Exploring a Former Medici Hunting Reserve in the Tuscan Hills
In the hills of Tuscany, protected by reserve status and hidden by ancient trees, deer roam wild and a spring -- with water so fresh it was the preferred source by the famous Medici family -- flows for 15 years before emerging to become the perfectly balanced liquid you drink when you open a bottle of Acqua Panna.
The ancient Villa Panna, on the same property and once a hunting reserve for the Medici family, then owned by Marquis Torrigiani, with its chapel commissioned by Grand Duke Francis I in 1572, is just one of many villas hiding away in the hills of Tuscany with a fascinating history.
Andreas Larsson, Best Sommelier in the World 2007, walked me through a tasting of water and wine in the Villa's main dining room after which Carlos Cracco taught me how to make true Italian risotto in the kitchen. I rode in an antique jeep, far into the 1,300 hectare reserve and looked at the source which produces Acqua Panna water and somewhere in there I determined that Villa Panna would not be the last Tuscan villa I visit.
Now, I'm fascinated by the history of the homes and the people who make Tuscany the storied region that it is. A region not just notable for its wine but for its water as well.
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Tasting Water and Wine
Until my latest trip to Italy, I really knew next to nothing about the nuances of tasting wine or how best to pair wine with water.
All that changed when I had the immense pleasure of meeting with Andreas Larsson (who shares my mother's Swedish heritage and her last name), the Best Sommelier in the World 2007.
Andreas travels the world educating people about the very nuances I was so unfamiliar with. And he's not the only one. In the United States, Martin Riese (water sommelier and general manager at Ray's and Stark Bar) is doing the same while also touting a 42-page menu of fine waters which you can read about at http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/lacmas-rays-stark-bar-launches-604274.
S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna have a Water Codex which you can learn more about here http://www.sanpellegrino.com/int/en/main/taste/pairing/water_tasting/default.aspx and here http://www.acquapanna.com/us/en/main/fine_dining/perfect_pairing/default.aspx. You can also learn more about the differences between still and sparkling water by visiting http://www.finedininglovers.com/blog/food-drinks/water-tasting-tips-sparkling-still/.
Andreas has a listing of appearances on his site and when he's not traveling he can be found in Sweden at his restaurant: PM & Vänner.
After my experience, I don't understand the price that some bottled water is commanding these days but I do taste the difference between waters. An unexpected delight during my trip to Tuscany.