TUSCANY WINE TOURS: ARE YOU A CHIANTI CONVERT?
When you’re a Malbec aficionado, it will take something very very special to convert you to an alternative variety of red wine, despite the abundant supply of Chianti present on every menu in Tuscany!
I was told no trip to Tuscany could be complete without a wine tour to the region of Chianti so not doing things by halves, we arranged 2 different vineyard tours; one with a small group on our day out in Tuscany and the other a more private trip with just Dr C and I. We were quite lucky to be visiting towards the end of September as this is traditionally the season of harvesting grapes.
Focussing on authentic experiences, we chose our vineyards based on the fact that they were relatively small family run establishments, which gave a personable service explaining the story behind the production of each bottle of wine. What I was really interested in was the process from the time of the pruning to the vendemmia (harvest) through to the fermentation and ageing but also the tour of the cantina (cellar) and sampling their produces.
THE REGION OF CHIANTI
Historically, the wine area of Chianti was pretty small and included the towns of Radda, Castellina and Gaiole in Chianti. These days the region also comprises the areas Castelnuovo Berardenga and Poggibonsi (Siena), San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Greve in Chianti and part of Barberino Val d’Rlsa (Florence). These towns are known as Chianti Classico producing areas and our visit concentrated on this region of Chianti Classico, which lies between the provinces of Florence, Siena and Arezzo. It is an area where the wines are recognised by the Gallo Nero or Black Rooster sign on a pink label. This represents the symbol of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium, which was funded in 1924 to protect and promote this type of wine also to prevent fraud.
Chianti classico wine has to respect strict rules such as its blend and must be 80% Sangiovese red grapes native to this area. The other 20% of grapes can include other grapes such as Canaiolo, Colorino and other international varieties, namely Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The characteristics of Chianti Classico are a ruby red colour with floral notes with a dry flavour. 30 months of aging are required including 3 months of bottle aging.
The crème de la crème of Sangiovese grapes are used in producing Chianti Classico Riserva. This has a deep ruby red colour and requires a minimum maturation of 24 months again including 3 months of bottle aging.
Now, I’ve armed you with the background, it’s time to hit the vineyards…
POGGIO AI LAGHI (MAIN VINEYARD POGGIO AMORELLI)
This is one of three vineyards owned by the Mazzarini family and is located in the centre of Chianti, a short distance from Castellina. The ground floor of the purpose built property offers the vinification process and bottling, whereas the top floor houses the wine tasting facility and shop. The familiy’s main vineyard, Poggio Amorelli is also worth a visit if you have time and has a traditional farmhouse offering Tuscan food and wine tastings.
As mentioned previously, this was a group wine tour and although a little hurried, we were taken through all the steps involved in the wine production process. There were examples of food pairings with different varieties of the wines produced here as well as sampling some very good quality truffle oil and a 10 year aged balsamic vinegar, which was literally thick-like treacle and worked well with ice-cream and cheese!
Hastened to add we did make a few purchases namely of their 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, which has the most opulent red rich colour and flavour to match (more of a special occasion wine for me but then again I drink wine so infrequently that waiting for a special occasion could be a too longer wait!). We accompanied this with a bottle of 10 year matured Balsamic vinegar and some pretty rich tasting Truffle oil, since Dr. C found out from the Sommelier that it is has aphrodisiac properties as it mimics a male pheromone! I am yet to have it slathered on my spaghetti! But lucky me eh!
It was recommend that all purchases be shipped. In actual fact I am glad that we didn’t bring anything back with us in our cases as can you imagine that super opulent indulgent truffle oil being wasted? Or even that Riserva wine staining my brilliant white smalls pink? No, it doesn’t beat to think about. Delivery took about 7-10 days and everything arrived via FEDEX in one piece, very well packaged.
