CHIANTI HILLS and VALDELSA
Chianti Classico, Vernaccia di S. Gimignano, Chianti Colli Senesi
The Chianti hills, a place of our imagination
Like Chianti Classico is the quintessential wine of Tuscany, the Chianti hills are the more classic among the beautiful landscapes of Tuscany, they are a real icon of the region, not less than David or the Leaning Tower. You can choose to take a tour here for the wines of course - Chianti Classico and Supertuscans - but for its picture perfect, romantic landscapes too, that will surround you all the way from Florence to Siena, along the Greve, the Pesa, and the Arbia valleys. Landscape. The Chianti hills are so fascinating because they just match what you might have imagined: ideal, classic pictures of an old world that we keep in our mind. A place where you can feel at home. Everything, for example, is at the right man size: houses, fields, old roads... you can walk to the town market and be back for lunch, you can cross each valley in a day or less. Without architects and planning, you find a sublime harmony between nature, buildings and cultivations: ancient castles, Renaissance villas, stone farmhouses, which dot the countryside without spoiling it. Everything shows the texture of a crafted, manual work, and seems to in the right place: the woods, the vineyards, the fields, that cypress righ there. All appears like designed by a painter, and a Tuscan one. Wineries. With over 600 estates, Chianti Classico is the biggest wine zone in Italy, but with few new and large properties. The estates that we visit are often family managed cantine, surrounded by woods, fields, and olive trees, as the heritage of when each farmhouse and hamlet was practically sufficient to itself. Some of the best vineyards are high, terraced, at times of steep rocky slopes, showing the hard work that takes to find the best drier and sunnier exposures and the best soils. We pick two or three wineries, more if you wish, tasting each day in a family estate, in a boutique winery, and in one of those noble castles or Renaissance villas where the Chianti tradition was established and still continues today.
•Where we go: Chianti Hilltop towns, San Gimignano and the towers
• The origin of Chianti, towns and wineries • Last Sienese castles
• Medieval Volpaia and Panzano • Chianti Classico best terroirs
• Colle Val d'Elsa, artistic crystal • San Gimignano, the village, the art
• Classico and Supertuscans, tradition vs globalization
Day by Day, the Chianti Hills
Chianti Day 1 the Chianti Storico Day 2 Valdelsa San Gimignano Day 3 Florentine Chianti, Greve, Panzano, Passignano
Chianti Day 1 the Chianti Storico
The Gaiole, Radda, and Castellina area, not far from Siena, is also known as Chianti Storico, because right here, the traditional Sangiovese based blend was called Chianti, like the hills. The area is still quite wild, with more woods than vineyards, small towns, and more or less old castles standing on the hilltops, or guarding the main roads: Montegrossi, Meleto, Barbischio, for example, and Brolio. The last one is where the Chianti blend was finally pinned-down by Baron Ricasoli. We taste at the winery shop a choice of their many wines. This will give a wide perpective of what a Chianti Classico can be, and an idea of what you personally like better.
Like in other tastings, you start with the two years old Chiantis Classico, maybe comparing the traditional blend (see below), or the new international Chiantis, where Merlot and Cab are often present. Then yo try a Riserva, perhaps a Gran Selezione, and an IGT wine - or supertuscans, a funny name that still many keep using.
Second stop can be in Coltibuono, once a secluded abbey, now a well known top winery. Or in Volpaia, an isolated medieval village clustered around a massive, once scary castle. After tasting the landlord wines, we can enjoy lunch at the delightful trattorìa da Carla, sitting at nice table under the trees. Then, we keep going to reach Castellina, we couls visit a famous Etruscan tomb, but we will definitely allow ourselves a gelato or a coffee break, and a short walk in the little town. Last stop Fonterùtoli. A village and its vineyards that were owned by the Marchesi Mazzei, historical wine makers, for 6 centuries or so. We taste their smooth and elegant Chianti Classico, some Supertuscan and, in addition we can also taste wines from vineyards their vineyards in Sicily and on the Maremma coast.
Chianti Day 2 Valdelsa, San Gimignano, the Vernaccia
There are at least 40 nice borghi in Tuscany, Medieval hilltop towns, most of them in beautiful scenic locations, with the belltower and a castle emerging from the old city walls. Still San Gimignano, where we go to taste the white Vernaccia, is likely the more famous, and the more visited one. When you aproach, especially on foot, you get a special impression, since no new town grew around it, you can see all the Medieval walls and gates, intact, like the old pilgrims used to see. And you immediately notice, in particular, a cluster of square, simple, slender stone towers that create the unique San Gimignano skyline. Small as it is, but grown independent on the Francigena, the main route between Rome and the rest of Europe, the town was crowded by merchants and pilgrims. Towers, beautiful red brick homes, two wonderful churches, and their works of art, all witness how the place was rich and popular for quite a while.
