Tuscany, land of wine and beauty

Tuscany, that little known beauty. Yes, unknown. Because behind the masterpieces and the cities full of history that attract the tourist crowds lies a green region, where vineyards rub shoulders with forests, poppy fields and the sea. To discover the authentic Tuscany through its rich wine production, follow our Tuscany travel guide!

Tuscany in one gulp...

Of course, there is beautiful Florence, where every street corner reveals a masterpiece. There is Siena, whose earth gave birth to this ochre city overlooking the hills. There are the towers of Pisa and San Gimignano, the sculpted alabaster of Volterra, the spectacular hot springs of Saturnia. But there's more to Tuscany than its (sometimes overly) touristy sites. Behind the scenes, this great Italian region reveals more confidential treasures: perched villages, rocky coves and long sandy beaches, vineyards clinging to the hills.

Tuscany's vineyards date back to time immemorial. The Etruscans, a people who occupied the territory of present-day Tuscany between the 8th and 3rd centuries BC, were probably already producing wine. From the Middle Ages onwards, the fame and power of Florence made it an important trading place for wines, which from then on proudly claimed their origin: the wines of Chianti proudly bore their name in the 14th century and gained in prestige.

Gallo nero Chianti Classico
The black rooster, symbol of Chianti classico (AC).

The legend of the "gallo nero", the black rooster

Today, the "Chianti classico" designation distinguishes wines produced in the historic Chianti area from those produced elsewhere in Tuscany. To recognise them, look for the black rooster on the bottle.

This symbol echoes a legend that dates back to the Middle Ages. The republics of Florence and Siena were fighting over the Chianti region. To put an end to the conflict, it was decided that two riders would compete: at the crowing of the rooster, one would ride from Florence towards Siena, the other from Siena towards Florence. Where they met would be the boundary between the two territories. But the clever Florentines gave their (black) rooster a few days of hell: hungry and sleep-deprived, the rooster crowed much earlier than daybreak and the Florentine rider set off well ahead of his Sienese rival. As a result, the territory of Chianti reverted almost entirely to the Republic of Florence!

Proud of their wine, the historic villages of Chianti formed a "league" in the 18th century to distinguish themselves from the competition. This was probably one of the first forms of "controlled designation of origin" in the world. Today, a distinction is made between Chianti classico, produced in the historic Chianti area, and generic Chianti, produced everywhere else in Tuscany. The Chianti classico appellation requires the use of at least 80% Sangiovese grapes in red wines. Emblematic of Tuscany, this grape variety, whose name means "blood of Jupiter", produces very tannic wines with black fruit aromas (cherry, plum, blackberry, etc.), with a great capacity for aging.

If Chianti is the most famous of Tuscan wines, and perhaps even of Italian wines, Tuscany has many other bottles in its bag. In San Gimignano, the city of towers, it is white wine that takes centre stage with Vernaccia: this grape variety has been producing famous white wines since the Middle Ages. In 1993, it was the first Italian white wine to obtain a DOCG (see box below). Fresh, with citrus and floral aromas, Vernaccia is usually drunk young but can develop minerality and exotic fruit flavours with age.

Village and vineyard of San Gimignano
The village of San Gimignano overlooking the vineyards (AC).
Village of Montepulciano
View from the village of Montepulciano (AC)

Further south in Tuscany, the village of Montepulciano is a must for red wine lovers. The "Vino nobile", the noble wine, is produced here. It is made from a minimum of 70% Sangiovese and is aged for two years in oak barrels or casks. The many old cellars in the village bear witness to the long history of Vino nobile, whose name dates back to the 18th century. Its current designation was one of the first granted in Italy in 1980.

