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A Beginner’s Guide: Tuscany, Italy

By September 20, 2014 city guides, europe, italy, travel

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It’s been a dream of mine to explore the Chianti region and finally I am here.

At this very minute, I’m sitting at a wine bar, mulling over a perfect glass of Chianti and basking under the Tuscan sun (sorry it’s sooo cliché to say that but I couldn’t help it). I’m smiling ear to ear and I can’t seem to stop. I’m writing this post because I want to share the beautiful photos and offer some advice for people travelling to this region.

Guide to Chianti | Tuscany | Italy | The Macadames - 1

If you’re reading this then I’m sure you love exploring wine regions as much as me. So far on this trip I was lucky enough to visit the Champagne and Burgundy regions in France, both of which were amazing. Don’t miss this post, this post or this post in you’re travelling France and want to know more about these iconic wine regions. Back home in Australia we too have fabulous wine regions, I can’t wait to get home and share them with you, especially the Canberra region in my back yard.

But I really shouldn’t digress, there is so much I want to say about Chianti. If you’re unfamiliar with the region, I thought I’d kick off with a map of the region, the heart of which lies in between Florence and Siena.

the chianti wine region map

Within this area there are around 8 Chianti towns with things to see ranging from countless castles, churches, vineyards, olive groves and more. Although tourism plays a large role in the local economy, it’s the traditional farming including wine making and olive oil production that sustains the region.

Guide to Chianti | Tuscany | Italy | The Macadames - 2

You definitely would have heard of Chianti before? But you might ask yourself – what exactly is Chianti? Is it a wine? Is it a region? Well. Let me shed some light. Chianti is a traditional red wine made all over the Tuscan region in Italy. The history dates back to 1716, when legend has it, that the Grand Duke of Tuscany decreed that this region could produce what is known today as Chianti Classico. For wines to be called Chianti Classico, it must consist of at least 80% of the local grape variety, Sangiovese. And as they say, the rest is history. Ever since, wineries in the region have been making this delicious drop which is famed all over the world.

Spending a few days here, it feels like nothing has changed since these times. Many vineyards are owned by families for generations and the Tuscan stone houses have kept their old world charm. But this is all something you have to see for yourself.

How to get here

Because of its location, Chianti is easily accessible by car and bus from Florence and Siena or anywhere in between.

How to choose where to visit

First thing I would do is choose a region – I’d suggest the Chianti Classico region as this is where all the action is. The Chianti Classico administration body has a search engine for Chianti Classico producers that offer tastings by clicking on a region on the map. Here you’ll find all the info you need about the area and you can also choose which wineries to visit (see my picks below).

Contact your chosen wineries

Not all wineries require bookings but if you want to do a tour you should definitely book ahead. Some wineries also require bookings for tastings – so to save yourself time waiting, just call ahead and remember a few of them close over lunch.

The tours which give you a bit of history of winemaking include:

The reason I suggest doing this first is that you might want to book your accommodation based on the wineries you’ll be visiting.

Places to stay

The Tuscan region is teeming with accommodation options. If you’re wanting to explore the Chianti road, the best places to stay would be Florence, Siena or anywhere in between. Although driving around the area is beautiful you might want to limit the distance so be sure to pick your wineries first.

We stayed in Siena, and of course we camped (at Siena Colleverde), however here is a full list of accommodation in Chianti.

Organised wine tours

We are on a bit of a budget so we opted for a self-drive tour but there are loads of tours in the region. I have listed a few but please note I don’t have experience with them. But based on the Trip Advisor ratings, I’d say you have nothing to worry about.

Tuscan Wine Tours

Chianti Wine Tours 

My top winery picks

There are literally hundreds of vineyards in the region, most of which are probably amazing. I managed to get to 4 (some small, some big) so I will give you a run down of each. If you went to just these 4, you would get a decent coverage of the area.

Villa Le Fonti

Tasting: free

Le Fonti | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 4

We stumbled across this vineyard by accident when trying to find another cellar door. We were pretty lucky we did because it was a gem. Located halfway between Florence and Siena, in the small village of Panzano, Le Fonti is nestled in the hill at 450m above sea level. It measures over 15 hectares (37 acres); 8.5 hectares (21 acres) being vineyards and the rest olive groves.

Le Fonti is really a boutique farm style vineyard making around 40,000 bottles a year. It is still family owned and run, by the Schmitt-Vitali family. One of the family members (the name escapes me) was the one who did the tasting with us. He told me that due to their relatively small size, they can follow the production with great care, only the best grapes arriving in the cellar and only the best wine being bottled.

Le Fonti | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 3

Le Fonti | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 1
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We walked away with a bottle of their 2009 Chianti Classico Riserva – and… it was gone the next day!

