Very early one chilly Monday morning in February, I set off to meet Sam, our events manager at Rococo, at Gatwick. After getting through all the formalities trouble free, we realised breakfast was very much called for. Eschewing the Wetherspoons experience, we opted for the new Wagamama concession, which was pretty much empty. While Sam chose the “Traditional English”, I was more adventurous and went native with the kedgeree & poached egg. The rice was extremely sticky with curry sauce mixed in, being a Japanese take on the classic Anglo-Indian breakfast, worth trying once but probably I won’t be tempted a second time…
Full, if not entirely satisfied, we set off for the plane finding ourselves in Roma, with inflight catch up of War and Peace (Chantal via BBC iplayer) and graphic novels (Sam), the time went very quickly.
Pleasantly surprised at how quickly we got through the airport, Sam looked slightly lost with a vague sense of prayer to his tone, saying that he was sure the driver would be just outside… and there he was! Jumping into the car we took in the scenery (otherwise known as slept) our way up Italy into the almost medieval heart of Tuscany, where our castle awaited.
Castello di Potentino lies well off the beaten track, just next to the perched hill town of Seggiano. Seemingly stepping back a few centuries to an imposing stone wall and wrought iron gate we were greeted first by two dogs: Otto, the diminutive but characteristically spritely Jack Russell squeezing under the gate followed by “Minnie” the statuesque Great Dane, Minerva. Our hosts Alexander and Charlotte warmly greeted us in their wake.
As we entered we were given the grand tour of the stunning Castello before being led into the true heart of the home, the kitchen. A lunch of freshly made Tuscan soup with bread, frisée salad, local cheese and of course the house’s own olive oil and a spot of wine for Sam already made the trip worthwhile. I delayed my glass until evening as Charlotte had kindly arranged for me to have an Ayurvedic massage from Nadia, so deeply relaxing it would send me off to sleep.
Full and smiling we were guided to our stunning rooms each with their own character and unique furnishing and, of course, vistas. Feeling suitably replete and inspired, we set about the hard task of pairing up literally a castle of produce. Our first pairing job was to establish which single origin chocolate was to be crumbled into a Wild Boar stew with fresh polenta (63% Dominican Republic if you must know). As is quite right, we followed this palette training warm-up with the wines, though many suggest your chocolate palate is at its most finely tuned at 4am, personally I prefer to eat mine later in the day, preferably after a savoury meal. Sam, armed with a trusty Rococo bag literally choc-full of options, set about the hard task as we were taken through Potentino’s award-winning wines and grappas. From luscious red fruits to olive dry roses we were both struck by the versatility of the vineyard and the knowledge of Alexander and Charlotte. We’ve had worse evenings.
Woken by the sound of wild boar snuffling and the Tuscan sun gently dabbling the hills, we started the next day taking in the castle’s sublime surroundings. Guided (sometimes dragged) by Minnie and Otto, we took in the vineyard, seemingly otherworldly olive groves, and walls of cascading rosemary. It is hard not to feel inspired in what is truly a paradise for painters, writers, musicians, even humble foodies in surroundings little changed over centuries.
A lunch of pasta with bottarga, lemon & garam (a Roman fish sauce) was accompanied by continual chocolate pairing and food geekery. As we started gathering our bits and pieces, a final treat of recently stone pressed wine was smelled, tasted and of course paired before bidding farewell. This wine was my favourite and it’s not for sale, so you really do have to make a trip there to taste it!
We headed back to Rome airport, this time looking out of the window a bit more attentively to admire the perched hill towns. Then a last chance to enjoy Pizza in Rome: it may have been in an airport but it counts (also impressive selection of oil options for an airport canteen!).
An actual dash to the plane followed, as someone who shall remain blonde, male and nameless confusing the departure time added a touch of thrill to our short adventure. We flew back to contemplate and plan what promises to be an amazing collaboration and great weekend. See you all in October, or in London for the pop up restaurant this winter.
Join us at Potentino 6th – 9th October for a weekend of chocolate activities and pairings with a selection of local food and drinks from the castle. Find out more here.