This post was first published on TheWineSiren.com
Say the word Tuscany and visions of an almost unimaginable beauty unfolds. From the medieval castles to vast vineyards, the richness of this land is captivating. There are quaint farmhouses, villas, and historic cities high atop hillsides. Many overlooking a patchwork of olive orchards and fertile land. It sounds like a dream. Could it be that beautiful? You can test out this theory for yourself by asking someone if they travel to Tuscany.
If their eyes almost glaze over while they enter a reverie of memories, they’ve likely been or dream to go. To comprehend this you must adventure there. To go beyond the hype to the source, the scene and of course the food and wine. Three days in the region is hardly enough to give you an understanding of what Tuscany has to offer. It will not prepare you for the yearning instilled in your heart to return again.
I put my plans in the hands of Wine Paths. A destination travel company that specializes in food and wine experiences. Planning to travel to Tuscany? Regardless of the length should give you a sense of confidence. If you plan on your own you will find the options are so many, the region so large it can be overwhelming. This trip surpassed my expectations. First I had to remove the guesswork have a pro take the lead. Wine Paths put the best of taste and hospitality that Tuscany offers in my itinerary. From there the magic happened.
Tuscany is in the Province of Siena which also has a city called Siena. This all-encompassing description references a large midsection of Italy. At 8,900 square miles, it’s a little larger than all the Hawaiian Islands put together. The capital is one of the most romantic cities in Italy, Florence (Firenze). The more you learn about the history of the region the more fascinating it becomes. The more layers you want to unravel. It is an adventure as difficult to master as the world of wine. The history of Tuscany is fascinating. The name comes from an ancient tribe of people from Etruria (modern day Tuscany). Known as Etruscans, they inhabited the area between the Tiber and Arno rivers. Settling in the west and south of the Apennines Mountains. These mountains are the backbone of central Italy. The Romans would begin to trickle in soon come after the 4th century. It was the Romans who embraced many of the cultural practices of the Etruscans.
Travel to Tuscany
Once I arrive in Siena the team of WinePaths takes over. I’m picked up by a very well-dressed driver in a classic black Mercedes. Settling back for the drive to Castello Banfi I relax and enjoy the view. This is how travel should be. Cool in the car on the inside, spectacular views on the outside. An accommodating driver who listens to you ooh and ah with a sensitivity unique in Italy. I am asked if I would like to pull over to take a photo. Of course, it’s far better to shoot photography in a still location instead of moving. I take him up on his offer.
We are circling through Montepulciano. I am a little hesitant to leave, but I recall I will be back soon so I settle back into the seat to enjoy the view. The rolling hills a patchwork of vineyards, villas, and farms are a rare beauty to these eyes.
The most important articulation of wine in Montalcino is Brunello di Montalcino. In Montalpulciano it is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. To confuse them is a crime in some circles.
Castello Banfi Il Borgo
After another 30 minutes, we are driving up a road lined on each side which Cyprus trees. As we pass through them, my eyes land on a castle in the distance with a familiar flag at the top. It is Poggio alle Mura, the crowning glory of the estate and the original name of the castle. Today it is Castello Banfi Il Borgo. Located on the southern slopes of Montalcino region, it is up on the hillside. The gate opens and we pass through, the castle now right before us. My driver has the luggage under control and leads me down a path to reception. At last, I am at my destination. Taking a deep breath I surrender to my surroundings. The castle is stunning. A gem at the top of the hill with a 360-degree view of this magnificent region.
Rich in history, many believe the original building of the castle tower goes back as far as 1000 AD. The first documented writings referencing the castle were in 1377 AD. The castle underwent major renovations and additions to today’s structure in 1438 AD. It was the castle of the Sienese peasants with a village adjacent. The village today houses the luxury rooms of Castello Banfi Il Borgo on the ancient property.
The Property of Castello Banfi
You know you are in a world class hotel when you immediately feel a sense of place. A uniqueness unto its own. I am greeted by the F&B Manager Juan Miquel and given a brief tour as we walk down the path through the village to my room, The Princepessa (Princess). Across the way sits the breakfast patio and dining room. The swimming pool is next door with its spectacular views of the countryside. Inside the room, the appointments. Luxury and convenience achieved with an authentic and comfortable vibe. They have thought of everything. From the soap and shampoo to the sumptuous bedding and the rain shower. The bath accessories contain health invoking attributes of wine by-products. I’ve stopped noticing the details of the room because my eyes are on my view. I am riveted. It’s like a painting from Tuscany’s finest painter, Giovanni Fattori. My view looks as if it is straight out of the heavens.
The property came about after Banfi Wines was well established. With over 7,100 acres of land and 1/3 of that vineyards, the location shines. There is a magnificence in the combination of temperate climate and rolling hills. The vineyards are Sangiovese and many of the noble varieties are grown here. They’ve created a modern-day wine village Castello Banfi Il Borgo (The village of the Castle of Banfi).
The well-stocked Tuscan-style wine shop, L’Enoteca has a retail shop and tasting bar. It is well away from the luxe guest rooms ensuring serenity but has access to all the restaurants. The view is of neighboring Castello. Next door the first Balsameria I’ve ever been in. Simmering in their barrels the “Salsa Etrusca” refined well beyond most Balsamic vinegar. Its aged for 12 years and only three liters are extracted each year.