Fontodi

Tasting: free

Fontodi | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 1

Nestled beneath the village of Panzano, the whole 80 hectares of vines and 30 of olive trees are organic and still family run by the Manneti family since 1968.

The cellar door is actually a house but just look for this “Ufficio” sign and pop up the stairs – there you’ll find an office, knock hard if no one is in there (it looks closed but it’s not) and the tasting room is just past the office area.

Fontodi | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 2

Owner Giovanni Manetti greeted us and took us to the tasting room. He proceeded to tell us about the biodynamic principles he uses to make his wine. Not only are no chemical products used but they make an effort to maximize the internal resources of the estate, thereby reducing the need for external input. For example they fertilise the vinyards using compost produced from the vine cuttings mixed with manure from the estate’s cattle farm.

Although most large wineries charge for tastings, he insists that this isn’t part of Tuscan hospitality. We lingered for over an hour and we didn’t feel the slightest pressure to buy a bottle. We did of course, their wine was too good to pass up. We chose their 2010 Chianti Classico and although slightly more expensive than others, it was worth every penny.

Fontodi | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 4

Fattoria Pomona

Tasting: free

Villa Pomona | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 1

Villa Pomona | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 2

We arrived over lunch hoping they would still let us taste (many wineries close over lunch so be careful when planning your day). The cellar door is a house so park where you see cars (or space) and walk towards the blue curtain, pop your head in and yell for “Monica” if no one is about.

Villa Pomona | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 3

We were greeted by Monica Raspi, the owner, who was tucking into her “red coffee” straight from the bottle. It was hard not to get caught up in her enthusiasm for making Chianti Classico. With only 4 hectares of vineyards and olive groves, the typically Tuscan estate includes an old olive mill converted into apartments for travels and her teeny cantina filled to the brim with wooden barrels and stainless steel vats.

Did I mention how cute her cellar door was?

Villa Pomona | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 4

Villa Pomona | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 5

Although Monica didn’t take up a career in wine making (she was a vet), when she found out her mother was selling the vineyards, she jumped ship and took up wine making over night.

The vineyards have just achieved official organic certification with 2012 being the first year to be certified. Our favourite was her Chianti Classico and at 10 euros it was an absolute bargain! We’re considering shipping some home for our wedding.

You’ll also see the gorgeous olive groves in her back yard.

Villa Pomona | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 6

Barone Ricasoli

Tasting: 5 euros for 3 wines, free if you buy a bottle

Barone Ricasoli | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 1

The name Ricasoli has been linked to wine since 1141, when Brolio Castle passed into the hands of the Ricasoli family. The vineyards have been held by the family for 32 generations. The family tree, which was reproduced in a print from 1584, is also one of the first images in existence of Chianti. So long story short – the Ricasoli’s have been in the wine business for quite some time.

The cellar door is a rather fancy tasting room with loads of beautiful wine related things to buy. It’s probably a good thing I have virtually no room in my bag or else I’d have sent myself broke! We tried 5 wines, my favourite being the Chianti Riserva.

Barone Ricasoli | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 3

Barone Ricasoli | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 5

Their packaging was so pretty, although I promised to save it for when I got home, we cracked it during a night of lazing around in Lake Como. I wish I had bought more!

Barone Ricasoli | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 4

Don’t like wine? You needn’t worry, Barone Ricasoli also have whiskeys to try.

Barone Ricasoli | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 2

I’d like to note we actually got lost trying to find this venue as Google maps didn’t seem to have the winery listed, so if you’re having trouble, route to Brolio Castle and when you get to the turn off, you turn one way to go to the castle and the exact opposite for the cellar door.

But you should actually go to the castle first because it costs 5 euros to get in but you get a free wine tasting so why not? Plus it’s very beautiful.

Brolio Castle | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 3

The gardens are simply superb.

Brolio Castle | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 2

And the castle has the most amazing views.

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Brolio Castle | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 5

Brolio Castle | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 6

Brolio Castle | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 7

Brolio Castle | Chianti | Italy | The Macadames - 1

Places to eat

Although we didn’t get around to many restaurants, there is 1 in Siena that deserves a mention. Siena is a great place to stay because the actual town is simply gorgeous. It has that completely medieval charm that you can get lost in. There is loads to do if you want a night out after a day of wine tasting.

We had dinner at the gorgeous La Prosciutteria, you can read the full post here.

If you’ll be venturing past Siena, here is a list of great restaurants in the Chianti region.

I hope you enjoy your time in the Chianti region! Don’t forget to hashtag #travelwiththemacadames on your travel pictures – We love to see where you’re exploring!

Anisa – The Macadames. xx

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