Wine tasting in Tuscany is not quite the same as in Napa. The province has hundreds of small producers, spread over an area twelve times the size of Napa. Tasting times are seldom posted, and often flexible, distances between wineries great and the roads are long and steep, with hairpin turns. In fact, if you want to drive, you might want to consider three people: one to drive, one to handle the GPS and read maps (since your GPS will probably lose service at a critical time) and another to watch for signs.
Given the difficulties of cruising wineries, we were much more diligent in setting appointments before the trip than we are in the U.S. So, while we certainly stopped for tastes and informal tours, we pre-arranged more formal extended visits at three particularly lovely, particularly historic and for the most part, very nice wine destinations. Some of these, however, go well beyond wine destinations. They are effectively lifestyle destinations, with their own restaurants, and in cases, cooking school and rooms.
Favorite Winery Experiences
Avignonesi (in Valiano), which is discussed in detail in our post on Montepulciano, Montepulciano region, produces a range of wines, from Sauvignon Blanc, through Vino Nobile, Super Tuscans and the sweetest, most honey-like Vino Santo we have ever tasted. The estate’s founders, which have been growing grapes and producing wines at this location since 1377, expanded production to 700,000 bottles until selling the estate to one of their partners. The new owner is moving the entire estate to organic, stripping out white grapes in favor of indigenous reds and doubling down on quality. While the estate is lovely and the tour very interesting, the most fascinating part of the operation, from our view, are the drying and aging processes for the Vin Santo. We, as discussed below, loved a number of the wines we tasted. Our biggest regret: we did not get a chance to eat at the winery’s restaurant (or participate in its cooking classes), with its beautiful view, interesting looking menu and a chef of whom the owners are clearly proud.
Bada a Coltibuono (in Gaiole in Chianti). The mid-sized 250,000 bottle per year winery, built in 15th-century monetary, has been in the Stucchi-Prinetti family since 1846. The winery expanded into food as a result of the current owners’ mother, a cookbook author who hosted a 1960’s-era PBS cooking series based other maiden name "The De Medici Kitchen." She then began a cooking school, which evolved into a restaurant. The complex is now a national historic site, as well as a winery, boutique hotel, restaurant and cooking school. We began our exploration with lunch with one of the owners (see below) where we tasted the 2011 sauvignon blanc/chardonnay blend the 2009 Chianti Classico and the 2008 Riserva (which we particularly enjoyed). From there, a tour of the property, beginning in the ancient cellars, into the chapel (which is still used for community services), the cooking school kitchen and through the monetary proper, with its large rooms, high ceilings and lovingly restored murals. But, while the winery owners are stewards of the historic chapel and modest art, they now have another responsibility. Archeologists digging on their property have recently found the remains of a 2,000+ year old Etruscan tomb with remnants of grapes and wine containers.
Talosa (Montepulciano). The caves, built atop 2,500-year old Etruscan tombs, lace beneath town’s Grand Plaza. The caves, as discussed in our Montepulciano blog, are lovely, the tour very interesting and the wines, especially the 2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Filai Lunghi, very nice.
One of the most memorable of our many impromptu stops was at Castello di Gabbiano, a huge institutional organization that, while producing only 700,000 bottles of estate-grown wines, sells more 2 million. Sampling their their wines in the tasting room was not only a good experience, it also a good preparation for lunch in the winery’s restaurant, where we knew exactly the bottle to order.
Castello di Gabbiano (Mercatale Val di Pesa). A four-turret castle,atop a hill,surrounded by winery, hotel, restaurant and tasting room. On this trip, we just partook of the last two. Although previous expereinces with the winery’s basic Chianti left us a bit skeptical, we tasted three Chianti Classicos and a Super Tuscan (a 2009 Merlot/CabernetSuper Tuscan that needs time). As for the Chianti Classicos, we enjoyed the 2008 Riserva but loved the 2009 single-vineyard Belleza Riserva. so much so that we had a bottle with lunch. The chestnut pappardelle with braised wild boar, rosemary and juniper was the highlight. A second dish, Tuscan-style roasted baby pig with apple purée, which was somewhat overdone for my taste, was a distant second.
Contucci, another winery with caves buried beneath the main square of Montepulciano, is another fun stop, where you can take an independent walk among its barrels and taste its wines—especially its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
VesCine (Radda in Chianti), was a other pleasant stop,where we enjoyed the view and the single vineyard 2008 Lodolaio Chainti Classico Riserva.
The other stops, too numerous, and in some cases, nondescript to mention, included everything from stand at local farmers markets, to one-person wineries to big institutions, such as Castello di Verrazzano. While the options are unlimited, it pays to be selective. And with the distances, the navigational difficulties and roads, it pays to be attentive.
Favorite Tuscan Wines
Although we had a few Brunello di Montalcinos and Super-Tuscans, we generally favor, and tasted a much broader range of softer, lower tannin, Sangiovese-based wines, particularly Chianti Classicos (especially aged Riservas) and Montepulciano Vino Nobiles. Among our favorites of the trip were:
- 2008 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico
- 2008 Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva
- 2009 Vecchia Cantina Montepulciano Vino Nobile
- 2007 Baida a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva
- 2010 Talosa Rossadi Montupulciano for alight, fruity everyday wine
- 2006 Poldo Montepulciano Vino
- 2007 Avignonesi Vino Nobile Riserva
- Avignonesi 50 & 50, a SuperTuscan with equal parts Cabernet and Sangiovese.
- 2007 Monte Chiaro Terra Della Grigin Brunello di Montilcino.
- 2007 Croce Difeho Vino Nobile; and the biggest treat of the entire trip, a
- 1998 Avignonesi Vino Santo, a wine which, at about $200 a half bottle, should be loved.