We have traveled to Tuscany more than once. The region is in great demand and loved by wine tourists. It gained popularity thanks to its extraordinary landscapes, historically significant towns and villages and, of course, the most famous Italian wines – Chianti and Brunello. A must-see for every casual traveler in Tuscany is a wine tasting. They are offered at every step: in countless shops (enoteca) selling wine; in travel agencies organizing excursions to wine production; in hotels advertising their manufacturing neighbors.
The demand was so great that manufacturers of all categories reacted very quickly and began to develop the topic of tastings and visits to their farms by foreign tourists on a commercial level, offering different tasting packages, concluding agreements with travel agencies, hiring special staff responsible for meeting guests. They got into this rhythm so that the soul disappeared, the energy exchange disappeared.
Therefore, for me, preparation for a tour to Tuscany is always the most intense, with a special attitude. I choose and show my group farms that an ordinary tourist cannot just come to. On the farms, I look for a meeting with the owner himself, from whom you always learn something new. Our tour includes top wineries, outstanding personalities, little-known territories, aged wines …
And the trip in the fall of 2014 was not only no exception, but also turned out to be extremely bright. On the way from Rome to Tuscany, we planned to visit the Orvieto area and the Palazzone manufacturer. We were greeted by Giovanni Dubini, owner and oenologist. His father bought a dilapidated estate of a noble family built in 1299 in the 60s. It took almost 30 years to reconstruct it, step by step. It is now a premium hotel of eight rooms, with an excellent restaurant run by a second brother. I would like to note that my Moscow participants were very surprised at first that in the middle of the “forests and fields” there could be such a service and such a cuisine. Our photographer Semyon Kuzmin, who has something to compare with, also highly appreciated the serving of the dishes. The estate offers a stunning panorama of the city of Orvieto.
Many associate Orvietto wine with mainstream supermarket wine. And only a few small producers create, despite the general reputation of the region, deep mineral wines with great potential. We were amazed at the freshness of Palazzone’s 1993 Terre Vineate wine.
The next day was devoted to a thorough exploration of the Chianti Classico area. After all, each village here has its own climatic characteristics. We have paid great attention to the farms located in Castelnuovo Berardenga. This is the southern border of Chianti Classico near Siena. The climate already has a Mediterranean influence, Sangiovese reaches full maturity, so for many the percentage of this grape in wine rises to 90 or even 100 percent.
First we arrived at the Le Boncie farm. It is located directly opposite the famous San Felice wine estate. And his mistress, Giovanna Morganti, a woman with an unusually kind radiant smile, soft, dressed in simple work clothes, slowly led us to the vineyard, singing something very softly.
Giovanna is an oenologist and the daughter of an oenologist who has worked in San Felice all his life. For his daughter, he earned a small vineyard, only 5 hectares, where Giovanna cultivates vines with extraordinary love using ancient methods. Its alberello molding vines require almost three times more work in the vineyard than standard trellis molding.
Fermentation starts spontaneously and takes place in open wooden vats, the temperature is not controlled. Explaining temperature fluctuations during fermentation, Giovanna draws an analogy with the human body. She makes her pajage herself, by hand, with a special wooden stick.
From the best grapes, Giovanna makes a wine called Le Trame. The label for him was drawn by a close friend of Giovanna.
After lunch in Siena, in the same village of Castelnuovo Berardenga, another great woman was waiting for us – Signora Coralia Pignatelli, a princess of Greek origin. Her estate Castell in Villa on 300 hectares includes 50 hectares of vineyards, as many olive groves, forests for hunting wild animals and for truffle hunting. The princess herself lives in a tower of the 13th century, with a 360-degree view.
They bought the estate with her husband, who was fond of wine, but after his death in 1985, Signora Coralia took the whole process into her own hands. Her wines are aristocratic, elegant, with an inner core, like herself. She is very attentive to each of her guests, notices which particular wine she likes best, and on this basis offers the following sample.
Our next point was the legendary farm Badia a Coltibuono. It is a former abbey founded by Benedictine monks in 1051. After the occupation of the territory of Tuscany by Napoleon, the monks were forced to leave the monastery.
