I’ve been asked if there are some books that you might want to read before heading to Tuscany, and Montalcino in particular, to give you a leg up on the clueless hordes who pass through and have no idea of the rich cultural bonds that distinguish Tuscany from the rest of the country. While food and wine is the fun part, to get a complete appreciation for the Rosso and Brunello wine production and the recipes that were born in these hills, some understanding of the historical context is essential. But it doesn’t have to be academic! Frances Mayes, in her iconic book, Under The Tuscan Sun (2003 movie staring Diane Lane) gives a poignant and humorous glance at the quirks of Tuscan life in and around the village of Cortona (near Arezzo), and is a great read. While the movie was lighter fare, the book gives a much more down to earth look at the Tuscan’s connection to the soil, their superstitions and foibles, all played out against a backdrop of, you guessed it, eating and drinking. In a less serious take on Americans’ misguided and often embarrassing understanding of how Tuscany works, Dario Castagno has written a pretty hysterical middle-brow book called, Too Much Tuscan Sun, in which he details the escapades of a Chianti tour guide. It’s not at all a send-up of Mayes’ book; he rather coattails on her title’s recognition among Tuscany aficionados. Dario is a full-on character in his own right and I hope we’ll get a chance to meet him while we are there. For a specific tale of a non-Italian’s life in Montalcino, read Isabel Dusi’s, Vanilla Beans and Brodo. Isabel and her husband moved to Montalcino from Australia not long before I did and still live there writing and doing tours. Isabel has written another book, Bel Vino: A Year Of Sundrenched Pleasure Among The Vines Of Tuscany. (Yawn.) While there is a lot of good detail about Montalcino’s history and current life among the residents, I found the first book a little hard to get into, and the second book utterly dull. She takes herself way too seriously. Sorry Isabel!! But you can start with a brief on-line look at Montalcino’s history by Googling “History of Montalcino”. From there, I would tackle Frances Mayes’ book, then Dario’s, and finally, Isabel’s Vanilla Beans and Brodo. And if you suffer from chronic insomnia, I can highly recommend Isabel’s second book. Thus armed, you will probably enjoy your stay in Montalcino a hundred times more that the six-day, five-town tour of Italy that most Americans find “…so much ‘fun’ but it’s all a blur….” We’ll be distributing more info later, but if you can get started now, I promise you little light bulbs will start flickering in your head almost from the moment we cross the border from Lazio to Tuscany on our way from the airport.