Chianti Classico is an area steeped in rich history, dating back to the Etruscan times. Over the years, the Romans laid claim, followed by the ferocious medieval battles between Siena and Florence. Today, Chianti Classico is tranquil and undisturbed, yet vibrant, and is home to artisans and winemakers alike.
In a region where vineyards are plentiful and cellars are centuries old, one needs a strategy before blazing the wine trail. Unlike wine tasting in California, which is both casual and unpretentious for the most part, wine tasting in Chianti Classico is a bit more structured. The key to fun and eventful wine tasting is simple – take the time to plan your itinerary in advance. Care in planning ahead will save time in the long run and will enhance your wine tasting experience overall.
Keep in mind that the most memorable cellar tours encompass wine tasting along with food pairings. A sommelier will often guide the group tasting in the cellar and will offer sumptuous local food pairings such as bread and olive oil, prosciutto or salami and Pecorino Toscano cheese to compliment the featured wines.
In Chianti, wine tastings are never rushed. The pours are more than generous and the conversation with the wine staff flows easily. Wine tasting fees are nominal and a purchase of a bottle of wine is certainly appreciated.
To get the most out of your wine tasting experience, if possible, arm yourself before your wine trek with The Black Rooster Map, (Le Strade del Gallo Nero), the official wine road map. The map is a wealth of information, with detailed roads and listings of all the wineries in the Chianti Classico region, complete with website and email information and telephone numbers. It also helps to have a specific game plan for each day and to allow ample time for travel between the destinations, as distance can be deceiving on the two lane roads.
For the independent traveler, pack the Black Rooster map, a GPS, rent a car and simply head out. Driving on the country roads requires full attention, so a designated driver is always recommended. However, the flexibility of a self-guided tour is priceless. Without the time constraints of an organized tour, there is more freedom to hand-select winery and cellar tours and to stray off the beaten path to explore the natural wonders of Chianti.
If driving in Italy is too daunting, there are many wine tour operators who offer private or semi-private day tours and overnight tours from Florence or Siena. Prices vary, depending on the type and length of the tour and the pick up location. The advantage, of course, is that a guided tour can be more relaxing since the driving and navigation is left to the professionals. Local wine guides can be entertaining, very wine-savvy and can provide colorful folklore and history of the area. Roundtrip transportation, wine tasting and a visit to a nearby village are standard fare.
For the more adventurous traveler, day tours or multi-day bicycle or horseback riding wine tours can be arranged, combining both physical activity and wine tasting. Enthusiasts share the winding roads and trails to experience first-hand, the sweet earthy aromas of the passing vineyards and to ride past the abandoned fortresses and castles scattered throughout the countryside, stopping along the way to swirl, sip and savor.
Finally, one of the best ways to experience the best of Chianti Classico is to book a stay at an agriturismo, also known as a “working farm”. An agriturismo or wine resort is an estate that produces wine and olive oil, features an onsite restaurant and pool and offers optional activities such as cooking classes, city tours, wine tours and cultural side trips.
Chianti Classico is truly a world-class destination that beckons to be discovered, one glass of wine at a time.