Tuscan Wine Treasures
Chianti, Brunello & Vino Nobile
Visit three historic wine zones: Chianti Classico in central Tuscany, and Montalcino and Montepulciano in southern Tuscany
Private sit-down tastings at Castello di Brolio, Castello dei Rampola, Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Icario & more
Listen to Benedictine monks sing plainchant in Sant’ Antimo Abbey
Explore the Gothic city of Siena and its art treasures
Taste pecorino cheese in the Renaissance town of Pienza
Roll up your sleeves for a cooking lesson at a Chianti farmhouse
If you’ve never been in Italy, this tour is for you. When people dream of Italy, it’s Tuscany in their mind’s eye: rolling hills punctuated with slender cypresses, quaint stone farmhouses bordered by lavender and rosemary, tidy vineyards flanking dense forests that seem ready to burst with Renaissance falconers on horseback.
It’s not a fiction. Tuscany’s wine country is situated in some of the most gorgeous, pastoral, and carefully preserved countryside on earth. Here you’ll find wines of equal splendor. Gone are the days of the straw fiasco. Tuscan winemakers are now among the most forward-thinking and iconoclastic of Italian enologists, and today’s Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Super Tuscans are powerful, modern expressions that will surprise and delight even the most discerning wine drinkers.
This tour covers two subregions within the ancient heart of Tuscany. We begin in Chianti Classico. Lying between Florence and Siena, this sprawling, forested land was contested by the rival city-states for nearly 400 years, and its fortified towns and storybook castles bespeak a history of warfare. We’ll visit the crenulated castle where Chianti was born and talk with winemakers whose bloodlines and properties go back to the 1100s.
While in Chianti, we’ll also delve into Tuscany’s cucina povera during a cooking lesson in a rustic farmhouse kitchen. Prepare for fun! Even cooking-phobes who only boil water will be merrily whipping out ravioli and tiramisu before the night is over.
The second half of the tour is in southern Tuscany. Barren of trees except for the lone cypresses that dot the brown hills (which inspired the color ‘burnt Siena’), this is far different from forested Chianti. A medieval feeling characterizes Siena, where we’ll have an art day, and Montalcino, our home base, as well as the Romanesque abbey of Sant’ Antimo, where we’ll listen to monks chant in an austere, spiritually resplendent environment. In contrast, the Renaissance architecture of Pienza, an “ideal” city built for Pope Pius II which today is brimming with pecorino cheese, will seem downright modern.
Famous for its red wines since the time of Charlemagne, Montalcino is producing what’s widely considered Tuscany’s top wine: Brunello di Montalcino. Meanwhile, economy-minded wine enthusiasts will appreciate our time in Montepulciano, whose Vino Nobile has found fans as far back as Thomas Jefferson and Voltaire.
Altogether this tour provides an excellent overview of the great historic red-wine zones of Tuscany and their centerpiece grape, sangiovese. With its judicious mix of art, culture, and culinary sidelights, this will truly be your dream vacation!
DAY 1 – WELCOME TO CHIANTI CLASSICO
After a 9:30 a.m. pick-up in Florence, we shuttle to Chianti Classico (1 hour). Our first winery is a gorgeous old property, the family-run Vecchie Terre di Montefili. Here we’ll have an introduction to the noble sangiovese grape, the concept of terroir, and the legend of the black rooster. A complementary welcome lunch follows in Greve in Chianti, birthplace of the explorer Verrazano, and, if time allows, a visit to the Greve Enoteca, where 200+ wines are available to taste. For our afternoon tasting, we move to the Conca d’Oro (golden bowl) in Panzano, a high-elevation, warm amphitheater of land in a preeminent sub-zone of Chianti. Here we’ll visit Castello dei Rampolla, a biodynamic winery and pioneering renegade in its emphasis on cabernet. We then settle into our hotel, a renovated farmstead outside the medieval town of Radda in Chianti. Dinner is in a tiny hamlet called Volpaia, meaning “place of foxes.” Here we’ll have family-style servings of homemade pasta, wild boar stew, and fabulous torta della nonna (cream tort with pinenuts).
L, D • Le Noci
DAY 2 – RICASOLI & THE BIRTH OF CHIANTI
America had Thomas Jefferson. Italy had multiple politicians with close ties to viticulture. In Tuscany, the most important was Bettino “Iron Baron” Ricasoli, Italy’s second Prime Minister and inventor of Chianti wine. We’ll visit Castello di Brolio, where the Ricasolis have been making wine since the 1100s. Walking through the magnificent gardens and on the castle’s crenulated walls, we’ll hear about the Iron Baron’s winemaking—and the legend of his ghost. Then we’ll taste their highly regarded Chiantis and Super Tuscan, and continue sampling over lunch at the winery’s Osteria del Castello. The afternoon is devoted to the Baron’s cousin at Rocca di Montegrossi. Here Marco Ricasoli-Firidolfi diligently handcrafts some of the most elegant, refined Chiantis you’ll ever find. In the late afternoon, we’ll roll up our sleeves for a hands-on cooking lesson at a Chianti farmhouse. We’ll dine on our brilliant labors and toast the day with a glass of vin santo, the golden dessert wine traditionally served with almond biscotti.