Reading an Italian label

The classification of wines in Italy is roughly equivalent to the French system. At the bottom of the pyramid are the "Vini da tavola", table wines without any labelling. Then come the IGT wines (Indicazione geografica tipica), the equivalent of the French IGP, which certifies the (often regional) origin of a wine. Wines classified as DOC (denominazione di origine controllata), equivalent to the French AOC, come from small, clearly defined areas and must comply with a set of specifications that include the use of certain grape varieties and an ageing period. Finally, at the top of the pyramid are the DOCGs (origine controllata e garantita), which crown high-quality wines that have been DOCs for at least five years.

Classico" indicates that the wine comes from a historical production area, while "Riserva " indicates that the wine has been aged for a long time, in barrels and/or bottles, before being marketed.

Village of Montalcino
The village of Montalcino (AC)

About 30 km west of Montepulciano, the village of Montalcino is also a wine Mecca. It became famous in the 1970s and 80s, thanks to huge investments in vineyards and the conquest of the American market. Brunello di Montalcino has become one of the great Italian wines, and the prices are reflected in the prices (the first prices are around 40€ per bottle). But this wine, made from 100% Sangiovese and aged for at least 5 years in wood and then in bottle, must be tasted at least once: deep, elegant, almost suave, it leaves no one indifferent.

Bolgheri vineyard
The Bolgheri vineyard (AC)

Another recent (and expensive) vineyard is that of Bolgheri, a stone's throw from the Mediterranean, between Livorno and Grosseto. Born in the 1940s from the passion of a marquis for Bordeaux wines, the vineyard only really took off in the 1990s with the creation of new estates that transformed their orchards, which were numerous in the area, into rows of vines. The Bordeaux spirit persists: in Bolgheri, one finds Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, but also Cabernet Franc and Syrah. These French grape varieties have replaced the traditional Sangiovese in Bolgheri, giving rise to the "Super Tuscans" appellation for wines made from a blend of foreign grape varieties.

Travelling in Tuscan wine

Discover Chianti Classico and the Colli Senesi

Entering the wine empire at Antinori

Cave Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Antinori nel Chianti classico (AC)
Cave Antinori nel Chianti Classico
Cave Antinori nel Chianti classico (AC)

It is one of the names to remember in the world of Italian wine: Antinori, a great Florentine family for centuries, is today at the head of a veritable wine empire made up of twelve estates in Tuscany in the most prestigious appellations, two in northern Italy and one in Puglia. The flagship is located about twenty kilometres south of Florence: the Antinori nel Chianti classico winery opens the road to Chianti with a breathtaking cellar. Completely integrated into the hillside (if possible, arrive from the road opposite, from the village of Pergolato, to see the landscape integration), this cellar, inaugurated in 2012, houses more than 2,000 barrels in an atmosphere maintained naturally between 14 and 16°C thanks to the elliptical terra-cotta walls. This architectural masterpiece also features an emblematic staircase that leads to the roof terrace where the vines surround a restaurant.

Tasting at Antinori nel Chianti classico
Tasting at Antinori nel Chianti classico (AC)

The organisation is meticulous and to visit the cellar, it is essential to book well in advance. Several visit formulas are proposed (from 45 to 160€/pers.). The Bottaia visit allows, in two and a half hours, a complete tour of the winery, with both oenological and architectural explanations, and to taste 4 wines, including two Chianti classico. You will pass through the private art collection, the auditorium, the cellar, the Vinsantaria where Vino Santo, a sweet Tuscan wine, is made, and the tasting rooms with a view of the barrels. A must, if you have a little budget.

Antinori nel Chianti classico, Via Cassia per Siena, 133, 50026 Bargino FI.

Reservation of visits (in Italian or English) online: https: //www.antinori.it/en/experiences/

Visit the oldest Chianti winery in Castelvecchi

Cave Castelvecchi in Chianti
Winery of Castelvecchi in Chianti (AC)

You'll have to take a little wool to get up to Castelvecchi in Chianti: at about 600 metres above sea level, the winery is located in the highest area of Chianti classico, north of the village of Radda in Chianti. Inside, the thick, thousand-year-old stone walls keep the temperature of the wine at an optimal level, around 18°C all year round. The cellar, which dates back to 1043, is one of the oldest in Chianti and well worth a visit. There is a tasting room where 300 year old barrels are lit by candles. In this room, "sensory tastings" are organised, where smell and taste take precedence over the deceptive sense of sight...

