Wine lovers around the world thrill to hear the name “Tuscany.” Without a doubt, this fabled region in central Italy is one of the most prestigious wine producing areas on the planet. The rolling green hills and misty valleys punctuated by tall dark cypresses and elegant umbrella pines create a magically beautiful backdrop for wine adventures. Tuscany has a rare terroir, a varied climate kissed by a western sea breeze, soil rich with minerals and volcanic properties, and a geography that extends from low lying flat lands all the way up to cool hilltop vineyards high above sea level. This lush combination of characteristics favorable to vines makes Tuscany’s wines legendary and even those new to wine relish the opportunity to explore this timeless wine paradise.
The most prominent grape in Tuscany is sangiovese, the base for the best known Tuscan reds, such as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Visitors are often amazed to learn this one humble grape is behind so many giants of the Italian wine world and this is the moment when the wine tour becomes a true voyage of discovery. Touring the vineyards of the Chianti Classico region between Florence and Siena, tasting wines in the famous cantinas surrounding the mythical towns of Greve and Radda, winding through fields of golden sunflowers and groves of silvery green olive trees introduces the visitor to the historic birthplace of Tuscany’s wine industry, which began in the 8th century BC and already had its own guild governing wine commerce by 1282. The Chianti region covers roughly 100 square miles and produces an average of 8 million cases of wine per year. The Chianti Classico consortium has a black cockerel as its symbol, a reminder of an ancient legend about a contest held between knights from Florence and Siena. The symbol alerts wine travellers to member vineyards such as beautiful Castello Monsanto, one of the region’s leading producers, who offer the opportunity to experience the best of the Chianti region in a private visit, accompanied by renowned sommelier and wine expert Filippo Bartolotta, who leads guests on a uniquely personal wine expedition. All across the vineyards of central Tuscany, the cockerel beckons travellers to pause at small cantinas, grand palazzos, tiny artisan producers and famous wine makers with aristocratic lineage -- all in the endless search for that most personal choice, the favourite, perfect Chianti Classico.
Moving further south, intrepid wine explorers find themselves in the vicinity of Montepulciano and Montalcino, two elegant, historic, breathtaking hill towns, rising dramatically from the hot sunny Tuscan plains into the cool, temperate air of rose gold sunsets and endless views over Botticelli landscapes. Despite their nearness on a map, their wines couldn’t be further apart. Again, thanks to the magic of changing terroir and the alchemy produced by careful winemakers, the sangiovese grapes are transformed from their fresh acidic fruity and spicy Chianti form, into robust, warm, medium bodied reds in Montepulciano and ethereal, complex age-worthy nectar in Montalcino. Both towns are treasures in themselves, filled with cobbled streets, ancient architecture, intriguing shops and fabulous eateries. The evocative town square in Montepulciano, with its exquisitely vaulted underground wine cellars guarded by the tall tower of the town hall, looks out over the vineyards below and seduces every guest with the wonderful array of food and wine on offer at every turn. It is impossible to resist the urge to say yes to every tasting available and the surrounding area is ripe with ever more gorgeous and welcoming wineries to visit. The opportunity to contrast and compare the smallest cantinas and the large commercial operations is a wine lover’s gift, not to be missed. Montalcino has an atmosphere all its own, as it is the home of Brunello, one of the most celebrated wines in the world, and steeped in the history of its noble families and their glorious vineyards. Wine touring around Montalcino is a rollercoaster of stunning highground, rocky hillsides, unparalleled views, formidable castles, traditional farms and passionate wine producers who energetically attempt to convince their guests that only the wine from their singular spot on their unique hill is the best of the best.
World famous wines continue to abound in southwest Tuscany, where the “Super Tuscans” have their stronghold. The Bolgheri region near the sea has the honor of being home to Sassicaia and Ornellaia, two of the most famous and valuable Tuscan red wines, produced through the breakaway efforts of cutting edge wine makers in the 1970’s, who chose to blend their indigenous sangiovese grapes with french grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Wine touring in Bolgheri takes on an international flavor, with wines whose styles are reminiscent of renowned French names, and culinary offerings become refined, elegant, modern and utterly luxurious. The landscape encompasses views of the Mediterranean lapping at the coastline, with the vines embraced by long sunwashed days and cool sea breezy nights, and guests are lulled by the gentle climate surrounding the vineyards and the astonishing world class wines in their glasses. Once again, options are limitless to the wine adventurer in Bolgheri, where the most famous cantinas draw visitors like a magnet and the smaller lesser known wineries reveal unforgettable treasures in their cellars.