A Journey Through the Chianti Hills
21 December, 2016
The region of Chianti stretches between Arezzo and the Colline Pisane. Regarded as the heart of Tuscany since time immemorial, it is made up of a number of grand landscapes dotted with vineyards, chestnut and holm oak forests, evocative medieval villages, romantic castles and fascinating colonial-style palaces. To crown it all, this is also the land that produces one of the finest wines in the world – Chianti.
A Route Through Chianti
Arriving from Florence, the customary approach road through this wine country takes visitors to the pretty town of Impruneta – in all, a 40-minute car ride. We were captivated by Impruneta on account of its numerous monuments, notably the crenellated belltower from the 13th century and the Basilica of Santa Maria with its Treasure Museum in the annex. Two events of international acclaim are held in these surroundings – the Fiera di San Luca (St Luke’s Fair) and the Festa dell'Uva (Grape Festival) with a traditional parade of allegorical floats. Both festivals are held in autumn.
While heading for Siena we stopped at the old medieval town of Greve in Chianti, which features a triangular public square. It is fringed by buildings and loggias which led us willy-nilly to the Church of Santa Croce. The most important wine fair in all Chianti is held precisely in this square. We then went for a stroll through the upper part of Greve, home to Montefioralle Castle which forms part of the old fortified town.
After passing briefly through the medieval village of Volpaia, we found ourselves in Radda. There we visited the 14th-century Church of San Niccolò and the majestic Palazzo Pretorio (dating from circa 1415). We then made for the parish Church of San Giusto in Salcio, located in a luxuriant hollow set between vineyards, and that of Santa Maria Novella with its characteristic Romanesque facade. As soon as we left, we went straight to the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico (Consortium of Classic Chianti Wine) which includes the Chiantigiano Study Centre.
Our journey continued across the Chianti hills where we came across panoramas that would take Instagram by storm. We passed through Gaiole, halfway between Florence and Siena and, as we were leaving the town, we stumbled upon some spectacular scenery of vineyards and castles, like those in San Leonino and Fonterutoli.
After leaving the Sienese town we approached Castellina, a stronghold of Etruscan origin with its beautiful central square traversed by the medieval Via delle Volte. From there we went to Monteriggione, a twenty-minute car ride away, built on a hillside and endowed with a compact, walled fortification.
Lastly, we stopped off at the splendid Poggibonsi, a town which holds its grape-treading festival in October.
There is a large variety of Chianti wines on account of the peculiarities of local soils and the different production methods in each area or winery. Varying percentages of the same grape yield the leading names – Sangiovese (75-90%), Canaiolo (5-10%) and Malvasia (5-10%), the perfect composition hit upon by Baron Ricasoli in the 19th century to which Tuscan Trebbiano was subsequently added. Here the tradition is so deeply rooted that one can pick out the croplands planted with the different grape varieties.
The method of cultivation, known as L'Arco Toscana, takes place on clayey galestro soil which is porous and permeable and prevents water from collecting around the roots. A characteristic of the post-harvest period is that the grape clusters on some vines appear to have been overlooked, although this is actually part of a centuries-old “control” method. It consists of adding fresh raisin must to fermented wine to induce refermenting, by which all the sugar is converted into alcohol, yielding a particularly dry, stable wine.
After fermenting, the wines continue to be refined until March in steel casks or cement and, once bottled, are ready to be marketed.
Chianti has a characteristic fiery, ruby-red colour. The aroma is intense, with dominant violet, iris and vanilla, while the bouquet is harmonious and dry, with reminiscences of vanilla and almond. The experts claim it ages into a smoother, more velvety wine.
Chianti is a prefect table wine – the aged varieties and reserves pair with red meat, game and spicy cheeses. It is served at room temperature. As for local cuisine, typical Tuscan dishes include ribollita, its main ingredients being cooked vegetables left over from previous meals which are reboiled, augmented with dry bread and dressed with extra virgin olive oil. Another classic in the region are the antipasti such as chicken liver crostini, tomato bruschetta and Sienese capocollo,known locally as finocchiata.
21 December, 2016