We woke up and grabbed caffe Americano and panini at Bar Independenza near our Airbnb, nothing fancy but a good quick way to start the day.
Franco Fadda Brunello di Montalcino Wine Tour
We were picked up by Franco Fadda wine tour from right outside our door at 9AM. We were accompanied by an early 30s couple from New York and a family of 4 from Houston who were touring Italy in advance of dropping their son for a study abroad in Florence. Fun group of people to spend the day with.
Franco started out by educating us on the region, grapes and wines on our way to the first winery. This was a Montalcino tour where the primary wine is Brunello di Montalcino. Most of the grapes in this Montalcino region are Sangiovese variety of red grapes, these grapes grow all over but can only be given the name “Brunello” when grown in the Montalcino area with specific land and soil conditions as well as specified aging times. Wine is highly regulated by the government in Italy, wines are given distinct classifications so that consumers know what to expect when they purchase a pricey bottle, DOC is a quality standard confirmation, DOCG has even further standards that must be met to gain the title, IGT is a third title that refers to only grapes from Tuscany with less stringent specifications than DOC or DOCG, these IGT wines are sometimes referred to as Super Tuscans though Franco said that is more of a marketing term. The final classification is table wine or house wine which is unregulated.
Sangiovese grapes can be grown anywhere but Brunello wine can ONLY be produced in the Montalcino area – the Brunello di Montalcino requires 5 years aging from the time of picking to the time of release. The 2011 vintage refers to grapes that were picked in 2011 and the wine aged for 5 years before release this year (2016) so the Brunello di Montalcino wines that we tasted today were all 2011 vintage. Franco said 2011 was an exceptionally hot and sunny year so that some of the fruit was sweeter and almost cooked by the climate before picking to create a more jammy quality. The same Sangiovese grapes grown on the same vines as the Brunello but aged only 1 year are able to be released under the title “Rosso di Montalcino” and CANNOT be referred to as “Brunello” though a few more years in the barrel would grant them that title; and the same grapes aged in the barrel and released 6 years after picking are referred to as “Riserva Brunello di Montalcino”. Shocking what a different there is between the Rosso, Brunello and Riserva Brunello since it is essentially the same batch of grapes from the same vines but aged for different lengths of time. The Riserva and Brunello are both much darker, fuller bodied wines; though not as dark and bold as a Cab/Merlot. And the Rosso was quite light and see through sort of reminiscent of a pinot noir. Each vineyard also produces a Rosso di Toscana which is classified as IGT and can be a blend of different varieties or an unaged Sangiovese or whatever the winemaker chooses though a certain percentage must be Sangiovese; this is kind of a place for them to express themselves or experiment with different blends though we were told that mostly they do the same blend every year.
We both agreed that the longer aged Brunello and Riserva Brunello were more to our taste than the Rosso di Montalcino (we later found out that Brunellos are some of the finest and most expensive wines in Italy – whoops, hope we don’t get too used to that). It was impressive that these wines could vary so much in taste and quality between the 3 different wineries that we visited though the vintage and variety of grapes were the same, Franco stated that the soil and elevation differences in addition to the handling and processing adds to the distinctions (though each one must be certified by the government to hold the corresponding names – DOC, DOCG, etc. – so they all definitely meet the same qualification for their labels).
The first winery we went to was Solaria, these wines were very good but what we really loved was their olive oil and plan to purchase some online when we return to the states. The second winery we went to was called Collemattoni, and the third was called Cordella. The estates at all three wineries were spectacular with old farm houses and rolling hill views. At the first 2 wineries we had different breads soaked in the vineyards’ olive oil, Tuscan salami and hard cheeses. At the 3rd winery we enjoyed a full, home cooked, Italian meal complete with antipasti, risotto, lasagna and tiramisu paired with their wines – this vineyard does a Rosato of sangiovese where the skins are left in contact with the juice for only a few minutes rather than 2 weeks as in the regular Brunello and Rosso processes. We tried their Rosso di Toscana which was very bold with some skins still in the bottle (unfiltered), we really enjoyed this wine and decided to purchase a bottle to take with us; Franco said this was the same Sangiovese fruit aged only 1 year but left in contact with skins throughout. We also tried their Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello and Riserva Brunello in addition to their grappa and they even brought out the only remaining bottle of dessert wine (which they do not sell) upon inquiry by some of the group.
We tried grappa at the first and last wineries, grappa is a distilled spirit made from the leftover wine skins after the wine making process. Franco showed us that the way to enjoy grappa is to sip the tiniest volume of liquid and let it coat the inside of your mouth. If you get a small enough sip it evaporates and you don’t actually swallow any liquid, it just creates a tingling sensation across the tongue. Amanda prefers to stick to wine, but Ryan was okay with the grappa by the end of the day.
In addition to tasting and learning about great wine, we were blown away by the beauty and peace of the Tuscan countryside. Each vineyard and even the drives between them were filled with rolling hills and incomparable vistas. There were blooming flowers everywhere, each vineyard had a massive rose bush at the end of the vine lines which Franco said was not just for beauty but also because the rose bush will show signs of a pest infestation before the vines allowing time for pest treatment on the crop if needed. We would not miss doing another Tuscan wine tour upon a return visit. We tried a few Chianti Classico wines while in Florence and agreed that the Brunello di Montalcino was our preference of the 2 but perhaps Montepulciano would be fun to tour, though we’d gladly revisit Montalcino.
After the wine tour we were dropped back at our hotel around 6PM. We relaxed in the room for a bit then headed to dinner at Guidoriccio by Il Campo. This was a charming building with a cave like structure. The owner was very hospitable, he brought out complimentary Papa al pomodoro, it was like a stew of tomatoes and veggies with crumbled bread soaked in it and it was so good. We opted for the pici with some kind of duck sauce (turned out to be quite a stew like sauce, kind of heavy) and a pappardelle with porcini mushroom sauce (not a thick sauce, more like a bit of oil with mushrooms). We really enjoyed the décor of this restaurant and the owner was very sweet but the food was heavier than we intended after eating and drinking all day on the wine tour. We also tried a 375mL bottle of his house red which was not our favorite wine of the trip although maybe not a good comparison when we’d been drinking one of the finest wines in Italy all day. After dinner we went home and went to bed since we intended to get up early to catch the bus to Florence.