Thursday, December 19, 2013

Enjoy Your Wine But Enjoy Tuscany As Wel

November in Chianti Classico
There is, of course, more to Tuscany than wine. In fact there is more to Tuscany than food and wine! Like in most Italian destinations there are beautiful cities to explore, architecture to admire, great restaurants to enjoy, and picturesque villages to visit. You can also explore some of the region’s vineyards or sign up for organised wine tours to ensure that you experience the best of the local wine. Enjoy the Chianti by all means but it’s a good idea to plan ahead and have a few ideas of what else you want to do in Tuscany before you visit.

Visit Local Wine Makers

A trip to a local winemaker offers an excellent combination of a bit of learning alongside enjoyment of great wines. The Fontodi vineyard is found at the center of Chianti Classico country, just south of the town of Panzano. The entire vineyard and farm is organic, consisting of 80 hectares of vines and 30 hectares producing organic olives. Traditional methods going back centuries are used to produce wines with terracotta vats being used rather than wooden barrels to store wine. The owner Giovanni Manetti bucks the trend of many larger winemakers as she does not charge for tastings. You can visit the vineyard and not even be obliged to buy a bottle.

Wine Tours

Organized wine tours offer the chance of being escorted around some of Tuscany’s best vineyards,  and restaurants by tour providers who have detailed local knowledge. Do a little research and you can find tour operators running tours that last from a few hours to days or weeks at a time. Tuscan Wine Tours is a small company run by a group of local food and wine experts. It books tastings and sittings at some of the best local vineyards and restaurants, often negotiating discounted prices. Private tours can be arranged or you can join up with larger organised groups.


As tempting as it may be to spend an entire trip in Tuscany settled inside a wine bar or touring vineyards, there are plenty of other tourist attractions where visitors can work up a thirst and an appetite. Florence is arguably the cultural highlight of a trip to Tuscany. Famous in any case for its fine food and wine, the city offers some of the best architecture in Italy and some of the finest art galleries in the world. The Uffizi Gallery, Boboli Gardens and the Ponte Vecchio attract tourists from all over the world and the city can become almost overrun in the peak tourist months. Cruise ship passengers disembark at the local ports of Livorno and Pisa and head into Florence to sample the food and wine for a few hours so there are times when it is best to head out of the city and explore some of the delightful local towns. Lucca is less than an hour drive from Florence and its cobbled streets, tucked away behind Renaissance period walls offer quiet sanctuary from the bustle of Florence. You can walk round the city walls, admire the color of the surrounding countryside and then wander back into town for a walk around the impressive Cattedrale di San Martino.

Siena is another Tuscan town well worth a visit. Again, filled with medieval churches and towers, it is the type of place to simply lose a few hours wandering round and admiring the architecture. There are plenty of dining choices, ranging from the expensive delis and restaurants along Via di Citta to cheap osterias which will still serve up decent local wines. There are a number of vineyards not far south of Siena and some are reachable by local buses so you can leave the car behind.

Where To Stay

There is accommodation to suit all budgets across Tuscany. The big cities have hotels across all price ranges and there are some luxury hotels dotted around the Tuscan countryside. There are also plenty of budget hotels or cheap bed and breakfasts, campsites are common, and plenty of vineyards and farms also offer rooms. For real wine lovers, there can be little better than spending a few days staying in a Tuscan farmhouse, surrounded by vines and some of the best Tuscan wines readily available at cheaper prices than will be found anywhere else.

@Laura Chapman

Monday, December 16, 2013

Italian Wine - It's Not Just Chianti

Chianti Classico wines
Chianti Classico wines
Few places are more evocative of Italy than Tuscany, and its rolling hills and vineyards attract wine lovers all year round. Connoisseurs of Italian wine will of course enjoy sampling the variations of Chianti Classico on a visit to Tuscany but local restaurants will also serve up a range of wine from other wine growing regions. 
Travelling through Italy outside of Tuscany will also give visitors access to a range of interesting wines and grape varieties. 
Tuscan wines may be amongst the best that Italy has to offer but it is worth knowing a little about what else is available rather than sticking doggedly to a single type of wine.

Piemonte is one of Italy’s smaller wine regions which specializes in high-quality red wines. The town of Alba, south-west of Turin produces DOCG Barolo and DOCG Barbaresco which are strong, savoury wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. The area is also a source of two other grape types, the Barbera and the Dolcetto. To the north of Turin, DOCG Gattinara is a robust red wine produced through a combination of the Nebbiolo and Bonarda grapes. Piemonte though is probably best known however for its DOCG Asti, a medium sweet sparkling wine developed from the Muscat grape.

This region, with Milan at its core, is at the heart of Italy’s industry and commerce. It is not a huge wine producer but has some interesting wines including DOCG Valtellina Superiore and a popular sparkling wine, DOCG Franciacorta.

Bordering Tuscany, this is the wine-growing region famed for the medium sweet, sparkling Lambrusco, taken from the local Lambrusco grape. Most versions at around 8% ABV  are only classified as Vino de Tavola, whilst the products exported to other markets such as the UK can be as low as 3% ABV. The more critically acclaimed wines from the region include DOCG Albana di Romagna, DOC Trebbiano di Romagna and the red Sangiovese di Romagna.

The Veneto is one of Italy’s largest wine-producing regions after Tuscany and produces a number of wines including some speciality wines. From the Verona area are DOC Soave, DOC Valpolicella and DOC Bardolino. Using the Garganegna and Trebbiano grapes, Soave is a light white wine named after the local town whilst Bardolino and Valpolicella are light-bodied reds made from local black grapes including Corvina. Valpolicella, whilst often an unspectacular wine, can be made a lot stronger through a local method of drying the grapes indoors on wooden racks. Amarone della Valpolicella is produced by a method which ferments out all of the sugar present in the grapes, delivering a wine that can be up to 16% ABV - certainly a wine to drink in moderation. Another speciality version of Valpolicella that is produced via traditional methods is Recioto della Valpolicella. The more standard versions of Valpolicella are medium-bodied with moderate tannins. The Veneto region also produces a sweet Soave wine and a few cheap versions of Prosecco.

This region tucked away in the north-east of Italy produces wines that often blend a range of grape varieties. White wines might include a mix of grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Riesling, Verduzzo and Picolit, whilst grapes used for the regions red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, Refosco and Merlot. The quality of winemaking in this area is generally pretty good and some of the better DOCs include Colio and Colli Orientali del Friuli.

Abruzzo tends to produce decent quality, mid-bodied red wines at reasonable prices. The most common grape is the Montepulciano and the region’s DOC wine is the DOC Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

This mountainous region of Italy was actually a part of Austria until the end of the First World War and many locals along the Adige Valley are German-speaking. Wines from the regions will sometimes be labelled in German as “Sudtiroller” (from the South Tyrol) rather than as “Alto Ridge.” The cool climate in the area is suitable for the production of dry whites, often made from grapes such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. Trentino-Alto Adige produces light and crisp wines as well as some medium-bodied reds made from Merlot and Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes. The best wines will be sold as DOC Trentino or DOC Alto-Adige. There is also a medium-bodied red from the region’s Schiava grape known as DOC Santa Maddalena.

Laura Chapman