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Small villages and vineyards of the Chianti section of Tuscany: Italy's finest!

Jan 17, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Some of the best food, wine and countryside there is!

Cons:Requires time, a precious commodity when visiting Italy.

The vineyards and (very) small villages of the Chianti area provide the best opportunity to see Tuscany without the heavy influence of (mostly American) tourists. The Chianti region lies midway between Florence and Siena and is characterized by antique, terraced farmland and hillsides covered with grapevines. The best way to explore is by bus or by car. Day trips to Florence and Siena are quick and easy. Once you get inside a small town's walls, your find hidden art collections, fantastic views, medieval ambiance and friendly locals. In 1998 I was lucky enough to spend a month in Tuscany. I loved everything about it! There are many summer festivals in almost every little village in the area. If you can possibly visit for a few days, you will be the better for it! The following list of villages and wineries in Chianti were only a few of my favorites:

Volpaia: a beautiful, fortified village with stone covered alleyways. This village has breathtaking views across a valley to a little 12th century Roman church of Santa Maria Novella. These views are the classic "photo ops" of Chianti. There is a bar which is open for lunch and offers sandwiches. There is also a trattoria. At the center of town, in the corner of the piazza, is the Castello di Valopaia which is now an enoteca (wine shop). I think that I shot 3 or 4 rolls of film in and around this village alone!

Lamole: the views of the hillsides just don't get better than this! There is a GREAT little restaurant here, the Ristoro di Lamole. My friends and I made excuses to eat here whenever we could. I did not eat better food anywhere in Italy! It was original and melted in your mouth, but was not contrived. The (home made) pasta and saltimbocca (veal) were to die for! Prices are moderate. The setting is just as good (or better, if that is possible) than the food, overlooking a picturesque hillside. There is great walking along the roads around Lamole. The village has a eliptical design, an ancient small fortress of which only ruins of the walls and a keep remain.

Colle di Val D'Elsa : consists of 3 districts divided into 2 distinctly different town areas: Colle Basse, which is in the valley beside the river Elsa and Colle Alta, which clings to the hillside and has retained it 16th century walls and a fortified gate. Colle Val d'Elsa is famous today for its production of fine handcrafted crystal and you should buy some if you are at all inclined to cart it home with you. It is some of the most beautiful that I have ever seen (and I love crystal) and the prices are very reasonable. The town has typically medieval corner architecture with a Renaissance expression. There are steeply sloping streets, narrow paved lanes, and long flights of steps. There is a large Archaeological Museum which I went to see…and of course it was closed on the day of my visit! The Piazza del Duomo is really beautiful and the town is dotted with 13th century buildings and lovely little churches.

Castellina in Chianti: situated on the peak of a hillside, you can see this old, walled city from any direction as you approach. At the entrance to the 13th century town, opposite the neo-Romanesque church, is the start of an unusual, vaulted, covered street, the Via della Volte. It skirts the interior of the town walls and, in the past, allowed rider to go around the inside of the fortified city on horseback. Openings in the walls provide exquisite views of the Chianti hillsides. There is an Etruscan burial ground nearby with artifacts in excellent condition. There are lovely little shops in the village which are worth exploring.

This is the heart of the Chianti wine district. The name Chianti for wine produced in this region was first mention in 1404 in one of the oldest documents from the archives of the famous merchant "Francesco Datini" of Prato. In 1924, a consortium for the protection of the quality of Chiani Classico was founded. The "Gallo Nero"-"Black Rooster" was chosen as a trade mark and the town of Castellina in Chianti used it as their symbol. In 1967 the whole of the Chianti region was granted the D.O.C. (denominazione e origine controllata) nomination securing the controlled use of the name for wines of origin in this area. Perfect soil and climate make the olive oil in this region also of the highest quality-with an acid content of less than 1%.

Some of my favorite vineyards in the area include:

Belvedere di San Leonino
Castellina in Chianti
0577/740887 or 740924
The Chianti Classico "Il Borgo" is great! Also great is "Il Michaelangelo" , a spicy wine made from 100% San Giovese grapes. They also have outstanding olive oil which they have named "Bacio."
In addition to being a farm where vintage wine is produced, Belvedere di San Leonino is also a large country house built around 1400 which has been converted into a hotel, without changing much of the original architecture. There are 28 rooms, each with private bath. I did not stay here but it looked interesting. There is a large swimming pool available to the guests. Siena is about 15 minutes away and Florence 30 minutes away.

Castello La Leccia
Castellina in Chianti
0577/743076
The 1995 Chianti Classico is very good…The 1994 Chianti Classico is outstanding!
This was a great little vineyard to visit. It is a castle, an ancient fortress which has belonged to the Daddi family since the 1920's. They also make Vinsanto and olive oil, but I have tried neither from this vineyard. They also have 3 apartments for rent, but I did not stay there nor did I see them.

Fattoria Ormanni
Poggibonsi
0577/937212
The Chianti Classic is very good and the Chianti Classico Reserva is really superb! I did not visit this vineyard myself, but spoke with the owners at a wine festival in Castellina in Chianti. I cannot speak for their facility, although their photos were beautiful!

Podere Fioraine
Castellina in Chianti
0577/280716
Both the Chianti Classico and the Chianti Classico Reserva were excellent. Again, I did did not visit this vineyard myself, but spoke with the owners at a wine festival in Castellina in Chianti.

Podere San Donatino
Castellina in Chianti
0577/740318
The 1996 Chianti Classico was as good as any that we had while in Italy, definitely not too young. The 1995 Chianti Classico was also very good, probably not as good as the '96. The label on the bottles from this vintner were very distinctive and really appealing-a "Picasso-style" owl. The Chianti Classico is called "Poggio Al Mori" They also make really great olive oil!

Rocca delle Macie
Castellina in Chianti
0577/743150
Wines from this producer are readily available in Boston…so my guess is that they are readily available throughout the U.S. Their Chianti Classico is really good and a very solid value. Their Chianti Classico Reserva is also good…but at a higher price, it's not as good a value. They cultivate over 3,00 hectares of vineyards and 15,000 olive trees. This is the biggest (and the least quaint) of the wine operations that I visited.

Vignamaggio
Greve in Chianti
055/8544840
The wines of Vignamaggio are more expensive than the others I have included, but they are truly worth it! The property itself is on an exquisitely beautiful hillside and it is definitely worth the effort to stop for a visit if you are anywhere nearby. It is located half way between Florence and Siena. They have beautifully renovated the ancient wine cellars and all of their equipment for a truly modern operation. The "Il Cenobio" residence takes in guests and offers private apartments, a swimming pool, tennis court, meals and (of course) wine tastings. It provides a quiet, countryside vacation…..I love this place!



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