The Vernaccia, in its more characteristic local style, is a highly mineral white, clean and dry, with plenty of delicate white flower, yellow apple and almond aromas and flavors. It is a great table wine that pairs well with vegetable, white meat, and even with game like a wild boar stue! As you will see taking the time to try some more traditional recipes.
We are in Valdelsa, where ligth clayey-sandy soils give light and fresh Chianti Colli Senesi - not Classico - and the great Vernaccia, one of the few whites in Tuscany, definitely the more famous one.
We start in Colle Val d’Elsa. Well known for its high quality lead crystal, this city is the source of most of the best Italian wine goblets. If you wish, we stop to see the blown-glass master at work, producing whatever glass, or work of art that they are up to today, or in a crystal craftworkers boutique. We start our tastings in the country west of town, in one of the finer family estates. Next we walk into San Gimignano across the same gate as the travellers coming from Rome, and we walk up the tiny street, packed with boutiques, to the center of town. You can find lunch here, or in the countryside if you prefer a more quiet location.
In San Gimignano we have a short tour, up to the two main squares, and up to the Rocca, the old fort and stronghold, where you can see the countryside at 360°. The best view, almost, since you can decide to walk, step by step, to the top of the city tower to enjoy a breathtaking, unforgettable bird’s eye view of the village, of the Valdelsa and of the Chianti Hills. Some people, prefer to wander around town, exploring the shops, or visiting the two nicer churches, S. Agostino, and the Collegiata with its naves completely coated by impressive medieval frescoes.
In the afternoon, we visit two more wineries. An organic, family size winery where the wines are clean and natural, and an upscale winery, of those supported by a top winemaker, that makes richer wines with a rather international style.
Chianti Day 3 Florentine Chianti, Greve, Panzano, Passignano
In the northern Hills, right near Florence, we drive across the Chianti’s more picturesque views, by the towns of San Donato, Panzano, Greve, and Passignano, we drive up and down the Greve and Pesa valleys, more cultivated than the southern one. They reveal a number of big farmhouses, and beautiful villas. We see, too, the famous terroirs where the first Supertuscans - Tignanello just to mention one - were created by Marchesi Antinori, and the entrance to their new, huge cellar created almost completely underground, a masterpiece of cellars design.
We start by tasting at Montecchio, a former Torrigiani farmhouse and residential villa, where wine is made since when this land was colonized, in 1300 or so. Montecchio has an olive mill too, which we cn see pressing November or December. Of course we taste the olive oil too, and - while visiting their modern, private frantoio - olive mill - we learn all what we can on harvesting, pressing, and all the specs that make Tuscan oil delicate, green, and spicy, a blessing for every table.
The town of Panzano was a castle of the Firidolfi, the illustrious family that ruled the whole thing 1000 years ago, when Chianti was largely still forested and wild. Halfway betwen Florence and Siena, stands in the most scenic position on a saddle, it commanded the Pesa and the Greve valleys and whoever walked by. Today, instead, Panzano commands the top quality terroirs of the two valleys. We will taste, in particular, in a winery of the premier, south facing “golden bowl”. For lunch stop you can choose one of the local invariably good trattorìe, or stop ath the prize winner Cecchini butcher’s shop, and go for a meat only meal, a treat for any serious serious carnivore. A lunch in Tuscany calls for a Tuscan dessert wine: we taste Vinsanto dry, elegant, spicy and aromatic. We taste it in an unique Vinsantaia, an amazing ageing room under a roof, impregnated by the aromatic scents of hundreds of small, sealed barrels, which rest in silence for years, creating an unforgettable atmosphere.
On our way down the Greve Valley, we see in the distance Vignamaggio an idyllic villa of the Gherardini family, which reminds us of Leonardo da Vinci and Monna Lisa who lived here. Greve is the “larger” town in Chianti, a market town for the whole valley. We take some time to explore its particular porticoed, “triangular square”, under the eyes of Giovanni da Verrazzano watching from its pedestal. You can take tim to scan all the souvenir shops, the charcuteries, tasting pork and wild boar salami, the wine shops or, for a change, enjoy a high quality “coffee tasting”. The last wine tasting can be in an enoteca dowtown Greve, or in another estate on the way back to our hotel.