On the Move with Betsy and Greg: The bottle that ignited our passion for wine


Greg and Betsy on the coastline of the Cinque Terra.

By GREG BALL

Back in 2006, Betsy and I planned a trip to Italy for our 20th anniversary. Our first couple of days we spent hiking the coastline of the breathtaking Cinque Terra, but we spent the bulk of that first week soaking up the sights, smells, and tastes of the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany.

This is the region where we now lead our Small Group Tour of Tuscany.

Our home base there was a small apartment at Agriturismo La Crociona just outside the village of Montalcino. Our room was in a centuries old farmhouse on the estate of a winery run by the Nannetti Family.

Before our trip, we had only started to venture down the rabbit hole that is Italian wine.

At the time we really enjoyed wine, but I was always proud to come home from World Market with a case of 12 bottles for under $100!

This was also back before Trader Joe’s came to Texas, and I remember coming home from a couple of ski trips through New Mexico and picking up multiple cases of Charles Shaw, AKA Two Buck Chuck.

In Italy we spent our days by hopping in our little Smart Car, exploring the countryside and visiting hill towns like Pienza, Monticchiello and Montepulciano.

On the terrace with our bottle of La Togata.

One day while roaming the streets of Montalcino I wandered into an enoteca (wine shop) trying to find out more about the local prized wine, Brunello di Montalcino.

I had noticed that in displays on the street, Brunello was being sold for as little as €10 but in the shop I saw bottles for €100 and higher. “What was the difference?” I asked.

The shop owner offered to do a tasting for me.

She pulled out three bottles and three glasses and offered me a small pour of each.

The first was fine…tasted good…but not that much different than some of the Chianti we had been drinking before our trip.

The second was Caparzo, a label we have enjoyed many bottles of since. It was noticeably more aromatic and complex and I would have been content to stop there.

Then she offered me the third wine.

As I lifted the glass, I was overcome with the aromas long before the wine touched my lips. Then I savored the first taste.

Red and black fruits, vanilla, leather, all nicely balanced with a bright acidity and velvety tannins. It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. More complex, more rich, more sensual than the simple wines we had been drinking at home.

My bottle of La Togata cost me €40, much more than I had ever paid for a bottle of wine. If Betsy had been with me, I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with it, but she wasn’t, so I did!

At the shop, the woman told me to open the bottle for a couple hours before we drank it to “let it breathe.”

We had a full day of exploring to do, so we opened it in the morning before we left. During the day we gathered salami, prosciutto, cheese, and marinated mushrooms to enjoy that evening with our special wine.

Our apartment at La Crociona.

When we returned to our apartment we arranged our charcuterie on plates and sat at the table on the porch of our apartment. I poured our first two glasses of La Togata and again was knocked out by the aromas that hit me before the glass made it to my lips.

Every time I picked the glass up for a drink, my nose was filled with a complex array of fruits, spice, and earth. As the evening evolved, so did the wine, and as with every great bottle, the last sip was the best.

In many ways that bottle of wine began our passion for learning about and tasting fine wine.

We have since spent much more on bottles of wine and had some amazing bottles from all over the world. We have studied for hours learning about terroir, grape varieties, aging practices, pruning techniques and more.

We have traveled to and written about wine producing areas all over the world and even picked grapes on an organic winery for two seasons in Italy.

And at least in part, it was all in hopes of repeating the magic of sharing that bottle of Brunello in Montalcino.

Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.

Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

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