The exploration continues in the cellar, where French oak barrels stand alongside five large chestnut casks, a rarity. In a corner, a small, very damp room, where the barrels are covered in mould, may give you goose bumps: this is the former château's jail, adjoining the cellar.

Wine tasting Castelvecchi in Chianti
Tasting in Castelvecchi in Chianti (AC)

Several tasting packages are available (from €20 to €48/person). The "Antica essenza del Chianti classico" tour includes a tasting of three Chianti classico wines, including a particularly good 100% Sangiovese "Riserva". Afterwards, you can continue your walk in the charming village of Radda-in-Chianti, whose narrow streets are dotted with wine bars.

Cantina Castelvecchi in Chianti, Traversa del Chianti, 53017 Castelvecchi SI.

Online booking of tastings: https: //www.chianticastelvecchi.it/wine-tasting/

Admire the hills of Siena at San Giorgio a Lapi

Head to the south of the Chianti region, 6 kilometres from the beautiful city of Siena, to discover a very charming family estate: San Giorgio a Lapi. The name of the estate comes from the painting of St. George in the small 12th century church planted in the middle of the vineyard. The history of the estate began in 1977, when the grandfather of the current winemakers, originally from the Trento region in northern Italy, bought 70 hectares of land in the "Colli Senesi", the hills of Siena. Today, his five grandchildren continue to produce Chianti Classico as well as Chianti Colli Senesi on the 50 hectares of vineyards spread over different types of soil that give each appellation its own particularity.

Alberto, one of the five winemakers, leads daily tours of the estate (in Italian and English), followed by a wine tasting. The atmosphere is family-like, simple, and the landscape sublime: the small church overlooking the vineyard, the hills as far as the eye can see... Alberto guides you through the vineyard, the cellar, and gives you all the explanations you need to appreciate the seven (!) wines offered for tasting: a white, a rosé, four reds including a Chianti Colli Senesi and a Chianti Classico, and finally a sweet wine. All the wines are excellent and accompanied by a tasting of olive oil, cold cuts, cheese, focaccia and almond biscuits. A convivial, joyful moment, to be had without hesitation! (40€/pers.)

San Giorgio a Lapi, Str. di Colle Pinzuto, 30, 53100 Siena SI.

Book your visit online: https: //www.sangiorgioalapi.it/book-online

Discover the Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Lunch between the barrels at Palagetto

Winery Palagettto San Gimignano
Tables set up in the cellar at Palagetto (AC)

Just a stone's throw from the famous village of San Gimignano, the Palagetto estate welcomes visitors for a unique experience: a lunch tasting among the barrels. The 55-hectare estate, established in 1978, is fully organic and produces no less than 26 different wines. The current winemaker, Arianna, the third generation of winemakers in the family, wanted to mark her passage by creating atypical wines, especially sparkling ones.

Tasting lunch Palagettto San Gimignano
Tasting lunch at Palagetto (AC)

For lunch, the tables are set up in the cellar. The atmosphere is cosy, refreshing in summer, and the meal delicious for a very affordable price (33€/pers.). On the menu: a selection of Italian pecorino cheese accompanied by the very good honeys of the estate, pasta "cacio e pepe" (cheese and pepper) and for dessert the famous cantucci, almond biscuits, to be dipped in the Vino Santo. Four white wines are available for tasting, including two Vernaccia di San Gimignano of different ages. The estate also produces a very good olive oil.

Several other tasting packages are available (from 20 to 42€), with or without lunch. The Arnilù package, described above, allows you to taste the Vernaccia of San Gimignano, a typical white grape variety of the hills surrounding the village of the towers.

Azienda agricola Palagetto, Via Racciano, 10, 53037 San Gimignano SI.