Wine cellar in the former crypt of the abbey
Buildings and land were first sold through a lottery to one of the generals. But soon he was mired in debt and sold the estate in 1846 to the Florentine banker Guido Giuntini, who became the founder of the modern dynasty of winemakers Badia a Coltibuono. The former monastic cells have now been converted into B&B rooms, but retain their austere appearance. We were met by Roberto Stucchi Prinetti, who, together with his sister and brother, now runs the farm. Roberto is an oenologist. He showed us historic cellars and gave us an interesting vertical tasting of old Chianti Classico Riserva vintages, including 1970, 1983 and 1990 wines.
The next day, in the morning, we were expected at the Podere le Fornaci family cheese farm. Traditionally in Tuscany, Pecorino Toscano cheese is made from sheep’s milk. But here is a completely different story. Marco is a former lighting director who worked with various theaters and traveled all over the world until he fell in love and started a family. And together with his family, he got goats, only 150 of them, because his friend and partner was very fond of French “chevres”.
Biological production, free-grazing goats, in winter they themselves feed their newborn goats, so in winter there is a break in cheese production. These breaks are a difficult time for Marco’s family budget, who has three children, but a natural product is more important. In addition to distributing to restaurants, Marco goes to the local market every Saturday, where he sells less and exchanges more products with other farmers.
Near his house, we noticed a camper that had grown into the ground. It turned out that this is a guest house, for everyone who wants to move away from their usual life, to carry out a “reset”. You can come for any period (from a week) to work side by side with him at the “table and bed”. It is enough to write an e-mail to the owner and agree on the period. It turns out that there are enough people willing. Mostly Americans – lawyers, attorneys, bank employees.
Having tasted the cheeses and tasted homemade pasta carefully prepared by Marco’s wife, we headed towards Florence, to the northern borders of Chianti Classico, to the Castello di Monsanto farm.
This magnificent estate – 260 hectares, of which 70 hectares of vineyards – belongs to the Bianchi family, which also has a successful textile business in Milan. They were among the first growers to stop using white varieties in their Chianti Classico. And the first in Chianti to write the name of their vineyard Il Poggio on the Riserva label. An indelible impression is made by a hand-dug cellar-tunnel with a length of 250 meters for aging wines in barriques, which connects the new and old wineries. We had an unforgettable experience of comparative tasting of aged Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio vintages of 2009, 1999, 1977.
Winery Castello Di Monsanto
The next day came. We had already warmed up well in the previous days and were ready to meet the outstanding Gianfranco Soldera. The harvest was completed three days before our visit. “Not an easy year … and therefore an interesting one.” While all the previously met winemakers looked extremely worried, Signor Gianfranco, on the contrary, plans to make his best harvest – the harvest of 2014. Teacher, il Padrino (The Godfather)… Such images surfaced among the group after meeting Solder. Yes, at first he sat us down at a desk, to talk … just for 45 minutes; only then we went to look at the garden, vineyard, cellar.
Signor Gianfranco continues to invest heavily in research and development. Now he is passionate about draining excess water from the vineyard. We wished him health, and ourselves – the opportunity to drink his Brunello more often, because you quickly get used to good things.
Last day. And we are on the Tuscan coast, in the Maremma, in the best farm in the region, which the others were equal to – Fattoria le Pupille. Its owner, energetic and beautiful Signora Elisabetta Geppetti, was on a business trip. And then we felt the human factor. The meeting was chaired by a young man who is clearly not keen on wine himself. “Step to the left, step to the right” in our questions put him into a stupor, and he went to “clarify”. Unfortunately, without meeting a person who puts his soul into wine, all samples received an underestimate. “Wine is an associative product, and that’s all,” our close-knit group decided.
A chemist by training and two-time vice-champion of Russia among sommeliers. In 2008 she moved to study Italian winemaking empirically, working in wineries and in the best restaurants. There is not a single name of Italian wine that has not been tasted by her directly in every village of its production. On her wine tours, she invites you to visit directly at the home of the winemakers.