A few years ago I had the most incredible experience of dining in the cloister of the Convent of San Marco, near the Last Supper. A delicious dinner and wines, and a most unique location. Many of you were excited at the prospect and I recall that a few readers reserved for the last remaining events, which were sadly never repeated. Then, last year, I posted a photo on Instagram of a gorgeous table topped with romantic lights set in a Chianti vineyard, and many of you said you’d love to do that. The location was Querceto di Castellina, and the good news is that this has become a much-anticipated annual event organized by the winery’s young and friendly owners. I attended last year and am looking forward to doing it again in 2019. I remember that vineyard dinner it as if it was yesterday – an experience I truly recommend to everyone, at least once in a lifetime.
Our night began with some rosé for an aperitivo while watching the sun go down, snapping pictures in our fancy outfits. It gets cold fast in this part of Chianti, so the wise amongst us wore closed shoes and carried sweaters. The day hadn’t been terribly promising, but the weather that night was spectacular. Querceto has a great view from the terrace of their main house – where they regularly hold wine and cheese tastings and Italian cooking classes with their authentic “Italian mom” – so we mingled there with other guests, a mix of Italians and people from around the world.
Querceto is a family-run organic winery and agriturismo near Castellina in Chianti, in the Chianti Classico wine-producing zone of Tuscany. Super-Tuscan Jacopo Di Battista and his American wife Mary Shea head up the game here – a young and energetic couple with a true love for this territory. There are places that immediately give you a positive feeling, and this is one of them. For the full live-in experience, they offer charming Tuscan-style apartments and suites in the hamlet that makes up this winery – sleeping up to 40 at a time, it’s great for an intimate destination wedding and I can imagine how great it would be to take over this place with a bunch of friends.
And the wine, too, is really good, in my opinion. L’Aura, the Chianti Classico annata, is just as it should be, an elegant red-fruit wine that is good now and will be even better in five years. There’s a Gran Selezione, the top of the CC denomination, and two IGT Toscanas, all with new labels presented last year for the company’s 20th birthday. I shouldn’t say it, but my favourite is actually the white Livia, a blend of two French grapes, Viognier (perhaps my favourite grape) & Roussanne, aged for 8 months in French oak. Aged whites aren’t so common in Tuscany, though the trend is catching on, so I consider this a sign of successful experimentation.
Back to our dinner. As the sky began to darken and the “blue hour” began, we walked a short way up to a small, walled vineyard where a long table has been laid under twinkling fairy-lights – a real dream come true! I’ve been to a lot of Italian weddings, and few top this décor. Thus begins the meal with an amuse-bouche before proceeding to the primo and secondo.
Dinner is prepared by the brilliant Maria Probst of La Tenda Rossa, a one-Michelin-star restaurant in Cerbaia, about half an hour from Florence. The Michelin Guide describes their restaurant as having “An excellent selection of ingredients, all perfectly cooked and beautifully presented in either classic or modern style – the cuisine here has a strong contemporary influence with only a few dishes betraying traditional roots. The wine selection is also excellent, with a pleasing number of wines available by the glass.” The love for wine turned into a friendship with Mary and Jacopo, and thus were born their wine dinners!
There were plenty of photo ops as the vineyard dinner lingered on, finishing up with dessert back on the terrace, and then the drive home, late at night. An evening to remember… and to repeat!
2019 Vineyard Dinner dates and menu
This summer, Querceto di Castellina’s event will take place June 15&29, and July 13&27. The aperitivo starts at 7:30pm. Price and reservation info in the graphic below.
Here is the 2019 menu:
- Antipasti: Pumpkin blossom flan, crostino with liver paté, bread and anchovies (my favourite!!), peppery meatballs
- Primo: Mezze Maniche pasta with tomato sauce, fresh basil, and florentinecod
- Secondo: grilled duck breast with fennel and orange
- Dolce: Magnum di Chianti Classico
- Accompanied by four of the winemaker’s wines