta range (Vermentino & Sangiovese) is superb in its absolutely non-ornamented 1.0 style simplicity. The experimental whites he produces in absolutely medieval environment in the island of Giglio. And than the heavy artillery starts. Testamatta is pretty much the best that the autochtonous varietals can yield around Florence, bold, full on with the full spectrum of cherries, spice earth and ash. His second wine, Soffocone I have already mentioned in Imbibe as my choice for the cellar. A splendid light and properly transparent (not visibly) interpretation of Sangiovese as it is… As a bonus its name means blowjob in Florentine dialect.

There was proper medieval hogroast on a spitt for dinner. Prolem was, Bibi had placed a 200l stainless steel tank of Soffocone in the middle of the castle yard for everyone`s convenience. He bloody well meant it that evening! We as a group were given an empty Jeroboam, and from than on it was up to us… Let`s put it this way, we took our chance well beyond our capabilities. Later on, our team dominated the dancefloor when it came to hardcore Klezmer music. So here we were: a bunch of crazyass sommeliers all carefully selected by Alliance Wines, lots of pork, a supertuscan wine, and roaring Klezmer music amidst of a Florantine medieval castle. Than it all became rather blurry…

The high-heel sandal took quite a nice ballistic angle and splashed into the river Ebro. Its pair followed. I guess I., our guide/nanny, wasn`t really sure if she had actually meant that we should throw her footwear into the river, but it was too late anyway. She was the one that had started complaining that her shoes were uncomfortable… 4AM seems like a pertfect time for sightseeing in Florence. First of all, this was the only window available in the busy travel diary. On the other hand, being absolutely smashed after a whole night spent partying and heavy drinking everything seems like a fantastic idea.

There is no way that I am in the proximity of the Ponte Vecchio, the statue of David, the Piazzo di Signiria, and I don`t have a look around. So we went. The three of us. Alejandro, because it was cool, I. a lovely rep of the Alliance perhaps to babysit us, and myself, a lifelong fan of the European renaissance. And hell yes, sightseeing in Florance at the break of dawn is actually great for one very important reason. The tourists do not cover up the place. You`ve got your bespoke, personal renaissance city only for yourself and your mates. I barefooted my way back to the hotel out of solidarity.

The hangover was hellish, lasted for days and took an awful lot of Perronis to survive its first hours. But but let`s put it this way, it really was worth it…


About Author

Gergely Barsi Szabó

Gergely Barsi Szabó got his first sommelier job when he arrived in London a few years ago. As he puts it, 'At Le Bouchon Breton they gave me the wine list, pushed me to the floor, and pretty much that was it.' Starting out as a journalist in his native Hungary, Barsi Szabó moved closer and closer to the world of wine. At Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 2005 he had a satori moment, realising that this was an actual industry, and a fun one at that. Ever since then he has worked, on and off, in the trade. He is most interested in what is in the bottle, and even more importantly, in the people involved.

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