Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A meal at Podere Terreno in the Chianti

“The best compliment I ever got,” said Roberto Melosi, passing around the homemade lasagne and Chianina steaks from his seat at the head of the communal dinner table. “Was when I asked some American guests whether it was a bother to keep driving back and forth to Florence every day.”

He paused to top off the glasses around him with more of his farm’s peppery but light Chianti Classico

“The Americans said ‘No, because when we drive back at the end of the day, it’s not like we’re taking an hour to reach our hotel. It’s like we’re driving home.’” Roberto chuckled. “And then they asked if they could stay two weeks next year.”

An elderly German gentleman, sitting at the other end of the table near Roberto’s Paris-born wife, Marie-Sylvie Haniez, nodded gravely. He had been returning to the agriturismo Podere Terreno every summer for twenty years and was in the midst of a record-setting stay: 35 days straight.

Across from him was a quartet of Italian restaurateurs from the Riviera town of Camogli, spending their three days off at Podere Terreno to sample Sylvie and Roberto’s legendary three-hour meals.

As the conversation shifted easily between languages, a woman from Milan announced that she comes every year because the agriturismo’s organically grown Chianti is the only red wine that doesn’t give her headaches.

Roberto and Sylvie’s adult son Pier Francesco smiled at that—since giving up his dirt bike–racing career to study agriculture and oenology at the University of Florence, he’s been in charge of making the wine.

His running the farm freed up Sylvie to cook the meals, and Roberto—who left a glitzier hotel career at London’s Savoy for the simple pleasure of daily life back home—to tend to the seven guest rooms in this restored sixteenth-century farmhouse.

Each room is a country-comfy hodgepodge of painted metal bedsteads and carved wood vanities set on worn terracotta floors, and each is named for a local Chianti grape—Malvasia, Trebbiano, Vernaccia, and Ciliegiolo are all on the side of the house that gets the best views over the surrounding valleys strung with vines.

In summer, you get the same view at dinner from that long table on the patio. In cooler weather, dinner moves into the common room under thick wood beams dangling copper pots, the stone walls hung with oil paintings, ceramics, and sun icons collected from around the world by Sylvie.

The seven-foot-wide fireplace against the far wall is surrounded by squashy armchairs and a sofa that Sale-e-Pepe (“Salt-and-pepper”), the miniature schnauzer they rescued from the side of the road, is more than happy to share with guests.

Even after 23 years, Roberto and Sylvie aren’t resting on their laurels. Last year they inaugurated a tiny spa with a Jacuzzi and a table for massages upon request, and a wine tasting room for guests in the new cantina.

“There’s another room above the cantina,” said Sylvie. “It’s really for when my parents visit from Provence, but we rent it out anyway.” She smiled.

“We love having as many people as we can over for dinner.”

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