A guide to wine country, Chianti
March 2, 2017
Around about the time when the sun rises above the horizon, should you be so lucky as to be on your way to Chianti from Florence, the buildings grow further apart and expansive meadows take their place. On the winding road that leads you out of the town and into the next, you’ll encounter lush, green, rolling hills that abruptly transform into vineyards. And with the change in view there’s also the hint of a new aroma in the air, one that rightly reminds you of wine tastings to come.
This guide will serve as a whirlwind tour of the place, the wine, where you can stay and how you can explore the region.
Chianti, made of many smaller townships, is hailed as one of the more romantic parts of Tuscany. Cypress trees flank your path to the heart of wine country in neatly lined rows. And when there’s a skip in the row, you’ve likely arrived at one of many medieval castles in the area converted into a classic pit stop to taste the famous Chianti wines.
The 11th Century Castello di Verrazzano, for one, is right out of a medieval fairy-tale. It stands atop a hill overlooking the surrounding valleys swathed in vineyards. Historically, the place has seen the rise and fall of the nautically inclined Verrazzano gentlemen, such as Giovanni de Verrazzano who discovered the New York harbour, but now it is best known for being a prime producer of the Chianti Classico. The central tower of the castle is a perfect vantage point above Greve Valley, a once strategic location offering control over all movement in the region.
Another iconic township in the region is Montefioralle. As with many townships from around the same time, the old walls still stand in parts, interjected by the four gates that served as entrances to the town. It’s the perfect place for families as the vehicular population is almost nil and kids are free to run around on the streets!
Between towns however, the still countryside is only interrupted by gushing streams, birdsong and the neighing of horses. It’s not unheard of for people to come here for a day’s trip and choose to stay longer.
The wines from Chianti are best known for their sweet notes and earthy flavours that seemingly elevate the flavour of any food they are paired with. As a wine that is high in tannins, it is considered a dry wine in all its forms.
Chianti wines are bottled after 4-7 months of fermentation, best known as the Chianti Classico, or allowed to sit for up to 30+ months, at which point they are bottled as Chianti Riserva. If the wine is made from lower yield and has a greater alcohol content, it is bottled as Chianti Superiore. The most popular Chianti Classico, comes from a sub-region of Chianti – no wine from here may be labelled Superiore.
By an Old World order, only the wines produced in the region can be called Chianti wines. It is one of the few instances of nomenclature by place rather than recipe. That is to say, even if you had the perfect ratio of Sangiovese to Canaiolo grape extract, you still couldn’t make a Chianti wine. But as someone with an interest in wines, you’ll likely want to be at the heart of the vineyards anyway.
The best part about the Chianti region is that most of the castles have been converted into wineries. The largest and oldest estates are merely a few miles from a nearby luxury retreat – always a medieval, hamlet style villa with tasteful furnishings and impeccable Italian breakfast. Sometimes, the winery doubles up as the perfect place to kick back and relax as in the case of Ca’ di Pesa.
The once castle stronghold now sits in the middle of a wine farm. Rich in its heritage, Ca’ di Pesa is best known now for the wine and olive oil that comes from it. The slate tiled roofs and brown stone walls are so iconic that you’ll feel transported back to an earlier age. In a nutshell, it is paradise to spend your days in one of 10 bedrooms with friends and family, and sit at one of several open-aired dining areas enjoying fresh made pizza. The fully equipped kitchen and wine cellar are perfect for a little experimentation, in case inspiration hits while you’re in the heart of Italy.
About a couple hours from Chianti is the beautiful town of Florence. Since you would, in all likelihood, begin your journey here, it is pertinent to know the wide-reaching name of Florence is synonymous with immaculate gardens, galleries with famous installations like the Statue of David, and other popular Basilicas and estates.
If you’re looking for a unique experience, one that strays from the norm set by ‘A Roman Holiday’, brave a two-hour drive to the little hamlet of Piombino from where you could sail further to Elba, a gorgeous island off the Italian coast. A classic beach paradise, you’ll be surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea and engage in water sports.
The Other Stuff
As much as Italy is known for its wines, Tuscany is famous for the olive oil. You’re going to want to pick up a bottle or two of healthy, organic, fresh-pressed olive oil to take home with you. Our advice, grab the bottles on your way out of the country to get the most out of them.
The undulating landscape of Chianti and the general aversion to motorcars in the region make it the perfect place for a countryside exploration on horseback. With a number of well-known stables around, anyone – even a beginner – can simply hop on a horse and trot off down one of the many lanes, each of which holds a treasure waiting to be found.