Dining with an Italian Count in Tuscany

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I didn’t know what to expect when I heard I’d be dining with a count – specifically, Count Francesco Mazzei of Fonterutoli, in his family’s hilltop winery estate in Italy’s Chianti Classico region. Would he wear a long cape? Could he turn into a bat and fly around the room on a whim?

I was in Fonterutoli with a group from Insight Vacations, seated at a long dining table in the estate’s restaurant, and sipping wine when the Count was announced. As the man in the patterned beige sports jacket and boots walked into the room I paid little attention, saving myself for the mysterious, caped, bat-morphing count who was surely only footsteps behind.

As it turns out, the man in beige was the count, and though he didn’t turn into a bat he did have 3,000 barrels of wine in his cellar(pictured above), each with his family’s name stamped on them. His family’s olive oil is bottled in a vial designed to look like perfume, and the sprawling Mazzei homestead, overlooking the rolling hills of Tuscany, boasts a library that dates back to the winery’s beginnings – in 1435. “We owned this property before Columbus,” he smiled, before letting us know that the pasta we were eating was speckled with chunks of wild boar hunted on his estate.

“There are some recipes that are old recipes from our family,” he noted. “We keep it simple, authentic.”

The pasta was delicious and the wine sublime, complimented by a pastry dessert, some Chianti, and a lot of laughs among the group. To work off lunch, the Count took us for a tour of his home, including the family library. When the opportunity arose, I asked him why, as someone with such strong roots in the country, he thinks Italy is a popular place for travellers.

“The world has beautiful spots everywhere, but Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world because there’s so much to see … It’s a destination – for me too. I travel five months a year and when I come home it’s a destination.

“Basically, there are three main spots,” he continued, “Rome, Florence, and Venice.” After our lunch at the estate, I’d say Fonterutoli could make a case for number four.

Read about Mike Crisolago’s entire trip to Italy, as he rediscovers the roots of his family’s heritage, in the November issue of ZOOMER magazine.