Vineyards of Tuscany
Tuscany is without a doubt the most beautiful wine area I’ve visited. The hills are rolling, the autumn shades are golden and the morning mist makes this the most picture perfect scene. If your Tuscan dreams feature vibrant rolling vineyards, punctuated by snaking cypress-lined driveways, and world-class wines, then the areas of Montepulciano and Montalcino are for you.
This is predominantly a red wine area. Split into different areas with Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano being made from mainly Sangiovese grapes and Vernaccia grapes being used for the white Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
We headed south to focus on the Brunello grapes grown around the village of Montalcino. Brunello di Montalcino ranks among Italy’s finest and most expensive wines. This area is drier and warmer than Chianti, producing richer, more full bodied wines which are what I usually prefer. In the 1980’s it was the first wine to receive the DOCG classification. Many of the vineyards here are located on the hillsides leading up towards the mountain, so as well as being the wines that I was most excited to taste, it was the area with the most picturesque vineyards that I couldn’t wait to see.
Brunello di Montalcino wines are required to be aged for at least four years before being released, with the reserve wines requiring five years. These wines are very tannic in their youth, requiring around a decade before they begin to soften, with wines from the best vintages being able to last beyond 50 years. The area also has the DOC for Rosso di Montalcino, often referred to as ‘Baby Brunellos’. These wines are made from the same vineyards, grapes and style as the regular Brunello, but are not aged as long, giving them a lighter body and being much more approachable as young wines.
Tuscany, in the heart of Italy, is packed full of great wineries. I selected three to visit, all very different. Unlike other wine areas, here you need to call ahead to make an appointment. Tours last around an hour and end in the tasting room where, along with some expert guidance, you can develop a better appreciation for the fruit of these vines. To really enjoy this experience it’s so important to have a driver for the day, not only will you be able to enjoy the wines, but it will also save you a lot of time getting lost.
Amongst the eastern hills of Montalcino in central Tuscay stands the elegant 14th century Palazzo Altesi on a beautiful estate that stretches over 80 hectares. The estate perfectly reflects Altesino’s charm and refinement. Altesino grapes are grown at 5 vineyards all over Montalcino and harvests here are done by hand to ensure the finest quality.
Altesino is an estate with the utmost pedigree when it comes to producing quality wines in Montalcino. They have been a leader in various innovations, pioneering the aging of IGT wines in small French oak barrels to enhance the personality of the wine. They were the first Montalcino estate to introduce the concept of Cru wines. They also first introduced Futures for Brunello wines with their 1985 vintage. Wines here are highly regarded with 95 points for Brunello di Montosoli in Wine Spectator.
The early morning view when we arrive is halted by the low lying mist that fills the valley, but this gives a special feel of it’s own. The mid-sized cellar is beautifully kept. Huge Slavonia Oak barrels hold 6,000 bottles and help to retain the characteristics of the wine. The neutral quality of the wood allows the wine to soften and mature without taking on overtly oaky tones.
Giulia is the perfect guide to compliment Altesino. She shows us around full of knowledge before introducing us to five of their wines during our tasting. We decide we simply must take some home and by the time we’ve selected our Altesino supplies, the mist has cleared and the views across the valley to Montalcino are breathtaking. The wine here is fantastic, but the views are worthy of a visit in themselves.
500 acres of rolling Tuscan beauty, Poggio Antico sits as one of the highest vineyards in the area at an altitude of 450 meters. This high elevation brings maritime breezes from the ocean, keeping the grapes free from fog, mist and mildew, which pose a constant threat to neighbouring vineyards. The rustic estate is dominated by cypress and olive trees lining the roads with the estate also home to farmland, olive groves and a restaurant.
A lot of changes have taken place in Tuscany and Poggio Antico is the only producer in the area to embrace both the style and technology of the new world while retaining its passion for producing traditional Brunello. They uniquely produce both a new-world Brunello, aged in French barrels, and an old-world Brunello steeped in tradition, aged for longer on the much larger Slavonian oak barrels.
The wines are phenomenal. The cool nights leave an unmistakable footprint on the wines made at Poggio Antico producing a full bouquet which is hard to find elsewhere. And so it was hard to leave without yet more supplies and an increasing desire to get home and start cracking them open.
Visiting at lunchtime, we made a to visit the restaurant. Sitting high up with views extending out to the horizon, this is the perfect spot to refuel ready for more of the same in the afternoon. They effortlessly served up delicious vegan pasta, what more could we ask for!
In the middle of Montalcino’s biggest wine estate stands a handsome medieval castle. Nestled between the Orcia and Ombrone rivers on the southern slopes of Montalcino, Castello Banfi is unique in it’s wine culture and tradition. Wines are produced by grapes selected from specific Banfi vineyards as well as other noble areas of the region that express the authentic character of Tuscany.
Founded in 1978 with the goal to create a state-of-the-art winery combined with the most advanced science in the production of premium wines, the winery grew rapidly to become one of the biggest wineries in all of Italy. Today it is also a hotel with the ancient stone hamlet from the 1700s being restyled into luxurious rooms and suites.
Guided tours take place each day at 4pm, but with the sun setting early in November, we decided to skip to the good bit and just go straight for the wine tasting. The La Riserva tasting was such a treat including the Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1995. By this point in the day we were so in love with Brunello wines that this time as well as stocking up on a range of Castello Banfi wines we added a crown to the glory with a 5 litre bottle to add to our newly created Brunello home wine collection.
And that left just enough time to take in the setting. To drive through the rolling hills and gaze as the setting sun added a golden light to the golden autumnal tones. Winding cypress tree-lined roads turn the Tuscan dream of my new favourite wine region into an exceptional reality.