Trattoria Il Leccio – Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino), Tuscany
Most months of the year, Montalcino is a beautiful place to visit. January is not one of those months. Limited daylight hours, frigid winds and icy roads make outside excursions anything but pleasurable. The countryside colors are muted and grey. The number of hotels and restaurants that remain open for business can be counted on one hand. Yet, Montalcino-in-the-dead-of-winter is an annual destination for people like me who seek the newest vintages of Brunello di Montalcino shortly after their January 1st release date. We learn to make due with the limited services available this time of year.
For this reason, I have grown extremely attached to the three restaurants that remain open for business and that I regularly frequent when in Montalcino in January. Trattoria Il Leccio is one of these. It is located 20-minutes by car outside Montalcino in a tiny hamlet called Sant’Angelo in Colle in the Southern part of the wine appellation. The winery of Il Poggione is very close and the properties of Castello Banfi, Col d’Orcia and Argiano are in the neighborhood.
The restaurant exudes that cozy, rustic charm that Tuscany does so well in the wintertime. Collections of empty wine bottles sporting labels from iconic Brunello estates and vintages line the walls. A few odd pieces of artwork add to the almost-cluttered feel of the interior décor. The inside houses a dozen tables or so that are carefully fitted to allow for privacy and muted conversations. As you approach Trattoria Il Leccio from the outside, your appetite is quickly whetted by the delicious smells of grilling meat and burning firewood that linger heavy in the chilly evening air.
On this trip to Il Leccio, I had invited three guests to join me. One brought a bottle of 1996 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia and another brought two bottles from Castello Banfi. These were the 2006 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura and the 2006 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio all’Oro. We opened all three bottles at the beginning of our meal and drank from them throughout our meal in no particular order.
Soon after getting comfortable at our table, we were served a plate of piping hot pasta fritta with a side platter of prosciutto toscano. Pasta fritta is deep-fried bread dough that is made throughout Tuscany (and Italy) and served as an appetizer. The simple recipe sees fine 00 flour mixed with beer yeast, salt, water and the proverbial “elbow grease” required to knead the dough and achieve its loose consistency. Once fried, these delicious dough fritters become hollow on the inside and make perfect little pockets for stuffing slices of Tuscan prosciutto inside. Once in contact with the steaming pasta fritta, the paper-thin prosciutto fat melts away.
Our appetizer course continued with a sformato di carciofi con crema (a little mold made with artichoke purée, cheese and cream) and tortino di melanzane con la vellutata di pomodoro e basilico (medallions of fried eggplant topped with fresh tomato sauce and basil). We were also treated with a plate of fried zucchini (zucchini fritti) that were soft and tender on the inside.
Our first course consisted with a large platter of ravioli con ricotta e spinaci al burro e salvia, or ravioli stuffed with ricotta and chopped spinach served simply with melted butter and sage leafs. We also asked for a portion of spaghettini fatti in casa con pancetta, pomodorini e pecorino, or spaghetti with bacon, cherry tomatoes and pecorino, to share.
The cornerstone of any winter meal in Tuscany is the beloved bistecca alla fiorentina di Chianina IGP and Trattoria Il Leccio serves one of the best in Montalcino.
The cornerstone of any winter meal in Tuscany is the beloved bistecca alla fiorentina di Chianina IGP and Trattoria Il Leccio serves one of the best in Montalcino. Our cut of the classic T-Bone steak weighed in at 1.7 kilos and was more than enough to serve a hungry foursome. The beef is air-dried and gilled standing on its side so that it does not cook to quickly. It is served with virgin olive oil and course grains of salt. Our delicious side dishes included carciofi fritti (fried artichokes), patate arrosto (potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary) and spinaci saltati in padella (pan fried spinach).
The two Castello Banfi wines from the 2006 vintage showed magnificently on this evening. Generally speaking, the 2006 Brunellos have entered a beautiful phase in their drinking window in which dark fruit nuances are still plentiful and evolved notes of licorice and balsam herb add just the right level of intrigue and complexity. I was particularly partial to the excellent Castello Banfi 2006 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura. This was not the Riserva bottling, but the wine showed silky grace and polished aromas of both fruit and spice that become an ongoing motif. The wine is humming with energy and inner balance. The Castello Banfi 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio all’Oro shares similar attributes thanks to the growing conditions in this classic vintage. This aged Sangiovese is profound and mouth filling with the slightest added touch of oak spice and smoke that comes from the extra aging and its Riserva status. Both wines are pragmatic as opposed to mystical and they faithfully reflect the best of this Southern Tuscan denomination. My informal scores are high, but they reflect my enthusiasm for the aging trajectory of the 2006 vintage and the seamless integration shown when paired with the savory and succulent flavors of Trattoria Il Leccio.
The more mystical wine of the evening was the Tenuta San Guido 1996 Bolgheri Sassicaia. This wine has never been formally reviewed in Robert Parker Wine Advocate and this is a pity. I look forward to penning a formal review at the next opportunity. Nonetheless, I had only ever tasted this wine once before and was greatly surprised by its performance this evening. The nose shows Cabernet Sauvignon typicity minus any green or less ripened overtones. The bouquet is tightly knit and totally symmetrical with spice and tobacco in supporting roles. The tannins are absolutely smooth and silky at this point, some two decades after the harvest.
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