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Buyer Beware in Montepulciano

My wife and I spent two and a half weeks in Tuscany in October -- and it was amazing! Except for one day in Montepulciano.

We walked from our apartment down the hill to the Temple of San Biagio, which was beautiful. (Try doing the "echo clap" from the very center of the church floor below the dome -- very cool!)

We decided we wanted something light to eat. There was a restaurant across from the church that's recommended in Rick's book (Ristorante la Grotta), but we didn't want a full meal. So we stepped into a small shop, Cantina San Biagio, a couple of doors down.

Stella, the proprietor, was helping a group of guests check out, but she had a huge pile of samples -- olives, prosciutto, salami, walnuts, etc., as well as small wine tastings -- on a table and counter against the wall, and she urged us to try. We did -- and everything was excellent. We didn't want a full lunch, but she sat us just outside the door and started bringing us appetizers and a wonderful glass of Vino Nobile.

It was a lovely time, and we decided to buy some wine and have it shipped home ... it was pricey at 40 euros a bottle, six bottles minimum, but we decided it was worth it. Then, the upsell started ... but it was all part of the Italian experience. So we added olive oil, cheese, olives and chocolate. All quite expensive, but Stella assured us everything was very top quality -- and I was hesitant to back out after she quoted the price because I didn't want to be an "ugly American" and upset a local. I knew I'd overpaid, but I figured it's top quality stuff, and we'll extend our Italian experience once we're home.

(Oh, and the appetizers and one glass of wine? She graciously discounted that 5 euros and "only" charged us 35 euros.)

It took several weeks for the shipments to arrive, but once they did, we quickly realized that all the non-wine items had the cantina's label taped over the original manufacturer's label. When I peeled off the outer labels, I found ordinary brands that could be purchased at a Conad grocery store anywhere in Italy (or at World Market here in the U.S.) -- and for perfectly ordinary prices.

And the wine? We didn't get the same wine we'd been served. She shipped us a lower grade that could be purchased in town for at least 10 euros less per bottle.

Stella's family also owns a local farm restaurant, Fattoria Pulcino, a couple of kilometers away from the cantina ... and the online reviews are decidedly mixed.

The rest of our time in Tuscany was absolutely wonderful. But keep a sharp eye out for Stella in Montepulciano. She’ll utterly charm you right before she wildly overcharges you for the Tuscan wine and foodstuffs you want to ship home.

Posted by
7716 posts

Sorry for your experience. Just have to add, nothing wrong on insisting what you do or don't want. A polite "No thank you" is not being ugly. Probably others will insist you contact your credit card to dispute charges (not likely to go anywhere) or contact the embassy, but chalk it up to a travel experience. You might find their Tripadvisor, Yelp, or other social accounts and leave appropriate reviews, but thanks for the warning.

Posted by
10349 posts

Wow. Thanks for the warning. You went to pains not to be the "ugly American." Meanwhile, she turned out to be the "ugly merchant."

Posted by
466 posts

That's disappointing. I would leave a review in the usual places...google, trip advisor, if you haven't done so already.

Posted by
5119 posts

A report of this on TripAdvisor might be a good idea. It's unfortunate that this happened to you, But it's absolutely possible to politely decline an offer or upsell without being an ugly American. If something is more expensive than you want to spend, or not something you want to buy in the first place, a simple no grazie would have sufficed.

Posted by
34 posts

I can't be 100% certain it was in Montepulciano (I know it was smaller town in Tuscany) but we had a similar experience. It was a little cheese and wine shop (sign said "sandwiches" or something out front) and we decided to stop in for some food. There were samples EVERYWHERE and the woman there encouraged us to try a lot of things, including some very expensive truffle-flavored cheese. We decided to buy a piece and asked her to cut it into slices to make some sandwiches. When we went to check out, the bill for some bread and cheese was almost $200!!!! She had given us MASSIVE amounts of cheese, far more than we asked for, and we felt like we couldn't really decline to buy it at that point because the cheese had already been sliced. I think she could tell we were on the verge of freaking out so threw in a small paperback cookbook "gratis". Years later and that experience still makes me mad.