Tuscany is a magical place and its landscape is breathtaking: hills, valleys and fields shaped by millennia of love and care in the production of great food and wine. I'm not sure if the word "Philotopía" exists, but if it doesn't let's coin it here, to mean to love of landscape and territory, that should always go hand in hand with philanthropía, of course.
The Etruscans are said to have brought both the vine and the cypress from the East - and both have thrived in Tuscany, creating memorable landscapes and many fabulous world-famous wines.
If you're visiting Tuscany it would be a shame not to taste the wine - and where better to taste it than in the actual wineries where it is produced?
Tuscany is mainly known for its red wines and the most famous are Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. In recent decades young producers have also been making some vigorous and exciting new reds, generally known as SuperTuscans, as well as developing new areas like Bolgheri into world class wine production centres. There are also some excellent white wines like Vernaccia from near San Gimignano and the liquorous Vin Santo.
I've divided the wineries listed below according to these types though there is, of course, some crossover...
Generally, if you're managing your wine tour yourself, you will need to telephone the day before to book your tours. Booking a long time ahead is often not done - wineries don't like tying their calendars up, so leave your calendar a little flexible and ring around in the days before you want to visit, rather than weeks. Visit and tours vary, but generally last about one hour and cost about 10 to 15 euro per person - though some of the smaller places will not charge you, in the hope you will be buying some wine at the end of your visit. If you're not going, maybe leave a tip. You will often finish in a tasting room where, with expert guidance, you’ll develop a better appreciation for the fruit of these vines. If you’re paying for a wine tasting, you aren’t obliged to buy. But if the winery is doing a small tasting just for you, they’re hoping you’ll buy a bottle or two.
Gaiole in Chianti Also known as Castello di Brolio, this winery is at the very heart of Chianti Classico, close to Gaiole in Chianti. The Ricasoli family and the castle of Brolio have a long, long pedigree: their name first appears listed among the court members of the Emperor Charlemagne in the 8th century CE and they have owned Brolio since 1141. By the 17th century they were exporting wine to Amsterdam, England and beyond. And in 1872 it was the Baron Bettino Ricasoli, twice Prime Minister of the newly formed Italian state, who first devised the formula for Chianti wine.
So a visit here is a visit to the very heart and origin of the story of Chianti. There are three tours - the last one needs no reservation, the first two must be booking:
Discovering the History and Wines of Barone Ricasoli
35 euro per person | Duration 2 hours
Grape Varieties, vineyards and crus: the Terroir of Brolio
48 euro per person | Duration 2 hours
Visit the Gardens and Tasting
7.50 euro per person | Duration 1 hour
Lecchi in Chianti Ama is another historic location in Tuscany, with Etruscan origins and later mentioned as belonging to the Firidolfi family at the time of the Holy Roman Empire. The recent rebirth of the estate owes much to the energy and vision of Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti and it is a joy to visit.
Tuscan tradition is not a rigidly conservative framework but allows for vision and creativity, and this is wonderfully present in Ama, which has a contemporary art program that brings new artists to the estate every year. The program was started in 1999 in collaboration with Lorenzo Fiaschi and the Galleria Continua, a fabulous contemporary Art Gallery based in San Gimignano.
The Galleria Continua started a program called Arte all'Arte which invited contemporary artists to make on-site installations in Tuscan hill-towns. We're talking artists of the calibre of Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, Kendell Geers and more - it was a fantastic project and ran for 10 years (I should know, I worked with them for half that time, a fantastic experience). The Castello di Ama team have kept that tradition alive so any visit to the Castle and the estate is also a chance to see some excellent contemporary art.
Of the winetasting tours, the Castello's own website says:
"All the artworks were conceived and created in pursuit of the artist’s genius loci, designed specifically for the place where they will always remain.
The tour culminates in a tasting of Castello di Ama wines at the Enoteca in Villa Pianigiani. Tastings can be themed, based from the estate’s private collection, grand crus or vertical tastings to muse on the exceptional vintages of the wines of Castello di Ama.
Our 120-minute tours are only available by prior reservation.
Phone [+39 0577 746069](tel:+39 0577 746069) Email [email protected]
While we have a number of villas in Chianti, any of which would be a great base for visiting the area, we also have a beautiful villa for 9 within walking distance of the Castello di Ama - so I thought it worth mentioning:
Castellina in Chianti A more recent estate, developed and refined by the owner Paolo Panerai, Castellare could stand for the continuity of both tradition and innovation in the winemakers of Chianti. While retaining the classic Chianti grape varieties, Panerai has employed the best winemakers to refine and improve both the terroir and the production process.
