For another two hours, we thrill over hybrid Super Tuscan wines at Coquinarius wine bar, squeal over freshly baked pastries at Forno bakery, and chill over creamy gelato at Perche No!, a name that sums up our tasting ethos: Why Not!
At Coquinarius, a cozy alcove just steps from Florence’s Duomo cathedral, we settle in for our own religious experience. The tasting begins on a sophisticated note, with Bianca, a crisp, clean white wine that the owners of Coquinarius make from Vermentino and Viognier grapes. We gradually progress to darker, heavier wines. And as we sip a bold Chianti Reserve, Mazzaglia saturates us with information about wine-making and grapes, like the Sangiovese and Trebbiano varieties that make up Chianti.
We end our lesson in a flirtier fashion than we began it, toasting with Lambrusco Cantina Della Volta di Christian Bellei 2009, an exotic sparkling red. After this baptism-by-vino, my companion and I decide that we’re nearly fully fledged Florentines, but luckily, we still have more to eat and learn.
Feeling slightly buzzed, we reintroduce food to our systems with fresh pastries from artisan baker Forno. At this family cafe, around the corner from the Basilica di San Lorenzo, a woman in a paper hat serves up magical deep-fried dough balls. The two-bite snack looks like a beignet without sugar but tastes like a summer carnival, with a puffed pillow surrounding a red garden tomato and a sliver of fresh mozzarella cheese. I gobble my ball while standing inside the narrow bakery and suddenly find myself in a vortex of cheek kisses between Mazzaglia and the bakers.
As we move on, each place brings us closer to Tuscan nirvana, but in my mind, one sacrament remains: gelato.
And purity prevails at Perche No!, a gelateria a block from the Piazza della Repubblica that has been whipping up fresh batches of cream and sugar since 1939. Mazzaglia warns us that shops all over the city make mass-produced gelato using artificial powders and emulsifiers, not like the real fruit and dairy that goes into the creations at Perche No! Inside the small, unassuming gelateria, I delight in a medley of decadent flavors, including rose, pistachio, honey and sesame, and cream and black cherries. It takes all the self-control I can muster not to down each silky scoop in its entirety, but I remind myself that the name of the tour is Taste Florence, not Devour Florence.
Sitting at a table outside Vestri, a chocolate maker a short walk from the Duomo that’s known for growing its own cocoa, I silently thank myself for having saved some room as Mazzaglia presents us with the crowning masterpiece of the day: a flight of handmade pralines. Flavor combinations of chocolate and chili and coffee and hazelnut send our endorphins soaring, but nothing could prepare us for the splendor of the ganache infused with Earl Grey tea.
Chewing and nodding in unspoken approval, we find there’s only one appropriate response — the yummy food boogie.