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Friday, December 31, 2010

Wine tasting in Montalcino

The last part of our trip was wine tasting in Tuscany. We decided to stay in Montalcino, which is about an hour and a half south of Florence. We took the scenic route from Florence and saw some amazing landscape. First the route takes you through the Chianti region through to Sienna. After we passed through Sienna we drove south through Montalcino to our agriturismo, Piombaia.

Montalcino is most famous for its Brunello wine, one of the top red wines in the country and the world. Since it is a DOCG wine the wine making process is very specific and regulated (much like parmeggiano reggiano). We decided to only go to three wineries while we were there, since the production and aging process is more or less the same for all Brunellos and Rosso (the much more affordable type of wine made from the same grapes). There are close to 200 wineries in the Montalcino region, all making the same type of wine. There is only one kind of grape that you can grow to make Brunello or Rosso wine, the Sangiovese grape. If you want to make a different type of wine you have to grow the grapes outside of the Montalcino region. Talk about strict!  There are a few things that gives each winery its distinctive taste, even though they all make the same wine from the same type of grape.  The altitude of the vines, what direction the vines face (vines that get more sun tend to have higher fructose levels) and even what direction the wind comes from can all have an impact on the wines final taste.

The first winery we went to is the one that started it all - Biondi Santi. They are the "founders" of the modern Brunello wine, the first and what most consider the best. They have a limited crop every year and only produce about 70,000 bottles per year.  We had a small group of six people (all Americans) and we learned about the wine making process and aging times (from a former New Yorker, of course).  The winery began in 1888 and is run by the founders great grandson (who now well in to his late 80's or so) Franco. When we went back to Biondi Santi the next day to invest in a nice bottle of Brunello, we got to meet the man himself! Our tour guide was there helping with our purchase and she introduced us to him, and told him in Italian that we were there on our honeymoon (sure...close enough). What an amazing experience it was to meet such a legend!

The second winery we went to was Barbi, a bigger operation that gave large group tours a couple times a day. Since the process was the same we got a little bored and didn’t really listen to the guide, and it took twice as long since he was giving the tour in English and Italian at the same time. We really weren’t too impressed with this winery.  The bigger group made it feel like a wine factory, which really isnt our thing.  We were so glad that we didn’t go see Banfi, which is one of the largest producers in this region - think wine disney land (which as I type that doesn’t sound as bad as I wanted it to...).

vintage bottles of Barbi
The last winery we went to was recommended to us by a couple that we met on our Taste of Florence food tour. They had been in Montalcino the day before our food tour and absolutely fell in love with this winery (and its the most fun to say) - next stop, Ciacci Piccolomini! We managed to get a personal tour from a wonderful Italian woman. Since it was just the three of us, we got to know a lot more details about the winery and could ask her as many questions as we wanted. We tasted six wines (along with Grappa at the very end - which makes me ill just thinking about it). Along with the Brunello and Rosso’s we also got to taste a Syrah that they make. 

Hold the phone - Syrah?? I thought you said they could only make Brunello and Rosso wines in Montalcino.
Good catch! We asked the same thing...they actually bought a plot of land on the other side of the Montalcino border especially to grow these french Syrah grapes. Literally the land is about a mile away and technically since its not in Montalcino, the Syrah grapes are fair game. And let me tell you...this Tuscan Syrah was molto bene!
18 bottles of wine and a bottle of Grappa later (It was a gift, we couldn’t say no!) we were done with our Montalcino wine tasting.


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