Greve in Chianti A Classic Chianti winery in an imposing castle above the town of Greve, this winery also has a restaurant so is the perfect spot to visit and mix wine tasting with an excellent meal.
You can visit this winery with no booking from 10am to 6pm 7 days a week. Winetasting is 15 euro a head. Or you could choose to have a tour of the estate and lunch combined with a winetasting: Pranzo del Conte Agostino for 47 euro a head. Or just a tour of the cellars and wine tasting: Gold Wine Tour for 25 euro a head (free for under 18 year olds).
For more details see their website here: Vicchiomaggio.it
The Antinori family are wine-makers par-excellence and have a number of excellent wine estates, in Chianti, near Montalcino, Bolgheri and a southern one in Umbria, around Ovieto.
I'm going to point you at their Chianti Classico winery mainly because it is a fabulous piece of architecture and worth a visit on that basis only - but any of their estates is worth a visit.
The new Antinori building houses a winery, a restaurant (the excellent "Rinuccio 1180"), a museum and a shop. It was designed by the Architect Marco Casamonti to fit into the Tuscan landscape, a clean, straight slice taken out of the rotund Tuscan hills. You will see it if driving along the dual carriage way between Siena and Florence, close to Bargino.
They have a range of tours available, from the "Barricaia Tour" to the more indepth "Bottaia" tours or even tailor made tours. Find out more here: Antinori Chianti Classico Wine Tours.
Or here for the interactive map of all of the Antinori estates
This is a small, award-winning winery in Chianti Classico. Full disclosure, these guys are friends of ours, we've known them for years and we also rent the three properties they have on the estate. Equally, however, they make fabulous wines and I have driven back from Tuscan trips with an old VW camper van stashed full of "Commendator Enrico", "Chianti Classico Riserva le Bandite" and more. Plus James Suckling gives them 92 points for the 2015 (Lornano), Luca Maroni gives their Commendator Enrico 2015 99 points - they're good at this!
To visit, ring +39 0577 309059. They're open: Mon to Fri 10:00 to 13:00 then 14:00 to 18:30 Weekends 15:00 to 19:00
To rent a property on the estate have a look here, they have 3 (and a half) houses:
Sangiovese - for 6
Malvasia - for 4
Canaiolo - for 6 if taken with little Trebbiano or
Canaiolo - for 4 and
Trebbiano for 2.
You may well not choose to drive round them all in a day, but to give you an idea of where they are and the distances involved, here is a route linking them all. If you click on the image it will take you to Google Maps where you can add, edit and remove as you wish. There is bonus winery on the map, too - Pasolini dall'Onda in Barberino val d'Elsa. Count Guido also has a beautiful property on his winery, Dimora for 12.
google map of route https://goo.gl/maps/3ShCCRAnyZ65d9NZ8
The Biondi-Santi family are credited with the invention of Brunello - you can't really travel to Montalcino to taste Brunello and not visit the motherlode. Amazingly, the Greppo estate (the Biondi-Santi's wine estate) is still no larger than 25 hectares, where many other names have increased massively in size over the decades. Today the estate is run by Jacopo and Alessandra, after the sad passing away of their father, Dr. Franco Biondi-Santi. It was Jacopo and Alessandra's grandfather, Tancredi, who raised the quality and the international reputation of Brunello wine, standing on the firm foundations laid by his own father, Ferruccio. And it was Ferruccio, the first of the Biondi-Santis (formed from the union of the Santi family, already expert winemakers, with the Biondis, an aristocratic family from Pomarance) who had, as all contemporary business coaches advise us to do, seen an opportunity in the dark days of the Phyloxera, the aphid that ravaged Europe's vineyards in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Where many producers concentrated on wines that could be drunk young, in order to help finance the heavy costs of re-planting vineyards, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi turned his attention to making wines that would age well. In 1932 he was officially credited with being the inventor of Brunello. Ferruccio's son Tancredi continued in his father's footsteps and also became a well-travelled ambassador for Brunello wines, raising the profile of his own wine and of Tuscan wines across the world.
To visit, call [+39 0577 848087](tel:+39 0577 848087). The address is Villa GREPPO, 183 - 53024 Montalcino (SI).
I haven't been here for a while - I have heard rumours of the place not being looked after well in the last couple of years - I'd be very interested to hear of anybody's experience if you do visit. Just email me on [email protected] with any comments.
