Tuscany isn’t the place for a jam-packed itinerary. One of the greatest pleasures here is indulging in rustic hedonism, marked by long lunches and show-stopping sunsets. And nothing fuels day-long lazing like a sturdy, delicious local red wine. Here are three of our favorite wines and the best places in Tuscany to enjoy them.
The name Chianti evokes Tuscany as readily as gondolas evoke Venice, but if you think Chianti is about straw-covered jugs and deadly headaches, think again. This firm, full-bodied wine pressed from mostly Sangiovese grapes is the region’s most popular, and it’s easy to taste why.
For a glass: By trade, Dario Cecchini is a butcher, but his Antica Macelleria Cecchini is not your typical butcher shop. Opera plays in the background; sometimes customers sing along. Dario quotes Dante as he offers up a luscious slice of preserved meat. His shop has been in the family since the late 1700s. His grandmother is responsible for Dario’s habit of offering wine to his customers. “She said a glass of wine brings people together, and I like to bring people together.” Via XX Luglio 11, Panzano. 055/852020.
For a bottle: Oltre il Giardino is an ancient stone farmhouse that has been converted into a cozy dining area with a large terrace and spectacular views of the valley. Terra-cotta-color walls and simple wood tables provide the background for very tasty Tuscan food. Peposo (a beef stew laced with black pepper) is particularly piquant, the tagliatelle sul piccione (with a delicate squab sauce) delightfully fragrant. The wine list is particularly strong on the local variety, which in this case is Chianti Classico. Piazza G. Bucciarelli 42, Panzano. 055/852828.
Brunello di Montalcino
This Italian red comes from the medieval hill town of Montalcino, 25 miles south of Siena. Brunello, from the Sangiovese grape, is regarded as one of Italy’s finest wines, sharing that designation with Piedmont’s Barolo. It’s a dry, potent, showy wine aged for a total of four years, including two years in wooden barrels. The 2001 vintage is generally considered to be some of the best Brunello in recent memory, so look out for it when you’re in Tuscany.
For a glass: In the very heart of Montalcino’s centro storico is Alle Logge, a sophisticated wine bar where selections by the glass always include a significant Brunello. Piazza del Popolo, 0577/846186.
The 14th-century La Fortezza has a tower you can climb and an enoteca for tasting Brunellos. Admission costs £3.50. Via Panfilo dell’Oca, 0577/849211 (Closed November through March).
A Montalcino winery worth visiting is Fattoria dei Barbi e del Casato. The cellars date back to the 17th century. Località Podernuovi, 0577/841200
For a bottle: One of Italy’s renowned chefs, Roberto Minnetti, abandoned his highly successful restaurant in Rome and opened Poggio Antico, in the country outside Montalcino. Now he and his wife, Patrizia, serve Tuscan cuisine masterfully interpreted by Roberto in a relaxed but regal dining room with arches and beam ceilings. The seasonal menu includes pappardelle al ragù di agnello (flat wide noodles in a lamb sauce) and venison in a sweet-and-sour sauce. Località I Poggi, 2.5 miles southwest of Montalcino on the road to Grosseto, 0577/849200.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Perched high on a hilltop 40 miles southeast of Siena, Montepulciano is made up of a cluster of Renaissance buildings set within a circle of cypress trees. The town’s winemaking tradition dates to the Etruscans, who were turning grapes into glory even before the days of ancient Rome. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the “Noble Wine,” gained its title by virtue of royal patronage. In 1669, England’s William III sent a delegation to procure the highly regarded wine, which packs more of a punch than most chiantis, both in flavor and alcohol content.
For a glass: Locanda dell’Amorosa, a 14th-century hamlet with its own chapel, has been transformed into a romantic, refined country inn with a great wine bar. The restaurant, set in what were once the horse stables, has candlelit tables, stone walls, and a menu grounded in Tuscan classics that pair perfectly with Vino Nobile. Località Amorosa west of Valdichiana exit off A1, 53048 Sinalunga, 11 miles north of Montepulciano, 0577/677211.
For a bottle: You might be tempted to walk by La Grotta’s innocuous entrance across the street from the Tempio di San Biagio (Church of San Biagio). Don’t — the food is fantastic. The tagliolini con carciofi e rigatino (thin noodles with artichokes and bacon) is superb, as is the tagliatelle di grano saraceno con asparagi e zucchine (with asparagus and zucchini). Follow with any of the wonderful secondi, and wash it down with the local wine, which just happens to be one of Italy’s finest. Località San Biagio, 0578/757479.
Photo credits: (1) Photo courtesy Oltre il Giardino; (2) ©Istockphoto/ Giovanni Rinaldi; (3) Photo courtesy of Locanda della Amorosa.