When the word Chianti is mentioned in almost any conversation it is usually associated with the exquisite wines and historic region which both proudly share the name. Chianti, in Tuscany Italy, stretches between Florence and Siena. There are only a few regions of the world, which are not limited to a location on any map and are measured as more of a window through time, Chianti is one of them. These select few "glimpses" of many decades and centuries past, are not recorded by traveling miles or kilometers, but recognized as days and weeks spent in a place which standards of distance do not apply.
If Tuscany is truly the center of culture and refinement, which it is considered to be my many world travelers, then Chianti is the heart and its grapes are the life which flows from it. It would be reasonable and ordinary to notice the breathtaking scenes throughout the region, but traditional words do not apply. When the morning sun begins to smile upon the glorious valley which hosts the best chianti wineries, one feels required to discovery the surroundings.
Wondering where to go in Chianti for a memorable and spectacular experience, is best answered by "everywhere." When traveling through a land which bears a name synonymous with great wine, it would be nothing short of a sin to not venture out among the vineyards of the world-renowned Sangiovese grapes and experience the wineries which produce the finest Chiantis in the world.
This Google Map is great for navigating the region: click here to see.
It made the most sense geographically to start with the oldest winery and work from the bottom of the map to the top.
The Start and the Beginning:
Chianti Classico is the oldest and most historic section of the area and is world renowned for the Chianti Classico wine. Chianti Classico, as a region is deeply rooted in cultural and history, recorded as far back as the 12th century. The founder of the Chianti blend, noted for its high ratio of Sangiovese grapes, is legendary and his family still operates the winery.
Barone Ricasoli Spa:
Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio is known to be the oldest winery in Italy, dating back to the 12th century, the famed Brolio castle rebuilt many times, still stands to reflect the passing of the centuries with exquisite and historic majesty. It was Baron Bettino Ricalosi who invented the Chianti blend in 1872 and his great grandson who now runs the fourth oldest family business on the planet. For the best place to understand how the tradition began there is no better point than from the birth of the wine and the oldest winery in the country. For those who love the traditional taste of Chianti Classico in all of its glory-the flavor has remained traditional and "earthy" and the excellence is still present.
Castello Di Ama, Siena
A winery rich in history and culture, was first and the next stop is almost completely the opposite of Ricasoli. Instead of the castle it is a much more peaceful and modest area and the scenery seems more of an "old country" feel with a modern day twist. The families who revitalized the company came together to form a team in the 1960's. Unlike the first stop, there is more of a modern feel and the art of the local contemporary artists is celebrated and combined for a new approach less dipped in old culture and more trimmed with present day. The modern selection of wines is really quite extraordinary and it is easy to forget they are relatively new kids on the block.
Livernano S.S. - Azienda Agrituristica - Agriturismo
If stop two was a trip forward to the contemporary we really fell back in time, dating back to an area inhabited 2500 years ago this little "charmer" of a winery is the definition of quaint. The surroundings are magical shadows from many centuries ago and it is easy to understand why the feeling of humility blended with pride seems to be the order of the day. Even the labels are understated and almost subtle in their approach to presenting an ancient prize which illustrates the precise feel for the surroundings. Flavors are very unique and the place is adorable.
Recine S.S. - Agricultura Vino
Owned by a Monastery until the 20th century, this ancient wine farm from the 12th century is rustic and almost a back to nature setting. The views across the hills are some of the best scenes in Chianti. Revitalized in the 1970's and then carefully staffed by a group of wine experts from several countries of the world during the 1990's this team has put together a great selection in a setting which should be painted with canvas and oils as opposed to digital cameras. The feel is as if the spirits of the monks never left, almost they are walking about, unseen making sure the scientists of wine keep making them proud.
Azienda Agricola Casanova - Sas Di Aldo Furini & C.
Started by an alchemist in the 1800's the feel of the winery is the feel of a refined country family of the 19th century. The thumbprint was set deep by the Abbott whose religious philosophy of carefully preserving the history is present throughout the grounds. The wines seem to have a more bold flavor than many of the other stops, more of a bite, but not too intense, still flavorful and the staff was very proper but friendly at the same time.
Fattoria Castello Di Volpaia
This is the first instance where the entire village seems to be a part of wine making. Many of the homes and churches in the vicinity are actually housing wine cellars. The ground for the vineyards is admittedly some of the best in all of Chianti, even by competitors which seem to enjoy implying that the reason the wine has such success is its prime location. The selection was very good and each was noticeably more aromatic than others tasted. More info.
Azienda Agricola Festeggiata
Of all of the places we stopped this one seemed to be the most reclusive, It was our first in Panzano and they seemed very quiet and more to themselves with their history and tradition. It was almost as if they had some type of "recipe" which made them stand out among the others. The wines seemed more rare in vintage and there was not a lot of information on prices in print. They did not appear to produce a very many bottles, but their wine may have been some of the best flavor in all of Chianti.
Azienda Agricola Monte Bernardi S.S.
Dating back to roots from the 11th century this area seemed noticeably different, the wines were not sold to the public until the 1990's and were only available to local farms. Panzano provided a different scenery that the other areas. A river is one of the key differences in the flavor which seems to somehow bring another element into the vines. It sounded like a bit of local lore, but the flavor was noticeably different especially in the Chianti Classico. Winery website.
Fattoria Le Fonti Di Vicky Schmitt Vitali
This was the most unimpressive yet stunningly simple of all of the wineries. Very basic and functional with no frills. It was not by accident or due to lack of success, it was the way they intended to preserve the tradition. The location was very close to the other two in the Panzano vicinity and the wine was just as striking as the somewhat fancier operations. Having the three close together validated the location of the soil theory which we had heard on our other stops. Replanted in 1994 they are simple in appearance and complex in quality. Link here to their site.
Castello di Verrazzano
Our last stop was a thousand year old castle. It is like we started at one end with a bang in Chianti and concluded at the other with fireworks. This was a remarkably self contained almost little village in and of itself. Not nearly as grandiose as the castle overlooking the Ricasoli vineyard but more of a functional castle not so much smoke as fire. Functionality through tradition, mixed with the modern scientists of wine making. The last glass of Chianti from the tour was as unique and splendid as the first.
After the Ball:
After 5 days in the wine country of Chianti, there was certainly nothing which could even come close to the individual universe each of of stops exhibited. Even though they were in the same region, the traditions and history of each ranged from ancient to modern in philosophy and approach. There is much to be said for the wonderful selection of accommodations in the area. Ranging from extravagant to very simple and functional, each had their charms, exactly like the wineries of the highly acclaimed section of the world. Amazing was the word for the adventure, one taste of culture and a single sip of grapes at a time.