A Milestone And Two Excellent Restaurants
Banfi Vintners hit a significant milestone with their 100th anniversary in 2019. The Mariani family, who owns Banfi acquired this property and surrounding parcels first. They then purchased the castle in 1983. There are two very different places to dine at the hotel. Each created to showcase Banfi wines and pair them with outstanding food. You can dine alfresco or indoors with a wide range of delicate and varied bites, Sala dei Grappoli is a winner. The journey through their amuse bouche is an adventure in taste, texture, and flavor. It also segues well into the seven-course tasting & pairing menu.
The cuisine is an uncommon blend of Mediterranean and Tuscan with a modern twist. The experience created by Executive Chef Domenico Francone is a culinary adventure. The tasting menu offers several exquisite courses and each is paired with precision.
Lunch at La Taverna provides a true Tuscan experience. The restaurant bustles with busy, deft waitstaff navigating the tables with finesse. The dishes are hearty and fresh with local specialties. The room is a former barrel room that now gives you a window on their cellar below the floor.
Top notch service, world-class amenities, and rich Tuscan history is the best way to describe the experience sat Castello Banfi, Il Borgo. Now, to determine when to return. It was that good of a visit.
Col D’orcia: A Wine Lesson In Organic Luxury Tasting
The morning is gorgeous. Swallows are happily hunting for food and flying above into their nest high atop the castle while I sip my espresso. Looking at my itinerary, I am driving to my tasting appointments on this day. Wine Paths arranged for a car to be delivered to make my visits seamless. I am driving to my first destination of the day at Col D’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino just 10 minutes away.
The Cinzano Family
The Col D’Orcia property originally was a mill by water the original construction dates back to about the 15th century. The Cinzano family acquired it while living in Piedmont in 1973 as an investment. The name is one you’ve arguably heard before. This family’s rich history began in Turin with Vermouth in 1757. Two brothers of the Cinzano family began a confectionary which later became very popular was called the “Vermouth of Turin”. Even Casanova was known for sipping it. The Cinzano brand was sold in 1999 and no longer is part of the Cinzano family, but still bears its name.
*Note: There has been a report by Decanter, that Mr. Cinzano’s winery has been robbed of over 1,000 bottles of some of his most important bottles in Col D’Orcia’s wine library. We are devastated to hear this.
Today I am in the hands of the elegant Count Francesco Marone Cinzano. He took the property over from his father in 1991. It’s been in the family since the 1970s. An elegant presence, warm, and engaging his demeanor is welcoming. Becoming an organic winery was not an option to Cinzano. They were already doing practices that were organic. The winery and winegrowing practices made great efforts to be that force. So it came about as a natural evolution. Seeking a balance with the vineyard and the environment was always the goal. This winery was the first to use cover crops in Tuscany. In 2010 they began the conversion to 100% Organic in both foods they grow and wine they make. They create environments with a holistic approach to wine growing.
The winery follows the ancient traditions of winemaking. They don’t want the wine to taste like wood. They will use the small barrels if they want to add some oak. Brunello di Montalcino does not need oak. It is not full-bodied wine, but a medium-bodied wine. The structure and depth are very different from Cabernet Sauvignon. Pure Sangiovese as they do in Montalcino is much more like Pinot Noir. Brunello will be in the 50-60-year-old Slovenian barrels for 3 years, the reserve for 4 or more.
The Estate and Wine Tasting
The impressive estate is quite breathtaking. It has 144 hectares (355+ acres) of which 100 hectares dedicated to the most important grape in the region, Sangiovese. Their flagship wine is one of the most notable vineyards in the entire appellation, Poggio al Vento. Wine from this vineyard is only produced in the very best years. Poggio al Vento means windy hill. This combined with the aspect on the hill and the soil composition produces a superb Brunello as experienced in the wine by the name of the hill.
Tasing Experiences of Col D’orcia
We begin with a barrel tasting which is not an experience you will get often in the region. Every barrel is numbered and holds 10,000 bottles. The documentation is key to making a Brunello di Montalcino and will be required to support the certification process. First, we tasted a 2015, which is at its last year out of the three years minimum window before it can be aged further in the bottle. Each year is very different from the one before. The fruit is every presence but even with neutral oak the tannins tame with time.
There are several tasting experience options to choose from each tailored to your desired time and experience. Today it’s a tasting of eight wines and lunch made by the winery. The personal tour was incredibly informative. When a winemaker or vintner loves what they do their passion shines through. It’s contagious and intoxicating. The property is picture perfect… what you might imagine in your mind’s eye. Soft rolling hills, a Cyprus lined trail leading to the hills beyond and, the clouds and sky blue with fluffy cotton ball clouds. An adventure in agriturismo, Col D’Orcia as a grower showcases the fruits of their efforts. They grow and sell their own farro and make pasta with it all organic. And best of all they grow truffles. Delicious, delectable, divine aromatic truffles!