Località Poggio Amorelli
53011, Castellina in Chianti
Tel +39 0577 741373
All relevant information is available via famigliamazzarini.it
For our second Chianti wine tour and this time it was just Dr C and I spending quite a romantic (yes I said that word!) afternoon in the Tuscan countryside. I have this vision of honeymoons in Tuscany being full of wine, cheese, olives and plenty of truffle oil…leading to lots of rolling around in those never ending lush green-hued hills! I’m sure someone will put me straight on that soon!
We had a private driver and guide, Simon for this trip, who accompanied us for the afternoon and en route to our vineyard we made stops at Montefioralle and Greve, both in Chianti. The drive to our first stop was around 50 minutes and the other locations were 15-20 minutes apart.
This was literally a very short pit-stop but this charming little village high up in the hills, Simon informed us this is a magnet for the paparazzi! Apparently it’s where all the journalists hang out but I have to say I didn’t see one or maybe I just wasn’t looking intently! It’s one of Tuscany’s ancient medieval towns and definitely has all the charm of this region. This is the perfect place on a sunny afternoon to relax and reflect on the busy city life we lead because it literally feels like you have been transported back in time.
GREVE IN CHIANTI
This is the chief market town in the Chianti Classico producing zone and the place where the annual largest Chianti festival is held every September. Piazza Matteotti is the town’s main square, which is surrounded by a Portico, which is almost like a framework for some delightful boutique shops, artisan workshops and eateries. Simon told us a couple of the shops are quite famous, the Antica Macellaria Falorni, is a butchers shop that has occupied that location since 1729 including the Bottega dell’Artigianato, a hand-woven basket shop.
Our final stop was to be the vineyard and I have to say it was quite special that this was a private tour as we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted and having studied microbiology at university it was fascinating learning all about the infection prevention process of wine maturation.
Castello Monterinaldi is located between Panzano and Radda in Chianti on a hill that aerially resembles a tortoise shell, where at the highest point stands a castle dating back to medieval times. The vineyards mascot is a tortoise bearing the slogan ‘slow and steady’, which I assume is what is involved in producing a winner wine.
The vineyard is spread across 50 hectares, mainly comprising the Sangiovese grapes with a few other varieties.
Being a private tour we pretty much spent a couple of hours with the oenologist (I didn’t know there was a special name for someone who has studied the science of wine-making!) named Beatrice. An extremely knowledgeable woman who studied oenology at Pisa University and who has worked in France, New Zealand and Argentina and also once had the view that Malbec is the best red wine!!
Again, we sampled some of the produce and were given a fantastic tour of the surrounding area and cellars looking at the French oak barrels used to mature the wines and then undergoing the bottling process for a year after finally being available to drink. But for the best taste they would need to be consumed within 8-10 years max! I guess you learn something new everyday.
As well as the wine tasting they have on offer here, there is a cookery school in the main house of the property and they also have a beautifully renovated chicken coup, which will shortly be turned into private wine tasting rooms.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Dr C couldn’t leave without placing an order, which was delivered pretty swiftly to us back in the UK.
Radda in Chianti
Tel. 39 0577 733533
Order can be made directly via Monterinaldini,it
Although both the small group tour and the private tour were both very informative and provided a fantastic bucket-list experience, personally I preferred the private tour. Group tours are a little cheaper if you’re currently looking into this but private tours are more personal and you can have a 1 to 1 experience where you can ask all the questions and focus on the areas of the wine processing you’re interested in.
Either way it’s your choice what you go for but when you do find a vineyard you fancy visiting, make sure you book ahead or at least call up to ensure there is sufficient availability as you can imagine there are busy times during the harvesting months.
Now, coming back to that all important question, am I a Chianti convert? Well, the answer to that is a big fat YES!!!!! Now, the question is, are you a Chianti convert???
We booked our tour through Tuscan Safari based in Florence, who currently do not have an active website but you can find other contact details online
I hope you found this post informative if you are planning a visit to Chianti and sampling some delicious wines in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve been wine tasting in Chianti and your experiences.