So after 10 months of sitting on photos and trying to make the time to write this, I am FINALLY going to write about our wine tasting tour in Tuscany. While it was only a day long and it seems like it should be easy to blog, I really wanted to do this justice. I also knew it was going to make me terribly nostalgic and wishing I was still in Italy. Ohhhhhh the aching pain to be back there!
Now obviously anytime spent in Tuscany, or in our case specifically the city of Florence which is the largest city in Tuscany, everyday is a wine tasting day. The dozens upon of dozens of wine shops, wine bars and even wine kiosks with only enough room to stand provides the thirsty traveler with no shortage of vino tasting opportunities. Wine is much more to the Italians than a passion; It is a religion.
While our first thought was to simply rent a car and drive through the Tuscan region with a wine map, we didn’t want to wonder through a region we truly knew nothing about. Tuscany is large and many of the wineries are very spread out. Also, who wants to worry about a DD (designated driver) when you’re supposed to be on honeymoon/vacay? Not us! So instead we decided to book a Chianti Classico day tour with Tuscan Wine Tours, and we are so glad we did. It was truly one of the highlights of our trip!
Before I get into the day we had, I want to just take a moment to specify what Chianti Classico is. Chianti is a wine region in the heart of Tuscany and divided into 7 sub-regions. Each has a different style, but the Chianti Classico sub-region is where many believe Chianti is made best. Chianti Classico stretches from Florence down to Siena.
Chianti Classico is made of a minimum of 80% Sangiovese and 20% other grapes (usually Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.) This region also produces another popular blend of wines called “Super Tuscans” which are blends of Cab, Merlot, Syrah and sometimes other grapes such as Sangiovese.
Just like France, many of Italy’s wines are highly regulated and wineries have to adhere to very specific rules in order to maintain their DOCG status. (DOCG is a quality assurance for Italian wines and some Italian food products.) So in the case of Chianti Classico, these wines have all had to meet a quality assurance regime in order to be labeled “Chianti Classico”. The next time you see one at the store, look at the DOCG label on the bottle neck and you’ll see the government’s seal of approval.
OK, now that I’ve gotten the nerdy stuff out of the way – let’s drink!
Our day began promptly at 10am in Florence where we met our wonderful guide, Ilaria, whom was not only knowledgeable but hilariously funny. We also met our wine tour mates, many of which were young couples also on their honeymoons. From there we departed in a minivan and headed out to the countryside.
The day was divided into 4 parts.
Stop 1: Wine, Cheese and Olive Oil tasting at Corzano e Paterno
Stop 2: Lunch at the ‘singing butcher’ Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop/restaruant in the town of Panzano
Stop 3: Wine at Montecalvi
Stop 4: Snack and walk around the town centre of Greve
Then “home” to Florence.
STOP 1: Corzano e Paterno
Our first stop at Corzano e Paterno was wonderful! Not only did Ilaria give us background information on how wine is grown in Italy (apparently some wine makers are so emotionally connected to their wines that they play the grapes classical music if they feel the grapes are depressed) but we also got to taste Olive Oil freshly pressed from the estate’s olive trees and their homemade cheese. Does it get any better?
Our wines consisted of a Chianti Classico, Chianti Riserva, two Super Tuscans and a Bianco (white) blend of Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Malvasia, Petit Manseng, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc. All of which were absolutely delicious. So was the olive oil – fresh, tart and oh so flavorful.
* Tip on olive oil: Apparently you’re only supposed to buy small bottles because olive oil is only flavorful when it’s fresh. If you buy more than you can use within a two-week period, then you’re buying too much and eating stale olive oil. Some Italian restaurants purchase it every seven days.
We were treated to all of these things at a picnic table on a vista outside of their farm shop. It was some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. And even better is that the winery has guest houses for rent. We know exactly where we’re staying next time we go. 😉
Oh! And one thing to note about Italian wineries, they are not like American wineries in that they try to sell you on bottles, wine clubs or cases of wine. Their wines are world famous so if you want to buy a bottle, great. If not, that’s great too. They’re happy to serve you no matter what and simply want you to have a great cultural experience. Magnifico!
STOP 2: Dario’s butcher shop in Panzano
After this much drinking and soaking up the scenery, we headed off to Panzano where we would encounter the singing butcher, Dario Cecchini. Now when I say “singing” I mean that quite literally as he sings while he works with music BLASTING in the shop. So much so that people from all over the world flock to his shop to not only eat his world famous steaks, but feast on the sample foods he lays out for all to enjoy and hear him sing. Make no mistake that he is a fan of ACDC! We were treated to a typical concert of Dario singing to “Back in Black” while he chopped away at steak in a shop so cramped with people that it literally felt like being in a nightclub.
After I thought I was going to actually get claustrophobic from being around so many people squeezing in to drink free wine (oh yea, he leaves out free Chianti for anyone to drink at any time. I’m officially a super fan) we were whisked away upstairs to an upper floor restaurant where one can enjoy the fruits of Dario’s labor.
If you have never heard of “Bistecca alla fiorentina” let me introduce you. It is the jewel of the Tuscan region and a steak you will remember forever. It’s a HUGE piece of steak made from the Chianina cattle in the traditional Florentine style. Always served rare and simply grilled with olive oil and sea salt. The flavor comes not from any marinade (oh “hell no” says the locals) but from the cut and quality of meat.
Dario’s Bistecca is so good and so famous that after each steak is done grilling (which happens out in the open in the center of the restaurant) the entire restaurant rips into applause. I’m not even kidding here. It’s like a performance from a maestro.
STOP 3: Montecalvi
After our bellies are full with delicious samplings of many of Dario’s meats and some veggies,
we are off to another wine tasting at Montelcalvi.
Now Montecalvi is a slightly different experience than Corzano e Paterno. It is much smaller and more quaint. So much so that our group of 8 couldn’t really comfortably fit into the tasting room so we were treated to a wine tasting at the owner’s personal dining room table in her villa. AHHHHHH-MAZING.
The owner was the wonderful and immeasureably gracious Jacqueline Bolli. Her heart and soul are in her bottles of wine and that made this tasting extra special. Jacqueline treated us to her Chianti Classico, a Sangiovese and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which she referred to as her “children.”
Jacqueline also taught us how to not trust our first taste. After sitting at her table enjoying her wine, laughing and discussing the rigor of what Chianti wine producers have to go through to get approved for their DOCG label (apparently it’s a lot), she encouraged us to try our least favorite and most favorite wine again after a 30 minute wait. To much of our surprise, some of our least favorite (I hate even saying that because they were all great) moved to our new favorite and for a couple of us, what was our previous favorite actually became our least favorite. Timing in wine can mean a lot when it comes to breathing and aeration. We all know this logically, but it was very eye opening to do this type of tasting with multiple people and with the wine bottles left out for us to self serve after 30-45 minutes of sitting around and enjoying each other’s company. You won’t find that type of leisure at an American winery! LOL.
Final Stop: Greve
Now if you can probably imagine, we are all pretty toasted from the wines all day! So the last stop is the town centre of Greve. You will know exactly what region you’re in with the huge, black Chianti Classico rooster symbol everywhere and it is proudly displayed in the town centre. Ilaria thought this was probably a good time to let us all gorge on some gelato before we headed back to Florence. Terri and I opted to skip the gelato and instead walk around and take some final photos.
Overall, the entire experience was more than I could ever project in this blog post. The photos and the words don’t do it justice. If you’re ever in the area and want to be chauffered around and treated to an authentic experience, please check out Tuscan Wine Tours. They tour many other regions other than Chianti Classico. We SO look forward to touring with them again in the future.
Ciao ciao everyone and cheers!