Some subjects invite an eternal recurrence. One such is Tuscany. The other day, I wrote about that glorious region: its mastery of la dolce vita, its almost effortless command of civilisation. Indeed, Tuscan civilisation is a tautology. Since then, I have paid a brief visit. There was only one shadow. How can one find the words to equal the subject matter?
My host was Grahame McGirr, a successful banker who has always been fascinated by wine, which led him to buy a vineyard near Monte-pulciano. I commented on some of his wines after a tasting in London. They were impressive: promise, stimulated by ambition. He pressed me to report on the promise in situ – the things one does for friends. So there I was, on a terrace, glass(es) in hand, above a swimming pool, looking out over the vines, with a vista stretching towards the distant hills. When Grahame bought the property, there were vines, though ill-maintained, and a main building of fine masonry, equally badly maintained. The new owner put that right while also creating an elegant small hotel. As an ensemble – the Casa M – it works. It has every modern convenience, yet there is a sense of antiquity. Men have lived, loved and drunk here for many centuries.
The archaeologists are still arguing about the dates. Previous owners discovered two Etruscan tombs. There were grave goods, though nothing remarkable, which are now in a museum. But wine was produced here long before we Brits had even discovered woad. It seems likely that the Etruscans sought to salute their dead, and placate their Gods, with a libation.
Centuries later, by the end of the Roman Republic, sophisticates understood the importance of terroir and praised old vintages, especially Falernian.