This article was first published on CIBUS / October 2011.
When my sister-in-law started discussing her wedding plans with me I egoistically exclaimed – why don’t you get married in an Italian countryside venue? As the words marched out of my mouth I was already hallucinating about the scrumptious Italian-style food and the glorious wine. Little did I know that she will take my word for it!
The drive up to the Castello di Meleto in the Chianti region of Tuscany is a snakes and ladders game. The twirling roads with a perimeter of juniper and tall green cypress trees are not for the nauseous ones. Yet, the surrounding landscape of silver green olive trees and Chianti Classico grapevines compensate for the cumbersome drive.
When you reach the summit, a scrambled path takes you right to the entrance of the 13th Century castle. The castle, with its cylindrical tower and surrounding gardens, magically transports you to a fairy-tale world. The property owned for a long time by the Ricasoli family, who might have historical roots in Malta, boasts of numerous suites, bedrooms and apartments which have retained the traditional wooden beams and the canopy beds. An 18th century theatre, a secret passage and the wine cellars make Castello di Meleto a mystic and romantic venue.
We were welcomed at the castle with glasses of bubbly Prosecco, a number of mosquito bites and my sister-in-law with her future husband. Stephanie introduced us to the rest of the wedding fleet. There were quite a number of humble Japanese guests, two Scottish siblings, a gentleman from Spain and his wife from Kazakhstan, a couple from San Marino, the best man from Czech Republic with his wifre from Brazil, the Brazilian maid of honour and her Swedish boyfriend, two or three Italian citizens and also five Maltese couples. To put you into the picture I have to explain that Stephanie, a Maltese national, and Orlando, from Bolivia, met and lived for a long time in Japan, and then recently they moved to Sweden. Along the way they gathered various friends and so the wedding became a sort of mini-United Nations get together.
Our first group dinner in the castle helped us break the ice and after plentiful Chianti Classico wine it was like we have known each other for ages. Stephanie kept us entertained for the two days before the wedding with a number of organised events. In fact we indulged in a wine and chocolate tasting session at the castle, a Tuscan meat feast at Dario Cecchini, a reputable butcher in Panzano and some sightseeing in nearby cute medieval villages like Radda in Chianti.
The morning of the wedding was splendidly warm and guests spent the morning lazing around the castle area till it was time to celebrate. Later in the afternoon the bride and groom were ready to tie the knot. Orlando with tousled hair and an elegant 3-piece silvery suit took his place near the celebrant, excitedly waiting for his radiant wife-to-be. Stephanie had a long way to walk from the castle to the aisle yet this did not help her to unwind and she appeared overwhelmed with emotions as she took her seat near the tender Orlando. As the ceremony proceeded in the garden overlooking the still grapevine valley, the sun kissed herbs emanated perfumed scents of sage, bay leaves and rosemary. The couple exchanged their vows visibly moved and the super romantic, fairy-tale atmosphere helped to bring tears to the eyes of many guests.
After the ceremony, we walked to the terraced garden which holds a formidable view of the Chianti hills. From our position you could easily study the geometry of the vineyards and breathe the odour of the woods. The newly-weds kicked off the aperitif and a heavenly kingdom of food it was! First sparkling wines and fresh fruit juices were served to moisten our throats and then a selection of culinary Tuscan treasures was appetizingly plated on a colourful table. There were around eight types of pecorino cheese, fresh ricotta, mozzarella di bufala, jams, honey and chutneys accompanied by a variety of bread and a selection of cured meats. Differently dressed bruschettas were served and a particular stand was preparing the fritture of mozzarella balls, onion rings, sage leaves, zucchini flowers and aubergine fingers which were battered and fried at the moment and served in cones made of absorbent straw paper. All this finger-licking food made me euphoric!
Soon it was dinner time. The dining room was fascinating: chairs and tables were dressed in silky cream linen, silver cutlery was set and peach roses perfumed the air. Flowing wine accompanied our dinner: a soothing white Muller Thurgau and a well-bodied Chianti Classico produced at the Castello di Meleto. We started off with a creamy saffron risotto with courgette flowers, then fresh nettle ravioli with a porcini sauce. A liquid lemon sorbet was served to neutralise our taste buds. Then the main course followed: tender veal stuffed with artichoke hearts served with an elegant and mushy pommes duchesse and garnished with a tomato au gratin flavoured with wild fennel and herbs. The wedding cake deviated from the traditional almond cake – it was a crisp, creamy diplomatica suitably decorated for the occasion with fresh roses and blue ribbon. This was not the end of it all.
Some with slightly bulging, others with obviously protruding, bellies, we made our way to the dancing room only to find more food which was for the time being ignored. But after two hours of musical movements, a couple of mojitos and an extra dose of Amaro Lucano then you definitely need to bite into a piece of cherry clafoutis or a white fig tart. And just before we went to bed a caffè to close a traditional Italian wedding in the right way!