Italy is the top wine producing country in the world, making about one fifth of the world’s wine. They also drink a fair amount of it too, so really there’s no better place in the world to go to taste wines than here.
Wine is produced across the country in one million vineyards, but if you’ve seen Under The Tuscan Sun or have the slightest romantic inclination about art, history or landscapes, then you should visit Tuscany – one of the best places to combine a tour of gustatory and visual pleasures.
Tuscany has four main wine growing districts producing four of Italy’s nine registered DOCGs (Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti and Carmignano). In fact there are so many wineries, you could drive almost anywhere and come across one. However for a good overview of Tuscan wines you may wish to use this guide featuring a vineyard from each of the main wine growing regions in Tuscany.
These include Chianti, Carmignano, Montalcino and Montepulciano. In all the centres you will find wineries, cafes or restaurants offering a chance to try their local wines. Often they’ll be combined with an offer of tasting cheeses, olives and breads as well.
This region west of Florence has a history of more than 2500 years of wine production, dating back to pre-Roman times, including the famed Carmignano wines. The name most associated with these wines is the Tenuta di Capezzana estate with a history of 1200 years. The Villa di Capezzana is the historic wine of the estate and re-obtained DOC status in 1975 and DOCG in the 1990s.
Capezzana also houses a Wine & Culinary Center where the tastings are undertaken in grand underground wine cellars with plenty of atmosphere and a chance to see the mechanisms of the winery at work. Visits also include a guided tour of the olive press (olives are also produced on the estate) and vinsanto cellar. One day and five day cooking courses are held here, and it’s possible to stay in farmhouses nearby.
Chianti is a dominant force in Tuscan viniculture. It’s quite likely you’ve heard of the Chianti Classico DOC zone. Not only does it produce great wines, but it’s also the second largest appellation zone in the world after Bordeaux. Nestled in the hills south of Florence, it’s also an area rich in history with old farms, villas, castle, abbeys and hilltop towns to explore.
Chianti is a rather dry, full-bodied red wine made from local black Sangiovese grapes and white Trebbiano grapes. Wines from the subdistrict of Classico are marked with a black rooster (gallo nero) on the label. There are some 250 labels in this region but one of the best to visit is Il Castello di Brolio, of Barone Ricasoli at Gaiole in Chianti, which has been around for more than eight decades producing some of Chianti’s most famed styles. In fact the Ricasoli family was involved in defining the Chianti Classico laws and the DOCG so it makes sense that Castello di Brolio is still one of the premier estates today.
With 250 hectares under wine cultivation and 26 under olive, Brolio has a number of classy labels including the 2006 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG which received a Tre Bicchieri award (Gambero Rosso) and was number five in Wine Spectator’s top 100.
Tours incorporate the castle itself complete with its various historical collections, the wine cellars and the wine tasting rooms. The Castello has a particularly grand setting amongst the vineyards and provides for one of the most interesting wine experiences in all of Tuscany.
For another taste of Tuscan wine history, visit the Agricola San Felice in Castelnuovo Berardenga, Siena where the first “Super Tuscan”, the Vigorello, was produced in 1968. Super Tuscans are red wines that do not adhere to traditional blending laws for the region.
Daily tours are offered at San Felice and include wine and olive oil tasting with local cheeses and salumi or cured meets. For an additional cost you can also try Sienese sweets with Vin Santo or a sit down meal in the cellar. If you fancy spending a little longer to enjoy the fine landscapes, farm activities and quality wine, you can stay overnight at the prestigious Relais “Borgo San Felice”.
The Brunello di Montalcino is a famous red wine from southern Tuscany produced from the Sangiovese vines centred around Montalcino, one of Italy's most famous appellations. To come to terms with the Brunello and other wines, visit Castello Banfi, which has been listed for 11 consecutive years as Italy’s premier vineyard estate at the VinItaly wine fair. This is no mean feat, because unlike other long established family-run vineyards, this one was only built from scratch 20 years ago.
Today Castello Banfi produces Brunellos, Syrahs, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons and blends. It was founded by Italian American brothers who planted around 3000 hectares of vineyards on the huge state near Montalcino. They also developed hi-tech cellars where computers analyse everything from the fermentation to the bottle filling. This has helped pioneer a new era in Brunello and Montalcino with more balanced wines that have eliminated sulfites and histamines and have been recognized for their environmental, ethical and social responsibility.
The Castello has a luxury hotel onsite Il Borgo, an Enoteca shop where you taste wines, casual dining in vaulted cellars at La Taverna or at the Michelin-star rated Il Ristorante and also a Museum of Glass with a private collection from the 4-5th Centuries.
Montepulciano is a picturesque, walled hilltop village in southeast Tuscany and worth a visit even if you’re not that into wine. It boasts one of the signature wines of Tuscany, the classic fruity red, long-living wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. They also make Vin Santo here, a sweet dessert wine made from dried white grapes like Trebbiano and Malvasia.
The best wines produced in this district are often said to come from Avignonesi. Avignonesi actually consists of four estates Le Capezzine, I Poggetti, La Selva and La Lombarda which comprise 109 hectares of vineyards and three hectares of olive groves. The heart of the company is based at Le Capezzine in Valiano containing cellars for vinification, ageing and storing. There is also a vinsantaia (vin santo cellar), frantoio (the olive oil mill), various warehouses and offices.
Above and beyond all these estates in reputation however are those of the Antinori family who trace their wine growing history as far back as 1385. They are one of the biggest names in wine in this region and own vineyards in Apuglia, Piemont, Tuscany, Umbria, California and New Zealand. Their Tuscan estates include Badia a Passignano, Peppoli and Tignanello where one of the first Super Tuscans was made. They also have other places in Montepulciano, Montalcino and Bolgheri. These estates produce all the big names of Tuscan wines and cover some 1400 hectares.
If you would like to make a selection of your own vineyards, then do consult the Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso. This is one of the most influential Italian publications and its annual ratings of “three glasses” (tre bicchieri) are well regarded.