I’m not usually one for returning to the same area twice but one travel destination that I can’t get enough of and visit regularly is the Chianti wine region in Tuscany. I first fell in love with the area three years ago when I was on the hunt for a wedding venue and to this day, I’ve yet to witness rural beauty quite like it.
You need a car to get around as the Chianti region is so vast. Once you’re behind the wheel, or if you’re fortunate enough to have a designated driver (thank you Mr O’T 😉 ), sit back, relax and immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscape, as the long winding roads guide you from one beautiful village to the next.
Apart from taking time out to stop at every single lay-by possible, I love indulging in a bit of wine tasting. Ok A LOT of wine tasting and I’m not alone, as tourists flock from far and wide to get their Tuscan fix and learn as much as they can about the production of the infamous Chianti Classico.
Firstly, let me start by explaining the difference between Chianti wine and Chianti Classico both of which are distinct with different regulations, different areas of production and different consortiums. A Chianti wine is any wine produced in the Chianti wine region but outside of the original area of production. The term “Classico” refers to the original production area of the Chianti which encompasses 71,800 hectares.
Located in the centre of Tuscany, the area is comprised of lands in the province of Florence and the province of Siena. Towns located in the province of Florence include Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti and parts of San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Barberino Val d’Elsa. Towns in the province of Siena include Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and parts of Castelnuovo Berardenga and Poggibonsi.
The grapes used in producing Chianti Classico must come entirely from vineyards in the designated area and the winemaking, aging and bottling must all be carried out exclusively within the production area. There is also a requirement that Chianti Classico be at least 12% alcohol and have been aged in oak barriques for a minimum of seven months. Riservas require slightly longer and must have been aged at least 24 months before being released. Sangiovese is the main grape used in the production of this wine and, to meet the ‘Chianti’ criteria, the wine must contain a minimum of 80% Sangiovese grapes.
In 1924 a group of 33 winemakers gathered in Radda in Chianti to create a Consortium to protect their wine. The consortium chose the black rooster as their symbol for identifying Chianti Classico. Nowadays, the black rooster can be found on the seal of wine labels and it’s also an indication of good quality wine. If you’re on the hunt for the black rooster then you can locate it in the picturesque village of Radda in Chianti.
Now onto the important part – the wine tasting! The Chianti wine region is full of wineries and whilst I still have many more to visit, I have accumulated some favourites along the way which I’d like to tell you about. If you’ve never considered visiting this part of Italy before, then I hope you’ll be tempted to visit by the end of this blog post.
Castello di Albola
Located high up in the Chianti hills is the medieval village of Castello di Albola. The estate dates back hundreds of years and in this time, has passed through the hands of many noble Tuscan families. Today, Castello di Albola is owned by the Zonin family and has been for over 30 years.
A lot of love has been poured into the grounds to restore the outbuildings, the villa and to breathe life back into the vineyards. The estate now covers 900 hectares, 150 of which are vine. There is also an impressive 4000 olive trees to support the production of olive oil.
Wine tasting takes place daily in the wine shop and is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. The tasting of 4 different wines comes in at an incredible 5 Euros and you’ll be hard pushed to find a winery that offers a degustation for cheaper than that. There are no restrictions in terms of times but large groups do need to call in advance.
Before leaving, take some time to admire the vintage Chianti Classicos’ which are located on the far wall of the wine shop. Some bottles are that old that the labels have worn away making it difficult to establish what year the wine was produced.
Foresteria Villa Cerna
Foresteria Villa Cerna is a beautiful winery and restaurant situated in the middle of nowhere, on the sloping hills of Castellina in Chianti. The grounds are extensive which is great, as you can take your pick when it comes to the food and wine experiences on offer.
The cantina/wine bar is perfect for sampling a couple of wines and enjoying some light bites in a less than formal setting.
If you’re not pressed for time however, then it’s worth doing one of the Villa Cerna tours. The longest tour lasts 90 minutes and includes a visit through the vineyards, the Villa Cerna Winery and Coevo Winery along with the tasting of 5 different wines. This then culminates in lunch or dinner at the more formal restaurant ‘Foresteria Villa Cerna’.
Mr O’T and I opted for the more formal setting of dining on the Foresteria’s outdoor terrace because the views were just too magnificent to stay in doors for. The service is slow and relaxed which suited us perfectly because we weren’t in any rush.
Now Volpaia is a very recent find, one which we only came across last weekend. This stunning little hamlet really is a hidden gem and was recommended by the owner of the wine shop at Badia a Coltibuono, another winery. This medieval village is extremely popular with the locals which can only mean one thing, good food and good wine!
Before embarking on a tour of Volpaia, I whole heartedly recommend indulging in a spot of lunch at La Bottega, a family run restaurant serving authentic Tuscan cuisine. Book in advance if you plan on visiting this restaurant as it gets very very busy and you don’t want to be left out in the cold.
A short one minute stroll out of the restaurant leads you out onto the path to the main square.
As a bit of background, Castello di Volpaia was built in the 11th century as a fortified village on the Florence/Siena border. Although only part of the original protective walls and, two of its six towers are still standing, the medieval layout and buildings within the village are still intact, making Volpaia one of the best preserved villages of its period.
The village can be explored at your leisure or you can sign up to one of the guided tours which depart every 30 minutes.
The tour costs 10 Euros and also includes wine tasting of three different wines in the Castello di Volpaia wine shop.
Castello di Meleto
Dating back to 1256 is the stunning Castello di Meleto, which is located at one of the highest points in Gaiole in Chianti. In the 14th century, the castle was used as a fortress for Florence against their war with Siena and protected Florence from enemy fire. Today, you can admire the magnificent fortifications and cylindrical towers which have been retained from the 15th century.
The grounds are impressive and extend for 1,000 hectares of which 130 are dedicated to growing grapes. The vineyards produce an average of 6,000 kg of grapes per hectare. I stayed at the castle last weekend and was fortunate to witness the start of the harvest season first hand.
Guided tours of the castle run every day and last approximately 30 minutes. Take time out to explore the castle in all its glory because the rooms in their Baroque style are very ornate and really quite unique.
The tour also takes you down into the wine cellar where you’ll find beautiful pieces of artwork from Vida Art. There’s also a secret stone passageway which was used back in the day to hide out but which now leads you out to the Enoteca.
The Enoteca is open everyday for wine tasting and there are six different wine flights to choose from. Prices are incredibly reasonable with the cheapest wine flight starting at 4 Euros and going all the way to 9 Euros, for the more expensive selections. You can also try some in-house delicacies including cheeses and meats which come from their free-range breeding farm. Meleto also run a fantastic wine club which comes in handy should you choose to ship a selection of wines back as members get a 10% discount.
Barone Ricasoli – Castello di Brolio
You can’t visit the Chianti wine region and miss out on Castello di Brolio, the residence of the Grand Baron Bettino Ricasoli, otherwise known as the recipe inventor of Chianti wine. Many argue that you won’t find a better Chianti than Barone Ricasoli and I can understand why.
Ricasoli is Italy’s oldest winery and has been producing wine since 1141. The palace, which is situated in the municipality of Gaiole in Chianti, has belonged to the family for over 800 years. The grounds are a sight to behold and you really need a good couple of hours to walk through the grounds and take in the history of the winery.
The winery produces over 3 million bottles of wine a year and the tour of the cellars and grounds is the best way to learn all about the family’s history. Reservations need to be made in advance and make sure to take advantage of the private wine tasting at the end of the tour.
Have you ever been wine tasting in Chianti? Do you have any favourite wineries?