Castiglion del Bosco: Fashion Meets Old World Sense
The initial structure was built as a sentinel, a shelter for the people of Montalcino in about 1100 AD. It’s had many iterations over the years. Today it is owned by Massimo Ferragamo, a son of Salvatore Ferragamo who is Chairman of Ferragamo USA. He initially came to the area to buy an old winery, but the winery was in the midst of a ghost town. When he found the current property he was elated.
“We try to communicate the soil and weather of the region through the grape. The point is to be, as a winemaker, not the main character of the movie. Be a good director. Because the main thing is the grape always.” Guido Dispenza, Castiglion del Bosco
Not only was the purchase of the ancient cellars of Castiglion del Bosco not suited to modern-day winemaking, but it was also desolate. Massimo Ferragamo began looking for an alternative. He discovered a pristine 5,000 acres with unobstructed views that reminded him of the type of property only available during medieval times. The parcel had not been divided and he could create a community. He became heavily invested in the location building a world-class members-only golf course, a luxury hotel (owned by Ferragamo but run by Rosewood) and the winery in 2003. Today’s winery is built partially into the hillside. It sits on two levels. The capacity is 3,000 hectoliters or 79,252 gallons of wine. This is a very serious business.
My guide on this journey is Guido Dispenza. I’ve been instructed on the rules of Montalcino. You can only grow the grapes within a very particular area and you can only grow Sangiovese vines. The vines were introduced in ancient times (The Middle Ages). The first Brunello in of Castiglion del Bosco was produced in 1964. In just 3 short years the Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium was founded and Castiglion del Bosco was a founding member.
Their most important vineyard is the Campo del Drago vineyard depicted below. High atop the hill, the earth is nutrient poor and very rocky. The vines have to stretch about 5-6 meters down to seek out nourishment. How this affects the wine is the result will be a lean, but well-structured wine and very elegant. With a nice vintage of Brunello Riserva, you can age it up to 25 years.
They do grow some of the noble varietals Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon closer to the coast near Bolgheri.
Millecento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2012 I found this wine full-bodied, excellent structure and balance, with delicious black fruit, mocha, excellent acidity, and a beautifully elegant finish.
Campo del Drago 2013 Brunello Montalcino: A delightful adventure of fruit and spice. Solid structure, good balance and a great representation of Brunello di Montalcino.
We’re Off To Montepulciano: Icario
This time I am driving to Montepulciano, just outside of the border of Umbria. The town of Montepulciano is located at the very top of a hill that overlooks most of Tuscany. Rich with history, the fortress was coveted by both Siena and Firenze, so many battles were fought in this area. The city is so well maintained that several Hollywood films have used it as a backdrop for movies including Twilight, Medici and of course Under The Tuscan Sun. Today’s village is filled with beautiful shops, eateries, and piazza. The breathtaking views alone are a great reason to visit, but I am here today for just a few hours and am tasting wine at Icario with the delightful Ilaria Ippoliti (I highly recommend you spend at least a couple of days here). The background on Icario is pretty compelling.
Started by a German Industrialist, Mr. Rosenbloom, the vineyards are located 450 meters above sea level and sweeping views showcase all that the region has to offer. With over 52 hectares of vineyards, their wines are a delicious blend of depth and balance. They are an artisanal wine producer has incorporated organic practice into their winery business. This is a place for wine and art lovers. Why? First the winery itself. Is a work of art. Perched high above the valley this modern-esque winery is a tribute to Italian artists and artists around the world. Featuring a first-floor small open art gallery floats above the winery with a see-through floor. It’s a tribute to the talents that lie within these walls. The art changes monthly and includes photography of some of the Renaissance architecture in Montepulciano.
The story of Icario is he was a regular citizen and according to Greek mythology, he was the man who gave the gift of viticulture. Before, the viticulture was only for the gods or so the story goes. The symbol of the Pegasus comes from an old building in Montepulciano which is decorated with pieces of the Tuscan town’s old buildings. They were inspired by one of those images.
In winemaking, they use the big barrels, particularly for the Sangiovese. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the appellation. One of the oldest appellations in Tuscany. There is documentation showing that the age could be as old as 789 AD. Pope Paul III’s wine adviser, Sante Lancerio determined the wine of Montepulciano “suited to the taste of gentlemen” and “very perfect”.
It was a warm day on my visit to Icario. I found this 2016 Icario NYSA Toscana blend made with Gewürtzraminer, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Nero a delightful blend. Luscious, citrus, nice acidity and perfectly refreshing.
Within walking distance to the winery is the Icario Villa. This two-story villa is delightfully appointed and has an infinity pool overlooking Val di Chiana. Chiana cattle are indigenous to the valley of Val di Chiana. The winery is located in a natural oasis. No fences and it’s apparent with the lively wildlife and birds that sing in the background.
Thinking of spending time in Montepulciano? You’ll find yourself quite at home by staying in their luxury residence, Villa Icario. The Villa has two buildings. The main house is a renovated rural palace, perfect for entertaining and with well-appointed contemporary furnishings. The smaller building near the pool is a cozy cottage. There is a stunning garden with roses and jasmine, but also a delicious infinity pool overlooking the Icario Vineyards and the valley below.
A special thank you for an incredible experience to WinePaths.com