I've been dreaming of a visit to Italy for a long time and my dream finally came true. I used the opportunity to visit my European relatives and to get together with the nephews and nieces that I've never met in my entire life.
Two of my friends were nice enough to join me on the journey. The three of us spent the first week in Italy, visiting Milan, Florence and Venice. Florence is not only a stunningly beautiful city, but is also known for its big wine producing area, the Toscana area.
There are many winery tours available through travel agencies but we picked a tour offered by a local wine school. This tour would take us to three wineries and allow us to experience Toscana wine and food pairings at the 3rd winery.
Before heading to the wineries, our tour guide, who is also a wine expert, gave us a brief tutorial about the wine in the Toscana area and how to do the tasting. The well known Chianti Classico is one of the oldest wine making areas in Toscana. In order to be able to indicate Chianti Classico on the label, a vintner must use more than 80% of the Sangiovese varietal in the wine. Sangiovese is one of the most popular red wine varietals in Italy and it is a type of wine that you can enjoy best with simple Toscana cuisine, rather than drinking the wine alone. Our guide was a very charming young lady who spoke cheerfully and very fast, with a slight Italian accent. I knew this was going to be fun!
At the first winery Montecchio, the wine maker invited us to the terrace where we were able to view the estate's Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. It was a small family business and like most wineries in this area, they produce olives as well. That meant we'd get to taste olive oil too! Next, we were moved to a very classy tasting room and invited to taste their Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Reserva and their Super Toscana wine. Chianti Classico is their flagship item and the wine of which they produce the most. Their Reserva is a higher grade wine that they spend more time and care producing. Their Super Toscana is a new style of wine that most wine makers in the area are starting to produce these days. There are certain regulations that must be followed when making Italian wine. Like I said, in order to indicate Chianti Classico on the label the wine must contain over 80% of the Sangiovese varietal, have a certain maturation time, and so on. Super Toscana, on the other hand, is a kind of wine made outside of all of these regulations and ever since the well known wine critic Robert Parker acknowledged the quality of Super Toscana, it has become a new genre of high quality wine in the Toscana area.
Reserva in this winery uses 100% of the Sangiovese varietal and is matured for three years. Super Toscana is a blend of 40% Cabernet and 60% Sangiovese.
The second winery on our tour, Casa Sola has a wine cellar that is over 500 years old. In Japan, nothing like this has survived that long, as most of our structures from that era were made of wood and paper. To see an old, architecturally pleasing structure like this one that still serves it purpose well, is overwhelming. At this winery, we also had Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Reserva and Super Toscana. The Chianti here was 10% Melrot; their Reserva uses 5% of the local varietal and matures for 5 years; their Super Toscana was 60% Cabernet and 40% Sangiovese. We were the only Asian people on this tour. The rest of the members of our group were Americans, and they all seem to prefer the Super Toscana which is a more familiar blend for them.
At the last winery, Casa Emma, we were able to experience wine and food parings. Their Reserva uses 10% of the Barberra varietal and even more Barberra in their Super Toscana. It was quite interesting to taste Chianti Classico made by different wine makers with different blending and winemaking techniques. The olive oils we tasted also differed slightly with the characteristics of each of the wineries, one was a fresh type, another was matured a bit, and so on. The food pairings were really fun too. I never tried to dip a pistachio cookie into a glass of wine before but I must confess, that too was good.
But the most fun part for me was seeing my two friends become so natural at tasting wine, i.e., checking the appearance and the aroma of the wine before tasting it. If you have a chance to visit the Toscana area, I would highly recommend the wine tour offered by the Toscana Wine School.