Wine 101 blog: (drinking wine) under the Tuscan sun
Thursday, July 2, 2009
By Wine 101 host Elliott Wiser
It was almost a given that a trip to Italy for me would include a visit to one of the most famous wine regions in the world--Tuscany. Some of the greatest red wines come from Tuscany including Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
In Tuscany, you can spend weeks looking at thousand-year old castles, village squares, and churches. There is a rich history and beautiful scenery. Alternatively, you can spend weeks visiting wineries and drinking wine.
Indeed, Tuscany is an enchanting area where you can spend the rest of your life content watching sunsets and drinking wine. I have included a slideshow of a sunset over Cortona to get you in the mood. Cortona is town where the book and movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun" is based. Now that you're in the mood, let's talk wine.
I spoke to a number of folks involved with the wine business in Tuscany and they gave me some great tips on which years are the best for Italian reds:
1997 is the greatest year in a century, but you'll pay through the nose for this vintage
2004 is a great year
2000, 2001, 2005 and 2006 are very good years
2002 and 2003 were not good years
The two most famous Italian red wines are Chianti and Brunello. Brunello comes from an area called Montalcino. Brunello wines are stored in oak casks for two years then another three years in the bottle. That means 2004 Brunellos are just hitting the market now. I had some and... Wow! You will love the 2004 Brunellos.
Banfi is one of the most popular producers of Brunello wine. An American company owns Banfi. The original Brunellos came from the Biondi Santi family. The Banfi vineyard tour is very popular, but I was told you couldn't tour Biondi Santi without an invitation. Every winery I visited was a delight, and each had its own story.
My tour guide, Marcello, had an excellent knowledge of wines. (He also knew the location of every great gelato shop in the country!) Marcello shared with me some of his favorite Brunello brands. I also met Marco in a small wine shop in Cortona and he, too, had a list of great Brunello vineyards. Here's the list:
Casanova di Neri
There are many more great Brunello brands, but this is what the Italians are recommending. I did ship back some wine. Okay, let me tell you the truth. I shipped back more than "some". Most of the vineyards in Tuscany will ship, and I know that I helped bolster the Gross National Product of Italy.
A few random thoughts…
Take a look at this picture from the Baracchi Vineyard. Notice the rose bush? You see rose bushes all over Tuscany, and many of them are located in the vineyards. They are planted there as an organic warning system. If there is a problem with pests or fungi, the rose bushes will start looking bad well before the grape vines do. So, if the rose bushes are sick, the vineyard owner has an early warning that his grape vines need treatment as well.
Don't drive in Tuscany. First all, the drivers are crazy, especially the folks zipping past you on scooters. If you are sampling wines, have a designated driver. Better yet, hire a driver. My travel agent, Bill, did a fantastic job putting together the trip and arranging for Marcello to drive me. Bill owns Classic Travel and Tours in New Jersey.
The food is great, but prepare to eat dinner late. First seating in many restaurants is 8 p.m. You will eat multiple courses and there's no such thing as a "quick meal". By the way, I saw pigeon on the menu. I swear I did, and no I didn't order it.
Frances Mayes wrote the book, "Under the Tuscan Sun". The movie with Diane Lane is based on the book.
Her house is in Cortona, and it is not the house you see in the movie. Here's a picture of the real Frances Mayes house. The one in the movie is located a few miles away. Cortona is an amazing place and I could see why she fell in love with the town and its people.
Now here's the breaking news folks: 2007 could be as good as 1997. I heard that from a number of people; however, if you buy 2007 Italian reds don't pop the cork yet. It is advisable to put away the 2007 reds until at least next year. I will tell you I have begun the hunt for 2007 Italian reds. I'll race you to the wine store.
Posted by Ronelle Prickett at 11/11/2009 4:25 PM