...wash down your dinner with some nobile
After the Palio in Siena and the Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo, Bravìo delle Botti in Montepulciano (Siena) is one of the most popular neighbourhood events in Tuscany.
After all, the full range of ingredients is on hand so as to be able to call it a folk event boasting international appeal: the genuine yet loyal rivalry between the eight factions, the steep ups and downs of Politian’s town, fine wine, stunning scenery overlooking the Val d'Orcia and a breath-taking setting with flag bearers and a historical procession.
The event will take place on the last Sunday in August (this year it falls on the 26th), when the original challenge will be held between the neighbourhoods of Montepulciano, which compete for a painted cloth — the "Bravìo" itself.
The competitors roll casks weighing 80 kg along an uphill course covering approximately 1,800 metres.
The casks are manoeuvred by two athletes, known as "spingitori" [pushers], along the course, which weaves its way around the streets of the town centre before reaching the sacristy of the cathedral in Piazza Grande, where some US producers wanted to shoot some scenes of the cult movie, "Twilight", a few years ago.
Although the event is tied to the medieval past dating back to 1373 — the word "bravìo" that refers the prize awarded to the winning neighbourhood is a cloth bearing the icon of the patron saint John the Baptist - the tradition was rekindled in 1974 after a long parenthesis.
With the passing of the years the rivalry between Cagnano, Collazzi, Coste, Gracciano, Poggiolo, San Donato, Talosa and Voltaia has been kept alive and the town in Val d'Orcia still fills up with tens of thousands of visitors and onlookers as the contest draws near, trials included.
Here's the programme: at 9 am in Piazza Grande the starting order is decided by drawing lots, followed by the fire branding, flag display and the offering of votive candles to St. John.
At 3 pm the historical procession gets under way with more than 300 players.
At 7 pm, upon the signal given by the tolling of the Campanone del Comune [the town's hall bell], the casks start to roll over the stones, beginning from Colonna del Marzocco.
A people's festival, both ancient and modern, a credit to the heads of the individual neighbourhoods and their magistrate of course, but also to the town administration and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Consortium, which has run the food and wine contest "A tavola con il Nobile", the brainchild of Bruno Gambacorta, alongside Bravìo delle Botti for the last ten years.
It is a culinary challenge between the neighbourhoods, where the dishes voted by the panel during the day — from pici pasta to roast meats, with variations on a theme stemming from the imagination of the expert neighbourhood housewives — are then served up as dinner to tourists, who have the opportunity to taste traditional and typical dishes.
The recipes that are used at the contest are tested all year round so that they are at their most convincing at the August event.
Given that the goal is to present the local area, enhance the quality of typical local products, making the most of the wine's properties, all of which by reworking local recipes at the contest at the end of August — the pasta dishes are tasted on the Saturday and the meat courses on the Sunday — combinations with Nobile wine have to be taken into consideration.