Each issue of our Newsletter I try to pick out bits of our tours that don’t make it into our brochure or onto our website. Personal observations rather than ‘tourist’-style details.
This month, I’d like to tell you about one of my favourite parts of our Tuscany tour that took me by surprise.
Once you’ve guided a tour 5, 6, 7 times, you can imagine that even the most interesting village becomes just a village, and hopefully one with a decent cafe. The Cantine in Greve-in-Chianti is something I never get tired of.
On our very first Tuscany trip, back in 2005, the vineyard we’d arranged to visit near Greve-in-Chianti cancelled our visit at short notice. I asked one of our Italian guides, Lorenzo, if he could find an alternative at short notice, and it was a huge relief when he told me that we would be the visiting the Cantine on Tuesday morning. Until we got there.
It looks like a total tourist trap, which isn’t really what we do. On our Bordeaux trip, when we visit a vineyard, we generally meet the owner, have a look at the vines, learn a bit about viniculture, explore the cellars and then get on with the serious business of wine tasting. As we descended the steps into the Cantine, I could see a number of ‘islands’, stands which each held 16 bottles. You had to buy a special payment card, insert it into one of these ‘islands’, select the wine you wanted to taste and hold your glass under the pouring spout.
I was seething – quietly I hope. It felt like the sort of thing you would find out about from a poster at the Tourist Office – it’s the opposite of good research. We managed to persuade the manager, Marco, to join us and prepare a bill for me at the end, so that we didn’t have to give these horrible payment cards to our customers. And then Marco started to tell us all about Tuscan wines.
We start with an ordinary Chianti, typically a Colle Sinesi. We move onto the traditional Chianti Classico and the marketing brand of the Gallo Nero (the black cockrel that you might be familiar with). We learn about the rise of the ‘Super Tuscans’, and why they don’t really exist anymore.
Then we move onto the serious end of the market, the wonderful full-bodied Brunellos of Montalcino and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This is the point where our guide’s credit card starts to take a real pasting, but its worth it.
The story of Tuscan wines is particularly interesting, the development of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), how Chianti Classico rescued its ruined reputation, the reverence shown towards the Brunello and the Vino Nobile, and the spirituality associated with Vino Santo. I love visiting Marco at the Cantine, its always a highlight, especially when I remember my initial disappointment. Don’t judge a book by its cover eh?