So, you have planned a wine trip to Tuscany with the Other Half of Your Sky, a BFF, or… whatever: you still have got it right. Chianti is a perfect romantic getaway, not to mention a paradise for wine and food lovers, but if you think you can visit the region in a day trip it's a serious blunder for both first timers and regular visitors as well…
On the other hand, if you have two or three days to spare and you are a Sangiovese enthusiast, fall is one of Chianti's best travel seasons, a time when you will be able to enjoy some serious foliage, scenic agritourism, stone farmhouses, wine itineraries, authentic regional cuisine, picturesque historical villages with cobblestones streets and breathtaking landscapes.
In autumn, Chianti region is dressed in sweet, vivid, melancholy watercolors. With fewer tourists around, lower prices, and easy driving, this famous wine region’s reputation extends beyond the quality of its wine.
While wine has been made for centuries in Chianti, the name does not refer to a variety of grapes, rather identifies a territory between Florence and Siena encompassing the areas of the municipalities of Gaiole, Radda, and Castellina which were part, in the 14th Century, of a military league called "Lega del Chianti", symbolized by the famous black rooster effigy you can still see today on Chianti Classico's bottles and flasks.
It is precisely Castellina, a three thousand inhabitants hill town in the heart of Chianti located 15 Km. northwest of Siena and 35 Km. from Florence, where you should book your Tuscan stay and feel the historical atmosphere characterized by a 6th Century A.C. Church, a 12th Century A.C. Fortress, an 11th Century B.C. Etruscan tomb, the underground Via delle Volte, and an archaeological Museum among others.
There are several ways you can reach Castellina by car, each of which provides beautiful scenery and many opportunities to stop and admire Chianti's gentle hills and characteristic combination of vineyards, olive groves, and forests dotted with red-tiled farmhouses, medieval churches and towers, abbeys, castles, and magnificent villas. The easiest way from Florence is proceeding towards Greve through Panzano, until you reach Castellina. Or else from Siena catching the state road (SR)2 road which turns into the SR222 until Castellina. However, you will certainly have your GPS in the car, so all the roads will lead to your destination.
Besides having an overwhelming selection of enotecas (wine stores and bars), and wine estates, Castellina offers an assortment of small shops highlighting local craftsmen, artists, bakers, grocery gourmet stores, and many osterias. Every Saturday morning there is a lovely open market, from 8 am to 1 pm originating from the main piazza.
Even its position between so many points of interest make Castellina in Chianti an excellent choice for a base for your holiday vacation in Tuscany. In the close surroundings, you may visit other beautiful medieval hamlets such as Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni, Radda, and Gaiole in Chianti.
In addition to being a great place to stay, Castellina boasts a range of out-of-ordinary things to do including pasta-making classes, truffle hunting, hiking, horseback riding, cycling, bird watching, and nature photography. Until mid-December the yearly event "Chianti d'Autunno" will present guided archaeological and gastronomical tours, restaurant discounts on seasonal dishes, wine tastings, music, art, and street markets.
When in Castellina don't ask how much a wine-tasting costs. Chances are that when visiting a wine estate tasting fees would be waived if you buy a few bottles to enjoy during your stay or to ship home through LBC or DHL.
If you don't know the grape at the base of Chianti Classico, Sangiovese is a thin-skinned grape native to Italy. Typically, Sangiovese comprises from 80% to 100% of Chianti Classico. Its origins go back to the time of the Etruscan civilization, predating the Romans. In 1716, Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III de' Medici (1670-1723) issued an edict with which he set the boundaries of the Chianti region that was considered to be ideal (Classic) for the production of high-quality wines. The edict established the world's first legally defined appellation of origin for wine about 140 years before the 1855 Bordeaux classification!
The finest Chianti Classicos have a red-cherry flavor, deliciously tart, along with pronounced floral aromas and flavors, and an earthy minerality. The acidity is fresh and lively, and tannins are discernible, though not overly chewy. Various unique notes can be detected within Chianti Classico, including dried herbs, strawberries, leather, and sweet tobacco.
Chianti Classico comes in three tiers: Classico, aged one year before it is released; Classico Riserva, aged two years and Classico Gran Selezione, aged for 30 months and made entirely of estate grapes approved by a tasting panel. Only Classico and Classico Riserva may come in flasks.
As a dry medium-bodied red wine, Chianti naturally pairs well with many classic Italian foods, particularly tomato sauce-based kinds of pasta, lasagna, ravioli, olive oil dishes, meats, cold cuts, aged cheeses, and of course, pizza. Among many pairable pastas, Cacio e Pepe's peppery spiciness offers a strong taste to play with when matching wines which will have to linger on the palate, possibly with fruity notes to bring out the flavors from the aged Pecorino cheese. A Sangiovese-based red wine always works well with a dish like this, particularly a Chianti Classico. As for Filipino food, Chianti Classico could easily emphasize a dish like Adobo without being drowned by its soy sauce and vinegar marinade, being short of perfect if also consumed with a Kaldereta.
Among the 24 wineries (Castellare, Cecchi, Piccini, and Rocca delle Macie to mention the most famous) existing within the Comune of Castellina, you should visit the one named after it: La Castellina wine estate which originates from the historical properties of the noble Squarcialupi family, settled in Chianti in the 1200s. The farm is spread over the southwest side of the hill, which slopes down from the medieval town, with an extension of about 140 hectares, 30 of which are planted with vineyards and 10 with olive groves.
However, their main wine cellar is located in Castellina's historical center, in the basement of the 15th Century Squarcialupi mansion. Anciently used as a noble stately residence, it houses on the upper floors the elegant "Hotel Palazzo Squarcialupi" with 19th Century pieces of furniture in the rooms, terracotta floors, panoramic terraces, a wellness center, and a garden with pool. At the "Taverna Squarcialupi" restaurant on the lower floors of the same Palazzo you can find a traditional Tuscan foods menu based on locally grown ingredients.
La Castellina Squarcialupi Chianti Classico, Riserva, and Gran Selezione are excellent Rossi: pour it, drink it, talk over it. The estate produces also Rosati (from Merlot grapes) and Bianchi (mainly from Malvasia del Chianti grapes) not to mention the rare Sweet wine Vinsanto Occhio di Pernice from dried Sangiovese grapes aged in small barrels for four years.
There is no doubt that your experience in Castellina will be unforgettable, one of the most amazing things you definitely need to do in Tuscany. After coming back to the Philippines, you will always see yourself sitting at the Cantuccio wine bar on the main Via Ferruccio, in front of your Chianti Classico glass, just feeling great.