This estate produces an excellent Brunello, as well as an excellent Rosso di Montalcino - a younger wine than Brunello, and often an excellent choice if you're in the supermarket and can't see anything you recognise. But I'm including them here because they still have a parcel of vineyard that was never affected by the Phylloxera aphid, a small corner of land surrounded by olive groves that miraculously escaped attack. For years the family produced a special "Prefilossero" wine from these vines but the production has now dropped so low that the grapes now go straight to Brunello. But the fascination of the place remains - worth a visit.
Italian wine critic Luigi Veronelli tasted a bottle of 1987 Prefillossero at the winery and commented that it was like: "listening to the earth singing to the sky".
To read more about wine producers making wine with ungrafted vines, read this: Decanter | The Great Escape
Azienda Agraria Lisini podere Casanova Sant’Angelo in colle 53024 – Montalcino (SI)
Tel: [(+39) 0577 844040](tel://+390577 844040)
As in Chianti, where ancient families sit side by side with recent arrivals - and both can make excellent wines - so it is true around Montalcino too. Banfi is a young label that was founded in the 70s by two Italo-American brothers, John and Harry Mariani. The Banfi label started in Montalcino but now has wineries in Chianti, around Montalcino and in Bolgheri - so you could potentially visit all three..(They also have a Banfi in Piemonte, if you're heading that way...).
In Montalcino the winery estate is Castello Banfi and you can find out more here:
This is a small producer of Brunello, typical of the region, with an emphasis on Organic agriculture and three carefully distinct terroirs: Le Ragnaie, close to Montalcino, Petroso south of the town, in one of the oldest wine making areas of the region and Castelnuovo dell'Abate, closer to the dormant volcano of Mont'Amiata.
Loc. Le Ragnaie 53024 – Montalcino (SI) – Italia Phone: [+39 0577 848639](tel:+39 0577 848639) Winery: [email protected]
This is a sustainable bio-dynamic winery close to Montepulciano, with strong green credentials. They purify and recyle all their waters, have energy efficient cellars, certified source wood and were the first to calculate the carbon footprint of their wines.
But don't visit them for those reasons, visit them because their wines are excellent. The estate itself is named after the stream that borders the vineyards, which in turn is called Salcheto after the weeping willows that line its banks.
I've included the entirety of their directions below as I found the last line so amusing - and something we've all said when giving directions in Italy: "you're going to think you're lost - don't - just keep driving...!"
When arriving from Florence, take exit 28, Valdichiana, on the motorway A1 and proceed towards Montepulciano-Chiusi. Take the direction Chianciano Terme and turn left before Sant’Albino when you’ll see the sing “VIA DI VILLA BIANCA”.
When arriving from Rome, take the Chiusi-Chianciano Terme exit and proceed towards Chianciano Terme – Montepulciano. Once past Chianciano Terme and Sant’Albino, turn right at Km 23 when you’ll see the sign “VIA DI VILLA BIANCA” (by the cross road indicating Monticchiello).
DON’T DESPAIR, WE’RE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WHITE ROAD!
GPS: 43.08481N 11.79928E
Telephone: [+39 0578 799031](tel:+39 0578 799031)
Visit reservation: [email protected]
The Avignonesi estate owes it success to the perseverance and love for fine wines of Virginie Saverys, originally a lawyer in Belgium. It is an estate founded on bio-dynamic systems and sustainability, with minimal intervention in the cellar and care of the environment as guiding principles.
Tours and Tastings: Via Colonica, 1 53045 Valiano di Montepulciano (SI)
Tel:[+39 0578 724304](tel:+39 0578 724304) Email: [email protected]
This is an estate that has only recently (1990) started producing Vino Nobile but which still has an impressive historical pedigree. The estate was once part of the Fattoria di Valiano, a farm based on the border between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal States. Set in the Val di Chiana, halfway between Cortona and Montepulciano, in a valley that was once marshy and dangerous, the land was drained and made fertile thanks to the work of Leonardo da Vinci - who was an engineer as well as an artist - and later by Antonio da Sangallo. Today it is a beautiful fertile area and produce great wine.
Via di Terrarossa, 5 Montepulciano Tel: [+39 0578 724170](tel:+39 0578 724170) Mail: [email protected]
We have a number of houses close to Cortona, Montepulciano, Civitella in Val di Chiana:
Castelonchio - sleeps 6 - is close to Tuoro and Cortona
Casa del Pastore - sleeps 8 - is by Sarteano,
as is Valdorcia - sleeps 8.
Map of vineyards and houses.
(Valdorcia, Casa del Pastore)
(Dipinta di Blu, Villa di Mezzo, Casa dei Fichi)
Last tip - Art and Wine and Architecture and wine