B, D • Le Noci
DAY 3 – THE GOTHIC CITY OF SIENA
Transferring from Chianti to southern Tuscany, we’ll stop in Siena for the day. We start with Nannini, a famous old coffee bar where we’ll sample panforte, a cake dense with nuts, candied fruits, and spices. After refueling on this medieval snack, we’ll be primed and ready to visit the Palazzo Pubblico, a splendid town hall lined with Italian Gothic frescoes. We’ll pay homage to the most famous: Simone Martini’s Maesta and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Good & Bad Government. Then we’ll circle by the striped Duomo, home to artworks by Michelangelo and Pinturicchio, for an optional visit. Free time for lunch, shopping, and museum-going follows. Wine lovers can use this time to visit the Enoteca Nazionale, Italy’s national wine bar/showcase, housed in a Medici fortress. Mid-afternoon we’ll continue south to the hilltop town of Montalcino and our second hotel. Before dinner, we’ll gather on the terrace for an introduction to Brunello and enjoy a glass of wine while admiring the spectacular view of the Val d’Orcia. Dinner is at a lively, family-run trattoria that offers excellent pinci pasta and succulent veal glazed with balsamic-juniper sauce.
B, D • Hotel Dei Capitani
DAY 4 – BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO, NORTH TO SOUTH
Today is dedicated to Brunello di Montalcino. Tuscany’s most prestigious wine is made from sangiovese, a site-sensitive grape, so we’ll visit wineries on the north and south sides of Montalcino to let you compare Brunellos made in different microclimates. First is Donatella Cinelli Colombini (aka Casato Prime Donne) on the cooler northern fringe of the DOCG zone, which is run by an all-female staff. Our hostess will provide an entertaining history of Montalcino as we tour the cellars. After lunch in Montalcino, we move 10 km south and get into a contemplate mood at the Abbey of Sant’ Antimo. In its austere Romanesque church, we’ll listen to Gregorian chants sung by the friars who live at this still-active abbey. Then it’s on to our second Brunello tasting at Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, a southside estate with great wines—and a great Cinderella story to match. Dinner is on your own in Montalcino.
B, D • Hotel Dei Capitani
DAY 5 – PECORINO AND THE NOBLE WINE OF MONTEPULCIANO
The ability to make pecorino cheese was once considered so valuable a skill that women could list it on their dowry. We’ll taste three types of pecorino in the cheese capital of Pienza and see how aging cheese in walnut leaves, olive paste, hay, even grape must affects its flavor. Pienza is also famous for its architecture, being an “ideal” city commissioned by the Renaissance Pope Pius II. We’ll tour the Piccolomini Palace, stroll through its beautiful light-filled church, and learn a bit about Renaissance architectural theory and Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. Then we move to another Renaissance city, Montepulciano, for lunch. A summer retreat for Florentine aristocrats, Montepulciano has palazzi and piazze embellished by Florence’s leading 15th C. architects. Wine took center stage in the 1700s, when its popularity among nobles and literati earned it the moniker Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Our tasting of the day will be at Icario, a rising star in Montepulciano, which recently built a gorgeous state-of-the-art winery. Our farewell dinner back in Montalcino features Brunello-worthy Tuscan fare, such as gnocchi with wild herbs and beef braised in Brunello.
B, D • Hotel Dei Capitani
DAY 6 – BUON VIAGGIO!
A shuttle to Florence, arriving by noon, and assistance with your travel plans. B
Florence or Pisa (continental), or Rome (intercontinental nonstop). To land in Florence or Pisa, you’ll need to connect somewhere in Europe. From the Florence airport to the city center, it’s a 20-minute taxi ride. If arriving in Pisa, the airport has its own train stop and is only an hour from Florence. Rome is the closest intercontinental airport, with direct flights to the US. If arriving in Rome, you’ll need to take a train from the airport to town (30 min.). Then from Rome’s main train station, it’s only 95 minutes to Florence on the fast train (EuroStar); the latter requires reservations.
Italian train schedule
Click here for an English-language version of TrenItalia. Be aware that the schedule is posted only several months in advance, so if you’re looking for long-range dates, try something sooner, just to get an idea of departure frequency and trip length.
Plan to land in Italy at least a day before the tour begins; that’s necessary to be at our starting point on time. Most people spend the preceding night in Florence. For hotel suggestions, email us or consult a good hotel search engine, such as TripAdvisor or Venere. If you’re spending just one night, we recommend staying near the main train station, Stazione Santa Maria Novella, since that is our meeting point. Otherwise, take your pick of neighborhoods. Florence is not a huge city, and it’s very walkable. In fact, we encourage you to get out and walk around; the streets are a living museum!
Our meeting point is Florence, at the main train station, Santa Maria Novella (details will be indicated in your information packet). From here, we shuttle to Chianti (about 1 hour), where the tour gets underway. (We cannot pick up from individual hotels because only taxis and permanent residents are allowed in Florence’s city center.)
On our final day, we’ll have you back at the Florence train station by noon. (Drive time from Montalcino is approximately 2 hours.)
Because Tuscan Wine Treasures does not include any time in Florence, we recommend spending a few days in this fabulous art city, either before or after our tour. Florence is easy to navigate on your own. But there are also excellent thematic walking tours offered by our friends at ContextTravel. If you’d like to explore other small-sized cities in Tuscany, Florence is well connected with Lucca (1 hr, 20 min) and Arezzo (1 hr) by train. And it’s just a hop and a skip to Rome on the EuroStar express train (1 hr 35 min).
This is recommended to protect you from needless loss caused by last-minute cancellations, lost luggage, and more. One source is Travelex Insurance: http://www.travelexinsurance.com, (800) 228-9792 (please use our compay code: 21-0043 LDV).
When packing, check http://www.weather.com. Go to “Radda in Chianti, Italy” and “Montalcino, Italy” to get a general idea of temperatures and forecast. In advance, you can see a four-year average of temperatures here.