The mere mention of Tuscany sends most travellers into a world of eager anticipation. The intensity and quality of the light impress me most about this part of Italy. It is this light that provides the energy so essential for growing crops, especially grapes and olives, that are integral components to the Italian lifestyle.
In every season except for the dead of winter, the rolling hills of Tuscany are carpeted in emerald green or golden yellow grapevines. Wine is a way of life here and it’s hard to imagine Tuscany without the wines of Chianti, Chianti Classico, the Super Tuscans, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello.
Wine lovers are spoilt for choice, and zeroing in on a Tuscan wine district is a pleasant but challenging task. Several parts of Tuscany were in my sights, with the wines of Chianti Classico at the top of my tasting list.
Radda di Chianti
Having been very impressed with the Barolo wines produced by ForteMasso in Piedmonte, I was pleased to discover that a sister company was responsible for Castello di Radda wines produced in Radda di Chianti.
After some research, the winery and others in the district plus the small village of Radda just 25km south of Florence combined to be the essential ingredients for a day under the Tuscan sun enjoying the wines of Chianti Classico.
My greeting at the modern winery of Castello di Radda overlooking vines and olive groves was enthusiastic, and I knew I was in good hands. The modern stone tasting room and winery look like it could have been there for aeons, and my host was well-versed in all aspects of the estate’s wine production.
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The distinction between Chianti Classico (also referred to as Gallo Nero wines based upon their distinctive black rooster logo) and Chianti wines was resolved by Stefano Peruzzi from the estate. He explained they were two different wines. Chianti Classico DOCG (certified wines of high standards) is wines produced in the original territory covering 70,000 hectares (of which just 7,200 hectares are planted to grapes and registered as Chianti Classico) located between Florence and Siena and delineated back in 1716.
The magnificent February weather was ideal for sampling the range of wines on the estate’s verandah. Wines that stood out were the Rosata (Rosé), Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ‘Vigna Il Corno’ DOCG. Even more impressive was that these wines ranged from just €10 to €35.
Refuelling in Radda
A day amongst wine anywhere is more enriching with a leisurely lunch, and we took Stefano Peruzzi’s tip and headed to the small hilltop village of Radda for lunch at Ristorante Il Girarrosto.
Radda is like many other small Tuscan villages in that there is an old church, cobble-stoned plaza, water fountain and narrow streets lined with old stone houses and public buildings. It could have been almost anywhere in Tuscany, but it was Radda, and it was rather wonderful, I must say.
The restaurant in the narrow main street was perfect as the rear was glassed-in to provide amazing views of the surrounding agricultural land. After ordering a bottle of Castello di Radda Chianti Classico 2016 (100% Sangiovese, €24) we settled into lunch.
My generous entrée of garganelli with duck sauce (€12) was perfect and almost a meal in itself. Garganelli is a flat, ribbed, square noodle rolled into a cylindrical shape and in this dish, was accompanied by a rich duck sauce.
This followed with a similarly rich winter dish of local wild boar that had been stewed and accompanied by plump garbanzo beans (€18).
Over dessert and a luscious glass of Vin Santo Chianti (a sweet dessert wine produced in many parts of Tuscany), the chef came to our table and proudly spoke of other Tuscan gastronomic delights such as its olive oils, several varieties of cheese, especially Pecorino, pastas, truffles and cured meats.
Classic Castelvecchi Wines
Taking the chef’s suggestion, we headed to Cantina Castelvecchi for a late afternoon’s wine tasting that was preceded by an inspection of the cool underground cellars.
During the tasting, we learned more about the wines of Tuscany. Chianti Classico must be made from a minimum of 80% Sangiovese grapes with some producers using additional recognised red grape varieties to make up the rest (Canaiolo in the case of Castelvecchi). However, the estate’s Toscana IGP Solana comprises 50% Sangiovese, 25% Merlot and 25% Syrah grapes.
I was staggered to discover that wines have been made in the district for hundreds of years from the Roman and Etruscan eras and from the estate since 1043AD. No wonder some 36 million bottles are produced on average every year in the whole Chianti Classico zone and exported to 130 countries around the world.
Most Chianti Classico drinkers will use Florence as their air gateway and its historical buildings located either side of the Arno River add to the whole Tuscany experience.
The Renaissance city is renowned for its galleries, heritage buildings and plazas with the Uffizi Galleries, Palazzo Strozzi and Palazzo Pitti just some of the essential sights to take in.
My memories of Tuscany are influenced by its rich colours – the ruby-red of its wines, the purple of the grapes, the greens of the vines, the browns of the rich earth and the various blue hues of the skies. Memories of this palette of colours make me want to be in Tuscany and if it were possible; I rather be in Radda right now.
Florence International Airport is regional airport serviced by flights from larger European destinations like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Paris and Zurich. Bus, rail and taxis connect to the city centre just a short distance away. Exploring the wine estates of Radda in Chianti requires a vehicle with a designated driver.
Where to Stay
Stay in properties in the town such as Palazzo Leopoldo and Palazzo San Niccolò operated by Ross Hotels (www.rosshotels.it) or use one in Florence as a base to explore the region.
Where to Dine
Ristorante Il Girarrosto Radda in Chianti (T: +39 577 735-605) adjacent to Palazzo Leopoldo. Its elegant glassed-in patio offers extensive views over the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Cantina Castelvecchi (www.chianticatelvecchi.it), Castel Castello di Radda (www.castellodiradda.com) and Chianti Classico Consortium (www.chianticlassico.com). There is a tourist office in the town on Piazza del Castelo (www.radda.org) or Tuscan Tourism Promotion (www.toscanapromozione.it) based in Florence.
David Bowden travelled to Chianti Classico with the assistance of the Chianti Classico Consortium.
Disclosure: The writer travelled to Chianti Classico with the assistance of the Chianti Classico Consortium