Online booking of tastings: https: //www.palagetto.it/degustazioni-vino-olio-sangimignano/

Discover the Vino nobile of Montepulciano

Green experience at Salcheto

Winery Salcheto Montepulciano
The Salcheto cellar and its vegetation cover (AC)

At the foot of the medieval village of Montepulciano, the Salcheto winery takes on the challenge of reconciling the tradition of Vino nobile with ecological innovation. Founded in 1984, this family-run winery went green in 2011 with the inauguration of its new eco-designed winery. As soon as you arrive, you'll see some strange UFOs on the terrace: they are natural light collectors that allow the entire winery to be lit without the need for electricity. The layer of sand underneath the terrace floor insulates the cellar from the heat, as does the plant cover which naturally regulates the temperature. In the event of strong heat, a natural ventilation system, via probes located 10m deep in the ground, allows fresh air to enter the cellar. A rainwater collector supplies the cellar with water for cleaning.

As for the vineyards, of course, they are also very natural. The grapes are harvested entirely by hand on the 50 hectares and the wine is only transported from one vat to another by gravity.

Salcheto's wines are worth discovering. Their Obvius cuvées are natural wines, without sulphites, unfiltered and made only with the yeasts present on the grapes. As the absence of sulphites is an obstacle to the ageing of the wines, these bottles are closed with a screw cap which invites you to drink them young. Their Nobile de Montepulciano, aged for two years in wood and bottle, expresses all the nuances of the Sangiovese grape, called "prugnolo gentile" here: aromas of black fruits (blackcurrant, blackberry), but also a smoky, almost animal side.

Tasting at Salcheto (AC)

Visits are organised every day, followed by a tasting of three wines (20€/pers.) To make the pleasure last, we recommend you try the Indigeno restaurant, adjacent to the cellar reception: a natural culinary experience with wild plants and vegetables from the kitchen garden, homemade bread made from old wheat grown less than 30kms away, and poetic creativity in the "emotional" salads that open up a world of surprising flavours and textures.

Salcheto, Via Villa Bianca, 15, 53045 Montepulciano SI.

To book a visit and tasting, send an e-mail to: enoteca@salcheto.it

Spend a suspended moment in Canneto

Canneto Montepulciano tasting
Tasting at Canneto in Montepulciano (AC)

On the other side of the village of Montepulciano, on the north-western slope overlooking the Val d'Orcia, the Canneto winery offers you the chance to taste its wines in a magnificent setting: barrels and tables are set up facing the 30-hectare vineyard and the green hills (especially in spring!). Founded in 1987, this winery is now run by a dozen partners, most of them Swiss, who wanted to combine the tradition of Vino nobile with more original wines such as whites made from Riesling and Sauvignon.

The tasting allows you to explore the full range of Montepulciano red wines: the rosso (here made from 80% sangiovese and 20% merlot), which spends only 6 months in stainless steel tanks and 3 months in the bottle; the Vino nobile, aged 12 months in barrels and 6 months in the bottle; and the nobile riserva, which arrives on your table after two years in barrels and 6 months in the bottle. All wines are organic.

The estate offers several visit and tasting options (from 15 to 40€/pers.), without reservation, from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday from March 15th to November 15th. (9am-5pm Monday to Friday in winter).

Azienda agricola Canneto, Via dei Canneti, 14, 53045 Montepulciano SI.

Details of the visits can be found on their website: https: //www.cannetowinetasting.com/en/wine-tasting-montepulciano-tuscany

Discover the Brunello of Montalcino

Women's drinking at Patrizia Cencioni

Winery Patrizia Cencioni Montalcino

Men are of course welcome, but this Montalcino winery, located at the foot of the medieval village, is the work of one woman, Patrizia Cencioni, now supported by her daughters. Seven women and one man, "for the quota and the mechanics", carry out all the work on the estate, from pruning the vines to welcoming visitors. Created in 1989, this estate spreads its sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon vines over 10 hectares, at an altitude of about 300 metres. The grapes are harvested by hand, and the wines are then matured in wooden containers of different sizes: barrels, casks, barriques, etc. For the Brunello, for example, after three and a half years in different containers, the wines are blended to produce unique bottles, different from year to year. It is easy to understand why Patrizia thinks that "it is easier to change husbands than to change oenologists"!

