Tuscany is one of the greatest wine regions in the world. Home of chianti, but more importantly, Brunello. The Sangiovese grape has been written about and described in untold ways. But until you taste it, you can never fully appreciate it. Like any wine of quality, when a Brunello opens, it releases everything. Styles range from young and “in your face” with minerality, to aged, with much softer tannins. Brunello has Italy and its character written all over it. One of my favorites by far, I also think it inspires intellectual curiosity like no other wine.
Scientists say smell is the most powerful of our five senses, and is certainly critical to understanding wine. Smell can be too powerful to ignore, or subtle and hard to understand. It’s one of the triggers in our brain’s limbic system, which has a lot to do with the formation of memories, and explains why we salivate when we smell something delicious. And it helps us understand wine.
The wine industry is often thought of as elitist, but one of the things I like best about working in this industry is that I can help dispel that idea, but you can’t talk about wine and not discuss smell because of the way it influences our palate. Wine is absolutely something that should be enjoyed just as we enjoy food. We can all identify the foods we love, and why we love them. The same is just as easy and true for wine.
As we move through Florence, let me share with you a discovery I made some time ago and always wanted to share and write about. Florence is a walled city, and it would be easy to walk by a plain façade without bothering to think about what might be on the other side. Luckily for me, I’m always on the lookout for what’s behind the city’s walls, which is how I found the Azienda Officina farmaceutica S.M. Novella. It’s the oldest pharmacy in the world, situated inside an old church.
For centuries it was a place to develop medicines, but also scents: perfumes and colognes to enhance the smell of almost anything. More like a museum than a shop, they still make and sell perfumes, soaps, candles, and cosmetics. (Think about how important scent would have been to humans who for centuries did not believe bathing was healthy.)
But scents weren’t just used to make humans and rooms smell better, they were also used to enhance the smell of wine. That practice was discontinued long ago, but it’s yet more proof of how important smell is. You can’t say you love a type of food or wine without smell being a factor. Even the subtlest smells can have a big impact.
To me, this is a form of romance – the subtle intimacies in the delicate smells of food and wines. When you’re in Florence, the smells of food and leather are a constant on the street. The smell of incense in a church won’t let you forget. All profound, and all remembered.
I remember when my children were young and I was introducing them to new foods, the expression on their faces whenever they smelled something that was pleasing. And as they grew up and wanted to taste a wine, I would always let them, but I would make it more of an experience by requiring them to identify a primary smell first. “Just find one fruit,” I would say. It was a teaching moment but also a fun experience for all of us.
I hope my story has helped you experience a little of the joys of Tuscany in the wintertime, but let’s not forget the joy other seasons present as well. No book nor story can capture the true beauty and feel of the vineyard in full bloom. But I think there’s something new to see, do and experience every day of the year, something miraculous and beautiful that you hadn’t noticed the day before.
It’s sharing this story that helps me share the love – of Italy, of Florence, for food, for wine. And to be honest, I did not discover most of this on my own. It was given to me. And it was given out of love as well.
There will only be one Florence in this lifetime. Don’t just visit Tuscany – savor it like a bottle of wine, a moment in time. To be shared, one sip or one story or one love at a time.