Instead of trying to drive around the Tuscan countryside on our own, we opted to join an all day tour through Discover Tuscany. The tour picked us up in Montecatini, where we were staying, and we joined up with others picked up in Florence and Siena before making our way to our first stop, the vineyard Abbadia Ardenga just outside Montalcino.
We first met Fabio, a member the Ciacci family which has managed the property since the 60s, whose father Mario waa a founder of the company. While we all sipped on rosé, Fabio explained some general wine making knowledge while we explored a few storerooms holding the Brunello di Montalcino, a locally grown red wine. Most of their wines spend 2-3 months fermenting before they are transferred to airtight oak barrels for another four years! As if that weren’t already a crazy long time, the wine is bottled and stored for another year before it is sold.
The quality of the wine is is largely based on the weather during each growing season. In years of especially good weather, producing the highest quality grapes, “Reserva” bottles are made. With the rarity and quality of these bottles, the reserva bottles come at a higher price. The last reserva bottle of Brunello di Montalcino was produced in 2010, it was the best year on record for this type of wine.
Next came the fun part, the tasting! We had 3 more wines to taste all from different categories. As we tasted and snacked on cheese, bread and salami, Fabio taught us the different categories of wine in Italy. The lowest catagory is Vino da Tavola (VdT) or table wine, the wine we had while exploring the storerooms. The next level up is I.G.T. or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, they are typical of a particular geography or local region. From this catagory we tried (and purchased bottles as souvenirs!) Ardengo, a dry, bright red wine.
The next category is D.O.C. These wines are produced in a specific, well-defined Italian region. They are produced using specific techniques designed to preserve local traditions. From this catagory we tried the Rosso di Montalcino, a dry, full-bodied, dark red wine. The last and highest category is D.O.C.G. These wines have to meet all the qualifications of the D.O.C. levels plus more stringent policies. These include a smaller window of the quality of grapes allowed to be used, longer aging periods, and a tasting by a government licensed personnel before being bottled. We tried the locally grown Brunello di Montalcino from this catagory!
Lucky for us, we met a Spanish couple on our tour who didn’t really like wine. That meant we got to practice our Spanish (which we were not expecting while in Italy!) and extra tastings for us! Overall it was a fun, boozy and educational experience and it was only the first stop on our tour around Tuscany. The rest of our day will be in the next post!