Winery Patrizia Cencioni Montalcino
Arianna and her colleagues welcome you for visits (AC)

The estate offers daily tours (in Italian or English) followed by a tasting, led by the efficient Arianna. From the vineyard to the cellar, she explains everything about the estate and the production of the wines. Then the tasting allows you to familiarise yourself with the wines of Montalcino: a rosso, aged in new Slavonian oak barrels (a region of Croatia), an aromatic Brunello, deep but still supple on the palate, an Old Vines produced to celebrate the estate's 30th anniversary, and a Riserva Brunello which has impressive body, complexity and tertiary aromas (undergrowth, leather, etc.). The estate also produces a "Super Tuscan" composed of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, a very aromatic rosé and a delicious olive oil. The welcome is friendly, professional and personal. An estate not to be missed.

Azienda agricola Patrizia Cencioni, Podere Capanna, 102, 53024 Montalcino SI.

To book your visit: https: //patriziacencioni.com/degustazioni-patrizia-cencioni/

Immerse yourself in the countryside at Cordella

Winery Cordella Montalcino
The Cordella winery in Montalcino (AC)

Another vineyard now run by a woman, the Cordella estate is located about ten kilometres east of the village. Isolated in the middle of the vineyards, the winery is currently being expanded, but you will be welcomed into the house (which also offers agritourism rooms) by Aldo, the winemaker's husband, for a visit and a tasting of their delicious Brunello di Montalcino. The estate has only planted Sangiovese and produces only Rosso and Brunello, as well as a rosé and grappa. For a tasting away from it all, surrounded only by cypresses and vines.

Cordella in Montalcino, Podere Meleto, 27,, 53024 Montalcino SI.

Reservations on the website: http: //www.cordellavini.it/

Discover the Bolgheri vineyards

Walking on the Marquis' land in Terre del Marchesato

Terre del Marchesato Bolgheri Estate
Terre del Marchesato Estate in Bolgheri (AC)

If you want to taste Bolgheri wine, you are spoilt for choice: there are many wineries along the road, all of which offer wine tasting. To really get to the heart of this new vineyard, visit Terre del Marchesato. This agricultural estate, founded in 1954 by Antonio Fuselli, is located on the land of the Marquis (hence the name) who, as early as the 1940s, took the gamble of planting Bordeaux grapes in this region near the sea where it was thought impossible to make good wine. Today, Terre del Marchesato is one of the most beautiful wineries in the region. From the 16 hectares of vineyards, located in the "golden triangle" of Bolgheri (made up of the prestigious Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Guada al Tasso estates), powerful, original wines are born, reflecting all the sunshine of the region.

Tasting of Terre del Marchesato Bolgheri
Tasting of Terre del Marchesato (AC)

Several options for visiting the estate (in Italian or English) and tasting are available (from €20 to €48/person). To appreciate the grape varieties in their purest expression, the Premium tasting offers you to taste a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, which should please Bordeaux lovers, a wilder 100% Cabernet Franc, a 100% Merlot and an astonishing 100% Petit Verdot, a somewhat neglected grape variety that could regain notoriety with global warming thanks to its late ripening (watch out for your wallet, the bottle is €90). Don't miss the Marchesale, in DOC Bolgheri, composed of 50% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot. A typical Bolgheri 'Super Tuscan', combining the warmth of Syrah with the style of Bordeaux.

Terre del Marchesato, Via Località Sant'Uberto, 164, 57022 Bolgheri LI.

Book your visit online: https: //www.terredelmarchesato.com/accoglienza/degustazioni/

Drop by the Chiappini cellar

Chiappini Bolgheri Estate
Chiappini Estate in Bolgheri (AC)

A simpler welcome and lower prices at the Chiappini winery, which offers you the chance to taste its single-varietal organic wines (petit-verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot) but above all its three Bolgheri DOC vintages: two rosso, one with a majority of sangiovese, the other with a majority of cabernet sauvignon, and a Bolgheri Superiore representative of the "Tuscan Super.

Azienda agricola Chiappini, Località Felciaino 189, C, 57022 Bolgheri LI.

To book a visit: https: //visit.giovannichiappini.it/

My favourites in Tuscany

Taste the real Florence

Duomo of Florence
The Duomo of Florence (AC)

The Medici city is well worth spending 3 or 4 days in. For a guided tour of the city that will allow you to learn about its history, architecture and famous people, contact Duccio, a certified and friendly guide, who will lead you (in perfect French) through the streets of the city, from Piazza della Repubblica to Ponte Vecchio.

For a gourmet morning, the chefs of Cuoco a domicilio offer you a guided tour of the Sant'Ambrogio market. Beware, come with a good appetite: as you visit the stalls and listen to Massimiliano's culinary explanations, you will taste cold meats, cheese, Florentine specialities such as ribollita, peposo or tripe, fruit, biscuits and wine! It's exciting, delicious and above all a great moment of sharing with the chefs, who are passionate about the gastronomy of their city.

The market most frequented by tourists, San Lorenzo, is less typical. There are a few restaurants in the vicinity that are worth a visit, however: La Cipolla rossa, the large trattoria Zazà and the small typical trattoria at Mario's.

For an escapade in the vineyards, and a discovery of the Chianti Colli Fiorentini (hills of Florence), Roberto Serio welcomes you for a day of pleasure in the heart of the Chianti. After a visit to the cooperative, head to Roberto's personal cellar where a pantagruelian lunch awaits you around a convivial wine tasting.

Feasting in Siena

Piazza del Campo Siena Italy
Piazza del Campo in Siena (AC)

Another of Tuscany's most famous cities, Siena will delight you with its traditional cuisine and the wines of the surrounding Colli Senesi. Don't miss the pici, the thick spaghetti typical of Tuscany, which you can taste in the small osteria Al Palchetto, hidden in an alley behind the Piazza del Campo. Also unmissable are the ricciarelli, the typical Sienese almond biscuits, soft and covered with icing sugar. Beware, you can quickly become addicted to them.

Dive into Montepulciano wine at Enoliteca

In the ancient fortress of Montepulciano, an "Enoliteca" has opened its doors: this wine bar offers a wide selection of Montepulciano wines to be tasted by the glass in self-service. The principle: you insert a card in the machines, select the wine you want to taste (either in small tasting glass format or in real sipping glass format) and at the end, you pay for the number of glasses you have taken (from 2.5 to 5€ for a tasting glass). The choice is very wide and allows you to compare several domains. The place is also impressive, with the glass floor showing the Etruscan ruins found on the site. In the village of Montepulciano, you can also visit medieval cellars or explore the surrounding vineyards. A wide range of wine tours is offered by Valdichiana Living.

Enoliteca Vino nobile di Montepulciano, Via di S. Donato, 21, 53045 Montepulciano SI.

Open every day from 11am to 7pm.

From one enoteca to another...

In the villages of Montepulciano, Montalcino or Bolgheri, most restaurants are called "enoteca" and offer you to taste the wines of the region by the glass. Feel free to sit down in an enoteca for an aperitif or even a whole meal. Another option for wine tasting is to sleep in the "agriturismo", which are legion in Tuscany. The principle: the winery offers rooms (often very comfortable) and you can of course taste the wines produced on the estate. A particular favourite is Tenuta Sovestro, at the foot of San Gimignano, where the welcome is warm and the view of the city's towers sublime. A footpath (about 20 min.) allows you to reach San Gimignano on foot, avoiding the often overcrowded car parks of the town.

Tenuta Sovestro San Gimignano
Tenuta Sovestro (AC)

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